At nine o'clock in the evening, packing his bundles for the next morning's start, Waldo looked up, and was surprised to see Em's yellow head peeping in at his door. It was many a month since she had been there. She said she had made him sandwiches for his journey, and she stayed a while to help him put his goods into the saddlebags.
"You can leave the old things lying about," she said; "I will lock the room, and keep it waiting for you to come back some day."
To come back some day! Would the bird ever return to its cage? But he thanked her. When she went away he stood on the doorstep holding the candle till she had almost reached the house. But Em was that evening in no hurry to enter, and, instead of going in at the back door, walked with lagging footsteps round the low brick wall that ran before the house. Opposite the open window of the parlour she stopped. The little room, kept carefully closed in Tant Sannie's time, was well lighted by a paraffin lamp; books and work lay strewn about it, and it wore a bright, habitable aspect. Beside the lamp at the table in the corner sat Lyndall, the open letters and papers of the day's post lying scattered before her, while she perused the columns of a newspaper. At the centre table, with his arms folded on an open paper, which there was not light enough to read, sat Gregory. He was looking at her. The light from the open window fell on Em's little face under its white kapje as she looked in, but no one glanced that way.
"Go and fetch me a glass of water!" Lyndall said, at last.
Gregory went out to find it; when he put it down at her side she merely moved her head in recognition, and he went back to his seat and his old occupation. Then Em moved slowly away from the window, and through it came in spotted, hard-winged insects, to play round the lamp, till, one by one, they stuck to its glass, and fell to the foot dead.
Ten o'clock struck. Then Lyndall rose, gathered up her papers and letters, and wished Gregory good night. Some time after Em entered; she had been sitting all the while on the loft ladder, and had drawn her kapje down very much over her face.
Gregory was piecing together the bits of an envelope when she came in.
"I thought you were never coming," he said, turning round quickly, and throwing the fragments onto the floor. "You know I have been shearing all day, and it is ten o'clock already."
"I'm sorry. I did not think you would be going so soon," she said in a low voice.
"I can't hear what you say. What makes you mumble so? Well, good night, Em."
He stooped down hastily to kiss her.
"I want to talk to you, Gregory."
"Well, make haste," he said pettishly. "I'm awfully tired. I've been sitting here all the evening. Why couldn't you come and talk before?"
"I will not keep you long," she answered very steadily now. "I think, Gregory, it would be better if you and I were never to be married."
"Good Heaven! Em, what do you mean? I thought you were so fond of me? You always professed to be. What on earth have you taken into your head now?"
"I think it would be better," she said, folding her hands over each other, very much as though she were praying.
"Better, Em! What do you mean? Even a woman can't take a freak all about nothing! You must have some reason for it, and I'm sure I've done nothing to offend you. I wrote only today to my sister to tell her to come up next month to our wedding, and I've been as affectionate and happy as possible. Come–what's the matter?"
He put his arm half round her shoulder, very loosely.
"I think it would be better," she answered, slowly.
"Oh, well," he said, drawing himself up, "if you won't enter into explanations you won't; and I'm not the man to beg and pray–not to any woman, and you know that! If you don't want to marry me I can't oblige you to, of course."
She stood quite still before him.
"You women never do know your own minds for two days together; and of course you know the state of your own feelings best; but it's very strange. Have you really made up your mind, Em?"
"Well, I'm very sorry. I'm sure I've not been in anything to blame. A man can't always be billing and cooing; but, as you say, if your feeling for me has changed, it's much better you shouldn't marry me. There's nothing so foolish as to marry some one you don't love; and I only wish for your happiness, I'm sure. I daresay you'll find some one can make you much happier than I could; the first person we love is seldom the right one. You are very young; it's quite natural you should change."
She said nothing.
"Things often seem hard at the time, but Providence makes them turn out for the best in the end," said Gregory. "You'll let me kiss you, Em, just for old friendship's sake." He stooped down. "You must look upon me as a dear brother, as a cousin at least; as long as I am on the farm I shall always be glad to help you, Em."
Soon after the brown pony was cantering along the footpath to the daub-and- wattle house, and his master as he rode whistled John Speriwig and the Thorn Kloof Schottische.
The sun had not yet touched the outstretched arms of the prickly pear upon the kopje, and the early cocks and hens still strutted about stiffly after the night's roost, when Waldo stood before the wagon-house saddling the grey mare. Every now and then he glanced up at the old familiar objects: they had a new aspect that morning. Even the cocks, seen in the light of parting, had a peculiar interest, and he listened with conscious attention while one crowed clear and loud as it stood on the pigsty wall. He wished good morning softly to the Kaffer woman who was coming up from the huts to light the fire. He was leaving them all to that old life, and from his height he looked down on them pityingly. So they would keep on crowing, and coming to light fires, when for him that old colourless existence was but a dream.
He went into the house to say good-bye to Em, and then he walked to the door of Lyndall's room to wake her; but she was up, and standing in the doorway.
"So you are ready," she said.
Waldo looked at her with sudden heaviness; the exhilaration died out of his heart. Her grey dressing-gown hung close about her, and below its edge the little bare feet were resting on the threshold.
"I wonder when we shall meet again, Waldo? What you will be, and what I?"
"Will you write to me?" he asked of her.
"Yes; and if I should not, you can still remember, wherever you are, that you are not alone."
"I have left Doss for you," he said.
"Will you not miss him?"
"No; I want you to have him. He loves you better than he loves me."
"Thank you." They stood quiet.
"Good-bye!" she said, putting her little hand in his, and he turned away; but when he reached the door she called to him: "Come back, I want to kiss you." She drew his face down to hers, and held it with both hands, and kissed it on the forehead and mouth. "Good-bye, dear!"
When he looked back the little figure with its beautiful eyes was standing in the doorway still.