Ah, God! Those boys of the Empire, going forth so gallantly to the sacrifice!
Piers was right. When Avery left Stanbury Cliffs she went back to her old life at Rodding Vicarage.
Local gossip regarding her estrangement from her husband had practically exhausted itself some time before, and in any case it would have been swamped by the fevered anxiety that possessed the whole country during those momentous days.
She slipped back into her old niche almost as if she had never left it. Mrs. Lorimer was ill with grief and overwork. It seemed only natural that Avery should take up the burden of her care. Even the Vicar could say nothing against it.
Avery sometimes wondered if Jeanie’s death had pierced the armour of his self-complacence at any point. If it had, it was not perceptible; but she did fancy now and then that she detected in him a shade more of consideration for his wife than he had been wont to display. He condescended to bestow upon her a little more of his kindly patronage, and he was certainly less severe in his dealings with the children.
Of the blank in Mrs. Lorimer’s life only Avery had any conception, for she shared it with her during every hour of the day. Perhaps her own burden weighed more heavily upon her than ever before at that time, for the anxiety she suffered was sometimes more than she could bear. For Piers had gone from her without a word. Straight from Jeanie’s death-bed he had gone, without a single word of explanation or farewell. That she had wounded him deeply, albeit inadvertently, on that last day she knew; but with his arm closely clasping her by Jeanie’s bedside she had dared to hope that he had forgiven the wound. Now she felt that it was otherwise. He had gone from her in bitterness of soul, and the barrier between them was such that she could not call him back. More and more the conviction grew upon her that those moments of tenderness had been no more than a part of the game he had summoned her to play for Jeanie’s sake. He had called it a hollow bargain. He had declared that for no other reason would he have proposed it to her. And now that the farce was over, he had withdrawn from it. He had said that he had not found it easy. He had called it mere pretence. And now she had begun to think that he meant their separation to be final. If he had uttered one word of farewell, if he had but sent her a line later, she knew that she would have responded in some measure even though the gulf between them remained unbridged. But his utter silence was unassailable. The conviction grew upon her that he no longer desired to bridge the gulf. He meant to accept their estrangement as inevitable. He had left her, and he did not wish to return.
Through the long weary watches of many nights Avery pondered his attitude, and sought in vain for any other explanation. She came at last to believe that the fierce flame of his passion had wholly burnt itself out, consuming all the love he had ever known; and that only ashes remained.