Then, through the window above his head, he heard Oliver Dromore—a voice one could always tell, pitched high, with its slight drawl— pleading, very softly at first, then insistent, imperious; and suddenly Nell’s answering voice:
“I won’t, Oliver! I won’t! I won’t!”
He rose to go out of earshot. Then a door slammed, and he saw her at the window above him, her waist on a level with his head; flushed, with her grey eyes ominously bright, her full lips parted. And he said:
“What is it, Nell?”
She leaned down and caught his hand; her touch was fiery hot.
“He kissed me! I won’t let him—I won’t kiss him!”
Through his head went a medley of sayings to soothe children that are hurt; but he felt unsteady, unlike himself. And suddenly she knelt, and put her hot forehead against his lips.
It was as if she had really been a little child, wanting the place kissed to make it well.
After that strange outburst, Lennan considered long whether he should speak to Oliver. But what could he say, from what standpoint say it, and—with that feeling? Or should he speak to Dromore? Not very easy to speak on such a subject to one off whose turf all spiritual matters were so permanently warned. Nor somehow could he bring himself to tell Sylvia; it would be like violating a confidence to speak of the child’s outburst and that quivering moment, when she had kneeled and put her hot forehead to his lips for comfort. Such a disclosure was for Nell herself to make, if she so wished.
And then young Oliver solved the difficulty by coming to the studio himself next day. He entered with ‘Dromore’ composure, very well groomed, in a silk hat, a cut-away black coat and charming lemon-coloured gloves; what, indeed, the youth did, besides belonging to the Yeomanry and hunting all the winter, seemed known only to himself. He made no excuse for interrupting Lennan, and for some time sat silently smoking his cigarette, and pulling the ears of the dogs. And Lennan worked on, waiting. There was always something attractive to him in this young man’s broad, good-looking face, with its crisp dark hair, and half-insolent good humour, now so clouded.
At last Oliver got up, and went over to the unfinished ’Girl on the Magpie Horse.’ Turning to it so that his face could not be seen, he said:
“You and Mrs. Lennan have been awfully kind to me; I behaved rather like a cad yesterday. I thought I’d better tell you. I want to marry Nell, you know.”
Lennan was glad that the young man’s face was so religiously averted. He let his hands come to anchor on what he was working at before he answered: “She’s only a child, Oliver;” and then, watching his fingers making an inept movement with the clay, was astonished at himself.
“She’ll be eighteen this month,” he heard Oliver say. “If she once gets out—amongst people—I don’t know what I shall do. Old Johnny’s no good to look after her.”