“Ah, my God! My God! Have I not heard? What else have I heard, these years? And you’re big enough not to ask—
“It can’t endure this way,” said he, after a time at last. “You must go. Once in a while I forget. It’s got to be good-by between you and me. We’ll set to-morrow morning as the time for you to go.
“As I have a witness,” he said at last, “I’ve paid. Good-by!”
He crushed her to him once, as though she were no more than a flower, as though he would take the heart of her fragrance. Then, even as she felt the heave of his great body, panting at the touch of her, mad at the scent of her hair, he put her back from him with a sob, a groan. As when the knife had begun its work, his scarred fingers caught her white arms. He bent over, afraid to look into her eyes, afraid to ask if her throat panted too, afraid to risk the red curve of her lips, so close now to his, so sure to ruin him. He bent and kissed her hands, his lips hot on them; and so left her trembling.
[Illustration: He bent and kissed her hands.]
THE WAY OF A MAID
It is the blessing of the humble that they have simplicity of mental processes. Not that Hector himself perhaps would thus have described himself. The curve of the black crow’s wing on his somewhat retreating forehead, the tilt of his little hat, the swing of his body above the hips as he walked, all bespoke Hector’s opinion of himself to be a good one. Valiant among men, irresistible among the women of St. Genevieve, he was not the one to mitigate his confidence in himself now that he found himself free from competition and in the presence of a fair one whom in sudden resolve he established in his affections as quite without compare. In short, Hector had not tarried a second week at Tallwoods before offering his hand and his cooper shop to Jeanne.
To the eyes of Jeanne herself, confined as they had been to the offerings of a somewhat hopeless class of serving persons here or there, this swaggering young man, with his broad shoulders, his bulky body, his air of bravado, his easy speech, his ready arm, offered a personality with which she was not too familiar, and which did not lack its appeal. With Gallic caution she made delicate inquiry of Hector’s father as to the yearly returns and probable future of the cooperage business at St. Genevieve, as to the desirability of the surrounding country upon which the cooperage business must base its own fortunes. All these matters met her approval. Wherefore, the air of Jeanne became tinged with a certain lofty condescension. In her own heart she trembled now, not so much as to her own wisdom or her own future, but as to the meeting which must be had between herself and her mistress.
This meeting at last did take place, not by the original motion of Jeanne herself. The eye of her mistress had not been wholly blind all these days.