He dropped his wet coat in the vestibule and began to mount the stairs to his room. But on the landing he was overtaken by a sober-faced maid who, in tones discreetly lowered, begged him to be so kind as to step, for a moment, into the Marquise's sitting-room. Somewhat disconcerted by the summons, he followed its bearer to the door at which, a couple of hours earlier, he had taken leave of Mrs. Leath. It opened to admit him to a large lamp-lit room which he immediately perceived to be empty; and the fact gave him time to note, even through his disturbance of mind, the interesting degree to which Madame de Chantelle's apartment "dated" and completed her. Its looped and corded curtains, its purple satin upholstery, the Sevres jardinieres, the rosewood fire-screen, the little velvet tables edged with lace and crowded with silver knick-knacks and simpering miniatures, reconstituted an almost perfect setting for the blonde beauty of the 'sixties. Darrow wondered that Fraser Leath's filial respect should have prevailed over his aesthetic scruples to the extent of permitting such an anachronism among the eighteenth century graces of Givre; but a moment's reflection made it clear that, to its late owner, the attitude would have seemed exactly in the traditions of the place.
Madame de Chantelle's emergence from an inner room snatched Darrow from these irrelevant musings. She was already beaded and bugled for the evening, and, save for a slight pinkness of the eye-lids, her elaborate appearance revealed no mark of agitation; but Darrow noticed that, in recognition of the solemnity of the occasion, she pinched a lace handkerchief between her thumb and forefinger.
She plunged at once into the centre of the difficulty, appealing to him, in the name of all the Everards, to descend there with her to the rescue of her darling. She wasn't, she was sure, addressing herself in vain to one whose person, whose "tone," whose traditions so brilliantly declared his indebtedness to the principles she besought him to defend. Her own reception of Darrow, the confidence she had at once accorded him, must have shown him that she had instinctively felt their unanimity of sentiment on these fundamental questions. She had in fact recognized in him the one person whom, without pain to her maternal piety, she could welcome as her son's successor; and it was almost as to Owen's father that she now appealed to Darrow to aid in rescuing the wretched boy.
"Don't think, please, that I'm casting the least reflection on Anna, or showing any want of sympathy for her, when I say that I consider her partly responsible for what's happened. Anna is 'modern'—I believe that's what it's called when you read unsettling books and admire hideous pictures. Indeed," Madame de Chantelle continued, leaning confidentially forward, "I myself have always more or less lived in that atmosphere: my son, you know, was very revolutionary. Only he didn't, of course, apply his ideas: they were purely intellectual. That's what dear Anna has always failed to understand. And I'm afraid she's created the same kind of confusion in Owen's mind—led him to mix up things you read about with things you do...You know, of course, that she sides with him in this wretched business?"
Developing at length upon this theme, she finally narrowed down to the point of Darrow's intervention. "My grandson, Mr. Darrow, calls me illogical and uncharitable because my feelings toward Miss Viner have changed since I've heard this news. Well! You've known her, it appears, for some years: Anna tells me you used to see her when she was a companion, or secretary or something, to a dreadfully vulgar Mrs. Murrett. And I ask you as a friend, I ask you as one of US, to tell me if you think a girl who has had to knock about the world in that kind of position, and at the orders of all kinds of people, is fitted to be Owen's wife I'm not implying anything against her! I LIKED the girl, Mr. Darrow...But what's that got to do with it? I don't want her to marry my grandson. If I'd been looking for a wife for Owen, I shouldn't have applied to the Farlows to find me one. That's what Anna won't understand; and what you must help me to make her see."
Darrow, to this appeal, could oppose only the repeated assurance of his inability to interfere. He tried to make Madame de Chantelle see that the very position he hoped to take in the household made his intervention the more hazardous. He brought up the usual arguments, and sounded the expected note of sympathy; but Madame de Chantelle's alarm had dispelled her habitual imprecision, and, though she had not many reasons to advance, her argument clung to its point like a frightened sharp-clawed animal.
"Well, then," she summed up, in response to his repeated assertions that he saw no way of helping her, "you can, at least, even if you won't say a word to the others, tell me frankly and fairly—and quite between ourselves—your personal opinion of Miss Viner, since you've known her so much longer than we have."
He protested that, if he had known her longer, he had known her much less well, and that he had already, on this point, convinced Anna of his inability to pronounce an opinion.
Madame de Chantelle drew a deep sigh of intelligence. "Your opinion of Mrs. Murrett is enough! I don't suppose you pretend to conceal THAT? And heaven knows what other unspeakable people she's been mixed up with. The only friends she can produce are called Hoke...Don't try to reason with me, Mr. Darrow. There are feelings that go deeper than facts...And I KNOW she thought of studying for the stage..." Madame de Chantelle raised the corner of her lace handkerchief to her eyes. "I'm old-fashioned—like my furniture," she murmured. "And I thought I could count on you, Mr. Darrow..."
When Darrow, that night, regained his room, he reflected with a flash of irony that each time he entered it he brought a fresh troop of perplexities to trouble its serene seclusion. Since the day after his arrival, only forty-eight hours before, when he had set his window open to the night, and his hopes had seemed as many as its stars, each evening had brought its new problem and its renewed distress. But nothing, as yet, had approached the blank misery of mind with which he now set himself to face the fresh questions confronting him.
Sophy Viner had not shown herself at dinner, so that he had had no glimpse of her in her new character, and no means of divining the real nature of the tie between herself and Owen Leath. One thing, however, was clear: whatever her real feelings were, and however much or little she had at stake, if she had made up her mind to marry Owen she had more than enough skill and tenacity to defeat any arts that poor Madame de Chantelle could oppose to her.
Darrow himself was in fact the only person who might possibly turn her from her purpose: Madame de Chantelle, at haphazard, had hit on the surest means of saving Owen—if to prevent his marriage were to save him! Darrow, on this point, did not pretend to any fixed opinion; one feeling alone was clear and insistent in him: he did not mean, if he could help it, to let the marriage take place.
How he was to prevent it he did not know: to his tormented imagination every issue seemed closed. For a fantastic instant he was moved to follow Madame de Chantelle's suggestion and urge Anna to withdraw her approval. If his reticence, his efforts to avoid the subject, had not escaped her, she had doubtless set them down to the fact of his knowing more, and thinking less, of Sophy Viner than he had been willing to admit; and he might take advantage of this to turn her mind gradually from the project. Yet how do so without betraying his insincerity? If he had had nothing to hide he could easily have said: "It's one thing to know nothing against the girl, it's another to pretend that I think her a good match for Owen." But could he say even so much without betraying more? It was not Anna's questions, or his answers to them, that he feared, but what might cry aloud in the intervals between them. He understood now that ever since Sophy Viner's arrival at Givre he had felt in Anna the lurking sense of something unexpressed, and perhaps inexpressible, between the girl and himself...When at last he fell asleep he had fatalistically committed his next step to the chances of the morrow.
The first that offered itself was an encounter with Mrs. Leath as he descended the stairs the next morning. She had come down already hatted and shod for a dash to the park lodge, where one of the gatekeeper's children had had an accident. In her compact dark dress she looked more than usually straight and slim, and her face wore the pale glow it took on at any call on her energy: a kind of warrior brightness that made her small head, with its strong chin and close-bound hair, like that of an amazon in a frieze.
It was their first moment alone since she had left him, the afternoon before, at her mother-in-law's door; and after a few words about the injured child their talk inevitably reverted to Owen.
Anna spoke with a smile of her "scene" with Madame de Chantelle, who belonged, poor dear, to a generation when "scenes" (in the ladylike and lachrymal sense of the term) were the tribute which sensibility was expected to pay to the unusual. Their conversation had been, in every detail, so exactly what Anna had foreseen that it had clearly not made much impression on her; but she was eager to know the result of Darrow's encounter with her mother-in-law.
"She told me she'd sent for you: she always 'sends for' people in emergencies. That again, I suppose, is de l'epoque. And failing Adelaide Painter, who can't get here till this afternoon, there was no one but poor you to turn to."
She put it all lightly, with a lightness that seemed to his tight-strung nerves slightly, undefinably over-done. But he was so aware of his own tension that he wondered, the next moment, whether anything would ever again seem to him quite usual and insignificant and in the common order of things.
As they hastened on through the drizzle in which the storm of the night was weeping itself out, Anna drew close under his umbrella, and at the pressure of her arm against his he recalled his walk up the Dover pier with Sophy Viner. The memory gave him a startled vision of the inevitable occasions of contact, confidence, familiarity, which his future relationship to the girl would entail, and the countless chances of betrayal that every one of them involved.
"Do tell me just what you said," he heard Anna pleading; and with sudden resolution he affirmed: "I quite understand your mother-in-law's feeling as she does."
The words, when uttered, seemed a good deal less significant than they had sounded to his inner ear; and Anna replied without surprise: "Of course. It's inevitable that she should. But we shall bring her round in time." Under the dripping dome she raised her face to his. "Don't you remember what you said the day before yesterday? 'Together we can't fail to pull it off for him!' I've told Owen that, so you're pledged and there's no going back."
The day before yesterday! Was it possible that, no longer ago, life had seemed a sufficiently simple business for a sane man to hazard such assurances?
"Anna," he questioned her abruptly, "why are you so anxious for this marriage?"
She stopped short to face him. "Why? But surely I've explained to you—or rather I've hardly had to, you seemed so in sympathy with my reasons!"
"I didn't know, then, who it was that Owen wanted to marry."
The words were out with a spring and he felt a clearer air in his brain. But her logic hemmed him in.
