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by [?]


It was Sunday morning–a damp, warm November morning, with the sky overhead grey and low. Miss Reed stopped a little to take breath before climbing the hill, at the top of which, in the middle of the churchyard, was Blackstable Church. Miss Reed panted, and the sultriness made her loosen her jacket. She stood at the junction of the two roads which led to the church, one from the harbour end of the town and the other from the station. Behind her lay the houses of Blackstable, the wind-beaten houses with slate roofs of the old fishing village and the red brick villas of the seaside resort which Blackstable was fast becoming; in the harbour were the masts of the ships, colliers that brought coal from the north; and beyond, the grey sea, very motionless, mingling in the distance with the sky…. The peal of the church bells ceased, and was replaced by a single bell, ringing a little hurriedly, querulously, which denoted that there were only ten minutes before the beginning of the service. Miss Reed walked on; she looked curiously at the people who passed her, wondering….

‘Good-morning, Mr Golding!’ she said to a fisherman who pounded by her, ungainly in his Sunday clothes.

‘Good-morning, Miss Reed!’ he replied. ‘Warm this morning.’

She wondered whether he knew anything of the subject which made her heart beat with excitement whenever she thought of it, and for thinking of it she hadn’t slept a wink all night.

‘Have you seen Mr Griffith this morning?’ she asked, watching his face.

‘No; I saw Mrs Griffith and George as I was walking up.’

‘Oh! they are coming to church, then!’ Miss Reed cried with the utmost surprise.

Mr Golding looked at her stupidly, not understanding her agitation. But they had reached the church. Miss Reed stopped in the porch to wipe her boots and pass an arranging hand over her hair. Then, gathering herself together, she walked down the aisle to her pew.

She arranged the hassock and knelt down, clasping her hands and closing her eyes; she said the Lord’s Prayer; and being a religious woman, she did not immediately rise, but remained a certain time in the same position of worship to cultivate a proper frame of mind, her long, sallow face upraised, her mouth firmly closed, and her eyelids quivering a little from the devotional force with which she kept her eyes shut; her thin bust, very erect, was encased in a black jacket as in a coat of steel. But when Miss Reed considered that a due period had elapsed, she opened her eyes, and, as she rose from her knees, bent over to a lady sitting just in front of her.

‘Have you heard about the Griffiths, Mrs Howlett?’

‘No!… What is it?’ answered Mrs Howlett, half turning round, intensely curious.

Miss Reed waited a moment to heighten the effect of her statement.

‘Daisy Griffith has eloped–with an officer from the depot at Tercanbury.’

Mrs Howlett gave a little gasp.

‘You don’t say so!’

‘It’s all they could expect,’ whispered Miss Reed. ‘They ought to have known something was the matter when she went into Tercanbury three or four times a week.’

Blackstable is six miles from Tercanbury, which is a cathedral city and has a cavalry depot.

‘I’ve seen her hanging about the barracks with my own eyes,’ said Mrs Howlett, ‘but I never suspected anything.’

‘Shocking! isn’t it?’ said Miss Reed, with suppressed delight.

‘But how did you find out?’ asked Mrs Howlett.

‘Ssh!’ whispered Miss Reed–the widow, in her excitement, had raised her voice a little and Miss Reed could never suffer the least irreverence in church…. ‘She never came back last night, and George Browning saw them get into the London train at Tercanbury.’

‘Well, I never!’ exclaimed Mrs Howlett.

‘D’you think the Griffiths’ll have the face to come to church?’

‘I shouldn’t if I was them,’ said Miss Reed.

But at that moment the vestry door was opened and the organ began to play the hymn.