For the space of a quarter of an hour he stood motionless as a rock.
“It is a serious case,” he heard the doctor laugh.
“Very,” Alice sighed. “And he will get well?”
“Yes—of course he’ll get well, in a week at best.”
“And you’re not bored in this dreadful place? And are still willing to stay?”
“Bored? Ah—you have been so sweet to me, dear friend,” he ventured.
“I?” she returned. “I have not been even charitable. Your gratefulness is almost pathetic.”
For some moments neither spoke. The still hunter stood his ground; he became part of the great hemlock beside him, his eyes riveted upon the man and woman. Now she dipped her hands in the cool, pure water, the doctor sitting close to her upon the edge of her skirt which she had spread for him, her trim feet placed firmly against a rock, the frou-frou of her petticoat framing her silken ankles.
“You see,” she resumed at length, as if speaking to a spoiled child, “because you have been very, very good we are still friends—good friends—am I not right?”
“Yes,” he confessed gloomily, irritated by her words. “And how long am I to be your model friend?”
“Until you cease to be,” she replied, smiling mischievously through her half-closed eyes.
“And then?” he asked eagerly.
“Then you may go home,” she returned in a cool, delicious voice.
With an impatient gesture the doctor tossed his half-smoked cigarette into the stream. He shrugged his shoulders, gazing absently at the cigarette bobbing along in the current.
“You cast me off like that,” he muttered gloomily, nodding to the cigarette. “Did you notice,” he added, “how it still fought to burn?”
“And how quickly it sizzled and went out when it had to?” she laughed.
Impulsively he took her hand—a hand which she did not withdraw, for she was trembling. Slowly his face bent nearer her own, his words were sunk to a whisper, but in his eyes there gleamed the craving of her lips.
“Don’t!” she protested, raising her free hand—“for God’s sake don’t! You shall not!”
“I must,” he answered, hotly.
“You shall not,” she replied. “I should only suffer—I am unhappy enough as it is,” and she buried her face in her clenched hands, her shoulders quivering.
Even the quiver did not evade the eyes of the man stock still beside the hemlock; no detail of the drama that was being enacted beside the brook escaped him. He who could observe with ease the smashing of a moth’s wing thirty rods from shore, possessed a clearness of vision akin to that of a hawk. A bird fluttered in the underbrush near them.
“What was that?” she asked, with a guilty little start, withdrawing her hand.
“A bird—nothing more dangerous,” he laughed outright, amused at her fright.
Holcomb’s features, as he gazed at them, were like bronze. His first thought, as he gazed out from his ambush, had been Margaret’s mother! His second thought was his dislike for Sperry. He watched half unwillingly, with a feeling of mingled curiosity and disgust. He had not pried upon them; it was pure chance that had brought him where he was. At length he withdrew.