The Lamb and the Lady
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
A romantic story of two lovers who fought by the sea
I'M awfully alive, you know!” The girl’s voice held a delicate hint of warning.
“That’s all right with me,” replied the man. “I like ’em that way.” He did not turn his head to look at her.
“Them?” she murmured. “Must the subject be plural?”
“Oh, you know perfectly well what I mean. Don’t be shrewish over a pronoun.”
She was dressed in white jersey with an amusing design of red and black zigzagging across the hem of her jumper. She eased herself more comfortably into the uneven niche of crag where they were resting. The sun blazed down on her hair and throat, and on her white shoes, above which her silk-clad ankles glowed
with crimson warm as red tulips. A faint, lavender light lay under her chin. Her hair was the color of thin curls shaved from smooth, pine planks. Her fair skin was lightly tanned, and her eyes might have been any color. There was something slow and inviting in the languor of her pose.
The man busied himself with a few pebbles scratched from the hard surface of the crag. He tossed them over the edge, and they were instantly lost in the roar of surf plunging far below. A gull slid down the wind. The deep blue of water broke here and there into plumes of yeasty foam.
“Isn’t it sad that we may not always be picturesque like this?” said the girl. “One has to go home sometime, I expect, and be a member of a family. And have opinions. And live snugly behind a neat, social mask. All vacations end . . . and the thought already makes me a little ill.”
Her companion frowned over the pebble in his hand. He was not a handsome man. Some stubborn quality marked his face with deep lines. It was as though his will were continually balked by the limitation of being only one person, when he had enough gusto for six. His hair was ragged and the indeterminate color of winter grass.
He said nothing in answer to the girl’s dismal prophecies.
“I think I first fell in love with your hands,” she added calmly.
The man grunted. Then he looked at her. She moved a little under the directness of his gaze. “Shall we be married tomorrow?” he asked.
“Charmed, Gordon ... if you’re feeling serious.”
A violent change passed over his face. He looked almost brutal. “Cut it, will you, Tommy? You spoil everything with smart talk.”
He reached for her hand, leaning nearer until she found herself looking beneath the short, black fringe of his eyelashes. She touched his lips with one finger.
“You’re so explosive, Gordon. Please let me speak first,” she begged.
So he waited, and the wind blew under his white silk shirt and bellied it out over his belt like curved sails.
“We’ll never be happy, you know,” her voice, smooth as the caressing brush of wings, held a note of mockery, “We couldn’t be. Happiness is sweet . . . and stodgy. We shall rock on tempests of quarrels, and rush into furious compromises. And I shall hate you, Gordon, about fourteen hours a day.”
“True,” he muttered. Then he raised his head to listen intently. “What was that?” he asked. “Did you hear anything?”
Color flamed up in the girl’s cheeks. She was very angry. “Even now, when we’re trying to thresh out our whole future existence,” her voice was brittle as a thin thread of glass, “you are diverted by a sound.”
“It was like a small child calling.” He bent his head slightly. “There, I heard it again. Listen.”
She would not answer him, but he had forgotten her. He rose and left her abruptly, peering as well as he could over the craggy shelf where they were resting from their walk. “By Jove,” he exclaimed, “I see now what it is. The poor little fool!”
He dropped with complete suddenness over the edge of the shelf, and she was aware of a high-pitched cry which immediately became drowned in the noise of the surf. “I hate him,” she stormed. “I love him . . . and he’ll always be leaving me to do important things in unimportant emergencies.”
She rose, a slim figure outlined against the wind-swept blue of the sea. After a brief moment of indecision she, too, began a careful descent. It was difficult but not dangerous for one accustomed to these rough ledges. She went swiftly but with caution. In a few moments she saw the white flutter of Gordon’s shirt collar open at the throat. And she could hear the plaintive cry more clearly now. It was a piteous bleating like the choked screaming of a child.
“Of course there would be a lamb lost on a ledge. And, of course, Gordon would have to hear it,” she said aloud. She waited where she was, angry, yet warmed by reluctant admiration. By leaning out a bit she could see the top of the man’s head and shoulders. He clung by one hand to a protruding jut of rock. His arm was like a taut cable swinging him over a dizzy three-inch shelf below, on which stood a white, woolly creature, helpless and frightened.
