A little sob of relief broke in his throat. He seized her hand in his and pressed it to his lips. It seemed to her that the touch was of fire. She looked at him thoughtfully.
“You are Douglas Guest, then?” she asked, quietly.
“I am,” he answered.
JOAN STRONG, AVENGER
At an attic window, from which stretched a Babylonic wilderness of slated roofs and cowled chimney pots, two girls were sitting. The tan of the wind and the sun was upon their cheeks, their clothes lacked the cheap smartness of the Londoner. They were both in mourning for their father, Gideon Strong.
“Suicide, nay! I’ll never believe that it was Douglas,” Joan declared firmly. “Nay, but I know the lad too well. He was ever pining for London, for gay places and the stir of life. There was evil in his blood. It was the books he read, and the strange taste he had for solitude. What else? But he’d not the pluck of a rabbit. He never killed himself—not he! He’s a living man to-day, and as I’m a living woman I’ll drop my hand upon his shoulder before long.”
“God forbid it!” Cicely cried fervently. “Please God if it was Douglas who sinned so grievously that he may be dead.”
Joan rose slowly to her feet. In her sombre garb, fashioned with almost pitiless severity, her likeness to her father became almost striking. There were the same high cheek-bones, the heavy eyebrows, the mouth of iron. The blood of many generations of stern yeomen was in her veins.
“’Tis well for you, Cicely,” she said, and her voice, metallic enough at all times, seemed, for the bitterness of it, to bite the close air like a rasp. “’Tis well enough for you, Cicely, who had but little to do with him, but do you forget that I was his affianced wife? I have stood up in the Meeting House at Feldwick, and we prayed together for grace. The hypocrite. The abandoned wastrel. That he, who might have been the pastor of Feldwick, ay, and have been chosen to serve in the towns even, should have wandered so miserably.”
The younger girl was watching a smoke-begrimed sparrow on the sill with eyes at once vacant and tender. She was slighter and smaller than her sister, of different complexion, with soft, grey eyes and a broad, humorous mouth. Her whole expression was kindly. She had a delicate prettiness of colouring, and a vivacity which seemed to place her amongst a different order of beings. Never were sisters more like and unlike in this world.
“Sometimes,” she said reflectively, “I have wondered whether Father was not very hard upon Douglas. He was so different from everybody else there, so fond of books and pictures, clever people, and busy places. There was no one in Feldwick with whom he could have had any tastes at all in common—not a scholar amongst the lot of us.”
Joan frowned heavily. Her dark brows contracted, the black eyes flashed.