That stare of the old house, with all its knowledge of lives past, of youth and kisses spent and gone, of hopes spun and faiths abashed, the old house cynical, stirred in them desire to clutch each other close and feel the thrill of peering out together into mystery that must hold for them so much of love and joy and trouble! And suddenly she put her fingers to his face, passed them softly, clingingly, over his hair, forehead, eyes, traced the sharp cheek-bones down to his jaw, round by the hard chin up to his lips, over the straight bone of his nose, lingering, back, to his eyes again.
“Now, if I go blind, I shall know you. Give me one kiss, Derek. You must be tired.”
Buried in the old dark house that kiss lasted long; then, tiptoeing—she in front—pausing at every creak, holding breath, they stole up to their rooms. And the clock struck—Three!
Felix (nothing if not modern) had succumbed already to the feeling that youth ruled the roost. Whatever his misgivings, his and Flora’s sense of loss, Nedda must be given a free hand! Derek gave no outward show of his condition, and but for his little daughter’s happy serenity Felix would have thought as she had thought that first night. He had a feeling that his nephew rather despised one so soaked in mildness and reputation as Felix Freeland; and he got on better with Sheila, not because she was milder, but because she was devoid of that scornful tang which clung about her brother. No! Sheila was not mild. Rich-colored, downright of speech, with her mane of short hair, she was a no less startling companion. The smile of Felix had never been more whimsically employed than during that ten-day visit. The evening John Freeland came to dinner was the highwater mark of his alarmed amusement. Mr. Cuthcott, also bidden, at Nedda’s instigation, seemed to take a mischievous delight in drawing out those two young people in face of their official uncle. The pleasure of the dinner to Felix—and it was not too great—was in watching Nedda’s face. She hardly spoke, but how she listened! Nor did Derek say much, but what he did say had a queer, sarcastic twinge about it.
“An unpleasant young man,” was John’s comment afterward. “How the deuce did he ever come to be Tod’s son? Sheila, of course, is one of these hot-headed young women that make themselves a nuisance nowadays, but she’s intelligible. By the way, that fellow Cuthcott’s a queer chap!”
One subject of conversation at dinner had been the morality of revolutionary violence. And the saying that had really upset John had been Derek’s: “Conflagration first—morality afterward!” He had looked at his nephew from under brows which a constant need for rejecting petitions to the Home Office had drawn permanently down and in toward the nose, and made no answer.
To Felix these words had a more sinister significance. With his juster appreciation both of the fiery and the official points of view, his far greater insight into his nephew than ever John would have, he saw that they were more than a mere arrow of controversy. And he made up his mind that night that he would tackle his nephew and try to find out exactly what was smouldering within that crisp, black pate.