He felt that in sending May Deane to interrupt his highly emotional conversation with May Lawton Providence had watched over him and done him a good turn. May Lawton had advantages, and striking advantages, but he could not be sure of her. The suspicion that if she married him she would marry him for her own ends caused him a secret disquiet, and he feared that one day, perhaps one morning at breakfast, she might take it into her intelligent head to mock him, to exercise upon him her gift of irony, and to intimate to him that if he fancied she was his slave he was deceived. That she sincerely admired him he never for an instant doubted. But——
And, moreover, the unfortunate episode of the afternoon might have cooled her ardour to freezing-point.
He stood now in front of his worshipper, and the notion crossed his mind that in after-years he could say to his friends: ’I proposed to my wife at midnight under the moon. Not many men have done that.’
‘Good-evening,’ he ventured to the girl; and he added with bravado: ‘We’ve met before to-day, haven’t we?’
She made no reply, but her smile was more affectionate, more inviting, than ever.
‘I’m glad of this opportunity—very glad,’ he proceeded. ’I’ve been wanting to ... You must know, my dear girl, how I feel....’
She gave a gesture, charming in its sweet humility, as if to say: ’Who am I that I should dare——’
And then he proposed to her, asked her to share his life, and all that sort of thing; and when he had finished he thought, ’It’s done now, anyway.’
Strange to relate, she offered no immediate reply, but she bent a little towards him with shining, happy eyes. He had an impulse to seize her in his arms and kiss her, but prudence suggested that he should defer the rite. She turned and began to walk slowly and meditatively towards the pit-shaft. He followed almost at her side, but a foot or so behind, waiting for her to speak. And as he waited, expectant, he looked at her profile and reflected how well the name May suited her, with its significances of shyness and dreamy hope, and hidden fire and the modesty of spring.
And while he was thus savouring her face, and they were still ten yards from the pit-shaft, she suddenly disappeared from his vision, as it were by a conjuring trick. He had a horrible sensation in his spinal column. He was not the man to mistrust the evidence of his senses, and he knew, therefore, that he had been proposing to a phantom.
The next morning—early, because of Jim’s early breakfast—when May Deane’s disappearance became known to the members of the household, Jim had the idea of utilizing Carlo in the search for her. The retriever went straight, without a fault, to the pit-shaft, and May was discovered alive and unscathed, save for a contusion of the face and a sprain in the wrist.