The Knight Errant by Ethel M. Dell
Chapter IX. In Fear of the Enemy
All the way home the memory of those eyes haunted Ernestine. All the way home her ears were straining to catch the hoot of a motor-horn and the rush of wheels behind them.
But no motor overtook them. Nothing happened to disturb the smiling peace of that summer afternoon.
Back in her little room under the thatch she flung herself face downwards on the bed, and lay tense. What should she do? What should she do? He had seen her. He was on her track. Sooner or later he would run her to earth. And she--what could she do?
For a long while she lay there, too horror-stricken to move, while over and over again there passed through her aching brain the memory of those eyes. Did he guess that she had come there to hide from him? Had he been hunting her for long?
She moved at length, sat up stiffly, and felt something crackle inside her dress. With a little start she realised what it was, and drew forth Rivington's letter.
A great sigh broke from her as she opened and read it once again.
A little later she ran swiftly downstairs with a folded paper in her hand. Out into the blinding sunshine, bareheaded, she ran, never pausing till she turned into the lily-decked garden of the post-office.
She was trembling all over as she handed in her message, but as it ticked away a sensation of immense relief stole over her. She went out again feeling almost calm.
But that night her terrors came back upon her in ghastly array. She could not sleep, and lay listening to every sound. Finally she fell into an uneasy doze, from which she started to hear the dog in the yard barking furiously. She lay shivering for a while, then crept to her window and looked out. The dense shadow of a pine wood across the road blotted out the starlight, and all was very dark. It was impossible to discern anything. She stood listening intently in the darkness.
The dog subsided into a growling monotone, and through the stillness she fancied she caught a faint sound, as if some animal were prowling softly under the trees. She listened with a thumping heart. Nearer it seemed to come, and nearer, and then she heard it no more. A sudden gust stirred the pine tops, and a sudden, overmastering panic filled her soul.
With the violence of frenzy she slammed and bolted her window, and made a wild spring back to the bed. She burrowed down under the blankets, and lay there huddled, not daring to stir for a long, long time.
With the first glimmer of day came relief, but she did not sleep. The night's terror had left her nerves too shaken for repose. Yet as the sun rose and the farmyard sounds began, as she heard the mill-wheel creak and turn and the rush and roar of the water below, common sense came to her aid, and she was able to tell herself that her night alarm might have been due to nothing more than her own startled imagination.
On the breakfast table she found a card awaiting her, which she seized, and read with deepening colour.
"Expect me by the afternoon train. I shall walk from the station.--K.E."
A feeling of gladness, so intense that it was almost rapture, made her blood flow faster. He was coming in answer to her desperate summons. He would be with her that very day. She was sure that he would tell her what to do.
She read the card several times in the course of the morning, and came to the conclusion that it would be only nice of her to walk to meet him. The path lay through beech woods. She had gone part of the way with him only three days before. Only three days! It seemed like months. She looked forward to meeting him again as though he had been an old friend.
She started soon after the early dinner. The afternoon was hot and sultry. She was glad to turn from the road into the shade and stillness of the woods. The sun-rays slanting downwards through the mazy, golden aisles made her think of the afternoon on which she had waited for him under the dome of St. Paul's.
The heat as she proceeded became intense. The humming of many insects filled the air with a persistent drone. It was summer at its height.
A heavy languor began to possess her. She remembered that she had not slept all the previous night. She also recalled the panic that had kept her awake, and smiled faintly to herself. She did not feel afraid now that Rivington was coming. She even began to think she had been rather foolish, and wondered if he would think so too.
She began to go more slowly. Her feet felt heavier at every step. A few yards ahead a golden-brown stream ran babbling through the wood. It was close to the path. She would sit down beside it and rest till he arrived.
She reached the stream, sank down upon a bed of moss, then found the heat intolerable, and began impulsively to loosen her shoes. What if he did discover her a second time barefooted? He had not minded before; neither had she. And no one else would come that way. He had even lent her his handkerchief to dry her feet. Perhaps he would again.
Once more a strictly private little smile twitched the corners of her mouth. She slipped off her stockings and plunged her tired feet into the cool, running water.
Leaning back against a tree-trunk she closed her eyes. An exquisite sense of well-being stole over her. He would not be here yet. What did it matter if she dozed? The bubbling of the water lulled her. She rested her feet upon a sunny brown stone. She turned her cheek upon her arm.
And in her sleep she heard the thudding of a horse's hoofs, and dreamed that her knight errant was close at hand.