"You knew yesterday; and you assured me then that you hadn't a word to say——"
"Against Miss Viner?" The name, once uttered, sounded on and on in his ears. "Of course not. But that doesn't necessarily imply that I think her a good match for Owen."
Anna made no immediate answer. When she spoke it was to question: "Why don't you think her a good match for Owen?"
"Well—Madame de Chantelle's reasons seem to me not quite as negligible as you think."
"You mean the fact that she's been Mrs. Murrett's secretary, and that the people who employed her before were called Hoke? For, as far as Owen and I can make out, these are the gravest charges against her."
"Still, one can understand that the match is not what Madame de Chantelle had dreamed of."
"Oh, perfectly—if that's all you mean." The lodge was in sight, and she hastened her step. He strode on beside her in silence, but at the gate she checked him with the question: "Is it really all you mean?"
"Of course," he heard himself declare.
"Oh, then I think I shall convince you—even if I can't, like Madame de Chantelle, summon all the Everards to my aid!" She lifted to him the look of happy laughter that sometimes brushed her with a gleam of spring.
Darrow watched her hasten along the path between the dripping chrysanthemums and enter the lodge. After she had gone in he paced up and down outside in the drizzle, waiting to learn if she had any message to send back to the house; and after the lapse of a few minutes she came out again.
The child, she said, was badly, though not dangerously, hurt, and the village doctor, who was already on hand, had asked that the surgeon, already summoned from Francheuil, should be told to bring with him certain needful appliances. Owen had started by motor to fetch the surgeon, but there was still time to communicate with the latter by telephone. The doctor furthermore begged for an immediate provision of such bandages and disinfectants as Givre itself could furnish, and Anna bade Darrow address himself to Miss Viner, who would know where to find the necessary things, and would direct one of the servants to bicycle with them to the lodge.
Darrow, as he hurried off on this errand, had at once perceived the opportunity it offered of a word with Sophy Viner. What that word was to be he did not know; but now, if ever, was the moment to make it urgent and conclusive. It was unlikely that he would again have such a chance of unobserved talk with her.
He had supposed he should find her with her pupil in the school-room; but he learned from a servant that Effie had gone to Francheuil with her step-brother, and that Miss Viner was still in her room. Darrow sent her word that he was the bearer of a message from the lodge, and a moment later he heard her coming down the stairs.
For a second, as she approached him, the quick tremor of her glance showed her all intent on the same thought as himself. He transmitted his instructions with mechanical precision, and she answered in the same tone, repeating his words with the intensity of attention of a child not quite sure of understanding. Then she disappeared up the stairs.
Darrow lingered on in the hall, not knowing if she meant to return, yet inwardly sure she would. At length he saw her coming down in her hat and jacket. The rain still streaked the window panes, and, in order to say something, he said: "You're not going to the lodge yourself?"
"I've sent one of the men ahead with the things; but I thought Mrs. Leath might need me."
"She didn't ask for you," he returned, wondering how he could detain her; but she answered decidedly: "I'd better go."
He held open the door, picked up his umbrella and followed her out. As they went down the steps she glanced back at him. "You've forgotten your mackintosh."
"I sha'n't need it."
She had no umbrella, and he opened his and held it out to her. She rejected it with a murmur of thanks and walked on through the thin drizzle, and he kept the umbrella over his own head, without offering to shelter her.
Rapidly and in silence they crossed the court and began to walk down the avenue. They had traversed a third of its length before Darrow said abruptly: "Wouldn't it have been fairer, when we talked together yesterday, to tell me what I've just heard from Mrs. Leath?"
"Fairer——?" She stopped short with a startled look.
"If I'd known that your future was already settled I should have spared you my gratuitous suggestions."
She walked on, more slowly, for a yard or two. "I couldn't speak yesterday. I meant to have told you today."
"Oh, I'm not reproaching you for your lack of confidence. Only, if you HAD told me, I should have been more sure of your really meaning what you said to me yesterday."
She did not ask him to what he referred, and he saw that her parting words to him lived as vividly in her memory as in his.
"Is it so important that you should be sure?" she finally questioned.
"Not to you, naturally," he returned with involuntary asperity. It was incredible, yet it was a fact, that for the moment his immediate purpose in seeking to speak to her was lost under a rush of resentment at counting for so little in her fate. Of what stuff, then, was his feeling for her made? A few hours earlier she had touched his thoughts as little as his senses; but now he felt old sleeping instincts stir in him... A rush of rain dashed against his face, and, catching Sophy's hat, strained it back from her loosened hair. She put her hands to her head with a familiar gesture...He came closer and held his umbrella over her...
At the lodge he waited while she went in. The rain continued to stream down on him and he shivered in the dampness and stamped his feet on the flags. It seemed to him that a long time elapsed before the door opened and she reappeared. He glanced into the house for a glimpse of Anna, but obtained none; yet the mere sense of her nearness had completely altered his mood.
The child, Sophy told him, was doing well; but Mrs. Leath had decided to wait till the surgeon came. Darrow, as they turned away, looked through the gates, and saw the doctor's old-fashioned carriage by the roadside.
"Let me tell the doctor's boy to drive you back," he suggested; but Sophy answered: "No; I'll walk," and he moved on toward the house at her side. She expressed no surprise at his not remaining at the lodge, and again they walked on in silence through the rain. She had accepted the shelter of his umbrella, but she kept herself at such a carefully measured distance that even the slight swaying movements produced by their quick pace did not once bring her arm in touch with his; and, noticing this, he perceived that every drop of her blood must be alive to his nearness.
"What I meant just now," he began, "was that you ought to have been sure of my good wishes."
She seemed to weigh the words. "Sure enough for what?"
"To trust me a little farther than you did."
"I've told you that yesterday I wasn't free to speak."
"Well, since you are now, may I say a word to you?"
She paused perceptibly, and when she spoke it was in so low a tone that he had to bend his head to catch her answer. "I can't think what you can have to say."
"It's not easy to say here, at any rate. And indoors I sha'n't know where to say it." He glanced about him in the rain. "Let's walk over to the spring-house for a minute."
To the right of the drive, under a clump of trees, a little stucco pavilion crowned by a balustrade rose on arches of mouldering brick over a flight of steps that led down to a spring. Other steps curved up to a door above. Darrow mounted these, and opening the door entered a small circular room hung with loosened strips of painted paper whereon spectrally faded Mandarins executed elongated gestures. Some black and gold chairs with straw seats and an unsteady table of cracked lacquer stood on the floor of red-glazed tile.
Sophy had followed him without comment. He closed the door after her, and she stood motionless, as though waiting for him to speak.
"Now we can talk quietly," he said, looking at her with a smile into which he tried to put an intention of the frankest friendliness.
She merely repeated: "I can't think what you can have to say."
Her voice had lost the note of half-wistful confidence on which their talk of the previous day had closed, and she looked at him with a kind of pale hostility. Her tone made it evident that his task would be difficult, but it did not shake his resolve to go on. He sat down, and mechanically she followed his example. The table was between them and she rested her arms on its cracked edge and her chin on her interlocked hands. He looked at her and she gave him back his look.
"Have you nothing to say to ME?" he asked at length.
A faint smile lifted, in the remembered way, the left corner of her narrowed lips.
"About my marriage?"
"About your marriage."
She continued to consider him between half-drawn lids. "What can I say that Mrs. Leath has not already told you?"
"Mrs. Leath has told me nothing whatever but the fact—and her pleasure in it."
"Well; aren't those the two essential points?"
"The essential points to YOU? I should have thought——"
"Oh, to YOU, I meant," she put in keenly.
He flushed at the retort, but steadied himself and rejoined: "The essential point to me is, of course, that you should be doing what's really best for you."
She sat silent, with lowered lashes. At length she stretched out her arm and took up from the table a little threadbare Chinese hand-screen. She turned its ebony stem once or twice between her fingers, and as she did so Darrow was whimsically struck by the way in which their evanescent slight romance was symbolized by the fading lines on the frail silk.
"Do you think my engagement to Mr. Leath not really best for me?" she asked at length.
Darrow, before answering, waited long enough to get his words into the tersest shape—not without a sense, as he did so, of his likeness to the surgeon deliberately poising his lancet for a clean incision. "I'm not sure," he replied, "of its being the best thing for either of you."
She took the stroke steadily, but a faint red swept her face like the reflection of a blush. She continued to keep her lowered eyes on the screen.
"From whose point of view do you speak?"
"Naturally, that of the persons most concerned."
"From Owen's, then, of course? You don't think me a good match for him?"
"From yours, first of all. I don't think him a good match for you."
He brought the answer out abruptly, his eyes on her face. It had grown extremely pale, but as the meaning of his words shaped itself in her mind he saw a curious inner light dawn through her set look. She lifted her lids just far enough for a veiled glance at him, and a smile slipped through them to her trembling lips. For a moment the change merely bewildered him; then it pulled him up with a sharp jerk of apprehension.
"I don't think him a good match for you," he stammered, groping for the lost thread of his words.
She threw a vague look about the chilly rain-dimmed room. "And you've brought me here to tell me why?"
The question roused him to the sense that their minutes were numbered, and that if he did not immediately get to his point there might be no other chance of making it.
"My chief reason is that I believe he's too young and inexperienced to give you the kind of support you need."
At his words her face changed again, freezing to a tragic coldness. She stared straight ahead of her, perceptibly struggling with the tremor of her muscles; and when she had controlled it she flung out a pale-lipped pleasantry. "But you see I've always had to support myself!"
"He's a boy," Darrow pushed on, "a charming, wonderful boy; but with no more notion than a boy how to deal with the inevitable daily problems...the trivial stupid unimportant things that life is chiefly made up of." "I'll deal with them for him," she rejoined.