“Gordon ... be careful,” she cried. She had not meant to do this. She had meant to keep wholly out of sight. But she was hideously afraid for him. What if he should slip? What if his fingers, dug into harsh crevices of rock, should loosen? That strong hand of his, the very glimpse of which gave her a twisted pain in her throat. “Fool . . .
fool,” she choked. She was trembling from head to foot. Her teeth chattered in an icy nervousness.
Perhaps she suffered not so much in fear of the actual situation—she had seen Gordon in many a hazard during the summer—as a sudden terror of losing him. She shook with a squeamish nausea. Go on now, alone . . . after these gorg-
eous months of companionship? Lose Gordon whom she had known but eight weeks? And with whom she had joyously gone on wild, crazy escapades out of sheer high spirits?
He glanced up. She was never to forget the expression on his face at that moment. Head and shoulders were swung out clear from the rock. The bronze of his skin was even more coppery against the blue of the water. His hair stood up in the wind like a ragged mane. She could see that his eyes had melted into a great compassion . . . his mouth was tender as a boy’s. He smiled, and the flashing line of his teeth made her gulp. “He’s hurt,” said the man in an ordinary voice. “Poor little beggar.”
“Oh,” moaned the girl to herself, “how can I be such a maniac about that man?” She came a few more feet down the cliff. “Stay back,” he called. “Stay back. There’s room only for me. I’ll have him in a minute.”
But she disobeyed, hardly conscious of her descent. She was still angry. Yet she had a confused idea of helping him.
“Stay back,” he yelled. “Can’t you see I have enough on my hands?”
Fresh rage poured over her. Gordon could make her furious by the shrug of a shoulder, the lifting of an eyebrow. Why in heaven’s name shouldn’t she do as she wanted to? Hadn’t she swarmed over almost every inch of this place? She was no novice, but a practised climber. Gordon need not waste his crusader’s strength on her. By all means save it to gamble away on a pest of a beast caught in a jam.
Her foot slipped ever so little. A few pebbles rattled from her heel and struck Gordon’s head. The girl lost a heartbeat. She went on sliding, losing an inch, a half inch, clinging with her fingers to every tiny advantage.
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“I mustn’t slip,” she charged herself savagely. “I mustn’t. Gordon will kill me for a fool and an amateur.”
But her hands could no longer hold her. They broke away, her fingers aching horribly.
“Gordon,” she gasped. And she had not meant to do this either.
He looked up. She was only a few feet from him now, almost perpendicularly above him. He saw her desperate situation. She managed a smile, her white lips parting stiffly above her teeth.
Her foot slipped again. There was nothing to stop her now . . . nothing but Gordon. She loathed her own foolhardiness, and felt a wave of comradeship for the lamb. Was this the law of justice?
Her fingers scratched against the rock. She was going now, sliding straight down. on Gordon’s shoulders.
“Hell,” spurted from the man’s lips. Something white toppled over the black cliff. Far down in the churning surf there was the faint whisper of a splash.
THAT night they walked in the tiny garden of the country inn where they were staying. An inn with a crazy, picturesque roof, and small, twinklingpaned windows, and a flagstone path, and an old wall with espaliered fruit trees making a flat design against the mellow brick. A microscopic place tucked away in the folds of two hills and never advertised: only stumbled upon by lucky and witless travellers who did not know where they were going.
Tommy had found it first. Gordon had tramped into its comforting age quite by mistake one rainy night, at the end of a hard day’s walk. The man and the girl had met the following morning for breakfast, set out on a ricketty table in the garden. The two guests each resented the presence of the other, and displayed their feelings frankly.
Gordon had glared at her and said nothing for five minutes. She had coolly requested the pitcher of cream, revealing by her very tone that she considered his presence an insult and an outrage.
Yet she loved him on sight. “These1 things do happen,” she scolded herself, thereupon treating the new guest with deliberate unpleasantness since she felt the preposterous power of his charm.
For three days hardly a polite word passed between them. They opened amenities by a series of disagreements.
They first fought over the exact height of wild foxgloves. Next day they did battle over the precise shade of sails on fishing boats in the bay. They could not agree on the smallest item, and the girl was carried up in a tempest of despairing confusion. “These things do happen,” she chanted at night, when she had left him smoking a calm pipe in the garden. “But do I even like him?”
