“She is asleep,” he thought. “Of course she is asleep. Thank God!”
Then, on the instant of dropping his eyes from the window, he saw her. She was standing quite near, in the shadow of the elm.
“Esther!” The one word leaped from his lips like a cry.
“Yes, it is I,” she said.
She offered no word of explanation nor did any need of one occur to him. Moving from the shadow into the soft starlight she came toward him like the spirit of the night. But when she paused, so close that only the gate divided them, he saw that her eyes were wide and dark with trouble.
“I am so glad you came. I wanted to see you. I—I could not sleep.” She spoke with the direct simplicity of a child, yet nothing could have shown more plainly that she was a child no longer. All her pretty girlish hesitation, all her happy shyness had passed away on the breath of the great awakening. It was a woman who stood there, pale, remote, with a woman’s question in her eyes.
The keen shock of the change in her filled Callandar with rebellious joy; it would be pain presently, but, just for the moment, love exulted shamelessly, claiming her own. He tried to answer her but no words came.
“You look very tired.” She seemed not to notice his silence. “I must not keep you. But there is a question I want to ask. Mother told me to-night that you and she are to be married. Is it true?”
How incredible she was, he thought. How perfect in her direct and simple dignity. Yet there had crept into her tone a wistfulness which broke his heart.
“Yes. It is true.” He could do no less than meet her on her own high ground.
“She said,” the girl’s sweet, remote voice went on, “that you had loved each other all your lives. Is that true, too?”
He had hoped that he might be spared the bitterness of this, but since only one answer was possible, “It is true,” he said hoarsely, “it is true that we loved each other—long ago.”
“Long ago—and now?” He was to be spared nothing, it seemed. Her wide eyes searched his face. Lest she should read it too plainly, he bowed his head.
Then suddenly, even as she drew back from him, hurt to the heart, some trick of moonlight on his half-hidden face, linked to swift memory, showed her another moonlight night, a canoe, a story told—and in a flash the miracle had happened. Intuition had leaped the gulf of his enforced silence—Esther knew.
A great wonder grew in her eyes, an immense relief.
“Why,” she spoke whisperingly, “I see, I know! She, my mother, is the girl you told me of. The girl you married—”
She did not need the confirmation of his miserable eyes. It was all quite plain. With a little broken sigh of understanding, she leaned her head against the gate post and, all child again, began to cry softly behind the shelter of her hands.