Was he going to lose her?
The very question set him trembling. He held out his quivering hand and looked at it, and set his teeth. Heaven and earth, how strange it was! This girl had taken possession of him body and soul; every fibre of his being clamoured for her. To be near her, just to be able to see her, hear her, meant happiness; to be torn from her—
The sweat broke out on his forehead and he laughed grimly.
“And this is love!” he said, between his teeth. “Yes—and it’s the only love of my life. God help me if you say ‘no,’ dearest! But you must not—you must not!”
Quite an hour after Stafford had started to meet Ida, Miss Falconer made her appearance, coming slowly down the stairs in the daintiest of morning frocks, with her auburn hair shining like old gold in the sunlight, and an expression of languor in her beautiful face which would have done credit to a hot-house lily.
She had slept the sleep of the just—the maid who had gone to wake her with her early cup of tea had been almost startled by the statuesqueness of her beauty, as she lay with her head pillowed on her snow-white arm and her wonderful hair streaming over the pillow—had suffered herself to be dressed with imperial patience, and looked—as Howard, who stood at the bottom of the stairs—said to himself, “like a queen of the Incas descending to her throne-room.”
“Good-morning, Miss Falconer,” he greeted her. “It’s a lovely morning; you’ll find it nicely aired.” She smiled languidly.
“That means that I am late.” she said, her eyes resting languidly on his cynically smiling face.
“Good heavens, no!” he responded. “You can’t be late or early in this magic palace. Whenever you ‘arrive’ you will find things—’things’ in the most comprehensive sense—ready for you. Breakfast at Brae Wood is the most moveable of feasts. I’ve proved that, for I’m a late bird myself; and to my joy I have learned that this is the only house with which I am acquainted that you can get red-hot bacon and kidneys at any hour from eight to twelve; that lunch runs plenteously from one to three, and that you can get tea and toast—my great and only weakness, Miss Falconer—whenever you like to ring for it. You will find Lady Clansford presiding at the breakfast-table: I believe she has been sitting there—amiable martyr as she is—since the early dawn.”
She smiled at him with languid approval, as if he were some paid jester, and went into the breakfast-room. There were others there beside Lady Clansford—most of them the young people—it is, alas! only the young who can sleep through the bright hours of a summer’s morn—and a discussion on the programme of the day was being carried on with a babel of voices and much laughter.
“You shall decide for us, Miss Falconer!” exclaimed one of the young men, whose only name appeared to be Bertie, for he was always addressed as and spoken of by it. “It’s a toss-up between a drive and a turn on the lake in the electric launch. I proposed a sail, but there seemed to be a confirmed and general scepticism as to my yachting capacities, and Lady Plaistow says she doesn’t want to be drowned before the end of the season. What would you like to do?”