“You dance fine,” he said. “Shall us cross the fire?”
She did not understand. In her giddiness they seemed to be moving in a wide, empty space among many fires, nor had she an idea which was the real one. His arm tightened about her.
“Now!” he whispered. With a leap they whirled high and across the bonfire. Her feet had scarcely touched ground before they were off again to the music—or would have been; but, to her immense surprise, her partner had dropped on his knees before her and was clasping her about the ankles. She heard a shout. The fire had caught the edge of her skirt and her frock was burning.
It was over in a moment. His arms had stifled, extinguished the flame before she knew of her danger. Still kneeling, holding her fast, he looked up, and their eyes met. “Take me back,” she murmured, swaying. He rose, took her arm, and she found herself in the Mayows’ doorway with Cherry at her side. “Get away with you,” said Cherry, “and leave her to me!” And the young man went.
Cherry fell to examining the damaged skirt. “It’s clean ruined,” she reported; “but I reckon that don’t matter to a bride. John Penaluna’ll not be grudging the outfit. I must say, though—you quiet ones!”
“What have I done?”
“Done? Well, that’s good. Only danced across the bonfire with young Zeke Penhaligon. Why, mother can mind when that was every bit so good as a marriage before parson and clerk!—and not so long ago neither.”
“You go upstairs backwards,” said Cherry an hour later. “It don’t matter our going together, only you mustn’t speak a word for ever so. You undress in the dark, and turn each thing inside out as you take it off. Prayers? Yes, you can say your prayers if you like; but to yourself, mind. ’Twould be best to say ’em backwards, I reckon; but I never heard no instructions about prayers.”
“Why, then you go to sleep and dream of your sweetheart.”
“Oh! is that all?”
“Plenty enough, I should think! I dessay it don’t mean much to you; but it means a lot to me, who han’t got a sweetheart yet an’ don’t know if ever I shall have one.”
So the two girls solemnly mounted the stairs backwards, undressed in the dark, and crept into bed. But Hester could not sleep. She lay for an hour quite silent, motionless lest she should awake Cherry, with eyes wide open, staring at a ray of moonlight on the ceiling, and from that to the dimity window-curtains and the blind which waved ever so gently in the night breeze. All the while she was thinking of the dance; and by-and-by she sighed.
“Bain’t you asleep?” asked Cherry.
“Nor I. Can’t sleep a wink. It’s they children overhead: they ’m up to some devilment, I know, because Matthew Henry isn’t snoring. He always snores when he’s asleep, and it shakes the house. I’ll ha’ gone to see, only I was afeard to disturb ‘ee. I’ll war’n’ they ’m up to some may-games on the roof.”