Ah, well, she had done it now. The way was closed behind her. There could be no return. It was all so long ago. She had been little more than a child then, and now she was growing old. The time had come to face the realities of life, to put away the dreams. She believed that Fletcher Hill was a good man, and he had been very patient. She quivered a little at the thought of that patience of his. There was a cast-iron quality about it, a forcefulness, that made her wonder. Had she ever really met the man who dwelt within that coat of mail? Could there be some terrible revelation in store for her? Would she some day find that she had given herself to a being utterly alien to her in thought and impulse? He had shown her so little—so very little—of his soul.
Did he really love her, she wondered? Or had he merely determined to win her because it had been so hard a task? He was a man who revelled in overcoming difficulties, in asserting his grim mastery in the face of heavy odds. He was never deterred by circumstances, never turned back from any purpose upon the accomplishment of which he had set his mind. His subordinates were afraid to tell him of failure. She had heard it said that Bloodhound Hill could be a savage animal when roused.
There came a low sound at her door, the soft turning of the handle, Jack’s voice whispered through the gloom.
“Are you asleep, little ’un?”
She started up on the bed. “Oh, Jack, come in, dear! Come in!”
He came to her, put his arms about her, and held her close. “Fletcher’s been telling me,” he whispered into her ear. “Adela’s gone to bed. It’s quite all right, little ’un, is it? You’re not—sorry?”
She caught the anxiety in the words as she clung to him. “I—don’t think so,” she whispered back. “Only I—I’m rather frightened, Jack.”
“There’s no need, darling,” said Jack, and kissed her very tenderly. “He’s a good fellow—the best of fellows. He’s sworn to me to make you happy.”
She was trembling a little in his hold. “He—doesn’t want to marry me yet, does he?” she asked, nervously.
He put a very gentle hand upon her head. “Don’t funk the last fence, old girl!” he said, softly. “You’ll like being married.”
“Ah!” She was breathing quickly. “I am not so sure. And there’s no getting back, is there, Jack? Oh, please, do ask him to wait a little while! I’m sure he will. He is very kind.”
“He has waited five years already,” Jack pointed out. “Don’t you think that’s almost long enough, dear?”
She put a hand to her throat, feeling as if there were some constriction there. “He has been speaking to you about it! He wants you to—to persuade me—to—to make me—”
“No, dear, no!” Jack spoke very gravely. “He wants you to please yourself. It is I who think that a long delay would be a mistake. Can’t you be brave, Dot? Take what the gods send—and be thankful?”