“Oh, isn’t he great? Isn’t he great?” she said.
He took her arm and led her within. His touch was kind, but wholly without warmth. “There’s not much doubt as to who is the boss of Barren Valley,” he said.
And with the words he smiled—a smile that was sadder than her tears.
THE OFFICIAL SEAL
That life could possibly return to a normal course after that amazing night would have seemed to Dot preposterous but for the extremely practical attitude adopted by Fletcher Hill. But when she saw him again on the day after their safe return to Trelevan there was nothing in his demeanour to remind her of the stress through which they had passed. He was, as ever, perfectly calm and self-contained, and wholly uncommunicative. Adela sought in vain to satisfy her curiosity as to the happenings in Barren Valley which her courage had not permitted her to witness for herself. Fletcher Hill was as a closed book, and on some points Dot was equally reticent. By no persuasion could Adela induce her to speak of Bill Warden. She turned the subject whenever it approached him, professing an ignorance which Adela found excessively provoking.
They saw nothing of him during the remainder of the week, and very little of Fletcher Hill, who went to and fro upon his business with a machine-like precision that seemed to pervade his every action. He made no attempt to be alone with Dot, and she, with a shyness almost overwhelming, thankfully accepted his forbearance. The day they had fixed upon for their marriage was rapidly approaching, but she had almost ceased to contemplate it, for somehow it seemed to her that it could never dawn. Something must happen first! Surely something was about to happen! And from day to day she lived for the sight of Bill Warden’s great figure and the sound of his steady voice. Anything, she felt, would be bearable if only she could see him once again. But she looked for him in vain.
When her brother joined them at the end of the week a dullness of despair had come upon her. Again she saw herself trapped and helpless, lacking even the spirit to attempt escape. She greeted Jack almost abstractedly, and he observed her throughout the evening with anxiety in his eyes. When it was over he drew her aside for a moment as she was bidding him good-night.
“What’s the matter, little ’un? What’s wrong?” he whispered, with his arm about her.
She clung to him for an instant with a closeness that was passionate. But, “It’s nothing, Jack,” she whispered back. “It’s nothing.”
Then Fletcher Hill came up to them, and they separated. Adela and Dot went up to bed, and the two men were left alone.
* * * * *
So at length the great day dawned, and nothing had happened. The only news that had reached them was a remark overheard by Adela in the dining-room, to the effect that Harley had thrown up his post and gone.