“By all means,” he answered. “Only, you know, I can’t very well let you cut your feet to pieces on these cruel stones, so I am just going to carry you up over the Bar”—
“No—no—I can perfectly well walk. I mean to walk—see,” she cried.
And started courageously up the rough ascent, only to slip, after a few paces, and to stagger. For as soon as she attempted to move, she felt herself not only weak, but oddly faint and giddy. She lurched forward, and to avoid falling instinctively clutched at her companion’s outstretched hand. Exactly what passed between the young man and young girl in that hand-clasp—the first contact they had had of one another—it might seem far-reached and fantastic to affirm; yet that it steadied not only Damaris’ trembling limbs, but her trembling and over-wrought spirit, is beyond question. For it was kind and more than kind—tender, and that with the tenderness of right and usage rather than of sentimental response to a passing sentimental appeal.
“There, there,” he said, “what’s the use of working to keep up this little farce any longer? Just give in—you can’t put off doing so in the end. Why not at once, then, accept defeat and spare both yourself and me pain? You are no more fit to walk, than you are fit to fly—to fly away from me!—That’s what you want, isn’t it? Ah! that flight will come, no doubt, all in good time.—But meanwhile, be sensible. Put your left arm round my neck—like this, yes. Then—just a little hoist, and, if you’ll not worry but keep still, nothing’s easier.”
As he spoke, Faircloth stooped, lightly and with no apparent exertion lifting her high, so that—she clasping his neck as instructed—the main weight of her body rested upon his shoulder. With his right arm he held her just above the waist, his left arm below her knees cradling her.
“Now rest quiet,” he said. “Know you are safe and think only of comfortable things—among them this one, if you care to, that for once in my life I am content.”
Yet over such yielding and treacherous ground, upward to the crown of the ridge and downward to the river, progress could not be otherwise than slow. Twilight, and that of the dreariest and least penetrable, overtook them before Faircloth, still carrying the white-clothed figure, reached the jetty. Here, at the bottom of the wooden steps he set Damaris down, led her up them and handed her into the boat—tied up to, and the tide being at the flood, now little below the level of the staging.
WHEREIN DAMARIS MAKES SOME ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE HIDDEN WAYS OF MEN
Throughout their singular journey—save for briefest question and answer about her well-being at the commencement of it—the two had kept silence, as though conscious Faircloth’s assertion of contentment struck a chord any resolution of which might imperil the simplicity of their relation. Thus far that relation showed a noble freedom from embarrassment. It might have continued to do so but for a hazardous assumption on his part.