He told her he loved her at the end of a week. The subsequent tides of argument produced glittering quarrels and splendid reconciliations. Neither at any time was far from war or peace. And they revelled in it.
That night then, after the disastrous afternoon on the cliff, they paced the length of the tiny garden.
“Don’t,” begged the girl, “don’t be like this, Gordon. I can’t bear it. Haven’t I apologized a hundred times over? A thousand times7 I was stupid and foolish. You saved my life. I’m abject and humble.” She laid her hand on his arm. “Can’t you forgive me?”
“I forgive you, Tommy. I believe you.” “Well, then ...”
“But it can’t change anything, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“The lamb’s gone. Dead, drowned, poor little idiot. There’ll always be that between us.”
The girl stamped her foot. “I don’t in the least understand you, Gordon. You have a strange, ungracious way of brooding over it.”
“It was either I or the lamb,” she suggested dangerously, withdrawing her hand.
“But it needn’t have been. There was only one issue until you came into it.” “You do not show very good taste in emphasizing my foolishness. I have apologized. I’m sorry. You might be a bit more generous.”
“Good taste does not matter. You can’t mix things that way. I’m reasoning from the lamb’s standpoint.”
She widened the space between them and turned away her head. “The lamb’s ...” she choked.
“Yes. Why not? That’s the way I feel about it. Rather queer, I suppose. Never tried to explain it before. But this feeling is the strongest thing in me. Hate to see life destroyed needlessly . . . Get into a §ort of a frenzy about unnecessary suffering—especially in animals which are not responsible for their condition. We aren’t so darned important . . . people. How do we know what we rate, anyhow?”
She saw then how futile it was to argue with him. Easier to alter the rocky coastline than chip a splinter from the granite of his convictions. “You risked your life for that foolish lamb, just as we were deciding to begin ours together,” she muttered stubbornly.
“I tell you I can’t help it.” He turned on her fiercely. “And what did you do? You came barging down to make everything harder. I gave you credit for more intelligence.”
The garden lay sweet and quiet under a warm, velvety darkness. A patch of orange light glowed from one window of the Inn. The confused noise of water beating on the shore permeated the secluded little spot like the beating of far-off drums.
Suddenly Tommy felt as if she were swiftly confronted with a primitive male creature. “I love you.” His voice was hoarse. “I’m crazy about you, and you know it; but I am what I am. You’ve seen it. You know that, too.”
“Yes,” she answered. He reached for her and held her close, bending back her head until she saw points of light burning in his eyes. She felt his lips running down her arms.
“Love is not sweet to me,” she heard him mutter against her wrist, “and sometimes I won’t even remember you.”
She broke away from him in fury. “I’ll not marry you, then. Never. Do you take me merely as an ... intoxicant?” His arms loosened about her. He stood apart a little, his long, strong legs slightly braced; his fine body wavering ever so little, his hands hanging free from his body.
“There is the lamb between us,” he said, with a ferocious patience. “Nothing can bring it back. You will pay for your foolishness by remembering how gentle I was with the beast, and how hard I can be with you. There is no excuse for people. There is every excuse for animals.”
She ran up the path. “He is mad,” she thought, “quite, quite mad.” But she knew better. No saner man walked the earth than Gordon Carpenter. He acted on direct impulse: he was honest as an earthquake.
“He shall remember me,” she panted aloud as she went up the stairs to her tiny bedroom. “I won’t marry him, but he shall remember me and I shall hate him . . . and take it out in hating . . • forever!” ,
NEXT day she walked with him. And the next. Long, hard walks across the country and by high hedges, over
stiles, along narrow paths which ran through fields nodding with wild flowers. Gulls screamed over their heads. Birds sharpened their notes in bushes, and always they were conscious of the exhilarating presence of the sea. Tommy drank heavily of happiness. It was as if she were taking her fill of a feast before a fateful tournament.
The more she saw of Gordon, the more hopeless became her infatuation. She struggled against it and listened to his voice as he told her of his wanderings over the earth. Experiences in Thibet, the jungles of Siam, Africa . but never did he utter a syllable about hunting wild beasts.
