He came, then, quite often to the nursery. He would slip in, stay a moment or two, and slip out again. He brought her presents and sweets which made her ill. And always in the presence of Mrs. Munty they appeared as strangers.
The day came when Nancy achieved her desire—they had their great adventure.
A fine summer morning came, and with it, in a bowler hat, at the nursery door, the hour being about eleven, Mr. Munty Boss.
“I’ll take Nancy this morning, nurse,” he said, with a strange, choking little “cluck” in his throat. Now, the nurse, although, as I’ve said, of a shining and superficial appearance, was no fool. She had watched the development of the intrigue; her attitude to the master of the house was composed of pity, patronage, and a rather motherly interest. She did not see how her mistress could avoid her attitude: it was precisely the attitude that she would herself have adopted in that position, but, nevertheless, she was sorry for the man. “So out of it as he is!” Her maternal feelings were uppermost now. “It’s nice of the child,” she thought, “and him so ugly.”
“Of course, sir,” she said.
“We shall be back in about an hour.” He attempted an easy indifference, was conscious that he failed, and blushed.
He was aware that his wife was out.
He carried off his prize.
The gardens were very full on this lovely summer morning, but Nancy, without any embarrassment or confusion, took charge of the proceedings.
“Where are we going?” he said, gazing rather helplessly about him, feeling extremely shy. There were so many bold children—so many bolder nurses; even the birds on the trees seemed to deride him, and a stumpy fox-terrier puppy stood with its four legs planted wide barking at him.
“Over here,” she said without a moment’s hesitation, and she dragged him along. She halted at last in a corner of the gardens where was a large, overhanging chestnut and a wooden seat. Here the shouts and cries of the children came more dimly, the splashing of the fountain could be heard like a melodious refrain with a fascinating note of hesitation in it, and the deep green leaves of the tree made a cool, thick covering. “Very nice,” he said, and sat down on the seat, tilting his hat back and feeling very happy indeed.
Nancy also was very happy. There, in front of her, was the delightful pile of earth and sand untouched, it seemed. In an instant, regardless of her frock, she was down upon her knees.
“I ought to have a spade,” she said.
“You’ll make yourself dreadfully dirty, Nancy. Your beautiful frock——” But he had nevertheless the feeling that, after all, he had paid for it, and if he hadn’t the right to see it ruined, who had?
“Oh!” she murmured with the ecstasy of one who has abandoned herself, freely and with a glad heart, to all the vices. She dug her hands into the mire, she scattered it about her, she scooped and delved and excavated. It was her intention to build something in the nature of a high, high hill. She patted the surface of the sand, and behold! it was instantly a beautiful shape, very smooth and shining.