“You could n’t uproot a thing like that,” he said; “it would lose all its charm.”
His companion turned impatiently, and his countenance looked wonderfully genuine.
“Couldn’t I?” he said. “By Jove! I thought so. 1690! The best period.” He ran his forger round the sundial’s edge. “Splendid line-clean as the day they made it. You don’t seem to care much about that sort of thing”; and once again, as though accustomed to the indifference of Vandals, his face regained its mask.
They strolled on towards the kitchen gardens, Shelton still busy searching every patch of shade. He wanted to say “Can’t stop,” and hurry off; but there was about the stained-glass man a something that, while stinging Shelton’s feelings, made the showing of them quite impossible. “Feelings!” that person seemed to say; “all very well, but you want more than that. Why not take up wood-carving? . . . . Feelings! I was born in England, and have been at Cambridge.”
“Are you staying long?” he asked Shelton. “I go on to Halidome’s to-morrow; suppose I sha’n’t see you there? Good, chap, old Halidome! Collection of etchings very fine!”
“No; I ’m staying on,” said Shelton.
“Ah!” said the stained-glass man, “charming people, the Dennants!”
Shelton, reddening slowly, turned his head away; he picked a gooseberry, and muttered, “Yes.”
“The eldest girl especially; no nonsense about her. I thought she was a particularly nice girl.”
Shelton heard this praise of Antonia with an odd sensation; it gave him the reverse of pleasure, as though the words had cast new light upon her. He grunted hastily,
“I suppose you know that we ’re engaged?”
“Really!” said the stained-glass man, and again his bright, clear, iron-committal glance swept over Shelton—“really! I didn’t know. Congratulate you!”
It was as if he said: “You’re a man of taste; I should say she would go well in almost any drawing-room!”
“Thanks,” said Shelton; “there she’ is. If you’ll excuse me, I want to speak to her.”
Antonia, in a sunny angle of the old brick wall, amid the pinks and poppies and cornflowers, was humming to herself. Shelton saw the stained-glass man pass out of sight, then, unobserved, he watched her smelling at the flowers, caressing her face with each in turn, casting away spoiled blossoms, and all the time humming that soft tune.
In two months, or three, all barriers between himself and this inscrutable young Eve would break; she would be a part of him, and he a part of her; he would know all her thoughts, and she all his; together they would be as one, and all would think of them, and talk of them, as one; and this would come about by standing half an hour together in a church, by the passing of a ring, and the signing of their names.