Once while they were resting at the edge of a small wood, the man again tried to interpret his inborn anger against killing. This time he was very gentle. “I haven’t a jumpy nerve in my body. I can look on the letting of blood without a twinge. /I’m no weakling and can knock down a brute as quick as the next one. It isn’t that. Probably if the thing could be scientifically analyzed, there would be found in me a mixed and complicated inheritance from another race—maybe a strain running down from a so-called heathen ancestor. No one really knows the precise mathematics of inheritance. I loathe needless destruction of something which I am unable to replace. The idea naturally is not new. But it gets you if you think about it hard enough. It’s practically my only doctrine.”
He looked up to find his companion’s face still and expressionless. She was trying not to listen.
“Oh, thunder,” he exploded, “what’s the use? Women are too personal to be interested in a race of abstraction.”
She answered nothing.
But he was not always like this. Once out of a wild boyishness she had seen him bend a young willow tree, and ride down the leafy spread of branches. “That’s not of particular benefit to the willow,” she had reminded him with a delicate challenge in her voice.
“No, but who cares?” He would not take up the deliberate taunt. And he had lifted her without warning in his arms, and tossed her with such skill into the crotch of an oak that she was scarcely jarred. “You are lovely,” he told her. “Beautiful—particularly in the afterglow of a sunset." A field of grain becomes you as a background . . . adds richness to your coloring.”
One evening she gave him a queer ring which she had bought in Italy. It was of no particular design, but heavy and suitable for a man. She had not intended to do it and was amazed at the sight of her own hand offering the bit of twisted gold and silver.
Gordon accepted it with a frank pleasure. “I can’t wear it, you know,” he said. “Beastly of me . . no end pleased . . . please don’t be angry. But somehow I’d as soon put my hair in a froth of curl papers or wear a blue sash.”
“You crag of a male, give it back then,” she laughed.
“No, I’ll keep it. Really like to have it. But can’t wear it . . . appreciation and
all that......” He was mumbling in
“Shy,” she told herself, “shy as a boy.” And this knowledge pleased her preposterously.
But he was not shy about his lovemaking. She almost dreaded the sudden squalls of his emotion. “Tonight,” he would demand each day. “Marry me tonight. You love me. You have said so.”
She suffered stabs of pain . . pure joy in him. He was the most vital person she had ever known. “No,” she cried. “Never.”
She refused the help of his hand which he sometimes, not often, offered during a stiff bit of climbing. She would not even stand near enough to brush his sleeve when they paused to look at a view. She fought sturdily against the dizzy intoxication of his presence.
First, she must prove something. “There is the lamb between us,” she told herself solemnly. She was remembering even as he had predicted.
One evening, a week or so later, Tommy came down the stairs at the Inn and found Gordon lolling in the open doorway. He held a mustard-colored slip in his hand. Before he spoke she intuitively realized that their summer was over. Here was something which called him back to his other life. Whatever might happen afterward, there could never be such another experience.
And there would have to be some sharp change. They could neither plunge into sudden matrimony nor swerve apart without a clean severance of their present companionship.
“Wire,’’said Gordon, glancing up; “business conference. New engineering stunt; must leave in two days to catch a steamer home.” Tommy stood quietly in the middle of the room.
“I’m frightfully sorry,” she said. He could tell nothing from her voice.
“Of course you’ll come with me.” He spoke reasonably. This was no demand. Merely casual authority.
“No, thank heaven. I still have a margin of a few weeks before I must go back to my job of selecting .Italian damasks for high-bosomed matrons. I shall stay here . . . for the ultimate
breath of the sea.”
He gave her a long look between halfclosed eyelids. “Vanity,” he pronounced, “vanity, the ineradicable curse of the female. It doesn’t mean a thing to me, but by all means preserve the lustre of that tinsel, to shine when I am gone, and you’re feeling lonely.”
“You’re a prig and a bore,” she said hotly.
He smiled and abruptly left her. She could hardly restrain a desire to call him back, to tell him she would" marry him . . . anywhere, any place in five minutes if he wanted her to. She’d go to Lhasa with him, or Mombasa.
His long legs took him quickly down the lane. She saw his dark head for a moment against the sky; then he was" gone.
