‘Yes, Elise?’ He tried to rise, but she pressed him back and sat on the arm of the huge chair, looking down at him with a face that was glowing with excitement. Her eyes were like jewels of fate lit from within by some magic flame, and a mutinous lock of hair fell on the side of her face, almost touching the crimson lips. There was so much magnetism in her beauty, such a heaven in the unconquered warmth of her impetuous being, that Selwyn gripped the arms of his chair to help to restrain the mad impulse to grasp her in his arms and smother those lips and the flushed, satin cheeks in a tempest of kisses.
‘Yes, Elise?’ he repeated, clearing his throat.
’Listen, Austin. I can’t stay inside any longer. I think my blood is on fire. Will you come with me to the village?’
‘At eleven o’clock?’
’Yes. The news from London will reach the village first, and I want to be there when it comes. We shall have to hurry if we are to make it in time.’
‘I’m at your service, Elise.’
’Right-o. I’ll let the mater know. I’ll just run upstairs and put something easy on, and I’ll meet you at the front of the house. You had better change too.’
A few minutes later she joined him on the lawn. They had just reached the road which led to the porter’s lodge, when, without a word of warning, she grasped his hand, and, half-running, half-dancing, pulled him forward at a rapid pace. With a laugh he joined in her mood, and, running side by side, they sped along the drive, while startled rabbits leaped across their path, and melancholy owls hooted disapprobation. As if the fumes of madness had mounted even to the skies, dark flecks of cloud raced headlong across the starry heavens.
They were mad. The world was mad. He wondered whether his brain might be playing some prank, and this absurd thing of two young people laughing and running to discover whether or not a nation was at war would prove a pointless jest of unsound imagination.
‘Come along,’ she cried. ‘You’re dragging.’
Then it wasn’t a dream. The sound of her voice whipped the wandering fantasies of his brain into coherency. With a shout he jumped forward, and ran as he had not done since that one great game when, as a ‘scrub,’ he had his chance against Yale.
‘Oh-oh-oh,’ she laughed, ‘I’m—winded.’
He caught her up in his arms as if her weight were no more than a child’s, and carried her forward a hundred paces. His strength was limitless. He felt as if his body would never again know the lassitude of fatigue.
His pulses were throbbing with double fever: that of the world and his own hot love for her. Yes, it was love. What a fool he had been ever to doubt it! His last thoughts at night were of her; the last word whispered was her name; the last picture shrouded by the approaching mists of sleep was of her face. What was morning but a sunlit moment that meant Elise? What was the day, what were the years, what was life, but one great moment to be lived for Elise—Elise?