He went home all on edge, what with the adventure of the gates, the encounter with the engineer fellow, and now the revelations of the Rector.
As he approached the house, he saw from the old clock in the gable of the northern front that it was two o’clock. He was half-an-hour late for lunch. Luncheon, in fact, must be over. And indeed, as he passed along the library windows, he saw Elizabeth’s figure at her desk. It annoyed him that she should have gone back to work so soon after her meal. He had constantly made it plain to her that she was not expected to begin work of an afternoon till four o’clock. She would overdo it: and then she would break down again as she had done before. In his selfishness, his growing dependence on her companionship and her help, he began to dread the mere chance.
How agreeable, and how fruitful, their days of work had been lately! He had been, of course, annoyed sometimes by her preoccupation with the war news of the morning. Actually, this Caporetto business, the Italian disaster, had played the mischief with her for a day or two—and the news from Russia. Any bad news, indeed, seemed to haunt her; her colour faded away; and if he dictated notes to her, they would be occasionally inaccurate. But that was seldom. In general, he felt that he had made great strides during the preceding weeks; that, thanks to her, the book he was attempting was actually coming into shape. She had suggested so much—sometimes by her knowledge, sometimes by her ignorance. And always so modest—so teachable—so docile.
Docile? The word passing through his mind again, as it had in the morning, roused in him mingled laughter and uneasiness. For outside their classical work together, nothing indeed could be less docile than Miss Bremerton. How she had withstood him in the matter of the codicil! He could see her still, as she stood there with her hands behind her, defying him. And that morning also, when she had spoken her mind on the project of the gates.
Well, now, he had to go in and tell her that the deed was done, and the park was closed.
He crept round to a side door, nervous lest she should perceive him from the library, and made Forest get him some lunch. Then he hung about the hall smoking. It was ridiculous—nonsensical—but he admitted to himself that he shrank from facing her.
At last a third cigarette put the requisite courage into him, and he walked slowly to the library. As he entered the room, Elizabeth rose from her chair.
She stood there waiting for his orders, or his report—her quiet eyes upon him.
He told himself not to be a fool, and throwing away his cigarette, he walked up to her, and said in a tone of bravado:
‘Well, the barricades are up!’
The Squire having shot his bolt, looked anxiously for the effect of it.