Mrs. Totten, the landlady, rustled out of her back sitting room. “Would you be wanting your room much longer, Miss Gray?” she enquired. Her eyes under the overhanging frizz of hair glittered meaningfully at the girl. “I just thought . . the young man leaving and all . you might be foliering along, too.”
Tommy became glacial. “I can’t possibly tell you tonight, Mrs. Totten. Is it necessary to know? I’m waiting for important business letters from home.” A crisp competent lie which sent the inquisitive old lady wavering back to her sitting room.
The girl ran up the stairs and slammed the door of her bedchamber. Her cheeks burned with anger. So even Mrs. Totten, the most disreputable, old macaw that ever hovered over a mutton pie, was cannily aware of her infatuation for Gordon. She dropped intó a low chair which stood near her little window. The casements were flung open. Beneath her was the tangled garden of flowers, through which the path ran romantically tc the wicket gate. “Sweet, sweet and unreal,” she breathed. “How can I leave it? What shall I do?”
A black kitten rose from a red cushion, humped up its back, stiffened its tail, and relaxing, came to her with dainty leisure. Tommy snatched it up and cuddled it under her chin. “Dear little Chimney Sweep. What shall I do? You tell me!”
Purrings and simmerings vibrated loyally against her throat.
Tommy sat for half an hour in the low chair, her eyes vacant, her mind busy. “I love him,” she said over and over, “but I can’t let him kick my pride around this way. He’s the most brutal egoist I ever saw.”
At quarter of nine, the kitten still
clasped in her arms, Tommy went downstairs. She knocked on the door of the back sitting room of Mrs. Totten, and roused that old lady from her nodding. “What is it? What is it?” shrieked the landlady, scuttling to open the door.
“May I have something put up for tomorrow’s supper on the rocks?” asked Tommy at once. She wanted to have the arguing over before Gordon returned.
“Good gracious! Mercy me, what a i start you gave me. to be sure!”
Tommy repeated her question and after several minutes of concentrated planning, she left, satisfied that the old woman would attend to the supper and that it would be composed of the things which Gordon liked best.
She undressed without even the candle light, and before going to bed she leaned on the wide windowsill tor a long breath from the garden. “Never like this again. Never the sweet garden . and loving Gordon, and not knowing what to do and the smell of the sea and the sound of it.” She sighed plaintively. Chimney Sweep leaped on the bed and purred like a tea-kettle.
CHE did not see Gordon until noon of the ^ following day. When she came down to breakfast served on the small, wobblylegged table in the garden, she found a tall spire of foxglove leaning against her chair. Dangling from a leaf was a torn sheet of paper. “I heard what must have been a nightingale last night. And how about marrying me today?” she read.
As she drank her tea and munched thin slices of toast, she wondered just how much more she would be seeing of Gordon after their supper on the rocks. Would she go home as his wife? Would she followonly to succumb later? Or would tonight mark for all time the end of their crazy, enchanting companionship?
She winced at the thought. Well, there was always her job at home, and her pride. Tinsel, as Gordon jeered at it. But mighty handy to see one through a tight pinch.
Later she found Gordon hunched up in one of Mrs. Totten’s most uncompromising chairs. He was doing nothing quite thoroughly. He did not look up at her entrance.
“Let’s have supper on the rocks tonight as a farewell gesture to a beautiful, shall I say, comradeship, or does that annoy you?” she asked brightly.
“Get my note?”
“Yes. Was the nightingale up to superstition?”
“Have you decided?”
“I’m sure there will be a moon . . . ” “Have you decided?”
“Of course, if you don’t care for supper on the rocks ...”
He threw an unopened book across the floor and rose from the chair. “You’re the very devil of a woman! Yes, I’ll come to your supper. What about tides? Our favorite place is under water except at i certain times and I ought to be
heaving things into a trunk, I suppose.” “Just as you like,” she answered coolly. She waited,-looking out of the open door into the crude riot of garden colors. Chimney Sweep was pursuing a butterfly, his inky fur black as a blot against the sunny marigolds.
“All right, then,” he agreed. “Have you spoken to the macaw about it?”
“Yes. All is arranged. She will put up a nice packet of food for us.” Tommy slanted a look at him sheathed in mystery, and though he could not guess it, she trembled with an unbearable excitement.
