Piers smiled a little, but the lines about his mouth were grim. “Oh, all right,” he said, after a moment, “I promise;—for I think you are right, Crowther. I think too that I should probably have to tell her—whether I wanted to or not. She’s that sort—the sort that none but a skunk could deceive. But—” his voice altered suddenly; he turned brooding eyes upon the sleeping sea—“I wonder if she will forgive me,” he said. “I—wonder.”
“Does she love you?” said Crowther.
Piers’ eyes flashed round at him. “I can make her love me,” he said.
“You are sure?”
“I am sure.”
“Then, my son, she’ll forgive you. And if you want to play a straight game, tell her soon!” said Crowther.
And Piers, with all the light gone out of his eyes,
In the morning they hired horses and went towards the mountains. The day was cloudless, but Sir Beverley would not be persuaded to accompany them.
“I’m not in the mood for exertion,” he said to Piers. “Besides, I detest hired animals, always did. I shall spend an intellectual morning listening to the band.”
“Hope you won’t be bored, sir,” said Piers.
“Your going or coming wouldn’t affect that one way or another,” responded Sir Beverley.
Whereat Piers laughed and went his way.
He was curiously light-hearted again that morning. The soft Southern air with its many perfumes exhilarated him like wine. The scent of the orange-groves rose as incense to the sun.
The animal he rode danced a skittish side-step from time to time. It was impossible to go with sober mien.
“It’s a good land,” said Crowther.
“Flowing with milk and honey,” laughed Piers, with his eyes on the olive-clothed slopes. “But there’s no country like one’s own, what?”
“No country like England, you mean,” said Crowther.
“Of course I do, but I was too polite to say so.”
“You needn’t be polite to me,” said Crowther with his slow smile. “And England happens to be my country. I am as British—” he glanced at Piers’ dark face—“perhaps even a little more so—than you are.”
“I plead guilty to an Italian grandmother,” said Piers. “But you—I thought you were Colonial.”
“I am British born and bred,” said Crowther.
“You?” Piers looked at him in surprise. “You don’t belong to Australia then?”
“Only by adoption. I was the son of an English parson. I was destined for the Church myself for the first twenty years of my life.” Crowther was still smiling, but his eyes had left Piers; they scanned the horizon contemplatively.
“Great Scott!” said Piers. “Lucky escape for you, what?”
“I didn’t think so at the time,” Crowther spoke thoughtfully, sitting motionless in his saddle and gazing straight before him. “You see, I was keen on the religious life. I was narrow in my views—I was astonishingly narrow; but I was keen.”