“Don’t be cross, Dick!”
“We oughtn’t to have galloped them like this; they ’re not in condition. We’d better go home the way we came.”
Antonia dropped the reins, and straightened her back hair.
“There ’s no fun in that,” she said. “Out and back again; I hate a dog’s walk.”
“Very well,” said Shelton; he would have her longer to himself!
The road led up and up a hill, and from the top a vision of Saxonia lay disclosed in waves of wood and pasture. Their way branched down a gateless glade, and Shelton sidled closer till his knee touched the mare’s off-flank.
Antonia’s profile conjured up visions. She was youth itself; her eyes so brilliant, and so innocent, her cheeks so glowing, and her brow unruffled; but in her smile and in the setting of her jaw lurked something resolute and mischievous. Shelton put his hand out to the mare’s mane.
“What made you promise to marry me?” he said.
“Well, what made you?”
“I?” cried Shelton.
She slipped her hand over his hand.
“Oh, Dick!” she said.
“I want,” he stammered, “to be everything to you. Do you think I shall?”
Of course! The words seemed very much or very little.
She looked down at the river, gleaming below the glade in a curving silver line. “Dick, there are such a lot of splendid things that we might do.”
Did she mean, amongst those splendid things, that they might understand each other; or were they fated to pretend to only, in the old time-honoured way?
They crossed the river by a ferry, and rode a long time in silence, while the twilight slowly fell behind the aspens. And all the beauty of the evening, with its restless leaves, its grave young moon, and lighted campion flowers, was but a part of her; the scents, the witchery and shadows, the quaint field noises, the yokels’ whistling, and the splash of water-fowl, each seemed to him enchanted. The flighting bats, the forms of the dim hayricks, and sweet-brier perfume-she summed them all up in herself. The fingermarks had deepened underneath her eyes, a languor came upon her; it made her the more sweet and youthful. Her shoulders seemed to bear on them the very image of our land—grave and aspiring, eager yet contained—before there came upon that land the grin of greed, the folds of wealth, the simper of content. Fair, unconscious, free!
And he was silent, with a beating heart.
THE BIRD ’OF PASSAGE
That night, after the ride, when Shelton was about to go to bed, his eyes fell on Ferrand’s letter, and with a sleepy sense of duty he began to read it through a second time. In the dark, oak-panelled bedroom, his four-post bed, with back of crimson damask and its dainty sheets, was lighted by the candle glow; the copper pitcher of hot water in the basin, the silver of his brushes, and the line of his well-polished boots all shone, and Shelton’s face alone was gloomy, staring at the yellowish paper in his hand.