"They'll be more than ordinarily difficult."
She shot a challenging glance at him. "You must have some special reason for saying so."
"Only my clear perception of the facts."
"What facts do you mean?"
Darrow hesitated. "You must know better than I," he returned at length, "that the way won't be made easy to you."
"Mrs. Leath, at any rate, has made it so."
"Madame de Chantelle will not."
"How do YOU know that?" she flung back.
He paused again, not sure how far it was prudent to reveal himself in the confidence of the household. Then, to avoid involving Anna, he answered: "Madame de Chantelle sent for me yesterday."
"Sent for you—to talk to you about me?" The colour rose to her forehead and her eyes burned black under lowered brows. "By what right, I should like to know? What have you to do with me, or with anything in the world that concerns me?"
Darrow instantly perceived what dread suspicion again possessed her, and the sense that it was not wholly unjustified caused him a passing pang of shame. But it did not turn him from his purpose.
"I'm an old friend of Mrs. Leath's. It's not unnatural that Madame de Chantelle should talk to me."
She dropped the screen on the table and stood up, turning on him the same small mask of wrath and scorn which had glared at him, in Paris, when he had confessed to his suppression of her letter. She walked away a step or two and then came back.
"May I ask what Madame de Chantelle said to you?"
"She made it clear that she should not encourage the marriage."
"And what was her object in making that clear to YOU?"
Darrow hesitated. "I suppose she thought——"
"That she could persuade you to turn Mrs. Leath against me?"
He was silent, and she pressed him: "Was that it?" "That was it."
"But if you don't—if you keep your promise——"
"To say nothing...nothing whatever..." Her strained look threw a haggard light along the pause.
As she spoke, the whole odiousness of the scene rushed over him. "Of course I shall say nothing...you know that..." He leaned to her and laid his hand on hers. "You know I wouldn't for the world..."
She drew back and hid her face with a sob. Then she sank again into her seat, stretched her arms across the table and laid her face upon them. He sat still, overwhelmed with compunction. After a long interval, in which he had painfully measured the seconds by her hard-drawn breathing, she looked up at him with a face washed clear of bitterness.
"Don't suppose I don't know what you must have thought of me!"
The cry struck him down to a lower depth of self-abasement. "My poor child," he felt like answering, "the shame of it is that I've never thought of you at all!" But he could only uselessly repeat: "I'll do anything I can to help you."
She sat silent, drumming the table with her hand. He saw that her doubt of him was allayed, and the perception made him more ashamed, as if her trust had first revealed to him how near he had come to not deserving it. Suddenly she began to speak.
"You think, then, I've no right to marry him?"
"No right? God forbid! I only meant——"
"That you'd rather I didn't marry any friend of yours." She brought it out deliberately, not as a question, but as a mere dispassionate statement of fact.
Darrow in turn stood up and wandered away helplessly to the window. He stood staring out through its small discoloured panes at the dim brown distances; then he moved back to the table.
"I'll tell you exactly what I meant. You'll be wretched if you marry a man you're not in love with."
He knew the risk of misapprehension that he ran, but he estimated his chances of success as precisely in proportion to his peril. If certain signs meant what he thought they did, he might yet—at what cost he would not stop to think—make his past pay for his future.
The girl, at his words, had lifted her head with a movement of surprise. Her eyes slowly reached his face and rested there in a gaze of deep interrogation. He held the look for a moment; then his own eyes dropped and he waited.
At length she began to speak. "You're mistaken—you're quite mistaken."
He waited a moment longer. "Mistaken——?"
"In thinking what you think. I'm as happy as if I deserved it!" she suddenly proclaimed with a laugh.
She stood up and moved toward the door. "NOW are you satisfied?" she asked, turning her vividest face to him from the threshold.
Down the avenue there came to them, with the opening of the door, the voice of Owen's motor. It was the signal which had interrupted their first talk, and again, instinctively, they drew apart at the sound. Without a word Darrow turned back into the room, while Sophy Viner went down the steps and walked back alone toward the court.
At luncheon the presence of the surgeon, and the non-appearance of Madame de Chantelle—who had excused herself on the plea of a headache—combined to shift the conversational centre of gravity; and Darrow, under shelter of the necessarily impersonal talk, had time to adjust his disguise and to perceive that the others were engaged in the same re-arrangement. It was the first time that he had seen young Leath and Sophy Viner together since he had learned of their engagement; but neither revealed more emotion than befitted the occasion. It was evident that Owen was deeply under the girl's charm, and that at the least sign from her his bliss would have broken bounds; but her reticence was justified by the tacitly recognized fact of Madame de Chantelle's disapproval. This also visibly weighed on Anna's mind, making her manner to Sophy, if no less kind, yet a trifle more constrained than if the moment of final understanding had been reached. So Darrow interpreted the tension perceptible under the fluent exchange of commonplaces in which he was diligently sharing. But he was more and more aware of his inability to test the moral atmosphere about him: he was like a man in fever testing another's temperature by the touch.
After luncheon Anna, who was to motor the surgeon home, suggested to Darrow that he should accompany them. Effie was also of the party; and Darrow inferred that Anna wished to give her step-son a chance to be alone with his betrothed. On the way back, after the surgeon had been left at his door, the little girl sat between her mother and Darrow, and her presence kept their talk from taking a personal turn. Darrow knew that Mrs. Leath had not yet told Effie of the relation in which he was to stand to her. The premature divulging of Owen's plans had thrown their own into the background, and by common consent they continued, in the little girl's presence, on terms of an informal friendliness.
The sky had cleared after luncheon, and to prolong their excursion they returned by way of the ivy-mantled ruin which was to have been the scene of the projected picnic. This circuit brought them back to the park gates not long before sunset, and as Anna wished to stop at the lodge for news of the injured child Darrow left her there with Effie and walked on alone to the house. He had the impression that she was slightly surprised at his not waiting for her; but his inner restlessness vented itself in an intense desire for bodily movement. He would have liked to walk himself into a state of torpor; to tramp on for hours through the moist winds and the healing darkness and come back staggering with fatigue and sleep. But he had no pretext for such a flight, and he feared that, at such a moment, his prolonged absence might seem singular to Anna.
As he approached the house, the thought of her nearness produced a swift reaction of mood. It was as if an intenser vision of her had scattered his perplexities like morning mists. At this moment, wherever she was, he knew he was safely shut away in her thoughts, and the knowledge made every other fact dwindle away to a shadow. He and she loved each other, and their love arched over them open and ample as the day: in all its sunlit spaces there was no cranny for a fear to lurk. In a few minutes he would be in her presence and would read his reassurance in her eyes. And presently, before dinner, she would contrive that they should have an hour by themselves in her sitting-room, and he would sit by the hearth and watch her quiet movements, and the way the bluish lustre on her hair purpled a little as she bent above the fire.
A carriage drove out of the court as he entered it, and in the hall his vision was dispelled by the exceedingly substantial presence of a lady in a waterproof and a tweed hat, who stood firmly planted in the centre of a pile of luggage, as to which she was giving involved but lucid directions to the footman who had just admitted her. She went on with these directions regardless of Darrow's entrance, merely fixing her small pale eyes on him while she proceeded, in a deep contralto voice, and a fluent French pronounced with the purest Boston accent, to specify the destination of her bags; and this enabled Darrow to give her back a gaze protracted enough to take in all the details of her plain thick-set person, from the square sallow face beneath bands of grey hair to the blunt boot-toes protruding under her wide walking skirt.
She submitted to this scrutiny with no more evidence of surprise than a monument examined by a tourist; but when the fate of her luggage had been settled she turned suddenly to Darrow and, dropping her eyes from his face to his feet, asked in trenchant accents: "What sort of boots have you got on?"
Before he could summon his wits to the consideration of this question she continued in a tone of suppressed indignation: "Until Americans get used to the fact that France is under water for half the year they're perpetually risking their lives by not being properly protected. I suppose you've been tramping through all this nasty clammy mud as if you'd been taking a stroll on Boston Common."
Darrow, with a laugh, affirmed his previous experience of French dampness, and the degree to which he was on his guard against it; but the lady, with a contemptuous snort, rejoined: "You young men are all alike——"; to which she appended, after another hard look at him: "I suppose you're George Darrow? I used to know one of your mother's cousins, who married a Tunstall of Mount Vernon Street. My name is Adelaide Painter. Have you been in Boston lately? No? I'm sorry for that. I hear there have been several new houses built at the lower end of Commonwealth Avenue and I hoped you could tell me about them. I haven't been there for thirty years myself."
Miss Painter's arrival at Givre produced the same effect as the wind's hauling around to the north after days of languid weather. When Darrow joined the group about the tea-table she had already given a tingle to the air. Madame de Chantelle still remained invisible above stairs; but Darrow had the impression that even through her drawn curtains and bolted doors a stimulating whiff must have entered.
Anna was in her usual seat behind the tea-tray, and Sophy Viner presently led in her pupil. Owen was also there, seated, as usual, a little apart from the others, and following Miss Painter's massive movements and equally substantial utterances with a smile of secret intelligence which gave Darrow the idea of his having been in clandestine parley with the enemy. Darrow further took note that the girl and her suitor perceptibly avoided each other; but this might be a natural result of the tension Miss Painter had been summoned to relieve.
Sophy Viner would evidently permit no recognition of the situation save that which it lay with Madame de Chantelle to accord; but meanwhile Miss Painter had proclaimed her tacit sense of it by summoning the girl to a seat at her side.
