“I am coming up after you,” said Lewis.
She stopped and regarded it with serious eyes. “It’s hard, but I’m going to try. It’s ’harder than the Midburn that I climbed up on the day I saw you fishing.”
She remembered! Joy caught at his heart, and he laughed so gladly that Alice turned round to look at him. Something in his eyes made her turn her head away and scan the birk-tree again.
Then suddenly there was a slip of soil, a helpless clutch at fern and heather, a cry of terror, and he was alone on the headland. The black swirl was closing over the girl’s head.
He had been standing rapt in a happy fancy, his thoughts far in a world of their own, and his eyes vacant of any purpose. Startled to alertness, he still saw vaguely, and for a second stood irresolute and wondering. Then came another splash, and a heavy body flung itself into the pool from lower down the rock. He knew the black head and the round shoulders of Mr. Stocks.
The man caught the girl as she struggled to get out of the swirl and with strong ugly strokes began to make for shore. Lewis stood with a sick heart, slow to realize the horror which had overtaken him. She was out of danger, though the man was swimming badly; dismally he noted the fact of his atrocious swimming. But this was the hero; he had stood irresolute. The thought burned him like a hot iron.
Half a dozen pairs of hands relieved the swimmer of his burden. Alice was little the worse, a trifle pale, very draggled and unhappy, and utterly tired. Lady Manorwater wept over her and kissed her, and hailed the dripping Stocks as her preserver. Lewis alone stood back. He satisfied himself that she was unhurt, and then, on the plea of getting the carriage, set off down the glen with a very grey, quivering face.
THE PLEASURES OF A CONSCIENCE
It was half-way down the glen that the full ignominy of his position came on Lewis with the shock of a thunder-clap. A hateful bitterness against her preserver and the tricks of fate had been his solitary feeling, till suddenly he realized the part he had played, and saw himself for a naked coward. Coward he called himself-without reflection; for in such a moment the mind thinks in crude colours and bold lines of division. He set his teeth in his lip, and with a heart sinking at the shameful thought stalked into the farm stables where the Glenavelin servants were.
He could not return to the Pool. Alice was little hurt, so anxiety was needless; better let him leave Mr. Stocks to enjoy his heroics in peace. He would find an excuse; meanwhile, give him quiet and solitude to digest his bitterness. He cursed himself for the unworthiness of his thoughts. What a pass had he come to when he grudged a little kudos to a rival, grudged it churlishly, childishly. He flung from him the self-reproach. Other people would wonder at his ungenerousness, and his sulky ill-nature. They would explain by the first easy discreditable reason. What eared he for their opinion when he knew the far greater shame in his heart?