“Certainly not. I shall wait—till to-morrow morning.”
He laughed, whispering into her ear, as her soft, curly head lay against his breast.
“You won’t wait ten minutes—you couldn’t! Well, I must be going, or they’ll shut me out of the camp.”
“Why do you hurry so?”
“Hurry? Why, I shall be an hour late, anyway. I shall have to give myself C.B. to-morrow.”
She laughed—a sound of pure content. Then she suddenly drew herself away, frowning at him.
“You do love me—you do—you will always!—whatever people may say?”
He was surprised at the note almost of violence in her voice. He answered it by a passionate caress, which she bore with trembling. Then she resolutely moved away.
“Do go!” she said to him, imploringly. “I’d like to be a few minutes—alone—before they come back.”
He saw her settle herself by the fire, her hands stretched out to the blaze. Seeing that the fire was low, and remembering the chill of her hands in his, he looked around for the wood-basket which was generally kept in a corner behind the piano.
His movement was suddenly arrested. He was looking towards the uncurtained window. The night had grown pitch dark outside, and there were splashes of rain against the glass. But he distinctly saw as he turned a man’s face pressed against the glass—a strained, sallow, face, framed in straggling black hair, a face with regular features, and eyes deeply set in blackened orbits. It was a face of hatred; the lips tightly drawn over the teeth, seemed to have a curse on them.
The vision lasted only a moment. Ellesborough’s trained instinct, the wary instinct of the man who had parsed days and nights with nature in her wilder and lonelier places, checked the exclamation on his lips. And before he could move again, the face had disappeared. The old holly bush growing against the farm wall, from which the apparition seemed to have sprung, was still there, some of its glossy leaves visible in the bright light of the paraffin lamp which stood on the table near the window. And there was nothing else.
Ellesborough quietly walked to the window, drew down the blind, and pulled the curtains together. Rachel looked around at the sound.
“Didn’t I do that?” she said, half dreamily.
“We forgot!” He smiled at her. “Now it’s all cosy. Ah, there they are! Perhaps I’ll get Janet to come as far as the road with me.” For voices were approaching—Janet talking to the girls. Rachel looked up, assenting. The colour had rushed back to her face. Ellesborough took in the picture of her, sitting unconscious by the fire, while his own pulse was thumping under the excitement of what he had seen.
With a last word to her, he closed the sitting-room door behind him, and went out to meet Janet Leighton in the dark.