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What The Shepherd Saw: A Tale Of Four Moonlight Nights
by [?]

‘You need not say that in such a tragedy tone, you silly. You may see me in an ordinary way–why should you not? But, of course, not in such a way as this. I should not have come now, if it had not happened that the Duke is away from home, so that there is nobody to check my erratic impulses.’

‘When does he return?’

‘The day after to-morrow, or the day after that.’

‘Then meet me again to-morrow night.’

‘No, Fred, I cannot.’

‘If you cannot to-morrow night, you can the night after; one of the two before he comes please bestow on me. Now, your hand upon it! To-morrow or next night you will see me to bid me farewell!’ He seized the Duchess’s hand.

‘No, but Fred–let go my hand! What do you mean by holding me so? If it be love to forget all respect to a woman’s present position in thinking of her past, then yours may be so, Frederick. It is not kind and gentle of you to induce me to come to this place for pity of you, and then to hold me tight here.’

‘But see me once more! I have come two thousand miles to ask it.’

‘O, I must not! There will be slanders–Heaven knows what! I cannot meet you. For the sake of old times don’t ask it.’

‘Then own two things to me; that you did love me once, and that your husband is unkind to you often enough now to make you think of the time when you cared for me.’

‘Yes–I own them both,’ she answered faintly. ‘But owning such as that tells against me; and I swear the inference is not true.’

‘Don’t say that; for you have come–let me think the reason of your coming what I like to think it. It can do you no harm. Come once more!’

He still held her hand and waist. ‘Very well, then,’ she said. ‘Thus far you shall persuade me. I will meet you to-morrow night or the night after. Now, let me go.’

He released her, and they parted. The Duchess ran rapidly down the hill towards the outlying mansion of Shakeforest Towers, and when he had watched her out of sight, he turned and strode off in the opposite direction. All then was silent and empty as before.

Yet it was only for a moment. When they had quite departed, another shape appeared upon the scene. He came from behind the trilithon. He was a man of stouter build than the first, and wore the boots and spurs of a horseman. Two things were at once obvious from this phenomenon: that he had watched the interview between the Captain and the Duchess; and that, though he probably had seen every movement of the couple, including the embrace, he had been too remote to hear the reluctant words of the lady’s conversation–or, indeed, any words at all–so that the meeting must have exhibited itself to his eye as the assignation of a pair of well-agreed lovers. But it was necessary that several years should elapse before the shepherd-boy was old enough to reason out this.

The third individual stood still for a moment, as if deep in meditation. He crossed over to where the lady and gentleman had stood, and looked at the ground; then he too turned and went away in a third direction, as widely divergent as possible from those taken by the two interlocutors. His course was towards the highway; and a few minutes afterwards the trot of a horse might have been heard upon its frosty surface, lessening till it died away upon the ear.

The boy remained in the hut, confronting the trilithon as if he expected yet more actors on the scene, but nobody else appeared. How long he stood with his little face against the loophole he hardly knew; but he was rudely awakened from his reverie by a punch in his back, and in the feel of it he familiarly recognized the stem of the old shepherd’s crook.