Tommy went back to the garden and ran the black kitten down under a huge, purple aster. She picked him up and going to a chair which stood in a corner by the wall, she seated herself. The kitten hunched his back under her affectionate attention and seemed to listen with an elfish intelligence to the hurried words .she poured into his ear. “We’ll see how
things turn out, Chimney Sweep . . .
anyhow, we’re fairly fond of one another.”
EVENING came, a perfect one. The lunch was packed in a wicker basket. Gordon wore it slung over his shoulder by a strap. Tommy walked behind him down the deceitful path which ran along the ledge and then jumped around a corner.
“Regard the moon—as advertised,” cried the girl. “A bit of orange peel.” “Yes, won’t give much light, though. Too young.”
He turned the corner ahead of her and did not pause to see that she followed. Long ago Tommy had become tolerant of his self-conscious disregard for certain slight amenities. He was several paces ahead, walking with the careless precision she loved to watch. A late gull flapped out from the crag above them. A thin finger of light touched the crinkled water from a distant beacon. A few fishing boats came in with the tide.
They found their favorite spot, half cave, half ledge, curved out above the rocks below. Part of each day and night the path was covered with water; at high tide the cave gurgled several feet under its level.
They seated themselves on two coats and said nothing for several minutes. Tommy put her hand in her sweater pocket and drew forth Chimney Sweep who was limp with drowsiness. “I brought him,” she explained, “because he climbs out of my window when I’m away, and the macaw hates him.”
Gordon grunted and looked out to sea. “Do you enjoy,” he asked abruptly, “selling Italian damask to high-bosomed females.”
“Oh, well enough. Enjoyment hardly comes into the matter of turning an honest penny.”
“I’d allow you to go on with the rummy job if you married me.”
“Thanks, awfully noble of you; but I’d planned to, anyhow.”
Yet she was very agreeable. Slyly she led him to talk of things which interested him. He mentioned some construction work in a lumber camp. Something new he was working out on his own as an experiment. Would she like that sort of stuff for a while? Not always but just until he found out how his ideas would develop. “Big open spaces . . . and all that overdone rot?”
She only smiled at him.
He was voluble for fifteen minutes at a time, then lapsed into d°ep fits of abstraction. “I thought you were impossibly dull the first time I saw vou,” he grinned. “Just dumb with a smart, fashionable glaze of manner. Where’d you pick it up, T oramy?”
“Self-support does not necessarily mean dowdiness.”
“And dowdiness, my dear humorous child, is a far cry from the hard enamel most women wear as social apparel.” Chimney Sweep opened an eye, stretched and padded over to the man. He climbed _ into one of his hands and curled up in immense content. “Cute little beggar. Are we taking him home with us tomorrow?”
“I’m not leaving England, if that’s what you mean.”
“Ho, hum,” said the man, shaking his head indulgently.
The water whispered against the rocks, moving back and forth in small advances and tidy retreats. The moon showered a faintish glow on their rippling crests.
“I was crazy about a girl once in Java. Golly !” He lifted his head and looked out to sea as if his glance could pierce the night and bring once more to his vision the sight of the lovely creature. “She had sloe eyes, and skin the color of ripe pears. But she wouldn’t marry me, either. Women are darn queer . . all of them.” Tommy laughed aloud over this solemn boasting.
They spread their supper on the rocks and ate ravenously. Sandwiches spread
yith preserved ginger, plump wings and irumsticks of cold chicken, little frosted ;akes, and iced tea with lemon. The Tagment of a moon had by now melted Tom orange to yellow, and cast thin •avellings of light on the dark, murmurous water.
“It always rains when I sail . . . devilsh gloomy after a cosy little vacation ike the one we’ve had.”
“Take another ginger sandwich. You won’t find these at lumber camps, young nan.”
“Have you much packing to do before we leave?” he asked cheerfully.
She could not suppress a snort of imusement. “Gordon, you are superb. I presume the rector has been spoken to?”
He growled a reply somewhat muffled yy the presence of a sandwich.
The tide came on. Tommy watched it with a careful, calculating eye. Chimney Sweep snored peacefully and Gordon •eported tremendous vibrations against his thumb.
“We haven’t much more time for this flace, woman. Toss me the final drumstick and then let’s beat it.”
“You talk like an old granny. Are you ifraid?”
“No. Why should I be? Nothing sarticularly clever about observing the side coming in.”