Darrow, as he continued to observe the newcomer, who was perched on her arm-chair like a granite image on the edge of a cliff, was aware that, in a more detached frame of mind, he would have found an extreme interest in studying and classifying Miss Painter. It was not that she said anything remarkable, or betrayed any of those unspoken perceptions which give significance to the most commonplace utterances. She talked of the lateness of her train, of an impending crisis in international politics, of the difficulty of buying English tea in Paris and of the enormities of which French servants were capable; and her views on these subjects were enunciated with a uniformity of emphasis implying complete unconsciousness of any difference in their interest and importance. She always applied to the French race the distant epithet of "those people", but she betrayed an intimate acquaintance with many of its members, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the domestic habits, financial difficulties and private complications of various persons of social importance. Yet, as she evidently felt no incongruity in her attitude, so she revealed no desire to parade her familiarity with the fashionable, or indeed any sense of it as a fact to be paraded. It was evident that the titled ladies whom she spoke of as Mimi or Simone or Odette were as much "those people" to her as the bonne who tampered with her tea and steamed the stamps off her letters ("when, by a miracle, I don't put them in the box myself.") Her whole attitude was of a vast grim tolerance of things-as-they-came, as though she had been some wonderful automatic machine which recorded facts but had not yet been perfected to the point of sorting or labelling them.
All this, as Darrow was aware, still fell short of accounting for the influence she obviously exerted on the persons in contact with her. It brought a slight relief to his state of tension to go on wondering, while he watched and listened, just where the mystery lurked. Perhaps, after all, it was in the fact of her blank insensibility, an insensibility so devoid of egotism that it had no hardness and no grimaces, but rather the freshness of a simpler mental state. After living, as he had, as they all had, for the last few days, in an atmosphere perpetually tremulous with echoes and implications, it was restful and fortifying merely to walk into the big blank area of Miss Painter's mind, so vacuous for all its accumulated items, so echoless for all its vacuity.
His hope of a word with Anna before dinner was dispelled by her rising to take Miss Painter up to Madame de Chantelle; and he wandered away to his own room, leaving Owen and Miss Viner engaged in working out a picture-puzzle for Effie.
Madame de Chantelle—possibly as the result of her friend's ministrations—was able to appear at the dinner-table, rather pale and pink-nosed, and casting tenderly reproachful glances at her grandson, who faced them with impervious serenity; and the situation was relieved by the fact that Miss Viner, as usual, had remained in the school-room with her pupil.
Darrow conjectured that the real clash of arms would not take place till the morrow; and wishing to leave the field open to the contestants he set out early on a solitary walk. It was nearly luncheon-time when he returned from it and came upon Anna just emerging from the house. She had on her hat and jacket and was apparently coming forth to seek him, for she said at once: "Madame de Chantelle wants you to go up to her."
"To go up to her? Now?"
"That's the message she sent. She appears to rely on you to do something." She added with a smile: "Whatever it is, let's have it over!"
Darrow, through his rising sense of apprehension, wondered why, instead of merely going for a walk, he had not jumped into the first train and got out of the way till Owen's affairs were finally settled.
"But what in the name of goodness can I do?" he protested, following Anna back into the hall.
"I don't know. But Owen seems so to rely on you, too——"
"Owen! Is HE to be there?"
"No. But you know I told him he could count on you."
"But I've said to your mother-in-law all I could."
"Well, then you can only repeat it."
This did not seem to Darrow to simplify his case as much as she appeared to think; and once more he had a movement of recoil. "There's no possible reason for my being mixed up in this affair!"
Anna gave him a reproachful glance. "Not the fact that I am?" she reminded him; but even this only stiffened his resistance.
"Why should you be, either—to this extent?"
The question made her pause. She glanced about the hall, as if to be sure they had it to themselves; and then, in a lowered voice: "I don't know," she suddenly confessed; "but, somehow, if THEY'RE not happy I feel as if we shouldn't be."
"Oh, well—" Darrow acquiesced, in the tone of the man who perforce yields to so lovely an unreasonableness. Escape was, after all, impossible, and he could only resign himself to being led to Madame de Chantelle's door.
Within, among the bric-a-brac and furbelows, he found Miss Painter seated in a redundant purple armchair with the incongruous air of a horseman bestriding a heavy mount. Madame de Chantelle sat opposite, still a little wan and disordered under her elaborate hair, and clasping the handkerchief whose visibility symbolized her distress. On the young man's entrance she sighed out a plaintive welcome, to which she immediately appended: "Mr. Darrow, I can't help feeling that at heart you're with me!"
The directness of the challenge made it easier for Darrow to protest, and he reiterated his inability to give an opinion on either side.
"But Anna declares you have—on hers!"
He could not restrain a smile at this faint flaw in an impartiality so scrupulous. Every evidence of feminine inconsequence in Anna seemed to attest her deeper subjection to the most inconsequent of passions. He had certainly promised her his help—but before he knew what he was promising.
He met Madame de Chantelle's appeal by replying: "If there were anything I could possibly say I should want it to be in Miss Viner's favour."
"You'd want it to be—yes! But could you make it so?"
"As far as facts go, I don't see how I can make it either for or against her. I've already said that I know nothing of her except that she's charming."
"As if that weren't enough—weren't all there OUGHT to be!" Miss Painter put in impatiently. She seemed to address herself to Darrow, though her small eyes were fixed on her friend.
"Madame de Chantelle seems to imagine," she pursued, "that a young American girl ought to have a dossier—a police-record, or whatever you call it: what those awful women in the streets have here. In our country it's enough to know that a young girl's pure and lovely: people don't immediately ask her to show her bank-account and her visiting-list."
Madame de Chantelle looked plaintively at her sturdy monitress. "You don't expect me not to ask if she's got a family?"
"No; nor to think the worse of her if she hasn't. The fact that she's an orphan ought, with your ideas, to be a merit. You won't have to invite her father and mother to Givre!"
"Adelaide—Adelaide!" the mistress of Givre lamented.
"Lucretia Mary," the other returned—and Darrow spared an instant's amusement to the quaint incongruity of the name—"you know you sent for Mr. Darrow to refute me; and how can he, till he knows what I think?"
"You think it's perfectly simple to let Owen marry a girl we know nothing about?"
"No; but I don't think it's perfectly simple to prevent him."
The shrewdness of the answer increased Darrow's interest in Miss Painter. She had not hitherto struck him as being a person of much penetration, but he now felt sure that her gimlet gaze might bore to the heart of any practical problem.
Madame de Chantelle sighed out her recognition of the difficulty.
"I haven't a word to say against Miss Viner; but she's knocked about so, as it's called, that she must have been mixed up with some rather dreadful people. If only Owen could be made to see that—if one could get at a few facts, I mean. She says, for instance, that she has a sister; but it seems she doesn't even know her address!"
"If she does, she may not want to give it to you. I daresay the sister's one of the dreadful people. I've no doubt that with a little time you could rake up dozens of them: have her 'traced', as they call it in detective stories. I don't think you'd frighten Owen, but you might: it's natural enough he should have been corrupted by those foreign ideas. You might even manage to part him from the girl; but you couldn't keep him from being in love with her. I saw that when I looked them over last evening. I said to myself: 'It's a real old-fashioned American case, as sweet and sound as home-made bread.' Well, if you take his loaf away from him, what are you going to feed him with instead? Which of your nasty Paris poisons do you think he'll turn to? Supposing you succeed in keeping him out of a really bad mess—and, knowing the young man as I do, I rather think that, at this crisis, the only way to do it would be to marry him slap off to somebody else—well, then, who, may I ask, would you pick out? One of your sweet French ingenues, I suppose? With as much mind as a minnow and as much snap as a soft-boiled egg. You might hustle him into that kind of marriage; I daresay you could—but if I know Owen, the natural thing would happen before the first baby was weaned."
"I don't know why you insinuate such odious things against Owen!"
"Do you think it would be odious of him to return to his real love when he'd been forcibly parted from her? At any rate, it's what your French friends do, every one of them! Only they don't generally have the grace to go back to an old love; and I believe, upon my word, Owen would!"
Madame de Chantelle looked at her with a mixture of awe and exultation. "Of course you realize, Adelaide, that in suggesting this you're insinuating the most shocking things against Miss Viner?"
"When I say that if you part two young things who are dying to be happy in the lawful way it's ten to one they'll come together in an unlawful one? I'm insinuating shocking things against YOU, Lucretia Mary, in suggesting for a moment that you'll care to assume such a responsibility before your Maker. And you wouldn't, if you talked things straight out with him, instead of merely sending him messages through a miserable sinner like yourself!"
Darrow expected this assault on her adopted creed to provoke in Madame de Chantelle an explosion of pious indignation; but to his surprise she merely murmured: "I don't know what Mr. Darrow'll think of you!"
"Mr. Darrow probably knows his Bible as well as I do," Miss Painter calmly rejoined; adding a moment later, without the least perceptible change of voice or expression: "I suppose you've heard that Gisele de Folembray's husband accuses her of being mixed up with the Duc d'Arcachon in that business of trying to sell a lot of imitation pearls to Mrs. Homer Pond, the Chicago woman the Duke's engaged to? It seems the jeweller says Gisele brought Mrs. Pond there, and got twenty-five per cent—which of course she passed on to d'Arcachon. The poor old Duchess is in a fearful state—so afraid her son'll lose Mrs. Pond! When I think that Gisele is old Bradford Wagstaff's grand-daughter, I'm thankful he's safe in Mount Auburn!"
It was not until late that afternoon that Darrow could claim his postponed hour with Anna. When at last he found her alone in her sitting-room it was with a sense of liberation so great that he sought no logical justification of it. He simply felt that all their destinies were in Miss Painter's grasp, and that, resistance being useless, he could only enjoy the sweets of surrender.
