Rachel woke the following morning in that dreary mood when all the colour and the glamour seem to have been washed out of life, and the hopes and dreams which keep up a perpetual chatter in every normal mind are suddenly dumb.
How was she going to face Ellesborough’s long absence? It had been recently assumed between them that he would be very soon released from his forestry post, that the infantry commission he had been promised would come to nothing, now the Armistice was signed, and that in a very few weeks they would be free to think only of themselves and their own future. This offer of Intelligence work at the American Headquarters had changed everything.
In ten days, if nothing happened, he would be gone, and she would be left behind to grapple alone with Roger—who might at any moment torment her again; with the presence of Dempsey, who was thinking of settling in the village, and for whom she would be called upon very soon to fulfil the hopes she had raised in him; and finally, with the struggle and misery in her own mind.
But something must happen. As she was dressing by candle-light in the winter dawn, her thoughts were rushing forward—leaping some unexplored obstacles lying in the foreground—to a possible marriage before Ellesborough went to France; just a quiet walk to a registry office, without any fuss or any witness but Janet. If she could reach that haven, she would be safe; and this dumb fever of anxiety, this terrified conviction that in the end Fate would somehow take him from her, would be soothed away.
But how to reach it? For there was now between them, till they also were revealed and confessed, a whole new series of events: not only the Tanner episode, but Delane’s reappearance, her interview with him, her rash attempt to silence Dempsey. By what she had done in her bewilderment and fear, in order to escape the penalty of frankness, she might only—as she was now beginning to perceive—have stumbled into fresh dangers. It was as though she stood on the friable edge of some great crater, some gulf of destruction, on which her feet were perpetually slipping and sinking, and only Ellesborough’s hold could ultimately save her.
And Janet’s—Janet’s first. Rachel’s thought clung to her, as the shipwrecked Southern sailor turns to his local saint to intercede for him with the greater spiritual lights. Janet’s counsel and help—she knew she must ask for them—that it was the next step. Yet she had been weakly putting it off day by day. And through this mist of doubt and dread, there kept striking all the time, as though quite independent of it, the natural thoughts of a woman in love.
During the farm breakfast, hurried through by candle-light, with rain beating on the windows, Rachel was thinking—“Why didn’t he propose it?”—this scheme of marrying before he went. Wasn’t it a most natural thing to occur to him? She tormented herself all the morning with the problem of his silence.