He involuntarily put out a groping hand and took hold of her cloak. A little hand slipped out of the cloak and took his in charge, and so they went through the darkness of the narrow way.
He breathed more freely when the further slope was reached, and only then became aware that the hand that held his was all of a tremble. The next moment he perceived that she was sobbing quietly.
“Nance!” he cried. “What is it? You are crying. Is it anything I—”
“No, no, no!” sobbed the wounded soul convulsively.
“What then? Tell me!”
“I cannot. I cannot.”
“Nance—dear!” and he sought her hand again and stood holding it firmly. “It is like stabs in my heart to hear you sobbing. I would give my life to save you from trouble. Do you believe me, dear?”
“And you can trust me, dear, can you not? You distrusted me at first, I know, but—”
“Oh, I do trust you, and I know you are good. And it is that that makes it so wicked of him to say such things about us—”
In her excitement she had let slip more than she intended. She stopped abruptly.
She did not speak, but the wound welled open in another sob.
“Don’t trouble about him, dear! I don’t know what he said, but if it was meant to make you doubt me, it was not true. You are more to me than anything in the world, Nance, and I have never loved any other woman—except my mother. Do you believe me?”
“Yes—oh, yes! I cannot help believing you. Oh, I wish sometimes that Tom was dead. When I was very little I used to pray each night to God to kill him.”
“I’ll teach him to leave you alone.”
“I must go now. Grannie is waiting for her medicine.”
He took the little hand under his arm and pressed it close to his side, and they pushed on down the dark lanes till they came in sight of the lights of La Closerie.
Then he bent into the sun-bonnet and sealed his capture of the virginal fortress by a passionate kiss on the tremulous little lips. And she, with the frankness of a child, reached up and kissed him warmly back.
“Good-night, dear, and God bless you!” he said fervently.
“Can you find your way in the dark?”
“There is the moon. I shall be all right.”
She bent her head and ran on towards the lights. He watched her go in at the door, and turned and went back along the lane, and his heart was high with the joy that was in him.
HOW TWO FELL OUT
It was but a thin strip of a moon that had risen above the evening mists—a mere sickle of red gold—but such as it was it sufficed to lift the pall of darkness from the earth and set the black sky back into its proper place.
To Gard the night had suddenly become spacious and ample, and the peaceful slip of a moon, which grew paler and brighter every minute, was full of promise.