Anna herself seemed as happy, and for more explicable reasons. She had assisted, after luncheon, at another debate between Madame de Chantelle and her confidant, and had surmised, when she withdrew from it, that victory was permanently perched on Miss Painter's banners.
"I don't know how she does it, unless it's by the dead weight of her convictions. She detests the French so that she'd back up Owen even if she knew nothing—or knew too much—of Miss Viner. She somehow regards the match as a protest against the corruption of European morals. I told Owen that was his great chance, and he's made the most of it."
"What a tactician you are! You make me feel that I hardly know the rudiments of diplomacy," Darrow smiled at her, abandoning himself to a perilous sense of well-being.
She gave him back his smile. "I'm afraid I think nothing short of my own happiness is worth wasting any diplomacy on!"
"That's why I mean to resign from the service of my country," he rejoined with a laugh of deep content.
The feeling that both resistance and apprehension were vain was working like wine in his veins. He had done what he could to deflect the course of events: now he could only stand aside and take his chance of safety. Underneath this fatalistic feeling was the deep sense of relief that he had, after all, said and done nothing that could in the least degree affect the welfare of Sophy Viner. That fact took a millstone off his neck.
Meanwhile he gave himself up once more to the joy of Anna's presence. They had not been alone together for two long days, and he had the lover's sense that he had forgotten, or at least underestimated, the strength of the spell she cast. Once more her eyes and her smile seemed to bound his world. He felt that their light would always move with him as the sunset moves before a ship at sea.
The next day his sense of security was increased by a decisive incident. It became known to the expectant household that Madame de Chantelle had yielded to the tremendous impact of Miss Painter's determination and that Sophy Viner had been "sent for" to the purple satin sitting-room.
At luncheon, Owen's radiant countenance proclaimed the happy sequel, and Darrow, when the party had moved back to the oak-room for coffee, deemed it discreet to wander out alone to the terrace with his cigar. The conclusion of Owen's romance brought his own plans once more to the front. Anna had promised that she would consider dates and settle details as soon as Madame de Chantelle and her grandson had been reconciled, and Darrow was eager to go into the question at once, since it was necessary that the preparations for his marriage should go forward as rapidly as possible. Anna, he knew, would not seek any farther pretext for delay; and he strolled up and down contentedly in the sunshine, certain that she would come out and reassure him as soon as the reunited family had claimed its due share of her attention.
But when she finally joined him her first word was for the younger lovers.
"I want to thank you for what you've done for Owen," she began, with her happiest smile.
"Who—I?" he laughed. "Are you confusing me with Miss Painter?"
"Perhaps I ought to say for ME," she corrected herself. "You've been even more of a help to us than Adelaide."
"My dear child! What on earth have I done?"
"You've managed to hide from Madame de Chantelle that you don't really like poor Sophy."
Darrow felt the pallour in his cheek. "Not like her? What put such an idea into your head?"
"Oh, it's more than an idea—it's a feeling. But what difference does it make, after all? You saw her in such a different setting that it's natural you should be a little doubtful. But when you know her better I'm sure you'll feel about her as I do."
"It's going to be hard for me not to feel about everything as you do."
"Well, then—please begin with my daughter-in-law!"
He gave her back in the same tone of banter: "Agreed: if you ll agree to feel as I do about the pressing necessity of our getting married."
"I want to talk to you about that too. You don't know what a weight is off my mind! With Sophy here for good, I shall feel so differently about leaving Effie. I've seen much more accomplished governesses—to my cost!—but I've never seen a young thing more gay and kind and human. You must have noticed, though you've seen them so little together, how Effie expands when she's with her. And that, you know, is what I want. Madame de Chantelle will provide the necessary restraint." She clasped her hands on his arm. "Yes, I'm ready to go with you now. But first of all—this very moment!—you must come with me to Effie. She knows, of course, nothing of what's been happening; and I want her to be told first about YOU."
Effie, sought throughout the house, was presently traced to the school-room, and thither Darrow mounted with Anna. He had never seen her so alight with happiness, and he had caught her buoyancy of mood. He kept repeating to himself: "It's over—it's over," as if some monstrous midnight hallucination had been routed by the return of day.
As they approached the school-room door the terrier's barks came to them through laughing remonstrances.
"She's giving him his dinner," Anna whispered, her hand in Darrow's.
"Don't forget the gold-fish!" they heard another voice call out.
Darrow halted on the threshold. "Oh—not now!"
"I mean—she'd rather have you tell her first. I'll wait for you both downstairs."
He was aware that she glanced at him intently. "As you please. I'll bring her down at once."
She opened the door, and as she went in he heard her say: "No, Sophy, don't go! I want you both."
The rest of Darrow's day was a succession of empty and agitating scenes. On his way down to Givre, before he had seen Effie Leath, he had pictured somewhat sentimentally the joy of the moment when he should take her in his arms and receive her first filial kiss. Everything in him that egotistically craved for rest, stability, a comfortably organized middle-age, all the home-building instincts of the man who has sufficiently wooed and wandered, combined to throw a charm about the figure of the child who might—who should—have been his. Effie came to him trailing the cloud of glory of his first romance, giving him back the magic hour he had missed and mourned. And how different the realization of his dream had been! The child's radiant welcome, her unquestioning acceptance of, this new figure in the family group, had been all that he had hoped and fancied. If Mother was so awfully happy about it, and Owen and Granny, too, how nice and cosy and comfortable it was going to be for all of them, her beaming look seemed to say; and then, suddenly, the small pink fingers he had been kissing were laid on the one flaw in the circle, on the one point which must be settled before Effie could, with complete unqualified assurance, admit the new-comer to full equality with the other gods of her Olympus.
"And is Sophy awfully happy about it too?" she had asked, loosening her hold on Darrow's neck to tilt back her head and include her mother in her questioning look.
"Why, dearest, didn't you see she was?" Anna had exclaimed, leaning to the group with radiant eyes.
"I think I should like to ask her," the child rejoined, after a minute's shy consideration; and as Darrow set her down her mother laughed: "Do, darling, do! Run off at once, and tell her we expect her to be awfully happy too."
The scene had been succeeded by others less poignant but almost as trying. Darrow cursed his luck in having, at such a moment, to run the gauntlet of a houseful of interested observers. The state of being "engaged", in itself an absurd enough predicament, even to a man only intermittently exposed, became intolerable under the continuous scrutiny of a small circle quivering with participation. Darrow was furthermore aware that, though the case of the other couple ought to have made his own less conspicuous, it was rather they who found a refuge in the shadow of his prominence. Madame de Chantelle, though she had consented to Owen's engagement and formally welcomed his betrothed, was nevertheless not sorry to show, by her reception of Darrow, of what finely-shaded degrees of cordiality she was capable. Miss Painter, having won the day for Owen, was also free to turn her attention to the newer candidate for her sympathy; and Darrow and Anna found themselves immersed in a warm bath of sentimental curiosity.
It was a relief to Darrow that he was under a positive obligation to end his visit within the next forty-eight hours. When he left London, his Ambassador had accorded him a ten days' leave. His fate being definitely settled and openly published he had no reason for asking to have the time prolonged, and when it was over he was to return to his post till the time fixed for taking up his new duties. Anna and he had therefore decided to be married, in Paris, a day or two before the departure of the steamer which was to take them to South America; and Anna, shortly after his return to England, was to go up to Paris and begin her own preparations.
In honour of the double betrothal Effie and Miss Viner were to appear that evening at dinner; and Darrow, on leaving his room, met the little girl springing down the stairs, her white ruffles and coral-coloured bows making her look like a daisy with her yellow hair for its centre. Sophy Viner was behind her pupil, and as she came into the light Darrow noticed a change in her appearance and wondered vaguely why she looked suddenly younger, more vivid, more like the little luminous ghost of his Paris memories. Then it occurred to him that it was the first time she had appeared at dinner since his arrival at Givre, and the first time, consequently, that he had seen her in evening dress. She was still at the age when the least adornment embellishes; and no doubt the mere uncovering of her young throat and neck had given her back her former brightness. But a second glance showed a more precise reason for his impression. Vaguely though he retained such details, he felt sure she was wearing the dress he had seen her in every evening in Paris. It was a simple enough dress, black, and transparent on the arms and shoulders, and he would probably not have recognized it if she had not called his attention to it in Paris by confessing that she hadn't any other. "The same dress? That proves that she's forgotten!" was his first half-ironic thought; but the next moment, with a pang of compunction, he said to himself that she had probably put it on for the same reason as before: simply because she hadn't any other.
He looked at her in silence, and for an instant, above Effie's bobbing head, she gave him back his look in a full bright gaze.
"Oh, there's Owen!" Effie cried, and whirled away down the gallery to the door from which her step-brother was emerging. As Owen bent to catch her, Sophy Viner turned abruptly back to Darrow.
"You, too?" she said with a quick laugh. "I didn't know——" And as Owen came up to them she added, in a tone that might have been meant to reach his ear: "I wish you all the luck that we can spare!"
About the dinner-table, which Effie, with Miss Viner's aid, had lavishly garlanded, the little party had an air of somewhat self-conscious festivity. In spite of flowers, champagne and a unanimous attempt at ease, there were frequent lapses in the talk, and moments of nervous groping for new subjects. Miss Painter alone seemed not only unaffected by the general perturbation but as tightly sealed up in her unconsciousness of it as a diver in his bell. To Darrow's strained attention even Owen's gusts of gaiety seemed to betray an inward sense of insecurity. After dinner, however, at the piano, he broke into a mood of extravagant hilarity and flooded the room with the splash and ripple of his music.
