Then he stopped dead. With a smothered exclamation, old Sir Charles had stumbled to his feet, knocking over his chair, and hurried blindly out of the room; and Gerald said, “Mother!” in a choked appeal.
As if it were a signal between them, Lady Sherwood pushed her chair back a little from the table, her long delicate fingers dropped together loosely in her lap; she gave a faint sigh as if a restraining mantle slipped from her shoulders, and, looking up at the youth before her, her fine pale face lighted with a kind of glory, she said, “No, dear lad, no. You can never tell Chev, for he is gone.”
“Gone!” he cried.
“Yes,” she nodded back at him, just above a whisper; and now her face quivered, and the tears began to rush down her cheeks.
“Not dead!” he cried. “Not Chev—not that! O my God, Gerald, not that!”
“Yes,” Gerald said. “They got him two days after you left.”
It was so overwhelming, so unexpected and shocking, above all so terrible, that the friend he had so greatly loved and admired was gone out of his life forever, that young Cary stumbled back into his seat, and, crumpling over, buried his face in his hands, making great uncouth gasps as he strove to choke back his grief.
Gerald groped hastily around the table, and flung an arm about his shoulders.
“Steady on, dear fellow, steady,” he said, though his own voice broke.
“When did you hear?” Cary got out at last.
“We got the official notice just the day before you came—and Withers has written us particulars since.”
“And you let me come in spite of it! And stay on, when every word I said about him must have—have fairly crucified each one of you! Oh, forgive me! forgive me!” he cried distractedly. He saw it all now; he understood at last. It was not on Gerald’s account that they could not talk of flying and of Chev, it was because—because their hearts were broken over Chev himself. “Oh, forgive me!” he gasped again.
“Dear lad, there is nothing to forgive,” Lady Sherwood returned. “How could we help loving your generous praise of our poor darling? We loved it, and you for it; we wanted to hear it, but we were afraid. We were afraid we might break down, and that you would find out.”
The tears were still running down her cheeks. She did not brush them away now; she seemed glad to have them there at last.
Sinking down on his knees, he caught her hands. “Why did you let me do such a horrible thing?” he cried. “Couldn’t you have trusted me to understand? Couldn’t you see I loved him just as you did—No, no!” he broke down humbly. “Of course I couldn’t love him as his own people did. But you must have seen how I felt about him—how I admired him, and would have followed him anywhere—and of course if I had known, I should have gone away at once.”