With a spasmodic effort he got on his feet, seized glass and pipe, and waddled out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
In the ringing silence a charred log broke and fell in a shower of sparks, tincturing the air with the perfume of sweet birch smoke.
[Illustration: “A strange shyness seemed to hold us apart".]
I rose from my chair. Dorothy rose, too, trembling. A strange shyness seemed to hold us apart. She stood there, the forced smile stamped on her lips, watching me with the fascination of fear; and I steadied myself on the arm of my chair, looking deep into her eyes, seeking to recognize in her the child I had known.
The child had gone, and in her place stood this lovely, silent stranger, with all the mystery of woman-hood in her eyes—that sweet light, exquisitely prophetic, divinely sad.
“Dorothy,” I said, under my breath. “All that is brave and adorable in you, I love and worship. You have risen so far above me—and I am so weak and—and broken, and unworthy—”
“I love you,” she faltered, her lips scarcely moving. Then the color surged over brow and throat; she laid her hands on her hot cheeks; I took her in my arms, holding her imprisoned. At my touch the color faded from her face, leaving it white as a flower.
“I fear you—maid spiritual, maid militant—Maid-at-Arms!” I stammered.
“And I fear you,” she murmured, looking at me. “What lover does the whole world hold like you? What hero can compare with you? And who am I that I should take you away from the whole world? Sweetheart, I am afraid.”
“Then fear no more,” I whispered, and bent my head. She raised her pale face; her arms crept up around my neck and tightened, clinging closer as her closing lips met mine.
There came a tapping at the door, a shuffle of felt-shod feet—
“Mars’ Gawge, suh, yo’ hoss done saddle’, suh.”