He opened his eyes, and said suddenly:
“So you think I’m going to lay hands on myself, Babs?”
Horribly startled by this reading of her thoughts, Barbara could only edge away and stammer:
“No; oh, no!”
“Where are we going in this thing?”
“Nettlefold. Would you like him stopped?”
“It will do as well as anywhere.”
Terrified lest he should relapse into that grim silence, she timidly possessed herself of his hand.
It was fast growing dark; the cab, having left the villas of Surbiton behind, was flying along at great speed among pine-trees and stretches of heather gloomy with faded daylight.
Miltoun said presently, in a queer, slow voice “If I want, I have only to open that door and jump. You who believe that ’to-morrow we die’—give me the faith to feel that I can free myself by that jump, and out I go!” Then, seeming to pity her terrified squeeze of his hand, he added: “It’s all right, Babs; we, shall sleep comfortably enough in our beds tonight.”
But, so desolate to the girl was his voice, that she hoped now for silence.
“Let us be skinned quietly,” muttered Miltoun, “if nothing else. Sorry to have disturbed you.”
Pressing close up to him, Barbara murmured:
“If only——Talk to me!”.
But Miltoun, though he stroked her hand, was silent.
The cab, moving at unaccustomed speed along these deserted roads, moaned dismally; and Barbara was possessed now by a desire which she dared not put in practice, to pull his head down, and rock it against her. Her heart felt empty, and timid; to have something warm resting on it would have made all the difference. Everything real, substantial, comforting, seemed to have slipped away. Among these flying dark ghosts of pine-trees—as it were the unfrequented borderland between two worlds—the feeling of a cheek against her breast alone could help muffle the deep disquiet in her, lost like a child in a wood.
The cab slackened speed, the driver was lighting his lamps; and his red face appeared at the window.
“We’ll ’ave to stop here, miss; I’m out of petrol. Will you get some dinner, or go through?”
“Through,” answered Barbara:
While they were passing the little their, buying then petrol, asking the way, she felt less miserable, and even looked about her with a sort of eagerness. Then when they had started again, she thought: If I could get him to sleep—the sea will comfort him! But his eyes were staring, wide-open. She feigned sleep herself; letting her head slip a little to one side, causing small sounds of breathing to escape. The whirring of the wheels, the moaning of the cab joints, the dark trees slipping by, the scent of the wet fern drifting in, all these must surely help! And presently she felt that he was indeed slipping into darkness—and then-she felt nothing.