This grieved her deeply, and she paused to pass a tender hand over the gaping wound. Then she went on to the gate, and there waited—waited first in calm belief, then in expectancy, and at last in a numb agony.
The sun seemed to scorch her, the light hurt her eyes, every sound made her tremble and start forward, and at last she cried aloud:
“O God, why do I feel so troubled? I who have always had peace in my heart!”
But no bird even answered her. There was a warm stillness, and just there, under these trees, there were no rabbits which could have comforted her with their living forms scuttling to and fro.
She tried to reason calmly. Motors were uncertain things—this one might have broken down, and that had delayed her lover. She must not stir, in case he should come and think his lateness had frightened her and that she had gone back to the house. Whatever befell, she must be brave and true.
But at last, when the afternoon shadows were lengthening, the agony became intense. Only the baker had passed with his cart, and a farm wagon or two, during the whole day. Gradually the conviction grew that it could not only be an accident to the motor—if so, John would have procured some other vehicle, or, indeed, he could have come to her on foot by now. Something had befallen him. There must have occurred some accident to himself; and in spite of all her calm fortitude, anguish clutched her soul.
She knew not what to do or which way to go. At last, as the sun began to sink, faint and weary, she decided the orchard house would be the best place. There, if there was any news of an accident, Sarah Porrit, the Professor’s one female servant, would have heard it.
She started straight across the park, carrying her heavy bag, and crossed the beech avenue, and so on to the trysting tree. A cold feeling like some extra disquietude seemed to overcome her as she neared the haw-haw and the copse. It was as if she feared and yet longed to get there. But she resisted the temptation, and went straight on to the little gate and so up the garden to the house.
Mrs. Porrit received her with her usual kindly greeting. All was calm and peaceful, and while Halcyone controlled herself to talk in an ordinary voice, the postman’s knock was heard. He passed the Professor’s door on the road to Applewood and left the evening mail, when there chanced to be any.
Mrs. Porrit received the letters—three of them—and then she adjusted her spectacles, but took them off again.
“After all, since you are here, miss, perhaps as you write better than I you will be so good as to redirect them on to the master. You know his address, as usual.” And she named an old-fashioned hotel in Jermyn Street.
Halcyone took them in her cold, trembling fingers, and then nearly dropped them on the floor, for the top envelope was addressed in the handwriting of her beloved! She knew it well. Had she not, during the past years, often seen such missives, from which the Professor had read her scraps of news?