And now the presence of her child in his house seemed to represent a verdict, a sentence—of hers upon him, which he simply refused to accept as just or final. If Rachel had only lived a little longer he would have had it out with her. But in those last terrible days, how could he either argue—or refuse?
All the same, he would utterly do his duty by Helena. If she chose to regard him as an old fogy, well and good—it was perhaps better so. Not that—if circumstances had been other than they were—–he would have been the least inclined to make love to her. Her beauty was astonishing. But the wonderful energy and vitality of her crude youth rather repelled than attracted him.
The thought of the wrestles ahead of him was a weariness to an already tired man. Debate with her, on all the huge insoluble questions she seemed to be determined to raise, was of all things in the world most distasteful to him. He would certainly cut a sorry figure in it; nothing was more probable.
The rain began to plash down upon his face and bared head, cooling an inner fever. The damp wood, the soft continuous dripping of the cherry-blossoms, the scent of the blue-bells,—there was in them a certain shelter and healing. He would have liked to linger there. But already, at Beechmark, guests must have arrived; he was being missed.
The trees thinned, and the broad lawns of Beechmark came in sight. Ah!—there was Geoffrey, walking up and down with Helena. Suppose that really came off? What a comfortable way out! He and Cynthia must back it all they could.
“Buntingford looks twice as old as he need!” said Geoffrey French, lighting a cigarette as he and Helena stepped out of the drawing-room window after dinner into the May world outside—a world which lay steeped in an after-glow of magical beauty. “What’s wrong, I wonder! Have you been plaguing him, Helena?” The laughing shot was fired purely at random. But the slight start and flush it produced in Helena struck him.
“I see nothing wrong with him,” said Helena, a touch of defiance in her voice. “But of course it’s extraordinarily difficult to get on with him.”
“With Philip!—the jolliest, kindest chap going! What do you mean?”
“All right. It’s no good talking to anybody with a parti pris!”
“No—but seriously, Helena—what’s the matter? Why, you told me you only began the new arrangement two days ago.”
“Exactly. And there’s been time already for a first-class quarrel. Time also for me to see that I shall never, never get on with him. I don’t know how we are to get through the two years!”
“Well!” ejaculated her companion. “In Heaven’s name, what has he been doing?”
Helena shrugged her shoulders. She was striding beside him like a young Artemis—in white, with a silver star in her hair, and her short skirts beaten back from her slender legs and feet by the evening wind. Geoffrey French, who had had a classical education, almost looked for the quiver and the bow. He was dazzled at once, and provoked. A magnificent creature, certainly—“very mad and very handsome!”—he recalled Buntingford’s letter.