Seeing I was unobserved by the company, I slipped away to indulge in my foolish habit of asking the why and the wherefore of things. Why had Harold Beecham (who was a sort of young sultan who could throw the handkerchief where he liked) chosen me of all women? I had no charms to recommend me—none of the virtues which men demand of the woman they wish to make their wife. To begin with, I was small, I was erratic and unorthodox, I was nothing but a tomboy—and, cardinal disqualification, I was ugly. Why, then, had he proposed matrimony to me? Was it merely a whim? Was he really in earnest?
The night was soft and dark; after being out in it for a time I could discern the shrubs dimly silhouetted against the light. The music struck up inside again. A step approached me on the gravelled walk among the flowers, and Harold called me softly by name. I answered him.
“Come,” he said, “we are going to dance; will you be my partner?”
We danced, and then followed songs and parlour games, and it was in the small hours when the merry goodnights were all said and we had retired to rest. Aunt Helen dropped to sleep in a short time; but I lay awake listening to the soft distant call of the mopokes in the scrub beyond the stables.
My Unladylike Behaviour Again
Joe Archer was appointed to take us home on the morrow. When our host was seeing us off—still with his eye covered—he took opportunity of whispering to me his intention of coming to Caddagat on the following Sunday.
Early in the afternoon of that day I took a book, and, going down the road some distance, climbed up a broad-branched willow-tree to wait for him.
It was not long before he appeared at a smart canter. He did not see me in the tree, but his horse did, and propping, snorted wildly, and gave a backward run. Harold spurred him, he bucked spiritedly. Harold now saw me and sang out:
“I say, don’t frighten him any more or he’ll fling me, saddle and all. I haven’t got a crupper or a breastplate.”
“Why haven’t you, then? Hang on to him. I do like the look of you while the horse is going on like that.”
He had dismounted, and had thrown the bridle rein over a post of the fence.
“I came with nothing but a girth, and that loose, as it was so hot; and I was as near as twopence to being off, saddle and all. You might have been the death of me,” he said good-humouredly.
“Had I been, my fortune would have been made,” I replied.
“How do you make that out? You’re as complimentary as ever.”
“Everyone would be wanting to engage me as the great noxious weed-killer and poisonous insect exterminator if I made away with you,” I answered. I gave him an invitation to take a scat with me, and accepting, he swung up with easy grace. There was any amount of accommodation for the two of us on the good-natured branches of the old willow-tree.