The girl hugged her knees. Her hands jrew cold. And she suffered a quick fear sharper than the primitive one of selfsreservation. She saw her test dissolving nto the commonplace. Yet her pride would never permit her to marry Gordon miess she went through this self-imposed >rdeal.
“How much, Gordon, do you fancy you ove me?” she asked lightly.
“More than anything or anybody.”
“How can I know?”
“Because I tell you so. Besides, is it ïecessary?”
“It is not true what you tell me. You ;hink so, perhaps. But your nature is stronger than your love. You would leave ne flat to rush forth on an errand of nercy. Flat . . . without so much as a jlance behind you. Or a word of explanadon.”
He looked at her, his eyes sparkling with tender humor. “So adorable. So hopelessly muddle-headed,” he murmured. ‘Women can’t think. They are the bond servants of sentiment.”
The girl rose and walked to the edge of the cliff. It hung not so very high above the water below. Chimney Sweep uncurled himself and stepped daintily from Gordon’s hand. The kitten came to her feet and rubbed against them in an excess of affection.
Beneath this shelf at low tide was a small circular beach where Tommy had often bathed. She knew the shape and size of the rocks now lying half-submerged in the water.
She stood very still, trying for the last time to untangle her pride from her love for this curiously harsh and attractive man. She glanced down at the kitten, and bending forward snatched him up in her arms. She kissed his head between his pointed ears. Then, as if losing her balance, she swayed at the edge of the ledge, uttered a small cry, and fell forward and down into the black water.
The icy shock of it confused her. As she went down she had struck her knee on a flinty point of stone. The pain frightened her, and for a panicky moment she hardly knew where she was or what she was doing.
The kitten scratched his way to the nape of her neck and stayed there. His claws dug into her flesh like burning needles. She gave a sudden twist, and with a sniffling squeak, Chimney Sweep fell from her shoulder. In the soft radiance of the night she saw his puny face, his enormous whiskers—then he melted away into the shadows.
“Oh, oh,” she moaned to herself. “Poor little thing. How could I have been such a beast to him.”
She shook the water out of her eyes. Gordon was standing at the edge of the pool. He looked enormous, a giant against the stars. And though his face was completely dark, she tingled at the crackling blaze of anger which contorted hi? features. He stood grimly accusing and made no move to help her. ,
“You can’t find out anything this way,” he said. His voice was toneless as rain. “You can’t make accidents prove anything.”
She realized at once that the man’s direct instinct for honesty had penetrated the filmy structure of her ruse. She might have known you couldn’t fool Gordon.
Her knee hurt her horribly. The water was glacial. She turned her head, thinking she had heard a smothered mew from the kitten. Where was he? Poor baby! How long would Gordon remain an inhuman prophet? Soon her rising anger against him balanced the creeping cold of the water. She turned her back on the man, and half swimming and half walking felt her way cautiously along the rock shelf.
She forgot the pain in her knee. She was seeing the kitten’s pinched face, his absurd and manly whiskers, the fright in his eyes. And it hurt her to remember how he had curled up in absolute confidence on the foot of her bed each night, and would not stay in her room for long, when she was out of it.
“Kitty, kitty,” she called, and was totally unconcerned with the grotesqueness of the situation, a situation she had deliberately planned.
She forgot Gordon, the supper on the rocks, the thin, young moon, her experiment for solving the problem of her future life. Her mind became scorched with a frantic repentance. She was engulfed in the enormity of having subjected an affectionate little animal to torture and perhaps death. Nothing in his innocent existence had deserved this of her . . .
Another danger occurred to her. If she could not find the kitten fairly soon, the path around the cliff would be covered with water. It was narrow and precarious at best; under water it would be impossible. No way to get home, not even a foothold. She had been to this place to bathe only in the daylight. Now, everything seemed ominous and filled with a brooding disquiet.
In a brief moment of fear she saw Mrs. Totten, old, grey, hovering over her endless meat pies. She smelled the fragrance of the flowers drenched in warm sunshine. She could almost touch her casement windows open to the stars. All so safe, and sweet and unattainable.
“Serves me darn right,” she muttered, and new rage helped to stiffen her courage.
