“I won’t!” she cried back to him half-hysterically. “I won’t! If—if you’re going to do that, you’ll take me with you!”
He turned round then and moved back to the path. “Who said I was going to do anything?” he demanded in a voice that sounded half-angry and half-ashamed.
She answered him with absolute candour. “I saw your face just now. I couldn’t help knowing. Oh, Jeff, Jeff! is it as bad as that? Do you hate me so badly as that?”
He made a movement of the arms that was curiously passionate, but he did not attempt to take her into them. “I don’t hate you,” he said, in a voice that sounded half-choked. “I love you—so horribly”—there was a note of ferocity in the low-spoken words—“that I can never know any peace without you! And since with you it is otherwise, what remedy is there? You love Hugh Chesyl. You only want to be free to marry him. While I—”
He broke off in fierce impotence, and began to thrust her from him. But she held him fast.
“Jeff—Jeff, this is madness! Listen to me! You must listen! Hugh and I are friends, and we shall never be anything more. Jeff, let me be with you! Teach me to love you! You can if you will. Don’t—don’t ruin both our lives!”
She was pleading with him passionately, still holding him back. And, as she pleaded, she reached up her arms and slowly clasped his neck.
“Oh, Jeff, be good to me—be good to me just this once!” she prayed. “I’ve made such a hideous mistake, but don’t punish me like this! I swear if you go, I shall go too! There’ll be nothing left to live for. Jeff—Jeff, if you really love me, spare me this!”
The broken entreaty went into agonized sobbing, yet she kept her face upraised to his. Instinctively she knew that in that eleventh hour she must offer all she had.
Several moments throbbed away. She began to think that she had failed. And then very suddenly he moved, put his arm about her, led her away.
Not a word did he utter, but there was comfort in the holding of his arm. She went with him with the curious hushed sense of one who stands on the threshold of that which is sacred.
A FARMER’S WIFE
Two eyes, old but yet keen, peered forth into the wintry night, and a grey head nodded approvingly, as Jeff Ironside and his wife came in silence to their home. And then the bedroom blind came down, and Granny Grimshaw sat down cosily by her bit of wood fire to hold a strictly private little service of thanksgiving.
Downstairs into the raftered kitchen two people came, each holding each, both speechless, with a restraint that bound them as by a spell.
By nature the woman spoke first, her voice no more than a whisper. “Sit on the settle, won’t you? I’m going to get your tea.”
His arm fell from her. He sat down heavily, not looking at her. She stepped to the fire and took the empty teapot from the hob, then light-footed to the dresser for the tea.