“I know we weren’t. I shan’t dream of being in earnest in that way for another ten—perhaps twenty—years. But there’s no harm in making believe, is there, just now and then? I liked that game awfully, and so did you. You know you did.”
Nan did not attempt to deny it. She sat up instead with her hands clasped round her knees and laughed like an elf.
Her wedding-ring caught the moonlight, and the boy leaned forward with a frown.
“Take that thing off, won’t you, just for to-night? I hate to think you’re married. You’re not, you know. We’re in fairyland, and married people never go there. The fairies will turn you out if they see it.”
Very gently he inserted one finger between her clasped ones and began to draw the emblem off.
Nan made no resistance whatever. She only sat and laughed. She was in her gayest, most inconsequent mood. Some magic of the moonlight was in her veins that night.
“There!” said Jerry triumphantly. “Now you are safe. Jove! Did you hear that water-sprite gurgling under the boat? It must be ripping to be a water-sprite. Can’t you see them, Nan, whisking about down there in couples along the stones? Give me your hand, and we’ll dive under and join them.”
But Nan’s enthusiasm would not stretch to this. She fully understood his mood, but she would only sit in the moonlight and laugh, till presently Jerry, infected by her merriment, began to laugh too, and spun the ring he had filched from her high into the moonlight.
How it happened neither of them could ever afterwards say; but just at that critical moment when the ring was glittering in mid-air, some wayward current, or it might have been the water-sprite Jerry had just detected, lapped the water smartly against the punt and bumped it against the bank. Jerry exclaimed and nearly overbalanced backwards; Nan made a hasty grab at her falling property, but her hand only collided with his, making a similar grab at the same moment, and between them they sent the ring spinning far out into the moonlit ripples.
It disappeared before their dazzled eyes into that magic bar of light, and the girl and the boy turned and gazed at one another in speechless consternation.
Nan was the first to recover. She drew a deep breath, and burst into a merry peal of laughter.
“My dear boy, for pity’s sake don’t look like that! I never saw anything so absolutely tragic in my life. Why, what does it matter? I can buy another. I can buy fifty if I want them.”
Thus reassured, Jerry began to laugh too, but not with Nan’s abandonment. The incident had had a sobering effect upon him.
“But I’m awfully sorry,” he protested. “All my fault. You must let me make it good.”
This suggestion added to Nan’s mirth. “Oh, I couldn’t really. I should feel as if I was married to you, and I shouldn’t like that at all. Now you needn’t look cross, for you know you wouldn’t either. No, don’t be silly, Jerry. It doesn’t matter the least little bit in the world.”