“You don’t love me, then?”
“No; how could I? I could only love mummy, really. Oh, there it is again! You’re still crying, you know.”
“Yes; I know I am.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t come into bed and cry—it’s much warmer.”
A sob broke in Sally’s throat.
Here now it had come—so soon as this—the fulfilment of Janet’s prophecy. The curse of Eve was no mystery to her now. She knew. She knew what life lacked.
“No; you must go to sleep now, Maurie,” she said thickly. “You must go to sleep now. You mustn’t cry any more.”
“Very well, then,” he said resignedly. “You must promise you won’t too.”
“I promise I won’t. Good night.”
And so, to keep her promise, lest he should hear as she had heard, she lay on her bed and buried her face in the pillow. But she cried.
That night began their friendship. In that night was sown the seed of the new idea in her mind, which neither the wild passion of her love for Traill, nor all the stern preaching of Janet’s philosophy had caused to take root before. A child—she knew that now—a child would save her. A child would make this life of hers worth while. And, having none, she set her heart, as you set a lure with cunning hands, to win the love of little Maurice Priestly.
At the age of six, a boy-child is constituted of impressions—soft wax to the working of any fingers that touch his heart. In their ramblings together, through the orchards where the ripening apples turned up their bonny faces, peering through the leaves to find the sun; up the side of the hills, exploring the hidden dangers of the hollow chalk-pits—climbing always to see what the world looked like on the other side—they came to know each other; Sally to know all his little faults, sometimes of pride, sometimes of lovable boastfulness; he to know that her heart was aching—aching for something—something that he could not comprehend. But fancy wove the story for him. He must have a story with which to realize that her heart really was aching.
“If there’s no story,” he said, “I shan’t really believe you’re sad.”
So they sat on the side of the hills, looking out over the head of the tired old man—the little town of Cailsham—and seeing with their eyes what the tired old man saw all day long—the abundant garden of England. There Maurice told her the story of her misery, in which fairies and goblins and giants and witches moved in quick and sudden passage across the vistas of his vivid imagination.
“And that’s why you’re sad,” he said at its conclusion. “If only the prince had not done what the witch told him, you’d have been perfectly happy, wouldn’t you?”
Sally put her arm round his neck, lifted the soft, smooth little face to hers, and kissed it.
“Yes, that’s why,” she said gently; “but you must never tell any one.”