Had he not been so lonely—had he not spent days and days, alone in lodgings, with no one to talk to—no one to care whether he were ill or dying; had this not been his experience—the experience he was even then undergoing, reason would have outweighed folly, and even though he might have realized that in Gladys Martin he had found his ideal of beauty—of womanliness, he would have been content only to admire.
As it was, he was in that very dangerous mood when the heart yearns for sympathy; when a plain woman’s sympathy means much—and a pretty woman’s more than much. It is no exaggeration to say that Shiel would have lain down and died for Gladys ten times over. For her sake—if only to see her smile, no mere physical pain would have been too excruciating for him to bear. And when she put the finishing touches to the bandages, and quite by chance, of course, their eyes met, he looked at her as if he never meant to leave off looking at her, as if he never meant to do anything else but look at her for all eternity.
Whether she understood as much or not, is impossible to say. Shiel asked himself the question over and over again before the day was out, and in his sleep, and during the next day, and for many days afterwards. Could she tell how much he admired her? How much he worshipped her? All that he was prepared to do for her sweet sake? All this he asked himself repeatedly, and went on thinking of her when he knew he ought never to have thought of her at all.
“I’m sure your hands are more comfortable now. Won’t you go into the garden and see how the work is progressing?” she said. “Or if you are afraid Father will want you to dig again, perhaps you would like to go into his study and read the papers.”
“I should like to stay here and listen to you singing,” he said. “Mayn’t I do that?”
“You might,” she said, “but I have to go out.”
“Then I’ll stay here till you return,” he said, “I’ve never been in such a delightful room.”
“What do you think of Shiel Davenport?” Gladys remarked to her aunt a few minutes later. “I don’t think I’ve ever met such an extraordinary young man. He does nothing but stare at me, and when I ask him to do one thing he suggests doing another. He’s the most difficult person to manage. In fact, I can’t manage him at all.”
“Never mind about managing him, my dear,” Miss Templeton replied, “so long as you don’t let him manage you. Young men who do nothing but stare are not merely difficult—they are dangerous.”
THE GREAT CHALLENGE
When John Martin came into tea that afternoon, he gave Gladys a shock. Despite the fact that he had been in the sun all day and was much tanned in consequence he had never looked—so Gladys thought—so old and haggard.
“You dear old Daddie!” she said, hastening to pour him out some tea, “you shouldn’t work so hard—this silly digging has quite knocked you up! Haven’t you finished?”