A few minutes later she was standing in her own little room, listening to the retreating rush of his motor-cycle down the road. There was a great tumult in her mind.
“Am I falling in love with him? Am I—am I?”
But in the dark, when she had put out her light, the cry that shaped itself in her mind was identical with that sudden misgiving of the afternoon, when on Ellesborough’s arrival she had first heard his voice downstairs talking to Janet.
“I wish he knew!” But this time it was no mere passing qualm. It had grown into something intense and haunting.
* * * * *
On this same September afternoon, a dark-eyed, shabby woman, with a little girl, alighted at Millsborough Station. They were met by a man who had been lounging about the station for some time and whose appearance had attracted some attention. “See him at a distance, and you might take him for a lord; but get him close, my word!—” said the station-master to the booking-clerk, with a shrug, implying many things.
“Wouldn’t give a bob for his whole blessed turn-out,” said the booking-clerk. “But right you are, when you sort of get the hang of him, far enough away on the other platform, might be a dook!”
Meanwhile, the man had shouldered some of the bags and parcels brought by the woman and the child, though hardly his fair share of them; and they finally reached the exit from the station.
“If you’re going into the town, the bus will be here in a few minutes,” said a porter civilly to the woman. “It’ll help you with all those things.”
The man gruffly answered for her that they preferred to walk, and they started, the woman and the child dragging wearily beside him.
“Now, you’ve got to be content with what I’ve found for you,” he said to her roughly as they reached the first houses of the town. “There isn’t scarcely a lodging or a cottage to be had. Partly it’s the holidays still, and partly it’s silly folk like you—scared of raids.”
“I couldn’t go through another winter like last, for Nina’s sake,” said the woman plaintively.
“Why, you silly goose, there won’t be any raids this winter. I’ve told you so scores of times. We’ve got the upper hand now, and the Boche will keep his planes at home. But as you won’t listen to me, you’ve got to have your way, I suppose. Well, I’ve got you rooms of a sort. They’ll have to do. I haven’t got money enough for anything decent.”
The woman made no reply, and to the porter idly looking after them they were soon lost from sight in the gathering dusk of the road.
The little town of Millsborough was en fete. There was a harvest festival going on, and the County Agricultural Committee had taken the opportunity to celebrate the successful gathering of the crops, and the part taken in it by the woman land-workers under their care. They had summoned the land lasses from far and wide; in a field on the outskirts of the town competitions had been in full swing all the morning, and now there were to be speeches in the market-place, and a final march of land girls, boy scouts, and decorated wagons to the old Parish Church, where a service was to be held.