And there you were, Cary thought: no matter how much Gerald might be suffering from his misfortune, he must carry on just the same, and see that his visitor had a pleasant time. It made the Virginian feel like an outsider and very young as if he were not old enough for them to show him their real feelings.
Another thing that he noticed was that they did not seem to want him to meet people. They never took him anywhere to call and if visitors came to the house, they showed an almost panicky desire to get him out of the way. That again hurt his pride. What in heaven’s name was the matter with him anyway!
However on the last afternoon of his stay at Bishopsthorpe, he told himself with a rather rueful grin, that his manners must have improved a little, for they took him to tea at the rectory.
He was particularly glad to go there because, from certain jokes of Withers’s, who had known the Sherwoods since boyhood, he gathered that Chev and the rector’s daughter were engaged. And just as he would have liked Chev to meet Sally Berkeley, so he wanted to meet Miss Sybil Gaylord.
He had little hope of having a tete-a-tete with her, but as it fell out he did. They were all in the rectory garden together, Gerald and the rector a little behind Miss Gaylord and himself, as they strolled down a long walk with high hedges bordering it. On the other side of the hedge Lady Sherwood and her hostess still sat at the tea-table, and then it was that Cary heard Mrs. Gaylord say distinctly, “I’m afraid the strain has been too much for you—you should have let us have him.”
To which Lady Sherwood returned quickly. “Oh, no, that would have been impossible with—”
“Come—come this way—I must show you the view from the arbor,” Miss Gaylord broke in breathlessly; and laying a hand on his arm, she turned abruptly into a side path.
Glancing down at her the Southerner could not but note the panic and distress in her fair face. It was so obvious that the overheard words referred to him, and he was so bewildered by the whole situation that he burst out impulsively, “I say, what is the matter with me? Why do they find me so hard to put up with? Is it something I do—or don’t they like Americans? Honestly, I wish you’d tell me.”
She stood still at that, looking at him, her blue eyes full of distress and concern.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she cried. “They would be so sorry to have you think anything like that.”
“But what is it?” her persisted. “Don’t they like Americans?”
“Oh, no, it isn’t like that—Oh, quite the contrary!” she returned eagerly.
“Then it’s something about me they don’t like?”
“Oh, no, no! Least of all, that—don’t think that!” she begged.
“But what am I to think then?”
“Don’t think anything just yet,” she pleaded. “Wait a little, and you will understand.”