Poor Miss Clinker’s happy summer with her mother was being a good deal dimmed by her unassuaged sympathy and commiseration.
“Of course, he is grieving for that sweet and distinguished girl, Miss Halcyone La Sarthe,” she told herself—and with the old maid’s hungering for romance, which even the highest education cannot quite crush from the female breast, she longed to know what had parted them.
Mr. Carlyon had gone abroad, she had ascertained that, and La Sarthe Chase was still closed.
The night before John Derringham left for London, he hobbled down to dinner on crutches. He was not to try and use his foot for some weeks still, but the cut on his head was mended now. It was a glorious July evening, the roses were not over on the terrace, and every aspect of nature was gorgeously beautiful and peaceful.
They did not delay long over their repast, and there was still twilight when Mrs. and Miss Clinker left their invalid alone with his wine. A letter was in his pocket, arrived by the evening post from Mrs. Cricklander, which he had not yet opened. It would contain her reflections upon his changed conditions of fortune, of which he had, when he learned of its full magnitude, duly informed her.
He was alternately raging with misery now, or perfectly numb and, as he sat there a shattered wreck of his former insouciant self, gaunt and haggard and pitifully thin, some of his friends would hardly have recognized him.
He felt it was his duty to read the missive presently, but he told himself the lights were too dim, and taking a cigar he hobbled out upon the terrace. His return to public life would now be too late to help to avert disaster, he must just stand aside in these last weeks of the session and see the shipwreck. An unspeakable bitterness invaded his spirit. The moon was rising when he got outside, one day beyond its full. It seemed like a golden ball in the twilight of opal tints, before it should rise in its silver majesty to supreme command of the night. Nature was in one of her most sensuously divine moods. The summer and fulfillment had come.
John Derringham sat down in a comfortable chair and gazed in front of him.
There had been moonlight, too, when he had spent those exquisite hours with his love, now six weeks ago—a young half moon. Could it be only six weeks? A lifetime of anguish appeared to have rolled between. And where was she? Then, for the first time, the crust of his self-absorption seemed to crumble, and he thought with new stabs of pain how she, too, must have suffered. He began to picture her waiting by the gate—she would be brave and quiet. And then, as the day passed—what had she done? He could not imagine, but she must have suffered intolerably. When could she have heard of the accident, since the next day she had been taken away? Why had she gone? That was unlike her, to have given in to any force which could separate them. And if he had known this step also was unconsciously caused by his own action in having his letter to Cheiron posted from London, it would have tortured him the more. Another thought came, and he started forward in his chair. Was it possible that she had written to him, and that the letter had got mislaid, among the prodigious quantity which accumulated in those first days of his unconsciousness?