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Marion Arleigh's Penance Everyday Life Library No. 5   By: (1836-1884)

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Marion Arleigh's Penance


Author of "Dora Thorne," "Madolin's Lover," "Lord Elesmere's Wife," "A Rose in Thorns," "The Belle of Lynn," Etc.


Three o'clock on a warm June afternoon. The great heat has caused something like a purple haze to cloud over the deep blue of the sapphire sky. There is not one breath of wind to stir the leaves or cool the flushed faces of those whose duties call them out on this sultry June day. Away in the deep green heart of the broad land broad streams are flowing; in the very heart of the green woods there is cool, silent shade; by the borders of the sea, where the waves break with a low, musical murmur, there is a cooling breeze; but here in London on this bright June afternoon there is nothing to lessen the white, intense heat, and even the flowers exposed for sale in the streets are drooping, the crimson roses look thirsting for dew, the white lilies are fading, the bunches of mignonette give forth a fragrance sweet as the "song of the swan in dying," and the golden sun pours down its flood of rich, warm light over all.

Three o'clock, and the express leaves Euston Square for Scotland at a quarter past. The heat in the station is very great, the noise almost deafening; huge engines are pouring out volumes of steam, the shrill whistle sounds, porters are hurrying to and fro. The quarter past three train is a great favorite more people travel by that than by any other and the platform is crowded by ladies, children, tourists, commercial gentlemen. There are very few of the humbler class. Ten minutes past three. The passengers are taking their places. The goddess of discord and noise reigns supreme, when from one of the smaller doors there glides, with soft, almost noiseless step, the figure of a woman.

She wore a long gray cloak that entirely shrouded her figure; a black veil hid her face so completely that not one feature could be seen. When she entered the station the change from the blinding glare outside to the shade within seemed to bewilder her. She stood for a few moments perfectly motionless; then she looked around her in a cautious, furtive manner, as though she would fain see if there was any one she recognized.

But in that busy crowd every one was intent on his or her business; no one had any attention to spare for her. She went with the same noiseless step to the booking office. Most of the passengers had taken their tickets; she was one of the very last. She looked at the clerk in a vague, helpless way.

"Where to, ma'am?" he asked, for she had only said, "I want a ticket."

"Where to?" she repeated. "Where does the train stop?"

"It will stop at Chester and Crewe."

"Then give me a ticket for Crewe," she said, and, with a smile on his face, the clerk complied. She took the ticket and he gave her the change. She swept it into her purse with an absent, preoccupied manner, and he turned with a smile to one of his fellow clerks, touching his forehead significantly.

"She is evidently on the road for Colney Hatch," he observed. "If I had said the train would stop at Liliput, in my opinion she would have said, 'Give me a ticket for there.'"

But the object of his remarks, all unconscious of them, had gone on to the platform. With the same appearance of not wishing to be seen, she looked into the carriages.

There was one almost empty; she entered it, took her seat in the corner, drew her veil still more closely over her face, and never raised her eyes.

A quarter past three; the bell rings loudly. There is a shrill whistle, and then, slowly at first, the train moves out of the station. A few minutes more, and the long walls, the numerous arches, are all left behind, and they are out in the blinding sunlight, hurrying through the clear, golden day as though life and death depended upon its speed. On, on, past the green meadows, where the hedgerows were filled with woodbines and wild roses, and the clover filled the air with fragrance; past gray old churches whose tapering spires pointed to heaven; past quiet homesteads sleeping in the sunshine; past silent, quaint villages and towns; past broad rivers and dark woods... Continue reading book >>

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