“I am not offended. Why should I be? I am a girl and—and not very big, am I?” She rose and smiled at him, and held out her hand.
“Thank you,” Hugh said. He took her hand and held it. “I think you are generous.”
“For not being offended by a silly thing like that!” She laughed and turned to get the bicycle. But it had slipped, the handle-bar had become wedged in the railings; it took all Hugh’s strength to persuade the handle-bar to come out.
“I am afraid you can’t ride it like this, the bar’s got twisted. If you have a spanner—”
“I haven’t,” said Ellice.
“Then if you will permit I will wheel it into the village. There’s a cycle shop there, and I’ll fix it up for you.”
So, he wheeling the bicycle, and she beside him, they crossed the green and came to the village street. And down the road came a little grey-painted car, which Johnny Everard was driving with more pride than he had ever experienced before.
“Why, hello!” thought Johnny. “What on earth is Ellice doing here, and who is the fellow she is with? He’s the man I saw at Mrs. Bonner’s gate and—”
He turned his head and glanced at Joan. He was going to say something to her, something about the unexpectedness of seeing Ellice here, but Johnny Everard said nothing. He was startled, for Joan’s face was white, and her lips were compressed. And in Joan’s brain was dinning the question. “He here—what does he do here? Has he come here to torment me further, to pester and plague and annoy me with his speeches that I will never listen to? How dare he come here?”
He had seen her, had paused. He lifted his hand to his hat and raised it, but Joan stared straight before her.
It was the cut direct, and there came a dusky red into Hugh’s face as he realised the fact.
“If you need me”
Naturally enough, Johnny Everard, seeing Ellice, would have stopped. He had his foot on the clutch and was feeling for the brake when Joan realised his intention.
“Please drive on! Please drive straight on!”
And Johnny, receiving his instructions, obeyed them without hesitation. Another moment, and Joan regretted. But it was too late, the car had gone on; the two figures, the man and the girl with the bicycle, were left behind. It was too late—and the girl felt almost shocked by what she had done.
But Joan’s temper was on edge, the day had lost any beauty that it might have held for her. She wanted to get back, she wanted to be alone, she wanted to decide, to think things out for herself.
Johnny looked at her. This was beyond his understanding. What had happened? Was it the man who had caused Joan to look so white and angry, or was it Ellice?
It could hardly be the man after all, for she had evidently not known him. She had not recognised him in any way.