‘My dear girl,’ said Selwyn gently, speaking almost listlessly for fear the smouldering power of retort should be fanned into being, ’for months I have been hoping that some day we should be able to talk like this, as friends. Perhaps it was my fault, but there always seemed a sort of third-person-singular attitude in our talk, as if we were speaking at each other, which served to block our friendship from becoming anything of value to each other. Naturally I have seen that you are not happy, though there have been moments when you were the very personification of light-hearted ness, and I have known for a long time that the motif of your whole nature is resentment. Believe me, Miss Durwent, if I could be a friend—and I mean that to the last ditch—I should be deeply grateful for the privilege.’
‘Thanks,’ she said simply, and placing her hand in his, let it remain there.
The hot blood of his impressionable nature mounted to his cheeks, and his heart was aflame with a sudden intoxication of desire. But chivalry told him how much it had cost this girl, whose whole being rebelled at the thought of being physically conquered, to show such a mark of confidence. And reason warned him that any triumph he might obtain would be only for the moment. He watched the flight of a hawk in the sky—and his lips were parched and hot.
‘For a long time,’ she said, ’I have had a growing sensation of suffocation in life. It’s stifling me. When I look ahead and see nothing but this kind of life—visiting, visiting, entertaining, entertaining, listening to that endless talk in London—well, I think I understand why some women go to the devil. At least there’s something genuine about sin.’
A rabbit leaped from a bush opposite as though it bad seen something terrifying, and scampered madly across the field to some burrowed refuge by a great oak. Selwyn felt the hand in his tighten convulsively.
‘Look!’ she cried. ‘Austin—look!’
Her face blanched with sudden alarm. He sprang to his feet.
‘What is it?’ he cried.
‘The bush—there—where the rabbit darted out.’
He looked at the spot indicated by her trembling hand, but the dwindling sunlight had just passed it, and he could see nothing but a clump of shrubbery.
‘It was a man,’ she said, her voice shaking querulously. ’I saw his face. He was crouching there and watching us.’
Selwyn frowned. ‘Some poacher fellow,’ he said, ’that’s all. At any rate, I’ll make sure.’
He started for the bush, when, with a tearful laugh, she stopped him, her hands clinging to his arm.
‘No—no,’ she said swiftly, ’it’s nothing. It was just my nerves. There is no one there. The rabbit startled me.’
He hesitated momentarily, then, turning to her, gripped her arms with his hands. A great feeling of pity for the high-strung girl welled up in him, and he wished that it were possible to impart some of his own strength to her. ‘Elise,’ he began hoarsely, his whole being in a cloud of passion through which his brain slashed its lightning shafts of warning—’Elise’——