“Well?” he said, with the stern curtness of a military commander, as he stood before her.
She held the iron lamp in her hand. The wick had fallen aside and was now wasting itself in a broad, unequal yellow flame. The maid of honour looked at it in perplexity, knitting her pretty brows in a mock frown.
“It burned me as I was ordering my hair,” she said. “I cannot blow it out. I dare not. Will you—will you blow it out for me, Captain Sholto?”
She spoke with a sweet childlike humility.
And she held the lamp up so that the iron handle was almost touching her soft cheek. There was a dancing challenge in her dark eyes and her lips smiled dangerously red. She could not, of course, have known that the light made her look so beautiful, or she would have been more careful.
Sholto stood still a moment, at wrestle with himself, trying to conquer his dignity, and to retain his attitude of stern disapproval.
But the girl swept her lashes up towards him, dropped them again dark as night upon her cheek, and anon looked a second time at him.
“I am sorry,” she said, more than ever like a child. “Forgive me, and—the lamp is so hot.”
Now Sholto was young and inexperienced, but he was not quite a fool. He stooped and blew out the light, and the next moment his lips rested upon other lips which, as it had been unconsciously, resigned their soft sweetness to his will.
Then the door closed, and he heard the click of the lock as the bolts were shot from within. The gallery ran round and round about him like a clacking wheel. His heart beat tumultuously, and there was a strange humming sound in his ears.
The captain of the guard stumbled half distracted down the turret stair.
The old world had been destroyed in a moment and he was walking in a new, where perpetual roses bloomed and the spring birds sang for evermore. He knew not, this poor foolish Sholto, that he had much to learn ere he should know all the tricks and stratagems of this most naughty and prettily disdainful minx, Mistress Maud Lindesay.
But for that night at least he thought he knew her heart and soul, which made him just as happy.
THE MORNING LIGHT
In the morning Sholto MacKim had other views of it. Even when at last he was relieved from duty he never closed an eye. The blowing out of the lamp had turned his ideas and hopes all topsy-turvy. His heart sang loud and turbulent within him. He had kissed other girls indeed before at kirns and country dances. He laughed triumphantly within him at the difference. They had run into corners and screamed and struggled, and held up ineffectual hands. And when his lips did reach their goal, it was generally upon the bridge of a nose or a tip of an ear. He could not remember any especial pleasure accompanying the rite.