The storm broke upon them. Another peal of thunder was followed by a downpour of rain. He caught hold of her hand.
“Run as hard as you can,” he said.
They reached the cottage, breathless. He ushered her into his little sitting-room.
“Has your friend gone?” she asked.
“Yes!” he answered. “He went last night.”
“I am glad,” she declared. “I wanted to see you alone. You said that he was lodging here, did you not?”
“Yes,” he said, “but he only stayed for a few days.”
“You have an extra room here, then?” she asked.
“Certainly,” he answered, wondering a little at the drift of her questions.
“Will you let it to me, please?” she asked. “I am looking for lodgings, and I should like to stay for a little time here.”
He looked at her in amazement.
“My dear young lady!” he exclaimed. “You are joking!”
“I am perfectly serious,” she answered. “I will tell you all about it if you like.”
“But your stepmother!” he protested. “She would never come to such a place. Besides, you are Mr. De la Borne’s guests.”
“I do not wish to stay there any longer,” she said. “I do not wish to stay with my stepmother any longer. Something has happened which I cannot altogether explain to you, but which makes me feel that I want to get away from them all. I have enough money, and I am sure I should not be much trouble. Please take me, Mr. Andrew.”
He suddenly realized what a child she was. Her dark eyes were raised wistfully to his. Her oval face was a little flushed by her recent exertions. She wore a very short skirt, and her hair hung about her shoulders in a tangled mass. Her little foreign mannerisms, half inciting, half provocative, were forgotten. His heart was full of pity for her.
“My dear child,” he said, “you are not serious. You cannot possibly be serious. Your stepmother is your guardian, and she certainly would not allow you to run away from her like this. Besides, I have not even a maid-servant. It would be absolutely impossible for you to stay here.”
Her eyes filled with tears. She dropped her arms with a weary little gesture.
“But I should love it so much,” she said. “Here I could rest, and forget all the things which worry me in this new life. Here I could watch the sea come in. I could sit down on the beach there and listen to the larks singing on the marshes. Oh! it would be such a rest—so peaceful! Mr. Andrew, is it quite impossible?”
He played his part well enough, laughing at her good-humouredly.
“It is more than impossible,” he said. “If you stayed here for any time at all, your stepmother would come and fetch you back, and I should get into terrible disgrace. Mr. De la Borne would probably turn me out of my house,” he added as an afterthought.
She sat down and looked out of the window in despair. The storm was still raging. The skies were black, and the window-pane streaming with rain-drops. She shivered a little.