Alice stood back in the shelter of the broken parapet. The highway with its modern crossing-place was some hundreds of yards up stream, but here, at the burn mouth, where the turbid current joined with the cold, glittering Avelin, there was a grass-grown track, and an ancient, broken-backed bridge. There were few passers on the high-road, none on this deserted way; but the girl in all her loneliness shrank back into the shadow. In these minutes she endured the bitter mistrust, the sore hesitancy, of awaiting on a certain but unknown grief.
She had not long to wait, for Lewis came down the Avelin side by a bypath from Etterick village. His alert gait covered his very real confusion, but to the girl he seemed one who belonged to an alien world of cheerfulness. He could not know her grief, and she regretted her coming.
His manners were the same courteous formalities. The man was torn with emotion, and yet he greeted her with a conventional ease.
“It was so good of you, Miss Wishart, to give me a chance to come and say good-bye. My going is such a sudden affair, that I might have had no time to come to Glenavelin, but I could not have left without seeing you.”
The girl murmured some indistinct words. “I hope you will have a good time and come back safely,” she said, and then she was tongue-tied.
The two stood before each other, awkward and silent—two between whom no word of love had ever been spoken, but whose hearts were clamouring at the iron gates of speech.
Alice’s face and neck were dyed crimson, as the impossible position dawned on her mind. No word could break down the palisade, of form. Lewis, his soul a volcano, struggled for the most calm and inept words. He spoke of the weather, of her father, of his aunt’s messages.
Then the girl held out her hand.
“Good-bye,” she said, looking away from him.
He held it for a second. “Good-bye, Miss Wishart,” he said hoarsely. Was this the consummation of his brief ecstasy, the end of months of longing? The steel hand of fate was on him and he turned to leave.
He turned when he had gone three paces and came back. The girl was still standing by the parapet, but she had averted her face towards the wintry waters. His step seemed to fall on deaf ears, and he stood beside her before she looked towards him.
Passion had broken down his awkwardness. He asked the old question with a shaking voice. “Alice,” he said, “have I vexed you?”
She turned to him a pale, distraught face, her eyes brimming over with the sorrow of love, the passionate adventurous longing which claims true hearts for ever.
He caught her in his arms, his heart in a glory of joy.
“Oh, Alice, darling,” he cried. “What has happened to us? I love you, I love you, and you have never given me a chance to say it.”
She lay passive in his arms for one brief minute and then feebly drew back.