Shelton’s eyes fastened on the silent, counting lips, on the fair hair about her forehead, the darker eyebrows slanting down towards the nose, the undimpled cheeks with the faint finger-marks beneath the ice-blue eyes, the softly-pouting and undimpled chin, the whole remote, sweet, suntouched, glacial face.
She turned her head, and, springing up, cried:
“Dick! What fun!” She gave him both her hands, but her smiling face said very plainly, “Oh; don’t let us be sentimental!”
“Are n’t you glad to see me?” muttered Shelton.
“Glad to see you! You are funny, Dick!—as if you did n’t know! Why, you ’ve shaved your beard! Mother and Sybil have gone into the village to see old Mrs. Hopkins. Shall we go out? Thea and the boys are playing tennis. It’s so jolly that you ’ve come!” She caught up the tam-o’-shanter, and pinned it to her hair. Almost as tall as Shelton, she looked taller, with arms raised and loose sleeves quivering like wings to the movements of her fingers. “We might have a game before lunch; you can have my other racquet.”
“I’ve got no things,” said Shelton blankly.
Her calm glance ran over him.
“You can have some of old Bernard’s; he’s got any amount. I’ll wait for you.” She swung her racquet, looked at Shelton, cried, “Be quick!” and vanished.
Shelton ran up-stairs, and dressed in the undecided way of men assuming other people’s clothes. She was in the hall when he descended, humming a tune and prodding at her shoe; her smile showed all her pearly upper teeth. He caught hold of her sleeve and whispered:
The colour rushed into her cheeks; she looked back across her shoulder.
“Come along, old Dick!” she cried; and, flinging open the glass door, ran into the garden.
The tennis-ground was divided by tall netting from a paddock. A holm oak tree shaded one corner, and its thick dark foliage gave an unexpected depth to the green smoothness of the scene. As Shelton and Antonia came up, Bernard Dennant stopped and cordially grasped Shelton’s hand. From the far side of the net Thea, in a shortish skirt, tossed back her straight fair hair, and, warding off the sun, came strolling up to them. The umpire, a small boy of twelve, was lying on his stomach, squealing and tickling a collie. Shelton bent and pulled his hair.
“Hallo, Toddles! you young ruffian!”
One and all they stood round Shelton, and there was a frank and pitiless inquiry in their eyes, in the angle of their noses something chaffing and distrustful, as though about him were some subtle poignant scent exciting curiosity and disapproval.
When the setts were over, and the girls resting in the double hammock underneath the holm oak, Shelton went with Bernard to the paddock to hunt for the lost balls.
“I say, old chap,” said his old school-fellow, smiling dryly, “you’re in for a wigging from the Mater.”