Darrow, sunk in a sofa corner in the lee of Miss Painter's granite bulk, smoked and listened in silence, his eyes moving from one figure to another. Madame de Chantelle, in her armchair near the fire, clasped her little granddaughter to her with the gesture of a drawing-room Niobe, and Anna, seated near them, had fallen into one of the attitudes of vivid calm which seemed to Darrow to express her inmost quality. Sophy Viner, after moving uncertainly about the room, had placed herself beyond Mrs. Leath, in a chair near the piano, where she sat with head thrown back and eyes attached to the musician, in the same rapt fixity of attention with which she had followed the players at the Francais. The accident of her having fallen into the same attitude, and of her wearing the same dress, gave Darrow, as he watched her, a strange sense of double consciousness. To escape from it, his glance turned back to Anna; but from the point at which he was placed his eyes could not take in the one face without the other, and that renewed the disturbing duality of the impression. Suddenly Owen broke off with a crash of chords and jumped to his feet.
"What's the use of this, with such a moon to say it for us?"
Behind the uncurtained window a low golden orb hung like a ripe fruit against the glass.
"Yes—let's go out and listen," Anna answered. Owen threw open the window, and with his gesture a fold of the heavy star-sprinkled sky seemed to droop into the room like a drawn-in curtain. The air that entered with it had a frosty edge, and Anna bade Effie run to the hall for wraps.
Darrow said: "You must have one too," and started toward the door; but Sophy, following her pupil, cried back: "We'll bring things for everybody."
Owen had followed her, and in a moment the three reappeared, and the party went out on the terrace. The deep blue purity of the night was unveiled by mist, and the moonlight rimmed the edges of the trees with a silver blur and blanched to unnatural whiteness the statues against their walls of shade.
Darrow and Anna, with Effie between them, strolled to the farther corner of the terrace. Below them, between the fringes of the park, the lawn sloped dimly to the fields above the river. For a few minutes they stood silently side by side, touched to peace beneath the trembling beauty of the sky. When they turned back, Darrow saw that Owen and Sophy Viner, who had gone down the steps to the garden, were also walking in the direction of the house. As they advanced, Sophy paused in a patch of moonlight, between the sharp shadows of the yews, and Darrow noticed that she had thrown over her shoulders a long cloak of some light colour, which suddenly evoked her image as she had entered the restaurant at his side on the night of their first dinner in Paris. A moment later they were all together again on the terrace, and when they re-entered the drawing-room the older ladies were on their way to bed.
Effie, emboldened by the privileges of the evening, was for coaxing Owen to round it off with a game of forfeits or some such reckless climax; but Sophy, resuming her professional role, sounded the summons to bed. In her pupil's wake she made her round of good-nights; but when she proffered her hand to Anna, the latter ignoring the gesture held out both arms.
"Good-night, dear child," she said impulsively, and drew the girl to her kiss.
The next day was Darrow's last at Givre and, foreseeing that the afternoon and evening would have to be given to the family, he had asked Anna to devote an early hour to the final consideration of their plans. He was to meet her in the brown sitting-room at ten, and they were to walk down to the river and talk over their future in the little pavilion abutting on the wall of the park.
It was just a week since his arrival at Givre, and Anna wished, before he left, to return to the place where they had sat on their first afternoon together. Her sensitiveness to the appeal of inanimate things, to the colour and texture of whatever wove itself into the substance of her emotion, made her want to hear Darrow's voice, and to feel his eyes on her, in the spot where bliss had first flowed into her heart.
That bliss, in the interval, had wound itself into every fold of her being. Passing, in the first days, from a high shy tenderness to the rush of a secret surrender, it had gradually widened and deepened, to flow on in redoubled beauty. She thought she now knew exactly how and why she loved Darrow, and she could see her whole sky reflected in the deep and tranquil current of her love.
Early the next day, in her sitting-room, she was glancing through the letters which it was Effie's morning privilege to carry up to her. Effie meanwhile circled inquisitively about the room, where there was always something new to engage her infant fancy; and Anna, looking up, saw her suddenly arrested before a photograph of Darrow which, the day before, had taken its place on the writing-table.
Anna held out her arms with a faint blush. "You do like him, don't you, dear?"
"Oh, most awfully, dearest," Effie, against her breast, leaned back to assure her with a limpid look. "And so do Granny and Owen—and I DO think Sophy does too," she added, after a moment's earnest pondering.
"I hope so," Anna laughed. She checked the impulse to continue: "Has she talked to you about him, that you're so sure?" She did not know what had made the question spring to her lips, but she was glad she had closed them before pronouncing it. Nothing could have been more distasteful to her than to clear up such obscurities by turning on them the tiny flame of her daughter's observation. And what, after all, now that Owen's happiness was secured, did it matter if there were certain reserves in Darrow's approval of his marriage?
A knock on the door made Anna glance at the clock. "There's Nurse to carry you off."
"It's Sophy's knock," the little girl answered, jumping down to open the door; and Miss Viner in fact stood on the threshold.
"Come in," Anna said with a smile, instantly remarking how pale she looked.
"May Effie go out for a turn with Nurse?" the girl asked. "I should like to speak to you a moment."
"Of course. This ought to be YOUR holiday, as yesterday was Effie's. Run off, dear," she added, stooping to kiss the little girl.
When the door had closed she turned back to Sophy Viner with a look that sought her confidence. "I'm so glad you came, my dear. We've got so many things to talk about, just you and I together."
The confused intercourse of the last days had, in fact, left little time for any speech with Sophy but such as related to her marriage and the means of overcoming Madame de Chantelle's opposition to it. Anna had exacted of Owen that no one, not even Sophy Viner, should be given a hint of her own projects till all contingent questions had been disposed of. She had felt, from the outset, a secret reluctance to intrude her securer happiness on the doubts and fears of the young pair.
From the sofa-corner to which she had dropped back she pointed to Darrow's chair. "Come and sit by me, dear. I wanted to see you alone. There's so much to say that I hardly know where to begin."
She leaned forward, her hands clasped on the arms of the sofa, her eyes bent smilingly on Sophy's. As she did so, she noticed that the girl's unusual pallour was partly due to the slight veil of powder on her face. The discovery was distinctly disagreeable. Anna had never before noticed, on Sophy's part, any recourse to cosmetics, and, much as she wished to think herself exempt from old-fashioned prejudices, she suddenly became aware that she did not like her daughter's governess to have a powdered face. Then she reflected that the girl who sat opposite her was no longer Effie's governess, but her own future daughter-in-law; and she wondered whether Miss Viner had chosen this odd way of celebrating her independence, and whether, as Mrs. Owen Leath, she would present to the world a bedizened countenance. This idea was scarcely less distasteful than the other, and for a moment Anna continued to consider her without speaking. Then, in a flash, the truth came to her: Miss Viner had powdered her face because Miss Viner had been crying.
Anna leaned forward impulsively. "My dear child, what's the matter?" She saw the girl's blood rush up under the white mask, and hastened on: "Please don't be afraid to tell me. I do so want you to feel that you can trust me as Owen does. And you know you mustn't mind if, just at first, Madame de Chantelle occasionally relapses."
She spoke eagerly, persuasively, almost on a note of pleading. She had, in truth, so many reasons for wanting Sophy to like her: her love for Owen, her solicitude for Effie, and her own sense of the girl's fine mettle. She had always felt a romantic and almost humble admiration for those members of her sex who, from force of will, or the constraint of circumstances, had plunged into the conflict from which fate had so persistently excluded her. There were even moments when she fancied herself vaguely to blame for her immunity, and felt that she ought somehow to have affronted the perils and hardships which refused to come to her. And now, as she sat looking at Sophy Viner, so small, so slight, so visibly defenceless and undone, she still felt, through all the superiority of her worldly advantages and her seeming maturity, the same odd sense of ignorance and inexperience. She could not have said what there was in the girl's manner and expression to give her this feeling, but she was reminded, as she looked at Sophy Viner, of the other girls she had known in her youth, the girls who seemed possessed of a secret she had missed. Yes, Sophy Viner had their look—almost the obscurely menacing look of Kitty Mayne...Anna, with an inward smile, brushed aside the image of this forgotten rival. But she had felt, deep down, a twinge of the old pain, and she was sorry that, even for the flash of a thought, Owen's betrothed should have reminded her of so different a woman...
She laid her hand on the girl's. "When his grandmother sees how happy Owen is she'll be quite happy herself. If it's only that, don't be distressed. Just trust to Owen—and the future."
Sophy Viner, with an almost imperceptible recoil of her whole slight person, had drawn her hand from under the palm enclosing it.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about—the future."
"Of course! We've all so many plans to make—and to fit into each other's. Please let's begin with yours."
The girl paused a moment, her hands clasped on the arms of her chair, her lids dropped under Anna's gaze; then she said: "I should like to make no plans at all...just yet..."
"No—I should like to go away...my friends the Farlows would let me go to them..." Her voice grew firmer and she lifted her eyes to add: "I should like to leave today, if you don't mind."
Anna listened with a rising wonder.
"You want to leave Givre at once?" She gave the idea a moment's swift consideration. "You prefer to be with your friends till your marriage? I understand that—but surely you needn't rush off today? There are so many details to discuss; and before long, you know, I shall be going away too."
"Yes, I know." The girl was evidently trying to steady her voice. "But I should like to wait a few days—to have a little more time to myself."
Anna continued to consider her kindly. It was evident that she did not care to say why she wished to leave Givre so suddenly, but her disturbed face and shaken voice betrayed a more pressing motive than the natural desire to spend the weeks before her marriage under her old friends' roof. Since she had made no response to the allusion to Madame de Chantelle, Anna could but conjecture that she had had a passing disagreement with Owen; and if this were so, random interference might do more harm than good.
"My dear child, if you really want to go at once I sha'n't, of course, urge you to stay. I suppose you have spoken to Owen?"
"No. Not yet..."
Anna threw an astonished glance at her. "You mean to say you haven't told him?"
"I wanted to tell you first. I thought I ought to, on account of Effie." Her look cleared as she put forth this reason.
"Oh, Effie!—" Anna's smile brushed away the scruple. "Owen has a right to ask that you should consider him before you think of his sister...Of course you shall do just as you wish," she went on, after another thoughtful interval.
"Oh, thank you," Sophy Viner murmured and rose to her feet.
Anna rose also, vaguely seeking for some word that should break down the girl's resistance. "You'll tell Owen at once?" she finally asked.
Miss Viner, instead of replying, stood before her in manifest uncertainty, and as she did so there was a light tap on the door, and Owen Leath walked into the room.
Anna's first glance told her that his face was unclouded. He met her greeting with his happiest smile and turned to lift Sophy's hand to his lips. The perception that he was utterly unconscious of any cause for Miss Viner's agitation came to his step-mother with a sharp thrill of surprise.
"Darrow's looking for you," he said to her. "He asked me to remind you that you'd promised to go for a walk with him."
Anna glanced at the clock. "I'll go down presently." She waited and looked again at Sophy Viner, whose troubled eyes seemed to commit their message to her. "You'd better tell Owen, my dear."
Owen's look also turned on the girl. "Tell me what? Why, what's happened?"
Anna summoned a laugh to ease the vague tension of the moment. "Don't look so startled! Nothing, except that Sophy proposes to desert us for a while for the Farlows."
Owen's brow cleared. "I was afraid she'd run off before long." He glanced at Anna. "Do please keep her here as long as you can!"
Sophy intervened: "Mrs. Leath's already given me leave to go."
"Already? To go when?"
"Today," said Sophy in a low tone, her eyes on Anna's.
"Today? Why on earth should you go today?" Owen dropped back a step or two, flushing and paling under his bewildered frown. His eyes seemed to search the girl more closely. "Something's happened." He too looked at his step-mother. "I suppose she must have told you what it is?"
Anna was struck by the suddenness and vehemence of his appeal. It was as though some smouldering apprehension had lain close under the surface of his security.
"She's told me nothing except that she wishes to be with her friends. It's quite natural that she should want to go to them."
Owen visibly controlled himself. "Of course—quite natural." He spoke to Sophy. "But why didn't you tell me so? Why did you come first to my step-mother?"
Anna intervened with her calm smile. "That seems to me quite natural, too. Sophy was considerate enough to tell me first because of Effie."
He weighed it. "Very well, then: that's quite natural, as you say. And of course she must do exactly as she pleases." He still kept his eyes on the girl. "Tomorrow," he abruptly announced, "I shall go up to Paris to see you."
"Oh, no—no!" she protested.
Owen turned back to Anna. "NOW do you say that nothing's happened?"
Under the influence of his agitation Anna felt a vague tightening of the heart. She seemed to herself like some one in a dark room about whom unseen presences are groping.
"If it's anything that Sophy wishes to tell you, no doubt she'll do so. I'm going down now, and I'll leave you here to talk it over by yourselves."
As she moved to the door the girl caught up with her. "But there's nothing to tell: why should there be? I've explained that I simply want to be quiet." Her look seemed to detain Mrs. Leath.
Owen broke in: "Is that why I mayn't go up tomorrow?"
"Then when may I?"
"Later...in a little while...a few days..."
"In how many days?" "Owen!" his step-mother interposed; but he seemed no longer aware of her. "If you go away today, the day that our engagement's made known, it's only fair," he persisted, "that you should tell me when I am to see you."
Sophy's eyes wavered between the two and dropped down wearily. "It's you who are not fair—when I've said I wanted to be quiet."
"But why should my coming disturb you? I'm not asking now to come tomorrow. I only ask you not to leave without telling me when I'm to see you."
"Owen, I don't understand you!" his step-mother exclaimed.
"You don't understand my asking for some explanation, some assurance, when I'm left in this way, without a word, without a sign? All I ask her to tell me is when she'll see me."
Anna turned back to Sophy Viner, who stood straight and tremulous between the two.
"After all, my dear, he's not unreasonable!"
"I'll write—I'll write," the girl repeated.
"WHAT will you write?" he pressed her vehemently.
"Owen," Anna exclaimed, "you are unreasonable!"
He turned from Sophy to his step-mother. "I only want her to say what she means: that she's going to write to break off our engagement. Isn't that what you're going away for?"
Anna felt the contagion of his excitement. She looked at Sophy, who stood motionless, her lips set, her whole face drawn to a silent fixity of resistance.
"You ought to speak, my dear—you ought to answer him."
"I only ask him to wait——"
"Yes," Owen, broke in, "and you won't say how long!"
Both instinctively addressed themselves to Anna, who stood, nearly as shaken as themselves, between the double shock of their struggle. She looked again from Sophy's inscrutable eyes to Owen's stormy features; then she said: "What can I do, when there's clearly something between you that I don't know about?"
"Oh, if it WERE between us! Can't you see it's outside of us—outside of her, dragging at her, dragging her away from me?" Owen wheeled round again upon his step-mother.
Anna turned from him to the girl. "Is it true that you want to break your engagement? If you do, you ought to tell him now."
Owen burst into a laugh. "She doesn't dare to—she's afraid I'll guess the reason!"
A faint sound escaped from Sophy's lips, but she kept them close on whatever answer she had ready.
"If she doesn't wish to marry you, why should she be afraid to have you know the reason?"
"She's afraid to have YOU know it—not me!"
"To have ME know it?"
He laughed again, and Anna, at his laugh, felt a sudden rush of indignation.
"Owen, you must explain what you mean!"
He looked at her hard before answering; then: "Ask Darrow!" he said.
"Owen—Owen!" Sophy Viner murmured.
Anna stood looking from one to the other. It had become apparent to her in a flash that Owen's retort, though it startled Sophy, did not take her by surprise; and the discovery shot its light along dark distances of fear.
The immediate inference was that Owen had guessed the reason of Darrow's disapproval of his marriage, or that, at least, he suspected Sophy Viner of knowing and dreading it. This confirmation of her own obscure doubt sent a tremor of alarm through Anna. For a moment she felt like exclaiming: "All this is really no business of mine, and I refuse to have you mix me up in it—" but her secret fear held her fast.
Sophy Viner was the first to speak.
"I should like to go now," she said in a low voice, taking a few steps toward the door.
Her tone woke Anna to the sense of her own share in the situation. "I quite agree with you, my dear, that it's useless to carry on this discussion. But since Mr. Darrow's name has been brought into it, for reasons which I fail to guess, I want to tell you that you're both mistaken if you think he's not in sympathy with your marriage. If that's what Owen means to imply, the idea's a complete delusion."
She spoke the words deliberately and incisively, as if hoping that the sound of their utterance would stifle the whisper in her bosom.
Sophy's only answer was a vague murmur, and a movement that brought her nearer to the door; but before she could reach it Owen had placed himself in her way.
"I don't mean to imply what you think," he said, addressing his step-mother but keeping his eyes on the girl. "I don't say Darrow doesn't like our marriage; I say it's Sophy who's hated it since Darrow's been here!"
He brought out the charge in a tone of forced composure, but his lips were white and he grasped the doorknob to hide the tremor of his hand.
Anna's anger surged up with her fears. "You're absurd, Owen! I don't know why I listen to you. Why should Sophy dislike Mr. Darrow, and if she does, why should that have anything to do with her wishing to break her engagement?"
"I don't say she dislikes him! I don't say she likes him; I don't know what it is they say to each other when they're shut up together alone."
"Shut up together alone?" Anna stared. Owen seemed like a man in delirium; such an exhibition was degrading to them all. But he pushed on without seeing her look.
"Yes—the first evening she came, in the study; the next morning, early, in the park; yesterday, again, in the spring-house, when you were at the lodge with the doctor...I don't know what they say to each other, but they've taken every chance they could to say it...and to say it when they thought that no one saw them."
Anna longed to silence him, but no words came to her. It was as though all her confused apprehensions had suddenly taken definite shape. There was "something"—yes, there was "something"...Darrow's reticences and evasions had been more than a figment of her doubts.
The next instant brought a recoil of pride. She turned indignantly on her step-son.
"I don't half understand what you've been saying; but what you seem to hint is so preposterous, and so insulting both to Sophy and to me, that I see no reason why we should listen to you any longer."
Though her tone steadied Owen, she perceived at once that it would not deflect him from his purpose. He spoke less vehemently, but with all the more precision.
"How can it be preposterous, since it's true? Or insulting, since I don't know, any more than YOU, the meaning of what I've been seeing? If you'll be patient with me I'll try to put it quietly. What I mean is that Sophy has completely changed since she met Darrow here, and that, having noticed the change, I'm hardly to blame for having tried to find out its cause."
Anna made an effort to answer him with the same composure. "You're to blame, at any rate, for so recklessly assuming that you HAVE found it out. You seem to forget that, till they met here, Sophy and Mr. Darrow hardly knew each other."
"If so, it's all the stranger that they've been so often closeted together!"
"Owen, Owen—" the girl sighed out.
He turned his haggard face to her. "Can I help it, if I've seen and known what I wasn't meant to? For God's sake give me a reason—any reason I can decently make out with! Is it my fault if, the day after you arrived, when I came back late through the garden, the curtains of the study hadn't been drawn, and I saw you there alone with Darrow?"
