CHAPTER I THE LADY OF THE TREE
The man lay in the tall grass. Behind him the wall of the Killimaga estate, from its beginning some fifty yards to his left, stretched away to his right for over a thousand feet. Along the road which ran almost parallel with the wall was the remnant of what had once been a great woods; yearly the county authorities determined to cut away its thick undergrowth—and yearly left it alone. On the left the road was bare for some distance along the bluff; then, bending, it again sought the shelter of the trees and meandered along until it lost itself in the main street of Sihasset, a village large enough to support three banks and, after a fashion, eight small churches. In front, had the lounger cared to look, he would have seen the huge rocks topping the bluff against which the ocean dashed itself into angry foam. But the man didn't care to look—for in the little clearing between the wall of Killimaga and the bluff road was peace too profound to be wantonly disturbed by motion. And so he lay there lazily smoking his cigar, his long length concealed by the tall grass.
Hearing a slight click behind him and to his right, the man slowly, even languidly, turned his head to peer through the grass. But his energy was unrewarded, for he saw nothing he had not seen before—a long wall, its rough stones half hidden by creeping vines, at its base a rank growth of shrubs and wild hedge; behind it, in the near distance, the towers of a house that, in another land, perched amid jutting crags, would have inspired visions of far-off days of romance. Even in its New England setting the great house held a rugged charm, heightened by the big trees which gave it a setting of rich green. Some of the trees had daringly advanced almost to the wall itself, while one—a veritable giant—had seemingly been caught while just stepping through.
With a bored sigh, as if even so slight an effort were too great, the smoker settled himself more comfortably and resumed his indolent musing. Then he heard the sound again. This time he did not trouble to look around. Something white swished quickly past him and he stared, bewildered. It was a woman, young, if her figure were to be trusted. His cigar dropped in the grass, and there he let it lie. His gaze never left her as she walked on; and he could scarcely be blamed, for he was still under thirty-five and feminine early twenties has an interest to masculine full youth. He had never seen anyone quite so charming. And so he watched the lady as she walked to the edge of the bluff overlooking the sea, and turned to the left to go along the pathway toward the village.
Five hundred yards away she was met by a tall man wearing a long black coat. Was it the priest he had noticed that morning at the door of the Catholic church in the village? Yes, there was no doubt about that; it was the priest. He had just lifted his hat to the lady and was now turning to walk back with her by the way he had come. They evidently knew each other well; and the man watching them almost laughed at himself when he realized that he was slightly piqued at the clergyman's daring to know her while he did not....