He leaned forward.
“What is it, Anne?”
He could feel her breath quick and short upon his hand. She seemed to be making a supreme effort.
“Piet!” she said again.
“I am listening,” he responded, with absolute patience.
She turned one cheek slightly towards him.
“If I loved anybody,” she said, rather incoherently, “I—I’d find some way of letting them know it.”
He leaned his head once more upon his hand.
“I am a rough beast, Anne,” he said sadly. “My love-making only hurts you.”
Nan was silent again for a little, but she still held fast to his hand.
“Were you,” she asked hesitatingly at length, “were you—making love to me—that night?”
“After my own savage fashion,” he said.
“Well,” she said, a slight quiver in her voice, “it didn’t hurt me, Piet.”
Piet was silent.
“I mean,” she said, gathering courage, “if—if I had known that it meant just that, I—well, I shouldn’t have minded so much.”
Still Piet was silent. His hand shaded his eyes, but she knew that he was watching her.
“Do you understand?” she asked him doubtfully.
“No,” he said.
“Don’t you—don’t you know what I want you to do?” she said, rather Breathlessly.
“No,” he said again.
“Must I—tell you?” she asked, with a gasp.
“I think you must,” he said, in his grave way.
She lifted her head abruptly. Her eyes were very big and shining. She stretched her hands out to him with a little, quivering laugh.
“I hate you for making me say it!” she declared, with a vehemence half passionate, half whimsical. “Piet, I—I want you—to—to—take me in your arms again, and—and—kiss me—as you did—that night.”
The last words were uttered from his breast, though she never knew how she came to be there. It was as though a whirlwind had caught her away from the earth into a sunlit paradise that was all her own—a paradise in which fear had no place. And the chain against which she had chafed so long and bitterly had turned to links of purest gold.
* * * * *
“So you don’t want to marry me?” said Earl Wyverton.
He said it by no means bitterly. There was even the suggestion of a smile on his clean-shaven face. He looked down at the girl who stood before him, with eyes that were faintly quizzical. She was bending at the moment to cut a tall Madonna lily from a sheaf that grew close to the path. At his quiet words she started and the flower fell.
He stooped and picked it up, considered it for a moment, then slipped it into the basket that was slung on her arm.
“Don’t be agitated,” he said, gently. “You needn’t take me seriously—unless you wish.”