And everybody had been most delightful to Mr. Direck.
He had had the monopoly of damage. Mr. Britling, holding on to the steering wheel, had not even been thrown out. “Unless I’m internally injured,” he said, “I’m not hurt at all. My liver perhaps—bruised a little....”
Gladys had been abandoned in the ditch, and they had been very kindly brought home by a passing automobile. Cecily had been at the Dower House at the moment of the rueful arrival. She had seen how an American can carry injuries. She had made sympathy and helpfulness more delightful by expressed admiration.
“She’s a natural born nurse,” said Mr. Direck, and then rather in the tone of one who addressed a public meeting: “But this sort of thing brings out all the good there is in a woman.”
He had been quite explicit to them and more particularly to her, when they told him he must stay at the Dower House until his arm was cured. He had looked the application straight into her pretty eyes.
“If I’m to stay right here just as a consequence of that little shake up, may be for a couple of weeks, may be three, and if you’re coming to do a bit of a talk to me ever and again, then I tell you I don’t call this a misfortune. It isn’t a misfortune. It’s right down sheer good luck....”
And now he lay as straight as a mummy, with his soul filled with radiance of complete mental peace. After months of distress and confusion, he’d got straight again. He was in the middle of a real good story, bright and clean. He knew just exactly what he wanted.
“After all,” he said, “it’s true. There’s ideals. She’s an ideal. Why, I loved her before ever I set eyes on Mamie. I loved her before I was put into pants. That old portrait, there it was pointing my destiny.... It’s affinity.... It’s natural selection....
“Well, I don’t know what she thinks of me yet, but I do know very well what she’s got to think of me. She’s got to think all the world of me—if I break every limb of my body making her do it.
“I’d a sort of feeling it was right to go in that old automobile.
“Say what you like, there’s a Guidance....”
He smiled confidentially at the darkness as if they shared a secret.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
MR. BRITLING IN SOLILOQUY
Very different from the painful contentment of the bruised and broken Mr. Direck was the state of mind of his unwounded host. He too was sleepless, but sleepless without exaltation. The day had been too much for him altogether; his head, to borrow an admirable American expression, was “busy.”
How busy it was, a whole chapter will be needed to describe....
The impression Mr. Britling had made upon Mr. Direck was one of indefatigable happiness. But there were times when Mr. Britling was called upon to pay for his general cheerful activity in lump sums of bitter sorrow. There were nights—and especially after seasons of exceptional excitement and nervous activity—when the reckoning would be presented and Mr. Britling would welter prostrate and groaning under a stormy sky of unhappiness—active insatiable unhappiness—a beating with rods.