Sinking on her knees she began to work at freeing the canvas of a picture. Her heart throbbed distressfully; at the stir of wind-breath or any distant note of clamour she stopped, and held her breathing. No sounds came near. She toiled on, trying only to think that she was at the very spot where last night his arms had been round her. How long ago it seemed! She was full of vague terror, overmastered by the darkness, dreadfully alone. The new glow of resolution seemed suddenly to have died down in her heart, and left her cold.
She would never be fit to be his wife, if at the first test her courage failed! She set her teeth; and suddenly she felt a kind of exultation, as if she too were entering into life, were knowing something within herself that she had never known before. Her fingers hurt, and the pain even gave pleasure; her cheeks were burning; her breath came fast. They could not stop her now! This feverish task in darkness was her baptism into life. She finished; and rolling the pictures very carefully, tied them with cord. She had done something for him! Nobody could take that from her! She had a part of him! This night had made him hers! They might do their worst! She lay down on his mattress and soon fell asleep....
She was awakened by Scruff’s tongue against her face. Greta was standing by her side.
“Wake up, Chris! The gate is open!”
In the cold early light the child seemed to glow with warmth and colour; her eyes were dancing.
“I am not afraid now; Scruff and I sat up all night, to catch the morning—I—think it was fun; and O Chris!” she ended with a rueful gleam in her eyes, “I told it.”
Christian hugged her.
“Come—quick! There is nobody about. Are those the pictures?”
Each supporting an end, the girls carried the bundle downstairs, and set out with their corpse-like burden along the wall-path between the river and the vines.
Hidden by the shade of rose-bushes Greta lay stretched at length, cheek on arm, sleeping the sleep of the unrighteous. Through the flowers the sun flicked her parted lips with kisses, and spilled the withered petals on her. In a denser islet of shade, Scruff lay snapping at a fly. His head lolled drowsily in the middle of a snap, and snapped in the middle of a loll.
At three o’clock Miss Naylor too came out, carrying a basket and pair of scissors. Lifting her skirts to avoid the lakes of water left by the garden hose, she stopped in front of a rose-bush, and began to snip off the shrivelled flowers. The little lady’s silvered head and thin, brown face sustained the shower of sunlight unprotected, and had a gentle dignity in their freedom.
Presently, as the scissors flittered in and out of the leaves, she, began talking to herself.
“If girls were more like what they used to be, this would not have happened. Perhaps we don’t understand; it’s very easy to forget.” Burying her nose and lips in a rose, she sniffed. “Poor dear girl! It’s such a pity his father is—a—”