The tennis match was over, and Walter Ingleby stood swinging his racket impatiently beside an opening in the hazel hedge that overhung the lane. Wisps of hay were strewn about it, but already the nut bushes were sprinkled with the honeysuckle's flowers. Beyond the hedge, cornfields blotched with poppies, and cropped meadows, faded into the cold blueness of the east.
Ingleby looked out upon the prospect with a slight hardening of his face, for he loved the quiet, green country in which there was apparently no room for him; but a little thrill of expectancy ran through him as he glanced back across the stile towards the little white village he had left a few minutes earlier. A broad meadow shining with the tender green of the aftermath divided it from the lane, and light laughter and a murmur of voices came faintly across the grass. Again a trace of grimness, which seemed out of place there, crept into his face, and it was with a little resolute movement of his shoulders that he turned and raised his eyes to the dim blue ridge behind which burned the sunset's smoky red. He vaguely felt that it was portentous and emblematical, for that evening the brightness of the West seemed to beckon him.
He had graciously been permitted to play for a somewhat exclusive club during the afternoon, as well as to make himself useful handing round tea and carrying chairs, because he played tennis well, and the president's wife had said that while there was a risk in admitting that kind of people, young Ingleby evidently knew his place, and was seldom guilty of presumption. This was true, for Ingleby was shrewd enough to realize that there were limits to the toleration extended him, though the worthy lady would probably have been astonished had she known what his self-repression occasionally cost him. That a young man of his position should not esteem it a privilege to teach beginners and submit to be snubbed by any one of importance who happened to be out of temper had never occurred to her. Still, he certainly knew his place, and having played well, to please himself and his partner, had slipped away when the last game was over, since he understood that the compliments were not for him.
Suddenly his heart beat a trifle faster as a figure appeared in the meadow. It was a girl of about his own age, which did not greatly exceed twenty, who carried herself well, and moved, it seemed to him, with a gracefulness he had never noticed in any other woman. She wore a white hat with red poppies on it, and he noticed that the flowers he had diffidently offered her were still tucked in the belt of the light grey dress. She was walking slowly, and apparently did not see him in the shadow, so that when she stopped a moment with her hand upon the stile he could, although he felt the presumption of it, look at her steadily.