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Chapter One"Come you not from Newcastle?
Come you not there away?
Oh, met you not my true love?"
I might have been alone in a painted landscape. The sky was still and blue, and the high cauliflower clouds over towards the south seemed to hang without movement. Against their curded bases the fells curved and folded, blue foothills of the Pennines giving way to the misty green of pasture, where, small in the distance as hedge-parsley, trees showed in the folded valleys, symbols, perhaps, of houses and farms. But in all that windless, wide landscape, I could see no sign of man's hand, except the lines as old as the ridge and furrow of the pasture below me of the dry stone walls, and the arrogant stride of the great Wall which Hadrian had driven across Northumberland, nearly two thousand years ago.
The blocks of the Roman-cut stone were warm against my back. Where I sat, the Wall ran high along a ridge. To the right, the cliff fell sheer away to water, the long reach of Crag Lough, now quiet as glass in the sun. To the left, the sweeping, magnificent view to the Pennines. Ahead of me, ridge after ridge running west, with the Wall cresting each curve like a stallion's mane.
There was a sycamore in the gully just below me. Some stray current of air rustled its leaves, momentarily, with a sound like rain. Two lambs, their mother astray somewhere not far away, were sleeping, closely cuddled together, in the warm May sunshine. They had watched me for a time, but I sat there without moving, except for the hand thatlifted the cigarette to my mouth, and after a while the two heads went down again to the warm grass, and they slept.
I sat in the sun, and thought. Nothing definite, but if I had been asked to define my thoughts they would all have come to one word. England. This turf, this sky, the heartsease in the grass; the old lines of ridge and furrow, and the still older ghosts of Roman road and Wall; the ordered, spare beauty of the northern fens; this, in front of me now, was England. This other Eden, demi-paradise. This dear, dear land.
It was lonely enough, certainly. We had it to ourselves, I and the lambs, and the curlew away up above, and the fritillaries that flickered like amber sparks over the spring grasses. I might have been the first and only woman in it; Eve, sitting there in the sunlight and dreaming of Adam....
He spoke from behind me. I hadn't heard him approach. He must have come quietly along the turf to the south of the Wall, with his dog trotting gently at heel. He was less than four yards from me when I whirled round, my cigarette flying from startled fingers down among the wild thyme and yellow cinquefoil that furred the lower courses of the Roman stones.
Dimly I was aware that the lambs had bolted, crying.
The man who had shattered the dream had stopped two yards from me. Not Adam; just a young man in shabby, serviceable country tweeds. He was tall, and slenderly built, with that whippy look to him that told you he would be an ugly customer in a fight and with something else about him that made it sufficiently obvious that he would not need much excuse to join any fight that was going. Possibly it is a look that is inbred with the Irish, for there could be no doubt about this man's ancestry. He had the almost excessive good looks of a certain type of Irishman, black hair, eyes of startling blue, and charm in the long, mobile mouth. His skin was fair, but had acquired that hard tan which is the result of weathering rather than of sunburn, and which would, in another twenty years, carve his face into a handsome mask of oak. He had a stick in one hand, and a collie hung watchfully at his heels, a beautiful creature with the same kind of springy, rapier grace as the master, and the same air of self-confident good breeding.
Not Adam, no, this intruder into my demi-Eden. But quite possibly the serpent. He was looking just about as friendly and as safe as a black mamba.
He took in his breath in a long sound that might even have been described as a hiss.
"So it is you! I thought I couldn't be mistaken! It is you.... The old man always insisted you couldn't be dead, and that you'd come back one day...and by God, who'd have thought he was right?"
He was speaking quite softly, but just what was underlying that very pleasant voice I can't quite describe. The dog heard it, too. It would be too much to say that its hackles lifted, but I saw its ears flatten momentarily, as it rolled him an upward, white-eyed look, and the thick collie-ruff stirred on its neck.
I hadn't moved. I must have sat there, dumb and stiff as the stones themselves, gaping up at the man. I did open my mouth to say something, but the quiet, angry voice swept on, edged now with what sounded (fantastic though it should have seemed on that lovely afternoon) like danger.
"And what have you come back for? Tell me that! Just what do you propose to do? Walk straight home and hang up your hat? Because if that's the idea, my girl, you can think again, and fast! It's not your grandfather you'll be dealing with now, you know, it's me...I'm in charge, sweetheart...and I'm staying that way. So be warned."
I did manage to speak then. In face of whatever strong emotion was burning the air between us, anything that I could think...
The Ivy Tree. Copyright © by Mary Stewart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.