A keen wind swept from the moor, shaking the sap of the drowsy orchard trees, setting the daffodil buds in the sheltered corners dancing, flecking the blue sky with sudden patches of cloud: a day typical of the bright, cruel, energies of youth, scurrying old tired mother earth into activity, ruthlessly eager to set her about her business and call up the joys of spring.
Saltwoods seemed very quiet and empty, standing alone with its memories, in the midst of this cheery bustle of the world without.
Rosamond wandered from room to room, restless alike from weakness and the strain of her dear, wonderful expectation. How long must she wait still? The opiate-effect of her languor had passed and it seemed to her that the suspense of these hours she could not endure. And then, all at once, behold, they had gone by!The moment was at hand, and she was not ready.
She stood before the mirror, looking wistfully upon her white tresses. She wanted to appear beautiful in his eyes. But, alas! she had lost the golden crown of her woman's glory This grey dress that she had chosen, because some such colour had she worn upon the gorse-gold shore those many years ago, it was too pale, too cold, she thought, now that the sunshine of her hair had vanished.
Then she fancied she heard wheels, and caught the rose from her breast to thrust it haphazard into the waves that so strangely shaded in snow the delicate bloom of her face. And then, with the piteous coquetry of the woman who loves, she flung over that white head a scarf of lace, that he might not see too soon, that she might first have made him think her beautiful still, by a smile, a kiss.
But when she came to the door of the hall, there was no one. The wind and her impatience had but made mock of her. The avenue of swaying boughs was empty of all but the eager presence of the spring. She saw how the long grass bent, and whitened, and shivered; how a little unsuspected almond bush had burst into pink blossom among the hoary apple-trees; how, in the gusts, the rosy petals were already scattered abroad.
The panic that the heart knows in the absence of the beloved seized upon her. It was surely long past the time! Oh, God, was the cup to be dashed from their lips?
Frenzied with terror, she ran a pace or two down the avenue, to halt, panting in weaknesspressing her hand to her leaping breast. For a second everything swam before her. Then there came the moan of the gate swinging, and all her senses, strained beyond human limits, echoed to a distant footstep that yet made no sound upon the grass-grown way.
He came with great strides through the old ghost-like trees, whose withered boughs still held the swelling promise of the year's growth. He caught her in his arms, without a word. But she, like a child, clinging to him, cried, complaining:
"Oh, Harry, how late you are! Oh, how I have waited!"
"And I! " he made answer, almost inaudibly. "Eight years!"
His lips were on her eyelids as he spoke.
At this she dropped her head upon his breast, hiding her face; but he could see the crimson creep to the edge of the lace kerchief. There was a slackening of her arms about him, almost as if she would have knelt at his feetthere, in the lonely bare orchard.
He kept her close with his embrace; he had to stoop to hear her stammered words:
"ForgiveI have been shamed."
"Ah, hush!" cried he, quickly, his low voice vibrating with that tenderness for which there is no utterance. "Need there be this between us? Would I be here if I did not understandif I did not know? The music is mine, at lastthe music, Rosamond, that you kept silent, even from me. It is mine, at lastthis is our wedding-daythe rest is nothing."
He raised her quivering face and looked into her eyes, deep, deep. The kerchief fell back from her white hair; the perfume from the fading rose was wafted to his nostrils.
"Oh, my white rose!" he cried, and passionately kissed the blanched head. "Oh, my red, red rose your lips, at last, at last, Rose of the World!"
Thus was fulfilled in the barren home orchard, Harry English's Eastern dream. And there was not a lichened bough that March day but bore him a wealth of leaf and blossom.