“My child, you don’t know what love is!”
For answer she only flung her arms round his neck; then, since he held back from kissing her, let them fall again, and jumped up.
“Very well. But I love you. You can think of that—you can’t prevent me!” And without waiting for help, she mounted the magpie horse from the sand-heap where they had fallen.
Very sober that ride home! The horses, as if ashamed of their mad chase, were edging close to each other, so that now and then his arm would touch her shoulder. He asked her once what she had felt while she was jumping.
“Only to be sure my foot was free. It was rather horrid coming down, thinking of Magpie’s knees;” and touching the little horse’s goat-like ears, she added softly: “Poor dear! He’ll be stiff to-morrow.”
She was again only the confiding, rather drowsy, child. Or was it that the fierceness of those past moments had killed his power of feeling? An almost dreamy hour—with the sun going down, the lamps being lighted one by one—and a sort of sweet oblivion over everything!
At the door, where the groom was waiting, Lennan would have said good-bye, but she whispered: “Oh, no, please! I am tired now—you might help me up a little.”
And so, half carrying her, he mounted past the Vanity Fair cartoons, and through the corridor with the red paper and the Van Beers’ drawings, into the room where he had first seen her.
Once settled back in Dromore’s great chair, with the purring kitten curled up on her neck, she murmured:
“Isn’t it nice? You can make tea; and we’ll have hot buttered toast.”
And so Lennan stayed, while the confidential man brought tea and toast; and, never once looking at them, seemed to know all that had passed, all that might be to come.
Then they were alone again, and, gazing down at her stretched out in that great chair, Lennan thought:
“Thank God that I’m tired too—body and soul!”
But suddenly she looked up at him, and pointing to the picture that to-day had no curtain drawn, said:
“Do you think I’m like her? I made Oliver tell me about—myself this summer. That’s why you needn’t bother. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, you see. And I don’t care—because you can love me, without feeling bad about it. And you will, won’t you?”
Then, with her eyes still on his face, she went on quickly:
“Only we won’t talk about that now, will we? It’s too cosy. I am nice and tired. Do smoke!”
But Lennan’s fingers trembled so that he could hardly light that cigarette. And, watching them, she said: “Please give me one. Dad doesn’t like my smoking.”
The virtue of Johnny Dromore! Yes! It would always be by proxy! And he muttered:
“How do you think he would like to know about this afternoon, Nell?”