Fletcher Hill spoke with a grim assurance. He was holding her before him, one hand on her shoulder, the other grasping hers. Abruptly he bent towards her.
“Come!” he said. “It’s going to be ‘Yes,’ isn’t it?”
She looked up at him with troubled eyes. Suddenly she shivered as if an icy blast had caught her. “Oh, I’m frightened!” she said. “I’m frightened!”
“Nonsense!” said Hill.
He drew her gently to him and held her. She was shaking from head to foot. She began to sob, hopelessly, like a lost child.
“Don’t!” he said. “Don’t! It’s all right. I’ll take care of you. I’ll make you happy. I swear to God I’ll make you happy!”
It was forcibly spoken, and it showed her more of the man’s inner nature than she had ever seen before. Almost in spite of herself she was touched. She leaned against him, fighting her weakness.
“It isn’t—fair to you,” she murmured at last.
“That’s my affair,” said Hill.
She kept her face hidden from him, and he did not seek to raise it; but there was undoubted possession in the holding of his arms.
After a moment or two she spoke again. “What will you do if—if you find you’re not—happy with me?”
“I’ll take my chance of that,” said Fletcher Hill. He added, under his breath, “I’ll be good to you—in any case.”
That moved her. She lifted her face impulsively. “You—you are much nicer than I thought you were,” she said.
He bent to her. “It isn’t very difficult to be that,” he said, with a somewhat sardonic touch of humour. “I haven’t a very high standard to beat, have I?”
It was not very lover-like. Perhaps, he feared to show her too much of his soul just then, lest he seem to be claiming more than she was prepared to offer. Perhaps that reserve of his which clothed him like a coat of mail was more than even he could break through. But so it was that then—just then, when the desire of his heart was actually within his grasp, he contented himself with taking a very little. He kissed her, indeed, though it was but a brief caress—over before her quivering lips could make return; nor did he seek to deter her as she withdrew herself from his arms.
She stood a moment, looking small and very forlorn. Then she turned to retrace her steps.
“Shall we go back?” she said.
He went back with her in silence till they reached the gate that led into the yard. Then for a second he grasped her arm, detaining her.
“It is—’Yes?’” he questioned.
She bent her head in acquiescence, not looking at him. “Yes,” she said, in a whisper.
And Fletcher let her go.
THE LOST ROMANCE
Jack looked in vain for any sign of elation on his friend’s face when he entered. He read nothing but grim determination. Dot’s demeanour also was scarcely reassuring. She seemed afraid to lift her eyes.