CHAPTER XII
MR. REDBROOK'S PARTY

THE storm was over, and the bare trees, when the moon shone between the hurrying clouds, cast lacelike shadows on the white velvet surface of the snow as Austen forged his way up the hill to the Widow Peasley's in keeping with his promise to Mr. Redbrook. Across the street he paused outside the picket-fence to gaze at the yellow bars of light between the slats of the windows of the Duncan house. It was hard to realize that she was there, within a stone's throw of where he was to sleep; but the strange, half-startled expression in her eyes that afternoon and the smile -- which had in it a curious quality he could not analyze -- were so vivid in his consciousness as to give him pain. The incident, as he stood there ankle-deep in the snow, seemed to him another inexplicable and uselessly cruel caprice of fate.

As he pictured her in the dining room behind Mr. Crewe's silver and cut glass and flowers, it was undoubtedly natural that he should wonder whether she were thinking of him in the Widow Peasley's lamp-lit cottage, and he smiled at the contrast. After all, it was the contrast between his life and hers. As an American of good antecedents and education, with a Western experience thrown in, social gulfs, although awkward, might be crossed in spite of opposition from ladies like the Rose of Sharon, -- who had crossed them. Nevertheless, the life which Victoria led seemingly accentuated -- to a man standing behind a picket-fence in the snow -- the voids between.

A stamping of feet in the Widow Peasley's vestibule

-178-

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