‘Austin!’ cried Elise, running through the dark.
He almost stumbled as he went towards her, and caught her arms in his hands.
‘I didn’t want you to go,’ she said breathlessly, ’without saying thanks. If Boy-blue had really been shot as they said, I—I’——
She did not finish the sentence, but clasping his hand, pressed it twice to her burning lips.
‘Elise,’ he cried brokenly—but she had freed herself and was making for the door.
No longer weary, but with every artery of his body on fire with uncontrollable love for her, he intercepted the girl. ‘Elise,’ he cried, ’I thought I could go from here and carry my heart-hunger with me—but now I can’t. I can’t do it.’
‘You went away to America.’ Her flashing eyes held his in a burning reproach. ‘You did not need me then—and you don’t now.’
’But—you didn’t care? You never came back to the hospital, and I wrote to you every day. Tell me, Elise, did you really care—a little?’
’Yes, I did—more than I would admit to myself. But you didn’t. All you could think of was going back to America.’
’But, my dearest’—his heart was throbbing with a tumultuous joy—’if I had only known. There was so much work for me to do in America’——
’You will always have work to do. You don’t need me. I shouldn’t have come out to-night. Please let me go.’
‘Then you don’t care—now?’
’No. You have your work to do still. You said yourself that we come of different worlds’——
’Elise, my darling’—he caught her hands in his and forced her towards him—’what does that matter—what can anything matter when we need each other so much? I have nothing to offer you—not so much as when we first met—but with your help, dear heart, I’ll start again. We can do so much together. Elise—I hardly know what I am saying—but you do understand, don’t you? I can’t live without you. Tell me that you still care a little. Tell me’——
Her hands were pressed against his coat, forcing him away from her, when, with a strange little cry, she nestled into his arms and hid her face against his breast.
For a moment he doubted that it could be true, and then a feeling of infinite tenderness swept everything else aside. It was not a time for words or hot caresses to declare his passion. He stooped down and pressed his lips against her hair in silent reverence. She was his. This woman against his breast, this girl whose being held the mystery and the charm of life, was his. The arms that held her to him pressed more tightly, as if jealous of the years they had been robbed of her.
‘I must go in,’ she whispered.
He led her to the door, her hand in his, but though he longed to take her in a passionate embrace, he knew instinctively that her surrender was so spiritual a thing that he must accept it as the gift of an unopened spirit-flower.