“Been out?” Then could have bitten his tongue off. Suppose she answered: “No.”
But she did not so answer. The colour came into her cheeks, indeed, but she nodded: “It’s so lovely!”
How pretty she looked saying that! He had put himself out of court now—could never tell her what he had seen, after setting, as it were, that trap for her; and presently he asked:
“Got any plans to-day?”
She answered, without flinching in the least:
“Mark Lennan and I were going to take mules from Mentone up to Gorbio.”
He was amazed at her steadiness—never, to his knowledge, having encountered a woman armoured at every point to preserve a love that flies against the world. How tell what was under her smile! And in confusion of feeling that amounted almost to pain he heard her say:
“Will you and Aunt Dolly come?”
Between sense of trusteeship and hatred of spoiling sport; between knowledge of the danger she was in and half-pitying admiration at the sight of her; between real disapproval of an illicit and underhand business (what else was it, after all?) and some dim perception that here was something he did not begin to be able to fathom—something that perhaps no one but those two themselves could deal with—between these various extremes he was lost indeed. And he stammered out:
“I must ask your aunt; she’s—she’s not very good on a mule.”
Then, in an impulse of sheer affection, he said with startling suddenness: “My dear, I’ve often meant to ask, are you happy at home?”
There was something sinister about the way she repeated that, as if the word “home” were strange to her.
She drank her coffee and got up; and the Colonel felt afraid of her, standing there—afraid of what she was going to tell him. He grew very red. But, worse than all, she said absolutely nothing; only shrugged her shoulders with a little smile that went to his heart.
On the wild thyme, under the olives below the rock village of Gorbio, with their mules cropping at a little distance, those two sat after their lunch, listening to the cuckoos. Since their uncanny chance meeting that morning in the gardens, when they sat with their hands just touching, amazed and elated by their own good fortune, there was not much need to say what they felt, to break with words this rapture of belonging to each other—so shyly, so wildly, so, as it were, without reality. They were like epicures with old wine in their glasses, not yet tired of its fragrance and the spell of anticipation.
And so their talk was not of love, but, in that pathetic way of star-crossed lovers, of the things they loved; leaving out—each other.
It was the telling of her dream that brought the words from him at last; but she drew away, and answered: