now certainly theirs, of the folly of not breaking sooner out of that magnificent prison of latter-day life, of the old romantic days that had passed from the world for ever. And then he became boastful. He took up the sword that lay on the ground beside him, and she took it from his hand and ran a tremulous finger along the blade.
“And you could,” she said, “you—could raise this and strike a man?”
“Why not? If there were need.”
“But,” she said, “it seems so horrible. It would slash… . There would be”—her voice sank,—”blood.”
“In the old romances you have read often enough … ”
“Oh, I know: in those—yes. But that is different. One knows it is not blood, but just a sort of red ink… . And you—killing!”
She looked at him doubtfully, and then handed him back the sword.
After they had rested and eaten, they rose up and went on their way towards the hills. They passed quite close to a huge flock of sheep, who stared and bleated at their unaccustomed figures. She had never seen sheep before, and she shivered to think such gentle things must needs be slain for food. A sheep-dog barked from a distance, and then a shepherd appeared amidst the supports of the wind-wheels, and came down towards them.
When he drew near he called out asking whither they were going.
Denton hesitated, and told him briefly that they sought some ruined house among the Downs, in which they might live together. He tried to speak in an off-hand manner, as though it was a usual thing to do. The man stared incredulously.
“Have you done anything?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Denton. “Only we don’t want to live in a city any longer. Why should we live in cities?”
The shepherd stared more incredulously than ever. “You can’t live here,” he said.
“We mean to try.”
The shepherd stared from one to the other. “You’ll go back to-morrow,” he said. “It looks pleasant enough in the sunlight… . Are you sure you’ve done nothing? We shepherds are not such great friends of the police.”
Denton looked at him steadfastly. “No,” he said. “But we are too poor to live in the city, and we can’t bear the thought of wearing clothes of blue canvas and doing drudgery. We are going to live a simple life here, like the people of old.”
The shepherd was a bearded man with a thoughtful face. He glanced at Elizabeth’s fragile beauty.
“They had simple minds,” he said.
“So have we,” said Denton.
The shepherd smiled.
“If you go along here,” he said, “along the crest beneath the wind-wheels, you will see a heap of mounds and ruins on your right-hand side. That was once a town called Epsom. There are no houses there, and the bricks have been used for a sheep pen. Go on, and another heap on the edge of the root-land is Leatherhead; and then the hill turns away along the border of a valley, and there are woods of beech. Keep along the crest. You will come to quite wild places. In some parts, in spite of all the weeding that is done, ferns and bluebells and other such useless plants are growing still. And through it all underneath the wind-wheels runs a straight lane paved with stones, a roadway of the Romans two thousand years old. Go to the right of that, down into the valley and follow it along by the banks of the river. You come presently to a street of houses, many with the roofs still sound upon them. There you may find shelter.”
They thanked him.