She tottered a little, covering her face with her hands, sobbing like a hurt child. But she did not try to run away.
He flung round upon his heel and paced the veranda in fierce discomfort. Beast that he was—brute beast to have hurt her so! That piteous sobbing was more than he could bear.
Suddenly he turned back to her, came and stood beside her. “Puck—Puck, child!” he said.
His voice was soft and very urgent. He touched the bent, dark head with a hesitating caress.
She started away from him with a gasp of dismay; but he checked her.
“No, don’t!” he said. “It’s all right, dear. I’m not such a brute as I seem. Don’t be afraid of me!”
There was more of pleading in his voice than he knew. She raised her head suddenly, and looked at him as if puzzled.
He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed her wet cheeks with clumsy tenderness. “It’s all right,” he said again. “Don’t cry! I hate to see you cry.”
She gazed at him, still doubtful, still sobbing a little. “Oh, Billikins!” she said, tremulously, “why did you?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was mad. It was your own fault, in a way. You don’t seem to realize that I’m as human as the rest of the world. But I don’t defend myself. I was an infernal brute to let myself go like that.”
“Oh, no, you weren’t, Billikins!” Quite unexpectedly she answered him. “You couldn’t help it. Men are like that. And I’m glad you’re human. But—but”—she faltered a little—“I want to feel that you’re safe, too. I’ve always felt—ever since I jumped into your arms that night—that you—that you were on the right side of the safety-curtain. You are, aren’t you? Oh, please say you are! But I know you are.” She held out her hands to him with a quivering gesture of confidence. “If you’ll forgive me for—for fooling you,” she said, “I’ll forgive you—for being fooled. That’s a fair offer, isn’t it? Don’t let’s think any more about it!” Her rainbow smile transformed her face, but her eyes sought his anxiously.
He took the hands, but he did not attempt to draw her nearer. “Puck!” he said.
“What is it?” she whispered, trembling.
“Don’t!” he said. “I won’t hurt you. I wouldn’t hurt a hair of your head. But, child, wouldn’t it be safer—easier for both of us—if—if we lived together, instead of apart?”
He spoke almost under his breath. There was no hint of mastery about him at that moment, only a gentleness that pleaded with her as with a frightened child.
And Puck went nearer to him on the instant, as it were instinctively, almost involuntarily. “P’r’aps some day, Billikins!” she said, with a little, quivering laugh. “But not yet—not if I’ve got to go to the Hills away from you.”
“When I follow you to the Hills, then,” he said.
She freed one hand and, reaching up, lightly stroked his cheek. “P’r’aps, Billikins!” she said again. “But—you’ll have to be awfully patient with me, because—because—” She paused, agitatedly; then went yet a little nearer to him. “You will be kind to me, won’t you?” she pleaded.