“So you made a bolt for it?”
“Yes; was it very cowardly?”
“Not at all. If it had been a thief, and he’d thought you were suspicious, he might have turned nasty. But are you sure you didn’t recognize me, and come to the conclusion that I was even less desirable than the man stealing the apples?”
She laughed nervously, knowing what was before her.
“No; why should I?”
“Because you’ve been avoiding me for the last ten days, ever since that tea-party your mother gave at the tennis club.”
She looked to the ground; she looked to the forest of leaves above her head, where the rosy apples peered at her, beaming with their bright, healthy cheeks.
“You don’t say anything to that,” he said, striking his leggings with the little switch in his hand.
“I didn’t know I had been,” she replied, glancing up to the open candour of his eyes.
“But you have. I was going to write to you.”
“Yes; I’m not much of a hand at it, but I was going to make a shot. I was going to ask you if you—if you were preferring—oh—you understand what I mean—if you didn’t like my thrusting my attentions on you—well—as I—as I had been doing. I was going to write that to-night.”
She looked up with wide eyes—the eyes that Traill had first loved—but she said nothing.
“Well?” he asked, pressing her to the answer. “What would have been your reply?”
“I really don’t know,” she said honestly.
“You don’t care for me?” he exclaimed. “I’m not the sort of chap who—”
“Oh, it’s not that!”
She met his eyes steadily. “It’s—am I the sort of woman?”
He came close to her side, took her hand reverently as though its preciousness made him fear the harm his heavy grip might do. And there, under the network of apple branches interwoven with the patches of a deep, blue sky, with now and then the sound of an apple tumbling heavily to the ground, or a flight of starlings whirring overhead, and in the distance the hollow monotonous beating on the tin drums of the boy who scared the birds, he told her roughly, unevenly, in words cut out of the solid vein of his emotion, what kind of a woman he thought she was.
“No,” she kept on whispering; “no, no.”
But he paid no attention. He scarcely heard the word in the gentleness of her voice. When he had finished, she took away her hand.
“That means nothing to you, then?” he said bitterly.
She gazed away through the lines of apple trees that hid the greater distance from view.
“It means more than you think,” she replied. “But I can’t let you say it—I can’t let you continue to think it, until—until”—she took a deep breath—“until I tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“I’ll write to you.”
“But you can tell me. Why can’t you tell me?” His lips were white. The little switch snapped in his fingers. Neither of them noticed it. Neither heard the sound. “Why can’t you tell me?” he repeated.