“What is so rare as a day in June?” said Willits, with deliberate malice.
“Ah, yes, very much so. Delighted to have met you. You will excuse me, I’m sure. Annabel,” with an impatient glance toward a stout, awkward woman in the background, “if you are not quite ready I think Miss Coombe and I will walk on.” He moved toward the dark girl as he spoke and Willits followed.
“Then I’ll have to come some other day to get the roses,” they heard Callandar say. “But remember I haven’t a single flower in the office. So it will have to be soon.”
“At any time,” answered the girl, flushing slightly.
“No flowers?” repeated the minister, a little fussily, “dear me, I will speak to my sister. Annabel will be delighted to send you any quantity, Doctor. You must really drop in to see our garden, some day. Sunday, of course, is a busy day with me. Come, Miss Esther. Good morning, Doctor. Good morning, Professor. Glad to see you at our services any time—”
Bowing courteously, the minister moved away, followed perforce by Miss Coombe. (An invitation to lunch at the manse is an honour not to be trifled with.) Perforce also the doctor stood aside and Willits caught the look, half shy, half merry, which the girl threw him from the depths of her remarkable eyes. It was really quite interesting, and rather funny. Not often had he seen fair ladies carried off from under the nose of Henry Callandar. Transferring his glance quickly to the face of his friend, he hoped to surprise a look of chagrin upon his abashed countenance, but the countenance was not abashed, and the look which he did surprise there startled him considerably. Henry Callandar, of all men, to be looking after any girl with a look like that!
Well, he had been invited to come and see. And he had seen.
As Esther walked away, demurely acquiescent, by the side of the Rev. Mr. Macnair she was conscious of a conflict of emotions. The sight of the doctor’s disappointed face as he stood hat in hand, awoke regret and perhaps a trifle of girlish gratification. She had been sorry herself to miss that half hour among the roses but she was still too young and too happy to know how few are such hours, how irrevocable such losses. Also, it had seemed good to her maidenly pride that Dr. Callandar should know—well, that he should see—just exactly what he should know and see she did not formulate. But underneath her temporary disappointment she felt as light and glad as a bird in springtime.
The minister was speaking, but he had been speaking for several moments before Esther’s delighted flutter would permit of her listening to him. When at last her thoughts came back she noticed, with a happy-guilty start, that his tone was one of dignified reproof.
“Naturally we all understand,” he was saying, “at least I hope we all understand, that you are not primarily to blame. At the worst one can only impute carelessness—”