A sharp movement on the part of the horseman checked his horse. Falloden pulled up in amazement on the further side of the gate.
She controlled herself, with a great effort.
“How do you do? My horse shies at the gate. He’s so tiresome—I was just thinking of getting off. It will be most kind if you will let me through.”
She drew aside, quieting and patting the cob, while he opened the gate. Then she passed through and paused, looking back.
“Thank you very much. Are there any more gates?”
“Two more I am afraid,” he said formally, as he turned and joined her. “Will you allow me to open them for you?”
“It would be very good of you,” she faltered, not knowing how to refuse, or what to say.
They walked their horses side by side, through the gathering darkness. An embarrassed and thrilling silence reigned between them, till at last he said: “You are staying at Scarfedale—with your aunts?”
“I heard you were there. They are only five miles from us.”
She said nothing. But she seemed to realise, through every nerve, the suppressed excitement of the man beside her.
Another couple of minutes passed. Then he said abruptly:
“I should like to know that you read my last letter to you—only that! I of course don’t ask for—for any comments upon it.”
“Yes, I received it. I read it.”
He waited a little, but she said no more. He sharply realised his disappointment, and its inconsequence. The horses slowly descended the long hill. Falloden opened another gate, with the hurried remark that there was yet one more. Meanwhile he saw Connie’s slender body, her beautiful loosened hair and black riding-hat outlined against the still glowing sky behind. Her face, turned towards the advancing dusk, he could hardly see. But the small hand in its riding-glove, so close to him, haunted his senses. One movement, and he could have crushed it in his.
Far away the last gate came into sight. His bitterness and pain broke out.
“I can’t imagine why you should feel any interest in my affairs,” he said, in his stiffest manner, “but you kindly allowed me to talk to you sometimes about my people. You know, I presume, what everybody knows, that we shall soon be leaving Flood, and selling the estates.”
“I know.” The girl’s voice was low and soft. “I am awfully, awfully sorry!”
“Thank you. It doesn’t of course matter for me. I can make my own life. But for my father—it is hard. I should like you to know”—he spoke with growing agitation—“that when we met—at Cannes—and at Oxford—I had no knowledge—no idea—of what was happening.”
She raised her head suddenly, impetuously.
“I don’t know why you say that!”
He saw instantly that his wounded pride had betrayed him into a blunder—that without meaning it, he had seemed to suggest that she would have treated him differently, if she had known he was not a rich man.