They sat with bated breath while the hunt spread round their hiding-place. The water lapped mysteriously in front of them with an occasional gurgling chuckle. The ripples danced far out in the moonlight. It was a glorious night, with a keenness in the air that was like the touch of steel.
Violet drew her cloak more closely about her. She felt very cold.
Someone came and battered at the door. “I’m sure they’re here,” cried a voice.
“They can’t be,” said another. “The place is locked, and there’s no key.”
“Bet you it’s on the inside!” persisted the first, and a match was lighted and held to the lock.
The man inside laughed under his breath. The key was dangling between his hands.
“Oh, come on!” called a girl’s voice from the distance. “They wouldn’t hide in there. It’s such a dirty hole. Lady Violet is much too fastidious.”
And Violet, sitting within, drew herself together with a little shrinking movement. Yes, that had always been their word for her. She was fastidious. She had rather prided herself upon having that reputation. She had always regarded women who made themselves cheap with scorn.
The chase passed on, and Wentworth’s arm slipped round her again. “Now we are safe,” he said. “By Jove, dear, how I have schemed for this! It was really considerate of your worthy husband to absent himself.”
Again, gently but quite decidedly, she drew herself away. “I think Freda is right,” she said. “This is rather a dirty place.”
He laughed. “A regular black hole! But wait till I can get you out on to the loch! It’s romantic enough out there. But look here, Violet! I’ve got to come to an understanding with you. Now that we’ve found each other, darling, we are not going to lose each other again, are we?”
She was silent in the darkness.
He leaned to her and took her hand. “Oh, why did you go and complicate matters by getting married?” he said. “It was such an obvious—such a fatal—mistake. You knew I cared for you, didn’t you?”
“You—had never told me so,” she said, her voice very low.
“Never told you! I tried to tell you every time we met. But you were always so aloof, so frigid. On my soul, I was afraid to speak. Tell me now!” His hand was fast about hers. “When did you begin to care?”
She sat unyielding in his hold. “I—imagined I cared—a very long time ago,” she said, with an effort.
“What! Before that trial business?” he said. “I wish to Heaven I’d known!”
“Why?” she said.
“Because if I’d known I wouldn’t have been such a fool,” he said with abrupt vehemence. “I would never have run that infernal risk.”
“What risk?” she said.
He laughed, a half-shamed laugh. “Oh, I didn’t quite mean to let that out. Consider it unsaid! Only a man without ties is apt to risk more than a man who has more to lose. I’ve had the most fantastic ill-luck this year that ever fell any man’s lot before.”