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Chapter Twenty

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« on: July 15, 2023, 12:47:40 pm »

IT was a long time before Sarah slept. Her thoughts were restless and driven, like the shadow dance of leaves when the wind is high. They seemed like that to her---shadow thoughts driven here and there by an unseen wind, and she could only guess at what had cast the shadows. There were many things to be guessed at, but as soon as she tried to hold a thought and follow it back to its source, it eluded her and was gone again. Her body was so tired and her brain so restless that she felt as if she would never sleep. Yet in the end she did sleep, and woke to hear rain beating on the window, and slept again.

When the morning came with its reluctant light, she thought she must have been mistaken about the rain. If it had been bitterly cold the night before, it was still colder now. It could not possibly have rained with the air as cold as this. She got up and went to shut the casement window, which she had set a handsbreadth open after putting out her candle and drawing the curtain back. To her surprise the casement would not move. It was frozen to the sill. She had to use all her strength to break the ice and free it.

She looked out upon the strangest sight. The rain had been no dream. It must have come from some high place of warmer air and frozen as it fell. She looked over the sill and saw the ivy on the side of the house frozen where it clung, each leaf in a mould of ice which followed every vein and was perfectly transparent. There had been no snow---only wherever she looked clear glassy ice, covering the ground below, the five-barred gate at its farther side, a jutting slant of the roof. The bare boughs of an oak thrown up against a lowering sky, its interlacing branches, its tracery of twigs, were all seen through a sheathing of ice. The dark hedgerow looked for all the world as if each shoot, each spray, were enclosed in glass. A few late berries still clinging to a thorn were like fruits in jelly. The rough grass at the hedge foot stood up in frozen spears. Ice everywhere, and the breath of it on the air.

She drew back with a shudder and shut the window. Her heart was like lead. If this queer rain had been anything but a local shower, the roads must be impassable. And if the roads were impassable, how was Henry going to get down? She began to realize how much she had been counting on him.

As soon as she was dressed and had made her bed she went in to Joanna and found her nervous and fretful. Such luxuries as early morning tea did not apparently exist at Maltings, and Miss Cattermole did like her cup of tea in bed. Of course it ought to be her own special health tea, and it was entirely owing to the inconsiderate way in which she had been hustled that this had been forgotten.

“I have never known Wilson so inconsiderate. And where was the hurry after all? We didn’t get here any sooner. And as far as I can see, we need never have come here at all. In fact we never should have come. If I had not been so hurried, if I had been given the slightest time for reflection, I should have said quite firmly, ‘No, Wilson---I must really beg to be excused. You can of course do exactly as you like, and if you want to go to Land’s End, or John o’ Groat’s, or the Malay Archipelago in this very unsuitable weather, you can of course do so, and I should not dream of trying to prevent you, but Sarah and I will stay here.’ ”

“I’m afraid that is just what we shall have to do,” said Sarah.

Miss Cattermole managed to look exactly like an exasperated ant.

“And when I say here, of course I don’t mean here at all---I think you really might know that. I ought to have told Wilson at once that I would not come down here. If I had had time to read the paper before I came away I should have known better than to give way to him. Morgan took all the papers when he went, which isn’t like him at all, because he knows I always begin the day by looking at what ‘Janitor’ has to say in his ‘Advice from the Stars’, and if I had had the opportunity of reading it before we started I should never, never have come. Nothing could be more unfortunate. Just listen to this!” She produced from under the eiderdown a dishevelled sheet of newspaper and read in a trembling and indignant voice, “ ‘Any journey undertaken today is not likely to add to your health and happiness. There are dark clouds ahead. It would be better not to undertake any new enterprise. Purple will be your most fortunate colour for the next few days.’ ” She pushed the paper away so vehemently that it fell on the floor. “Purple---and I have brought nothing but blue! I shall tell Wilson that I must insist on returning today!”

Sarah picked up the paper. It bore yesterday’s date.

“How did you get hold of it?”

“The bricks,” said Joanna---“very nice and comforting. I don’t know what I should have done without them, but of course they did not stay hot, so when I lit my candle---at about six I think it was, and I had been awake for some time---I turned them out. And when I found they were all wrapped up in yesterday’s Daily Flash I took it off to look for the Advice column, and I’ve been feeling most upset ever since. I shall insist on going back to town immediately after breakfast.”

Sarah discovered that she had some curiously mixed feelings. It might have been self-control that enabled her to say in quite a cheerful voice, “There’s about an inch of ice all over everything this morning. I shouldn’t think we’d be able to move a yard.”

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