His eyes were full of tears. He laid his hand on her shawl again. He leaned to her. It was no use—the moon and his feelings were too much for him. They were talking of the baby, and the word “love” had not been, and was not going to be, mentioned; but there the thing was, unmistakable to her keen intelligence, looming like a frontier custom-house on the road ahead.
She grasped his big, trembling hand, and with it held him back, meeting his adoring gaze with steady eyes and mouth.
“My dear boy, don’t—don’t! Don’t spoil this nice evening—”
It was all that was necessary. And still so kind, so gentle with him! No scorn, no offended dignity, no displeasure even. She, who could punish insolence with anybody, was never hard upon the humble admirer—only too soft, in fact, with all her basic firmness, and incapable of the hard-hearted coquetry that so commonly makes beauty vile. “Face of waxen angel, with paw of desert beast”—that was not Deborah Pennycuick.
A sob broke from him.
“I am a damned fool!” he muttered savagely, and by a violent effort collected himself. “I beg your pardon.”
“That’s all right,” she said, turning the ponies from the embankment and whipping them to a gallop.
There was a moon the next night also. It did not appreciably affect him this time—down in dirty Sandridge, hobnobbing with the baby’s caretaker and the general merchant, who, shutting his shop at six, was free to make the sailor’s acquaintance, and help him to spend a pleasant evening. But it turned Redford garden, with its fine old trees and lawns, into the usual bit of fairyland for those who strayed therein.
Redford was packed with Christmas guests. The waggonette that had taken Guthrie Carey to the train had returned full of them, and batches had been arriving at intervals through the day. At bed-time the sisters were sharing rooms; Rose had come to Deb’s, Frances to Mary’s; and the unmarried men were all at the bachelors’ quarters.
It was a hot night, and Deb, under the circumstances, was disinclined for sleep. She paid visits to one guest chamber and another, for private gossips and good-nights; when she returned to her own, where placid Rose had long composed herself, she roamed the floor like a caged animal.
“It is no use my coming to bed yet,” she addressed her sister. “I could not sleep. I should only kick about and disturb you. I’ll sit down and read a bit.”
She found a novel and an easy-chair, and made deliberate efforts to tranquillise herself. Soon Rose heard sighs and phews, and sudden rustlings and slappings, and then the bang of a book upon the floor.
“I can’t read! and the light brings the mosquitoes. It’s too hot in here. I’m going out to get cool, Rosie.”
“A’right,” mumbled drowsy Rose. And the light was extinguished, and the blind of the French window rattled up.