George sprang up. At the sound of her voice every nerve in his body danced in mad exhilaration. He was another man. Depression fell from him like a garment. He perceived that he had misjudged all sorts of things. The evening, for instance, was a splendid evening—not one of those awful dry, baking evenings which make you feel you can’t breathe, but pleasantly moist and full of a delightfully musical patter of rain. And the barn! He had been all wrong about the barn. It was a great little place, comfortable, airy, and cheerful. What could be more invigorating than that smell of hay? Even the rats, he felt, must be pretty decent rats, when you came to know them.
Maud advanced quickly. His eyes had grown accustomed to the murk, and he could see her dimly. The smell of her damp raincoat came to him like a breath of ozone. He could even see her eyes shining in the darkness, so close was she to him.
“I hope you’ve not been waiting long?”
George’s heart was thundering against his ribs. He could scarcely speak. He contrived to emit a No.
“I didn’t think at first I could get away. I had to . . .” She broke off with a cry. The rat, fond of exercise like all rats, had made another of its excitable sprints across the floor.
A hand clutched nervously at George’s arm, found it and held it. And at the touch the last small fragment of George’s self-control fled from him. The world became vague and unreal. There remained of it but one solid fact—the fact that Maud was in his arms and that he was saying a number of things very rapidly in a voice that seemed to belong to somebody he had never met before.
With a shock of dismay so abrupt and overwhelming that it was like a physical injury, George became aware that something was wrong. Even as he gripped her, Maud had stiffened with a sharp cry; and now she was struggling, trying to wrench herself free. She broke away from him. He could hear her breathing hard.
“You—you——” She gulped.
“How dare you!”
There was a pause that seemed to George to stretch on and on endlessly. The rain pattered on the leaky roof. Somewhere in the distance a dog howled dismally. The darkness pressed down like a blanket, stifling thought.
“Good night, Mr. Bevan.” Her voice was ice. “I didn’t think you were—that kind of man.”
She was moving toward the door; and, as she reached it, George’s stupor left him. He came back to life with a jerk, shaking from head to foot. All his varied emotions had become one emotion—a cold fury.
Maud stopped. Her chin was tilted, and she was wasting a baleful glare on the darkness.
“Well, what is it?”
Her tone increased George’s wrath. The injustice of it made him dizzy. At that moment he hated her. He was the injured party. It was he, not she, that had been deceived and made a fool of.