Anna laughed impatiently. "Really, Owen, if you make it a grievance that two people who are staying in the same house should be seen talking together——!"
"They were not talking. That's the point——"
"Not talking? How do you know? You could hardly hear them from the garden!"
"No; but I could see. HE was sitting at my desk, with his face in his hands. SHE was standing in the window, looking away from him..."
He waited, as if for Sophy Viner's answer; but still she neither stirred nor spoke.
"That was the first time," he went on; "and the second was the next morning in the park. It was natural enough, their meeting there. Sophy had gone out with Effie, and Effie ran back to look for me. She told me she'd left Sophy and Darrow in the path that leads to the river, and presently we saw them ahead of us. They didn't see us at first, because they were standing looking at each other; and this time they were not speaking either. We came up close before they heard us, and all that time they never spoke, or stopped looking at each other. After that I began to wonder; and so I watched them."
"Oh, Owen!" "Oh, I only had to wait. Yesterday, when I motored you and the doctor back from the lodge, I saw Sophy coming out of the spring-house. I supposed she'd taken shelter from the rain, and when you got out of the motor I strolled back down the avenue to meet her. But she'd disappeared—she must have taken a short cut and come into the house by the side door. I don't know why I went on to the spring-house; I suppose it was what you'd call spying. I went up the steps and found the room empty; but two chairs had been moved out from the wall and were standing near the table; and one of the Chinese screens that lie on it had dropped to the floor."
Anna sounded a faint note of irony. "Really? Sophy'd gone there for shelter, and she dropped a screen and moved a chair?"
"I said two chairs——"
"Two? What damning evidence—of I don't know what!"
"Simply of the fact that Darrow'd been there with her. As I looked out of the window I saw him close by, walking away. He must have turned the corner of the spring-house just as I got to the door."
There was another silence, during which Anna paused, not only to collect her own words but to wait for Sophy Viner's; then, as the girl made no sign, she turned to her.
"I've absolutely nothing to say to all this; but perhaps you'd like me to wait and hear your answer?"
Sophy raised her head with a quick flash of colour. "I've no answer either—except that Owen must be mad."
In the interval since she had last spoken she seemed to have regained her self-control, and her voice rang clear, with a cold edge of anger.
Anna looked at her step-son. He had grown extremely pale, and his hand fell from the door with a discouraged gesture. "That's all then? You won't give me any reason?"
"I didn't suppose it was necessary to give you or any one else a reason for talking with a friend of Mrs. Leath's under Mrs. Leath's own roof."
Owen hardly seemed to feel the retort: he kept his dogged stare on her face.
"I won't ask for one, then. I'll only ask you to give me your assurance that your talks with Darrow have had nothing to do with your suddenly deciding to leave Givre."
She hesitated, not so much with the air of weighing her answer as of questioning his right to exact any. "I give you my assurance; and now I should like to go," she said.
As she turned away, Anna intervened. "My dear, I think you ought to speak."
The girl drew herself up with a faint laugh. "To him—or to YOU?"
She stiffened. "I've said all there is to say."
Anna drew back, her eyes on her step-son. He had left the threshold and was advancing toward Sophy Viner with a motion of desperate appeal; but as he did so there was a knock on the door. A moment's silence fell on the three; then Anna said: "Come in!"
Darrow came into the room. Seeing the three together, he looked rapidly from one to the other; then he turned to Anna with a smile.
"I came up to see if you were ready; but please send me off if I'm not wanted."
His look, his voice, the simple sense of his presence, restored Anna's shaken balance. By Owen's side he looked so strong, so urbane, so experienced, that the lad's passionate charges dwindled to mere boyish vapourings. A moment ago she had dreaded Darrow's coming; now she was glad that he was there.
She turned to him with sudden decision. "Come in, please; I want you to hear what Owen has been saying."
She caught a murmur from Sophy Viner, but disregarded it. An illuminating impulse urged her on. She, habitually so aware of her own lack of penetration, her small skill in reading hidden motives and detecting secret signals, now felt herself mysteriously inspired. She addressed herself to Sophy Viner. "It's much better for you both that this absurd question should be cleared up now." Then, turning to Darrow, she continued: "For some reason that I don't pretend to guess, Owen has taken it into his head that you've influenced Miss Viner to break her engagement."
She spoke slowly and deliberately, because she wished to give time and to gain it; time for Darrow and Sophy to receive the full impact of what she was saying, and time to observe its full effect on them. She had said to herself: "If there's nothing between them, they'll look at each other; if there IS something, they won't;" and as she ceased to speak she felt as if all her life were in her eyes.
Sophy, after a start of protest, remained motionless, her gaze on the ground. Darrow, his face grown grave, glanced slowly from Owen Leath to Anna. With his eyes on the latter he asked: "Has Miss Viner broken her engagement?"
A moment's silence followed his question; then the girl looked up and said: "Yes!"
Owen, as she spoke, uttered a smothered exclamation and walked out of the room. She continued to stand in the same place, without appearing to notice his departure, and without vouchsafing an additional word of explanation; then, before Anna could find a cry to detain her, she too turned and went out.
"For God's sake, what's happened?" Darrow asked; but Anna, with a drop of the heart, was saying to herself that he and Sophy Viner had not looked at each other.
Anna stood in the middle of the room, her eyes on the door. Darrow's questioning gaze was still on her, and she said to herself with a quick-drawn breath: "If only he doesn't come near me!"
It seemed to her that she had been suddenly endowed with the fatal gift of reading the secret sense of every seemingly spontaneous look and movement, and that in his least gesture of affection she would detect a cold design.
For a moment longer he continued to look at her enquiringly; then he turned away and took up his habitual stand by the mantel-piece. She drew a deep breath of relief.
"Won't you please explain?" he said.
"I can't explain: I don't know. I didn't even know—till she told you—that she really meant to break her engagement. All I know is that she came to me just now and said she wished to leave Givre today; and that Owen, when he heard of it—for she hadn't told him—at once accused her of going away with the secret intention of throwing him over."
"And you think it's a definite break?" She perceived, as she spoke, that his brow had cleared.
"How should I know? Perhaps you can tell me."
"I?" She fancied his face clouded again, but he did not move from his tranquil attitude.
"As I told you," she went on, "Owen has worked himself up to imagining that for some mysterious reason you've influenced Sophy against him."
Darrow still visibly wondered. "It must indeed be a mysterious reason! He knows how slightly I know Miss Viner. Why should he imagine anything so wildly improbable?"
"I don't know that either."
"But he must have hinted at some reason."
"No: he admits he doesn't know your reason. He simply says that Sophy's manner to him has changed since she came back to Givre and that he's seen you together several times—in the park, the spring-house, I don't know where—talking alone in a way that seemed confidential—almost secret; and he draws the preposterous conclusion that you've used your influence to turn her against him."
"My influence? What kind of influence?"
"He doesn't say."
Darrow again seemed to turn over the facts she gave him. His face remained grave, but without the least trace of discomposure. "And what does Miss Viner say?"
"She says it's perfectly natural that she should occasionally talk to my friends when she's under my roof—and refuses to give him any other explanation."
"That at least is perfectly natural!"
Anna felt her cheeks flush as she answered: "Yes—but there is something——"
"Some reason for her sudden decision to break her engagement. I can understand Owen's feeling, sorry as I am for his way of showing it. The girl owes him some sort of explanation, and as long as she refuses to give it his imagination is sure to run wild."
"She would have given it, no doubt, if he'd asked it in a different tone."
"I don't defend Owen's tone—but she knew what it was before she accepted him. She knows he's excitable and undisciplined."
"Well, she's been disciplining him a little—probably the best thing that could happen. Why not let the matter rest there?"
"Leave Owen with the idea that you HAVE been the cause of the break?"
He met the question with his easy smile. "Oh, as to that—leave him with any idea of me he chooses! But leave him, at any rate, free."
"Free?" she echoed in surprise.
"Simply let things be. You've surely done all you could for him and Miss Viner. If they don't hit it off it's their own affair. What possible motive can you have for trying to interfere now?"
Her gaze widened to a deeper wonder. "Why—naturally, what he says of you!"
"I don't care a straw what he says of me! In such a situation a boy in love will snatch at the most far-fetched reason rather than face the mortifying fact that the lady may simply be tired of him."
"You don t quite understand Owen. Things go deep with him, and last long. It took him a long time to recover from his other unlucky love affair. He's romantic and extravagant: he can't live on the interest of his feelings. He worships Sophy and she seemed to be fond of him. If she's changed it's been very sudden. And if they part like this, angrily and inarticulately, it will hurt him horribly—hurt his very soul. But that, as you say, is between the two. What concerns me is his associating you with their quarrel. Owen's like my own son—if you'd seen him when I first came here you'd know why. We were like two prisoners who talk to each other by tapping on the wall. He's never forgotten it, nor I. Whether he breaks with Sophy, or whether they make it up, I can't let him think you had anything to do with it."
She raised her eyes entreatingly to Darrow's, and read in them the forbearance of the man resigned to the discussion of non-existent problems.
"I'll do whatever you want me to," he said; "but I don't yet know what it is."
His smile seemed to charge her with inconsequence, and the prick to her pride made her continue: "After all, it's not so unnatural that Owen, knowing you and Sophy to be almost strangers, should wonder what you were saying to each other when he saw you talking together."
She felt a warning tremor as she spoke, as though some instinct deeper than reason surged up in defense of its treasure. But Darrow's face was unstirred save by the flit of his half-amused smile.