Now and then, the sharp edge of pain stabbed through her preoccupation. So thoroughly had she comprehended Gordon that she gave no second thought to his possible help. She must succeed alone. And she felt that this was fair and just. Gordon was right.
A star glimmered on the shining blackness of the water. The moon lay hidden behind the cliff. Nothing mattered now but the rescue of Chimney Sweep. Heaven was the hope of seeing her room at Mrs. Totten’s.
“Kitty, kitty,” she called. “Oh, where are you?” She heard her voice strike against the rocks; it was shrill with the extremity of her fears. Suddenly, as she neared the shelf again, an arm plunged down into the water. It slid under her shoulder and drew her up.
“No, no, you idiot,” she cried. “Don’t you understand that the kitten is still in the water somewhere? Let go, I tell you.”
The arm continued pulling until she lay wet and shivering on a bit of dry rock. A foot away she saw the thin curling of small waves.
“What do you mean?” she sputtered. “What do you mean? Let me go.”
Gordon drew her up to her feet. He was
strangely gentle and concerned. She found herself leaning against him, dizzy and exhausted. Her knee, numbed by the cold, came alive and ached hideously. Worst of all, a few weak tears trickled down her cheeks. She felt crushed by ignominy. Well, let him rave on; she was too tired to care.
“The kitten,” she insisted. “How can you stand there ... ? Do something if you’re not going to let me ...”
The man’s arm tightened around her, “I have him safe in my pocket, poor little beggar.”
“Oh ...” She was deeply quiet. She felt the first wash of water rising across her toes. “You saved him first, then,” she murmured.
“Yes, just as you thought I would. Silly, silly, Tommy.” Could this voice rich in solicitude belong to the inhuman man who had watched her struggles and given no aid?
The little ripples of cold water had reached her instep.
“Quite right,” said Tommy with a last flare of spirit, “and . . . noble.”
He laughed. “But, my dear little simpleton, you knew it anyway. That was the whole basis of your experiment. Why should I rush in to save someone who deliberately stages a big act, like a showman? You wanted to see, didn’t you, whether I’d select you or the kitten, to save? You found out. If you had a bad moment or two, you deserved it. You have simply proved your theories to be correct. I got the kitten first, because he was the more helpless. But don’t forget I saved you, too.” The girl shivered.
“Perhaps you discovered your own— shall we say?—humanitarianism was stronger than you guessed,” added the man.
“I discovered the water was cold, the rocks hard, and you adamant.”
She would admit nothing, but her heart pounded with joy over the rescue of Chimney Sweep.
“I thought I sniffed the odor of some imbecile plan in your insistence on coming
here tonight when the tide was high. And when you produced the kitten from your pocket, like a cheap conjurer, I was sure of it. Women love intricate experiments which prove nothing. Besides, dear lunatic, you’re too sure-footed to tumble over into a pool.”
“I hate you,” she said affectionately.
He held her closer. His voice deepened with feeling. “I’m sure we can sneak Chimney Sweep into our stateroom tonight, dear. Come, we must hurry, I hunted down a timid rector who needs a wedding fee for a new hat.”
TN THREE inches of water they made
their cautious way around the point of the cliff, thence to the country road. The pointed ears of the kitten peeped out of Gordon’s coat pocket. The man’s strong hand had pulled Tommy into safety. Every step made her gasp with pain. But this could hardly be confided to Gordon. He would remind her of it the rest of her life, making the knowledge a spear with which to prick her pride.
“I shall hate him fourteen hours a day,” she told herself, biting her lips to keep from crying; “and there’ll always be that lamb for him to hold over me as the supreme example of my childishness. Dear little Chimney Sweep. I’ll take his red cushion, too; he’s so decorative on it.” Gordon was looking down at her. “Shall you kiss the macaw good-by?” she asked impertinently.
“Yes. She’s not such a bad old fowl. Let’s brisk her over to the rector’s as a wedding guest.”
“I shall wear an enormous bouquet of wild foxgloves, and bristle with spires. Will you pick the very highest, Gordon, please?”
“Yes. Knee hurt much?”
“Not in the least. But . . . thanks for asking.” <
He picked her up in his arms and carried her. “Of course it hurts. You’re not a bad little warrior, after all.”
Chimney Sweep squalled with rage at having a lady’s elbow pressed into one eye.