“Nollie gets so tired, working,” Gratian said: He knew she meant it kindly but that she should say it at all was ominous. He got up at last, having lost hope of seeing Noel again, conscious too that he had answered the last three questions at random.
In the porch George said: “You’ll come in to lunch tomorrow, won’t you?”
“Oh, thanks, I’m afraid it’ll bore you all.”
“Not a bit. Nollie won’t be so tired.”
Again—so well meant. They were very kind. He looked up from the gate, trying to make out which her window might be; but all was dark. A little way down the road he stopped to light a cigarette; and, leaning against a gate, drew the smoke of it deep into his lungs, trying to assuage the ache in his heart. So it was hopeless! She had taken the first, the very first chance, to get away from him! She knew that he loved her, could not help knowing, for he had never been able to keep it out of his eyes and voice. If she had felt ever so little for him, she would not have avoided him this first evening. ‘I’ll go back to that desert,’ he thought; ’I’m not going to whine and crawl. I’ll go back, and bite on it; one must have some pride. Oh, why the hell am I crocked-up like this? If only I could get out to France again!’ And then Noel’s figure bent over the falling corn formed before him. ‘I’ll have one more try,’ he thought; ’one more—tomorrow somewhere, I’ll get to know for certain. And if I get what Leila’s got I shall deserve it, I suppose. Poor Leila! Where is she? Back at High Constantia?’ What was that? A cry—of terror—in that wood! Crossing to the edge, he called “Coo-ee!” and stood peering into its darkness. He heard the sound of bushes being brushed aside, and whistled. A figure came bursting out, almost into his arms.
“Hallo!” he said; “what’s up?”
A voice gasped: “Oh! It’s—it’s nothing!”
He saw Noel. She had swayed back, and stood about a yard away. He could dimly see her covering her face with her arms. Feeling instinctively that she wanted to hide her fright, he said quietly:
“What luck! I was just passing. It’s awfully dark.”
“I—I got lost; and a man—caught my foot, in there!”
Moved beyond control by the little gulps and gasps of her breathing, he stepped forward and put his hands on her shoulders. He held her lightly, without speaking, terrified lest he should wound her pride.
“I-I got in there,” she gasped, “and the trees—and I stumbled over a roan asleep, and he—”
“Yes, Yes, I know,” he murmured, as if to a child. She had dropped her arms now, and he could see her face, with eyes unnaturally dilated, and lips quivering. Then moved again beyond control, he drew her so close that he could feel the throbbing of her heart, and put his lips to her forehead all wet with heat. She closed her eyes, gave a little choke, and buried her face against his coat.