A BIG THING
As the widowed rector’s only daughter, Dot’s occupations were many and various, and it was in consequence no difficult matter to be too deeply engrossed in these occupations to have any time to spare for intercourse with the rector’s pupil.
Her brother had gone back to college, and there was therefore no excuse for the said pupil to linger when his studies were over, though he invented many that would not have borne a very close investigation.
But his ingenuity was all to no purpose. Dot could be ingenious too, and she evaded him so adroitly that at the end of a week he had abandoned his efforts.
He went about with a certain sternness in those days, but it was not the sternness of the vanquished, rather the dogged patience of the man who is quite sure of ultimate success. Dot, peeping from the kitchen window to see him ride away, marked this on more than one occasion and strengthened her defences in consequence. She had not the remotest intention of seeing Bertie alone again for many a month, if ever. His persistence had scared her badly on that night at Baronmead. She was horribly afraid of what he might feel impelled to say to her, almost terrified at the bare notion of an explanation, and the prospect of a possible apology was unthinkable. It was easier for her to sacrifice his good comradeship, though that of itself was no easy matter, and she could only thrust her sense of loss into the background of her thoughts by the most strenuous efforts.
She was sturdily determined to make him relinquish their former pleasant intimacy before they should meet again. She was growing up, she told herself severely, growing up fast; and intimacies of that sort were likely to be misconstrued.
She took the counsel of none upon this difficult matter. Her father was too vague a dreamer to guide her, or so much as to realise that she stood in need of guidance. And Dot had gone her own independent way all her life. Her healthy young mind was not accustomed to grapple with problems, but she did not despair on that account. She only resolutely set herself to cope with this one as best she might, erecting out of her multifarious duties a barrier calculated to dishearten the most hopeful knight.
But in thus constructing her defences there was one force with which she omitted to reckon and against which she in consequence made no preparation, a force which, nevertheless, was capable of shattering all her carefully-laid schemes at a touch.
As she emerged among the last of the congregation from the church on the Sunday morning following her visit to Baronmead, she found Lucas Errol leaning upon the open lych-gate.
He greeted her with that shrewd, kindly smile of his before which it was almost impossible to feel embarrassed or constrained. Yet she blushed vividly at meeting him, and would gladly have turned the other way had the opportunity offered. For there in the road below, doing something to the motor, was Bertie.