“Oh, not quite that,” laughed Jerry uneasily. “But we did have a talk, didn’t we, Una?”
“I’m sure I—I hadn’t the slightest idea how late it was,” said the girl stiffly, fingering at her hair.
“Time passes so quickly when one is amused or interested,” I said.
“I was thinking, Roger, how nice it would be if Una would come to dinner at the Manor.”
“Oh, no, thanks—not now. I must be going.”
“Couldn’t you? I’ll show you my specimens. Then we could send you on in the machine afterwards.”
“Doubtless the friends of Miss—er—Miss Smith will be worried about her.”
She shot a malevolent glance at me.
“Not at all. I’m accustomed to doing exactly as I please.”
“But I couldn’t think of letting you go through the forest alone. It’s fully half a mile beyond the wall to the highroad.”
“Thanks, but I won’t bother you at all. If you’ll let me pass—”
But Jerry had caught her by the arm.
“Roger’s right,” he said quickly. “I didn’t think. Of course you can’t go alone. I—”
“If you’ll leave it to me, Jerry, I’ll see that the lady reaches the highroad in safety. I would suggest that you go at once to the house. I will join you later.”
“Will you do as I ask?”
Our glances met in a level gaze. There was a moment of rebellion in Jerry’s, but it flickered out.
“I think I know best, Jerry,” I said quietly.
“Yes, but I don’t want her to think—”
“Please don’t worry about me,” said the girl. “I’m accustomed to looking out for myself.” She brushed by me quickly and before I could restrain her, was merged into the shadows of the trees. But Jerry was after her in a hurry while I followed.
“Please go with Roger,” I heard Jerry say when I came up.
“I don’t need a keeper!” she flared at him.
“Go, Jerry,” I said again.
He paused but the girl went on, so I followed quickly, and wisely, it seemed, for she wandered blindly and would have been lost in a moment.
“If you’ll follow me,” I ventured, “you will find the way out much more quickly. Otherwise you will probably scratch your face.”
I’m sure by the sound of her feet in the dry leaves and her hurried breathing behind me that she would have liked to scratch my face. But she didn’t. I think she realized for the first time that without my guidance she would probably spend the rest of the night in the woods.
“I’m sorry to have been obliged to be so unceremonious,” I said at last over my shoulder. No reply. But I wasn’t in the least daunted. I had made up my mind that she shouldn’t venture in again.
“It’s rather lucky you weren’t seen by any of the gamekeepers. You might have spent the night in the lockup.”
Still no reply.