The horse jibbed for a second and then swung along the wild road with the vigorous ease of good blood skilfully handled. George was puzzling his brain all the while as to how he should tell his companion something which she ought to know. The strong drift and the turns of the road claimed much of his attention, so it is possible that he blurted out his news somewhat baldly.
“Do you know, Miss Wishart, that Lewis Haystoun and I are going off next week? Abroad, you know.”
The girl, who had been enjoying the ecstasy of swift motion through the bitter weather, glanced up at him with pain in her eyes.
“Where?” she asked.
“To the Indian frontier. We are going to be special unpaid unofficial members of the Intelligence Department.”
She asked the old, timid woman’s question about danger.
“It’s where Lewis was before. Only, you see, things have got into a mess thereabouts, and the Foreign Office has asked him to go out again. By the by, you mustn’t tell any one about this, for it’s in strict confidence.”
The words were meaningless, and yet they sent a pang through her heart. Had he no guess at her inmost feelings? Could he think that she would talk to Mr. Stocks of a thing which was bound up for her with all the sorrow and ecstasy of life?
He looked down and saw that her face had paled and that her mouth was drawn with some emotion. A sudden gleam of light seemed to break in upon him.
“Are you sorry?” he asked half-unwittingly.
For answer the girl turned her tragic eyes upon him, tried to speak, and faltered. He cursed him-self for a fool and a brute, and whipped up an already over-active horse, till it was all but unmanageable. It was a wise move, for it absorbed his attention and gave the poor child at his side a chance to recover her composure.
They came to Glenavelin gates and George turned in. “I had better drive you to the door, in this charming weather,” he said. The sight of the pale little face had moved him to deep pity. He cursed his blindness, the blindness of a whole world of fools, and at the same time, with the impotence of the honest man, he could only wait and be silent.
At the door he stopped to unbutton his cape from her neck, and even in his nervousness he felt the trembling of her body. She spoke rapidly and painfully.
“I want you to take a message from me to—to—Lewis. Tell him I must see him. Tell him to come to the Midburn foot, to-morrow in the afternoon. Oh, I am ashamed to ask you, but you must tell him.” And then without thanks or good-bye she fled into the house.
THE BRIDGE OF BROKEN HEARTS
Listless leaves were tossing in the light wind or borne downward in the swirl of the flooded Midburn, to the weary shallows where they lay, beached high and sodden, till the frost nipped and shrivelled their rottenness into dust. A bleak, thin wind it was, like a fine sour wine, searching the marrow and bringing no bloom to the cheek. A light snow powdered the earth, the grey forerunner of storms.