“Might have known that!” with an attempt at jocoseness. “But thought we would make sure. Your balcony, you have looked there?”
“Very well; lock your window leading to it. Only as a matter of precaution,” he repeated hastily. “No need of our coming in, I fancy. You had retired?”
“I—was about to.”
“Quite right.” A moment the party lingered. “Shall I send one of the maids to sleep in your dressing-room? Company, you know! Your voice sounds a little nervous.”
“Does it? Not at all!” she said hastily. “I am—not in the least nervous.”
“Good night, then!” They went. “One of my men in the garden felt sure he had seen him return toward the house,” Mr. Gillett’s voice was wafted back, became fainter, died away.
The man in the room stood motionless now, his face like that of a statue save for the light and life of his eyes. The clock beat the moments; he looked at her. The girl was almost turned from him; he saw more of the bright hair than the pale profile, so still against the delicately carved arabesques of the panel.
“The other way would have been—preferable!”
There was nothing reckless or bold in his bearing now; but, looking away, she did not see. Was he tempted, if only in an infinitesimal degree, to suggest a plea of mitigating circumstances—not for his own sake but for hers; that she might feel less keenly that sense of hurt, of outraged pride, for having smiled on him, admitted him to a certain frank, free intimacy? Before the words fell from his lips, however, she turned; her gaze arrested his purpose, made him feel poignantly, acutely, the distance now between them. “What were you,” she hesitated, emphasized over-sharply the word, “transported for?”
An instant his eyes flashed suddenly back at her, as if he were on the point of answering, telling her all, disavowing; but to what end? To ask more of her than of others, throw himself on her generosity?
“What does it matter?”
True; what did it matter to her; he had been in prisons before, by his own words.
“Your name, of course, is not John Steele?”
He confessed it a purloined asset.
“What was it?”
He looked at her—beyond! To a storm-tossed ship, a golden-haired child, her curls in disorder, moving with difficulty, yet clinging so steadfastly to a small cage. His name? It may be he heard again the loud pounding and knocking; held her once more to his breast, felt the confiding, soft arms.
“What does it matter?” he repeated.
What, indeed? That which she had not been able to penetrate, to understand in him, this was it! This!
“But why”—fragments of what he had said recurred to her; she spoke mechanically—“when you found yourself recognized, did you not leave England; why did you come here—to Strathorn House; incur the danger, the risk?”