She assented dubiously, her lips softly kissing his neck. “It isn’t—all my fault, Billikins,” she whispered, wistfully, “that men treat me—lightly.”
He set his teeth. “It must be your fault,” he declared, firmly. “You can help it if you try.”
She turned her face more fully to his. “How grim you look, darling! You haven’t kissed me for quite five minutes.”
“I feel more like whipping you,” he said, grimly.
She leapt in his arms as if he had been about to put his words into action. “Oh, no!” she cried. “No, you wouldn’t beat me, Billikins. You—you wouldn’t, dear, would you?” Her great eyes, dilated and imploring, gazed into his for a long desperate second ere she gave herself back to him with a sobbing laugh. “You’re not in earnest, of course. I’m silly to listen to you. Do kiss me, darling, and not frighten me anymore!”
He held her close, but still he did not comply with her request. “Did this Silvester ever kiss you?” he asked.
She shook her head vehemently, hiding her face.
“Look at me!” he said.
“No, Billikins!” she protested.
“Then tell me the truth!” he said.
“He kissed me—once, Billikins,” came in distressed accents from his shoulder.
“And you?” Merryon’s words sounded clipped and cold.
She shivered. “I ran right away to you. I—I didn’t feel safe any more.”
Merryon sat silent. Somehow he could not stir up his anger against her, albeit his inner consciousness told him that she had been to blame; but for the first time his passion was cooled. He held her without ardour, the while he wondered.
That night he awoke to the sound of her low sobbing at his side. His heart smote him. He put forth a comforting hand.
She crept into his arms. “Oh, Billikins,” she whispered, “keep me with you! I’m not safe—by myself.”
The man’s soul stirred within him. Dimly he began to understand what his protection meant to her. It was her anchor, all she had to keep her from the whirlpools. Without it she was at the mercy of every wind that blew. Again cold doubt assailed him, but he put it forcibly away. He gathered her close, and kissed the tears from her face and the trouble from her heart.
THE MOUTH OF THE PIT
So Puck had her way and stayed.
She was evidently sublimely happy—at least in Merryon’s society, but she did not pick up her strength very quickly, and but for her unfailing high spirits Merryon would have felt anxious about her. There seemed to be nothing of her. She was not like a creature of flesh and blood. Yet how utterly, how abundantly, she satisfied him! She poured out her love to him in a perpetual offering that never varied or grew less. She gave him freely, eagerly, glowingly, all she had to give. With passionate triumph she answered to his need. And that need was growing. He could not blind himself to the fact. His profession no longer filled his life. There were times when he even resented its demands upon him. The sick list was rapidly growing, and from morning till night his days were full.