Thus as Henry drove away amid his trunks from the home of his father (genealogical poverty denies us the romantic grandiloquence of the plural), it was his mother’s farewell arms and farewell tears, and his farewell promises to her, of which he was mainly conscious. He had promised “to take care of himself,” and particularly to beware of damp sheets, and then he too had burst into tears. Indeed, it was generally a tearful business, after which everybody was glad to retire into corners to subside privately and dry themselves.
Henry crouched in the corner of his cab with fully half his cry to finish out; and, curiously, all the time a sad little story from an old holiday in the country kept haunting him. It was at once a fact and a fable concerning a happy little family of swallows, whose sudden tragedy he had seen with his own boyish, pitying eyes.
In a little vinery attached to an old country house which the Mesuriers had rented for a month or so for certain successive summers, two swallows had built their nest, and, in due course, there were three young swallows to keep them company. It was understood that the door of the vinery must be left open, that the parent swallows might fly to and fro for food; but by some accident it chanced that the door was one day closed, and the vinery not visited again for several days. When at last the door was opened again, the sight that met young eyes was one Henry had never forgotten. Three little starved swallows, hardly bigger than butterflies, lay upon the floor, and from the nest above hung the long horse-hairs with which the parents had vainly sought to anchor them safely to the home. But still sadder details were forthcoming, when the children, who had been wondering what had become of the parents, had suddenly discovered their wasted bodies in the grass a yard or two away from the vinery door. A few days ago this had been a happy, thriving home, and now it was absolutely desolated, done away with for ever. It needed no exceptional imagination or sympathy to conceive the agonised longing of the parents, as they had dashed themselves again and again upon that cruel, unyielding door, hearing the piteous cries of their young ones within, and the anguish in which their exhausted little lives had at last gone out. The young swallows had died for lack of food; but the old ones had died—for love. Had some other hand brought them food, would the young ones have missed the old ones like that?
A LINK WITH CIVILISATION
On the afternoon following Henry’s departure, Esther went out for a walk, and she came presently to a pretty little house half hidden in its big garden. A well-kept lawn, richly bathed in sunlight, flashed through the trees; and, opening the gate and following the tree-shaded path along one side of the house, Esther presently mounted to a small terrace, where, as she had hoped, she came upon a dainty little lady watering her flowers.