Rachel worked hard and long. How she loved the life that once under other skies and other conditions she had loathed! Ownership and command had given her a new dignity, in a sense a new beauty. Her labourers and her land girls admired and obeyed her, while—perhaps!—Janet Leighton had their hearts. Rachel’s real self seemed to be something that no one knew; her companions were never quite at ease with her; and yet her gay, careless ways, the humanity and natural fairness of her mind, carried a spell that made her rule sit light upon them.
Yes!—after all these weeks together, not even Janet knew her much better. The sense of mystery remained; although the progress of the relation between her and Ellesborough was becoming very evident, not only indeed to Janet, but to everybody at the farm. His departure for France had been delayed owing to the death in action of the officer who was to have been sent home to replace him. It might be a month now before he left. Meanwhile, every Sunday he spent some hours at the farm, and generally on a couple of evenings in the week he would arrive just after supper, help to put the animals to bed, and then stay talking with Rachel in the sitting-room, while Janet tidied up in the kitchen. Janet, the warm-hearted, had become much attached to him. He had been at no pains to hide the state of his feelings from her. Indeed, though he had said nothing explicit, his whole attitude to Rachel’s friend and partner was now one of tacit appeal for sympathy. And she was more than ready to give it. Her uprightness, and the touch of austerity in her, reached out to similar qualities in him; and the intellectual dissent which she derived from her East Anglican forbears, from the circles which in eighteenth-century Norwich gathered round Mrs. Opie, the Martineaus, and the Aldersons, took kindly to the same forces in him; forces descended from that New England Puritanism which produced half the great men—and women—of an earlier America. Rachel laughed at them for ’talking theology,’ not suspecting that as the weeks went on they talked—whenever they got a chance—less and less of theology, and more and more of herself, through the many ingenious approaches that a lover invents and the amused and sympathetic friend abets.
For clearly Ellesborough was in love. Janet read the signs of it in the ease with which he had accepted the postponement of his release from the camp, eager as he was to get to the fighting line. She heard it in his voice, saw it in his eyes; and she was well aware that Rachel saw it. What Rachel thought and felt was more obscure. She watched for Ellesborough; she put on her best frocks for him; she was delighted to laugh and talk with him. But she watched for Mr. Shenstone, too, and would say something caustic or impatient if he were two or three days without calling. And when he called, Rachel very seldom snubbed him, as at first. She was all smiles; the best frocks came out for him, too; and Janet, seeing the growing beatitude of the poor vicar, and the growing nervousness of his sister, was often inclined to be really angry with Rachel. But they were not yet on such terms as would allow her to remonstrate with what seemed to her a rather unkind bit of flirtation; seeing that she did not believe that Rachel had, or ever would have, a serious thought to give the shallow, kindly little man.