A light rustling sound in the wood. He looked up to see Elizabeth coming back towards him unaccompanied. Captain Dell and Sir Henry seemed to have left her.
A thrill of excitement ran through him. They were alone in the depths of the spring woodland. What better opportunity would he ever have?
Elizabeth was coming back in that flushed mood when an able man or woman who begins to feel the tide of success or power rising beneath them also begins to remind himself or herself of all the old commonplaces about Fate or Chance. Elizabeth’s Greek reading had steeped her in them. ‘Count no man happy till his death’; ’Count nothing finished till the end’; tags of this kind were running through her mind, while she smiled a little over the compliments that Sir Henry had been paying her.
He could not express, he said, the relief with which he had heard of her return to Mannering. ‘Don’t, please, go away again!’ Everybody in the county who was at all responsible for its war-work felt the same. Her example, during the winter, had been invaluable, and the skill with which she had brought the Squire into line, and set the Squire’s neglected estate on the road to food-production, had been—in Sir Henry’s view—nothing short of a miracle.
‘Yes, a miracle, my dear lady!’ repeated Sir Henry warmly. ’I know the prickliness of our good friend there! I speak to you confidentially, because I realize that you could not possibly have done what you have done unless you had won the Squire’s confidence—his complete confidence. Well, that’s an achievement, I can tell you—as bad as storming a redoubt. Go on—don’t let go! What you are doing here—the kind of work you are doing—is of national importance. God only knows what lies before us in the next few months!’
And therewith a sudden sobering of the ruddy countenance and self-important manner. For a few seconds, from his mind and Elizabeth’s there vanished all consciousness of the English woodland scene, and they were looking over a flayed and ravaged country where millions of men stood ranged for battle.
Sir Henry sighed.
’Thank God, Arthur is still at home—doing some splendid work, they tell me, at the War Office, but, of course, pining to be off to France again. I hear from him that Desmond is somewhere near Armentieres. Well, good-bye—I tied my horse to the gate, and must get home. Stick to it! Say good-bye to the Squire for me—I shall be over again before long. If there is anything I can do for you—count upon me. But we count upon you!’
Astonishing effusion!—from an elderly gentleman who, at the beginning of things, had regarded her as elderly gentlemen of great local position do regard young women secretaries who are earning their own living. Sir Henry’s tone was now the tone of one potentate to another; and, as we have seen, it caused Elizabeth to tame her soul with Greek, as she walked back through the wood to rejoin the Squire.