He spoke truly. Although it was getting late, the light persisted, as if reluctant to leave the gladness of newborn things. All about her, Mavis could see the trees were decked in fresh green foliage, virginal, unsoiled; everywhere she saw a modest pride in unaffected beauty. Human interests and emulations seemed to have no lot in this serenity: no habitation was in sight; it was hard for Mavis to believe how near she was to a thriving country town. Strange unmorality, with which immersion in nature affects ardent spirits, influenced Mavis; nothing seemed to matter beyond present happiness. She made Perigal carry the cowslips, the while she frolicked with Jill. He watched her coolly, critically, appraisingly; she had no conception how desirable she appeared in his eyes. Lengthening shadows told them that it was time to go home. They left the cowslip field regretfully to walk the remaining two miles to Melkbridge.
“I want you to promise me something,” she said, after some moments of silence.
“To promise me to do something with your life.”
“Why should you wish that?”
“You saved Jill’s life. If you hadn’t, I should now be miserable and heart-broken, whereas—Will you promise me what I ask?”
He did not speak immediately; she put her hand on his arm.
“I was wondering if it were any use promising,” he said, “I’ve had so many tries.”
“Will you promise you’ll try once more?”
“I promise I’ll try, for your sake.”
They talked till they were within half a mile of the town. Then he said:
“I’m going to leave you here.”
“Ashamed of being seen with me?”
“Why should I be ashamed?” he asked.
“I’m only a clerk in a boot factory.”
“You needn’t rub it in. No, I was thinking how people in Melkbridge would talk if they saw you with me or any other chap.”
“People aren’t quite so bad as that,” she urged.
“No woman would ever forgive you for your looks.”
“Well, goodbye; thank you for saving Jill’s life, and thank you for a very happy day.”
“Rot! It’s I who should be thankful. You’ve taken me out of myself.”
Neither of them made any move. Mavis caught hold of Jill and held her towards Perigal as she said:
“Thank him for saving your life, you ungrateful girl.”
Jill growled at Perigal even more angrily than before.
“Oh, you naughty Jill!” cried Mavis.
“Not a bit of it; she’s cleverer than you; she’s a reader of character,” said Perigal.
THE MOON GODDESS
“Do you know anything of Mr. Charlie Perigal?” asked Mavis of Miss Toombs and Miss Hunter the following day, as they were sipping their afternoon tea.
“Why?” asked Miss Hunter.