Dusk had begun to fall, but still two figures went on through the forest—slowly, with obvious effort. One turned often to the other, held back a branch, or proffered such service as he might over rough places, for Betty Dalrymple’s movements were no longer those of a lithe wood-nymph; she had never felt so weary before. The first shades of twilight made it harder to distinguish their way amid intervening objects, and once an elastic bit of underbrush struck her sharply in the face. The blow smarted like the touch of a whip but she only smiled faintly. The momentary sting spurred her on faster, until her foot caught and she stumbled and would have fallen except that Mr. Heatherbloom had turned at that moment and put out an arm.
“Forgive me.” His voice was full of contrition. “It has been brutal to make you go on like this, but I had to.”
“It doesn’t matter.” The slender form slid from him over-quickly. “You, too, must be very tired,” she said with breath coming fast.
He glanced swiftly back; listened. “We’ll rest here,” he commanded. “We’ve got to. I should have stopped before, but”—the words came in a harsher staccato—“I dared not.”
“I’ll be all right in a few moments,” she answered, resting on a fallen log, “and then—”
“No, no,” he said in a tone of finality. “After all, there is small likelihood they’ll find us now. Besides, it will soon be too dark to go on. Fortunately, the night is warm, and I’ve got this cloak for you.”
“And for yourself?” Her voice was very low and quiet, or perhaps it seemed so because here, in the little recess in the great wood, the hush was most pronounced.
“Me?” he laughed. “You seem to forget I’m one of the happy brotherhood that just drop down anywhere. Shouldn’t know what to do with a silk eiderdown if I had one.”
His gaiety sounded rather forced. She was silent and the quietude seemed oppressive. The girl leaned back to a great tree trunk and looked up. The sky wore an ocher hue against which the branches quivered in zigzags of blackness. Mr. Heatherbloom moved apart to watch, but still he neither saw nor heard sign of any one drawing near. The sad ocher merged into a somber blue; the stars came out, one by one, then in shoals. She could hardly see him now, so fast had the tropical night descended, but she heard his step, returning.
“Quite certain there’s no danger,” he reassured her. “Went back a way.”
“Thank you,” she said. And added: “For all.”