So for a space he remained, looking out over the widespread grasslands, his grim face oddly softened and made human. He was no longer an official, but a man, with feelings rendered all the keener for the habitual restraint with which he masked them.
He moved forward at length through the magic moonlight, guided by the sound of trampling hoofs in the building where Jack’s horse was stabled. He reached the doorway, treading softly, and looked in.
Dot was in a stall with his mount Rupert—a powerful grey, beside which she looked even lighter and daintier than usual. The animal was nibbling carelessly at her arm while she filled the manger with hay. She was talking to him softly, and did not perceive Hill’s presence. Robin, who sat waiting near the entrance, merely pricked his ears at his approach.
Some minutes passed. Fletcher stood like a sentinel against the doorpost. He might have been part of it for his immobility. The girl within continued to talk to the horse while she provided for his comfort, low words unintelligible to the silent watcher, till, as she finished her task, she suddenly threw her arms about the animal’s neck and leaned her head against it.
“Oh, Rupert,” she said, and there was a throb of passion in her words, “I wish—I wish you and I could go right away into the wilderness together and never—never come back!”
Rupert turned his head and actually licked her hair. He was a horse of understanding.
She uttered a little sobbing laugh and tenderly kissed his nose. “You’re a dear, sympathetic boy! Who taught you to be, I wonder? Not your master, I’m sure! He’s nothing but a steel machine all through!”
And then she turned to leave the stable and came upon Fletcher Hill, mutely awaiting her.
THE COAT OF MAIL
She gave a great start at sight of him, then quickly drew herself together.
“You have come to see if Rupert is all right for the night?” she said. “Go in and have a look at him.”
But Fletcher made no movement to enter. He faced her with a certain rigidity. “No. I came to see you—alone.”
She made a sharp movement that was almost a gesture of protest. Then she turned and drew the door softly shut behind her. Robin came and pressed close to her, as if he divined that she stood in need of some support. With her back to the closed door and the moonlight in her eyes, she stood before Fletcher Hill.
“What do you want to say to me?” she said.
He bent slightly towards her. “It is not a specially easy thing, Miss Burton,” he said, “when I am more than half convinced that it is something you would rather not hear.”
She met his look with unflinching steadiness. “I think life is made up of that sort of thing,” she said. “It’s like a great puzzle that never fits. I’ve been saying—unwelcome things—to-day, too.”