“I do, dear.”
“But she doesn’t love me. It is not likely; how could she? Look at me, a great ugly chap—how could such a girl care for me?”
“I think any girl might very easily care for you, Johnny!”
“An ugly brute like me? A farmer. I am nothing more, Helen, and—and—”
“Johnny, she is in the garden. Go to her; take your courage in both your hands. Remember—
’He either fears his fate too much.
Or his deserts are small,
That dares not put it to the touch,
To gain or lose it all.’”
“I’ll go!” Johnny Everard said. “I can but lose, eh? That’s the worst that can happen to me—lose. But, by Heaven! if I do lose, it is going to—to hurt, and hurt badly. Helen dear, wish me luck!”
She put both her hands on his broad shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. She felt to him as a mother might.
“From my heart, Johnny, I wish you luck and fortune and happiness,” she said.
Joan was at the far end of the wide, far-spreading garden. She was seated on a bench beside a pool where grew water-lilies, and where in the summer sunshine the dragon-flies skimmed on the placid surface of the green water—water that now and again was broken into a ripple by the quick twist of the tail of one of the fat old carp that lived their humdrum, adventureless years in the quiet depths.
She sat here, chin in hand, grey eyes watching the pool, yet seeing nothing of its beauties, and her thoughts away, away with a man who had insulted her, had brought trouble and shame and anger to her—a man to whom she had appealed, and had appealed in vain; a man dead to all manhood, a man she hated—yes, hated—for often she told herself so, and it must be true.
And then suddenly she heard the fall of a footstep on the soft turf behind her, and, turning, looked into the face of a man whose eyes were filled with love for her.
So for one long moment they looked at one another, and the colour rose in the girl’s cheeks, and into her eyes there came a wistful regret. For she knew why this man was here. She knew what he had to say to her, to ask of her, here by the green pool.
“—To gain, or lose it all”
“Take your courage in both hands” Helen had said to him, and he was doing so; but Johnny Everard knew himself for a coward at this moment.
He felt tongue-tied, more than usually awkward, terribly and shamefully nervous. Yet the grey eyes were on his face, and he knew that he must speak, must put all to the hazard. And he knew also that if to-day he lost her, it would be the biggest and the blackest sorrow of his life, something that he would never live down, never forget.
Oh, it was worth fighting for, worth taking his courage in both hands for, this girl with the sweet, serious face and the tender mouth, the great, enquiring, yet trusting grey eyes. He had seen her cold, stately, a little unapproachable, but he had never seen scorn in those eyes. He had never seen the red lips curled with contempt. He knew nothing of her in this guise, as another man did.