Then he suddenly straightened himself and stood tense. Something had happened. He was sure of it. That urgent summons rang in his brain like a cry for help. Some demand was about to be made upon him, a demand which he might find himself ill-equipped to meet. He was not lacking in courage. He could meet adversity without a quiver. But for once he was not sure of himself. He was not prepared to resist any sudden strain that night.
Several minutes passed before he moved. Then, glancing down, he saw her message fast gripped in his hand. With a swift, passionate movement he carried the paper to his lips. And he remembered suddenly how he had once held her hand there and breathed upon the little cold fingers to give them life. He had commanded himself then. Was he any the less his own master now? And was he fool enough to destroy all in a moment that trust of hers which he had built up so laboriously? He felt as if a fiend had ensnared him, and with a fierce effort he broke free. Surely he was torturing himself in vain. She had only sent for him to explain that she could not ride with him in the morning, or some other matter equally trifling. He would go to her at once since she had desired it, and set her mind at rest on whatever subject happened to be troubling it.
And so with steady tread he left the house once more. She had called him for the first time. He would not keep her waiting.
The drawing-room was empty when he entered it, the windows standing flung wide to the night. Strains of dance music were wafted in from somewhere lower down the hill, and he guessed that Lady Bassett would be from home. The pine-trees of the compound stood black and silent. There seemed to be a hush of expectancy in the air.
He stood with his back to the room and his face to the mountains. The moon was still below the horizon, but stars blazed everywhere with a marvellous brightness. It was a night for dreams, and he thought with a quickening heart of the nights that were coming when they two would be alone once more among the hills, no longer starved and fleeing for their lives, but wandering happily together in an enchanted world where the past was all forgotten, and the future gleamed like the peaks of Paradise.
At sound of a quiet footfall, he turned back into the room. Muriel had entered and was closing the door behind her. At first sight he fancied that she was ill, so terribly did her deep mourning and heavy hair emphasise her pallor. But as she moved forward he reassured himself. It was growing late. Doubtless she was tired.
He went impetuously to meet her, and in a moment he had her hands in his; but they lay in his grasp cold and limp, with no responding pressure. Her great eyes, as they looked at him, were emotionless and distant, remote as the lights of a village seen at night across a far-reaching plain. She gave him no word or smile of welcome.