Once more the firefly glimmer glided toward him.
“Kenny,” called Joan in the darkness, “is it really you? You frightened me a little. And why in the world didn’t you come home to supper? Hannah’s wondering where you are.”
But his voice failed him and with shaking hand he took the lantern and held it high above her head. If he could but read her eyes!
Joan glanced up at him in wonder and the hood of her cloak tumbling back upon her shoulders, bared her hair. It shone, in the lantern light, with an odd dark gold. She had never seemed so lovely—or so much a part of the lonely wood.
“Why do you stare so, Kenny?” she asked. “And why are you so—quiet?”
“Mavourneen!” said Kenny. And his eyes implored.
It was not at all what he had meant to say. The word, tell-tale in its tenderness, had seemed to speak itself.
Joan’s face flamed. But her eyes were beautiful and kind.
Kenny dropped the lantern with a crash and caught her in his arms. She cried and clung to him in the darkness.
“Joan! Joan!” he said and kissed her.
He did not remember how long he stood there under the bright November stars with Joan in his arms and his face upon her hair. He knew his eyes were wet. He knew there was peace in his heart and a vast content. But something made him dumb and tongue-tied.
“Kenny!” exclaimed Joan. “The lantern!”
“I know, colleen,” said Kenny, “but one lantern more or less in an epoch doesn’t matter.”
“Mr. Abbott will be waiting. Suppose he came to look for me.”
“God forbid! I can’t—I won’t let you go.”
“Joan, you are sure, sure you love me?”
“I know,” said Joan steadily, “that I love you. I’ve known it since that night upon the lake when you first spoke of—going. I knew it when you went. And then when you came again. When I think of the farm without you it turns my heart to stone. Every minute that I—I am away from you, I am eager to be back.”
“Bless your heart!”
She slipped out of his arms with a sigh. His hands clung to her.
“Truly, truly, Kenny, I must go!”
“I’ll come back with another lantern after supper.”
“No,” said Joan. “Please don’t. Mr. Abbott might scold. Besides, every star is a lantern to-night. And Uncle sent Hughie for you long ago.”
THE CHAIR BY THE FIRE
He went with her as far as he dared, and turned back with shining eyes and stumbling feet. He did not afterward remember his supper or what he had eaten, though Hannah at his command had set the table in the kitchen and Hughie had talked sensibly of pumpkins. He did not remember climbing the stairs to Adam’s room. The one thing that jarred through his dreamy feeling of detachment was the old man’s face.