He did not at once answer her. He waited till with an odd reluctance she turned her face towards him. Then, “I was thinking of you,” he said.
Her heart gave a quick throb. “Of me?” she questioned below her breath.
“Of you,” he said again. “For myself, I have got all I can ever hope for. But you—you would be awfully happy, wouldn’t you, if—”
“If—” murmured Avery.
He stooped again to kiss her white bosom. “And it would be a bond between us,” he said, as if continuing some remark he had not uttered.
She turned more fully to him. “Do we need that?” she said.
“We might—some day,” he answered, in a tone that somehow made it impossible for her to protest. “Anyhow, my darling, I knew,—I guessed. And I’m awfully glad—for your sake.”
She bent towards him. “Not for your own?” she whispered pleadingly.
He laid his head suddenly down upon her knees with a sound that was almost a groan.
“Piers!” she said in distress.
He was silent for a space, then slowly raised himself. She had a sense of shock at sight of his face. It looked haggard and grey, as if a withering hand had touched him and shorn away his youth.
“Avery,—oh, Avery,” he said, “I wish I were a better man!”
It was a cry wrung from his soul—the hungry cry which she had longed to hear, and it sent a great joy through her even though it wrung her own soul also.
She bent to him swiftly. “Dearest, we all feel that sometimes. And I think it is the Hand of God upon us, opening our eyes.”
He did not answer or make any response to her words. Only as he clasped her to him, she heard him sigh. And she knew that, strive as he might to silence that soul-craving with earthly things, it would beat on unsatisfied through all. She came nearer to understanding him that night that ever before.
THE FIRST GUEST
“I am greatly honoured to be your first guest,” said Crowther.
“The honour is ours to get you,” Avery declared. She sat on the terrace whither she had conducted him, and smiled at him across the tea-table with eyes of shining friendship.
Crowther smiled back, thinking to himself how pleasant a picture she made. She was dressed in white, and her face was flushed and happy, even girlish in its animation. There was a ring of laughter in her voice when she talked that was very good to hear. She had herself just brought him from the station in Piers’ little two-seater, and her obvious pleasure at meeting him still hung about her, making her very fair to see.
“Piers is so busy just now,” she told him. “He sent all sorts of messages. He had to go over to Wardenhurst to see Colonel Rose. The M.P. for this division retired at the end of the Session, and Piers is to stand for the constituency. They talk of having the election in October.”