The Swindler's Handicap by Ethel M. Dell
It was not till she descended to dinner that Cynthia's injured hand was noticed.
She resolutely made light of it to all sympathisers but it was plain to Babbacombe, at least, that it gave her considerable pain.
"Let me send for a doctor," he whispered, as she finally passed his chair.
But she shook her head with a smile.
"No, no. It will be all right in the morning."
But when he saw her in the morning, he knew at once that this prophecy had not been fulfilled. She met his anxious scrutiny with a smile indeed, but her heavy eyes belied it. He knew that she had spent a sleepless night.
"It wasn't my hand that kept me awake," she protested, when he charged her with this.
But Babbacombe was dissatisfied.
"Do see a doctor. I am sure it ought to be properly dressed," he urged. "I'll take you myself in the motor, if you will."
She yielded at length to his persuasion, though plainly against her will, and an hour later they drove off together, leaving the rest of the party to follow the hounds.
At the park gate they overtook West, walking swiftly. He raised his hat as they went by, but did not so much as look at Cynthia.
A sudden silence fell upon her, and it was not till some minutes had passed that she broke it.
"Shall I tell you what kept me awake last night, Jack?" she said then. "I think you have a right to know."
He glanced at her, encountering one of those smiles, half-sad, half-humorous, that he knew so well. "You will do exactly as you please," he said.
"You're generous," she responded. "Well, I'll tell you. I was busy burying my poor foolish little romance."
A deep glow showed suddenly upon Babbacombe's face. He was driving slowly, but he kept his eyes fixed steadily upon the stretch of muddy road ahead.
"Is it dead, then?" he asked, his voice very low.
She made a quaint gesture as of putting something from her.
"Yes, quite; and buried decently without any fuss. The blinds are up again, and I don't want any condolences. I'm going out into the sun, Jack. I'm going to live."
"And what about me?" said Babbacombe.
She turned in her quick way, and laid her hand upon his knee.
"Yes, I've been thinking about you. I am going back to London to-morrow, and the first thing I shall do will be to find you a really good wife."
"Thank you," he said, smiling a little. "But you needn't go to London for that."
"Oh, shucks!" said Cynthia, colouring deeply. "There's more than one woman in the world, Jack."
"Not for me," he said quietly.
She was silent for a space. Then:
"And if that one woman is such a sublime fool, such an ungrateful little beast, as not to be able to--to love you as you deserve to be loved?" she suggested, a slight break in her voice.
He turned his head at that, and looked for an instant straight into her eyes.
"She is still the one woman, dear," he said, very tenderly. "Always remember that."
She shook her head in protest. Her lips were quivering too much for speech.
Babbacombe drove slowly on in silence.
At last the hand upon his knee pressed slightly.
"You can have her if you like, Jack," Cynthia murmured. "She's going mighty cheap."
He freed his hand for a moment to grasp hers.
"I shall follow her to London," he said, "and woo her there."
She smiled at him gratefully and began to speak of other things.
The doctor was out, to her evident relief. Babbacombe wanted to go in search of another, but she would not be persuaded.
"I'm sure it will be all right to-morrow. If not, I shall be in town, and I can go to a doctor there. Please don't make a fuss about it. It's too absurd."
Reluctantly he abandoned the argument, and they followed the hounds in the motor instead.