M’Ginnis stood rigid, watching Ravenslee advance; suddenly he tried to speak yet uttered no word; he raised a fumbling hand to his bruised and swollen throat, striving again for speech but choked instead, and, uttering a sound, hoarse and inarticulate, he swung upon his heel and strode blindly away.
Then Ravenslee turned to find Hermione sunk down beside the table, her burning face hidden between her arms, her betraying eyes fast shut.
“You are tired,” he said gently, “that damned—er—I should say Mr. Flowers and—other unpleasant things have upset you, haven’t they?”
Hermione made a motion of assent, and Ravenslee continued, softer than before:
“I wanted you to make up your mind to come away to-night, but—I can’t ask you now, can I? It—it wouldn’t be—er—the thing, would it?”
Hermione didn’t answer or lift her head and, stooping above her, he saw how she was trembling; but her eyes were still fast shut.
“You—you’re not afraid—of me, are you, Hermione?”
“And you’re not—crying, are you?”
“Then I’d—better go, hadn’t I? To Mrs. Trapes and supper—stewed beef, I think, with—er—carrots and onions—”
Her head was still bowed, and his tone was so light, his voice so lazy, how was she to know that his hands were quivering or see how the passion of his yearning was shaking him, fighting for utterance against his iron will? How was she to know anything of all this until, swiftly, lightly, he stooped and kissed the shining glory of her hair? In a while she raised her head, but then—she was alone.
TELLS OF AN EARLY MORNING VISIT AND A WARNING
Ravenslee dreamed that he was in a wood—with Hermione, of course. She came to him through the leafy twilight, all aglow with youth and love, eager to give herself to his embrace. And from her eyes love looked at him unashamed, love touched him in her soft caressing hands, came to him in the passionate caress of her scarlet mouth, love cradled him in the clasp of her white arms. And the sun, peeping down inquisitively through the leaves, showed all the beauty of her and made a rippling splendour of her hair.
But now the woodpecker began a tap-tapping soft and insistent somewhere out of sight, a small noise yet disturbing, that followed them wheresoever they went. Thus they wandered, close entwined, but ever the wood grew darker until they came at last to a mighty tree whose sombre, far-flung branches shut out the kindly sun. And lo! within this gloom the woodpecker was before them—a most persistent bird, this, tap-tapping louder than ever, whereat Hermione, seized of sudden terror, struggled in his embrace and, pointing upward, cried aloud, and was gone from him. Then, looking where she had pointed, he beheld no woodpecker, but the hated face of Bud M’Ginnis—