“How young you still are!” said Lawrence smiling at him, “young enough to be bitter. But you’re under a delusion. No, let me finish— I’m an older man than you are, I’ve seen a good deal of life, and I had four years out there instead of six weeks like you. So far as I can judge you never were a coward. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of men broke down like you, but they were lucky and it wasn’t known, or at all events it wasn’t critical. Their failure of nerve didn’t coincide with the special call to action. You would have redeemed yourself if you had been able to stick to your profession. You have redeemed yourself: and you’d prove it fast enough if you got the chance, only of course in these piping times of peace unluckily you won’t.” He coloured suddenly to his temples. “Good God, Val! if there were any weakness left in you, could you have mastered me like this?”
The quickest way to Wanhope was by High Street and field path. But Lawrence to avoid the village entered the drive by the lodge, through iron gates over which Bernard had set up the arms and motto of his family: Fortis et Fidelis, faithful and strong. Winding between dense shrubs of rhododendron under darker deodars, the road was long and gloomy, but Lawrence was thankful to be out of sight of Chilmark. He hurried on with his light swinging step—light for his build—his tired mind vacant or intent only on a bath and a change of clothes, till in the last bend, within a hundred yards of Wanhope he came on Mrs. Clowes.
He never could clearly remember his first sight of her, the shock was too great, but as he came up she put out her hands to him and he took them in his own. She was still in her evening dress but without cloak or fur, which had probably slipped off her shoulders: they were bare, and her beautiful bodice was torn. “Oh, here you are,” she said with her faint smile. “I was afraid you would come by the field.” She looked down at herself and made a weak and ineffective effort to gather her loosened laces together. “I’m—I’m not very tidy, am I?”
Lawrence was carrying an overcoat on his arm. He put her into it, and, as she did not seem able to cope with it, buttoned it for her. “What has happened, dear?”
“Bernard has turned me out,” said Laura with the same piteous, bewildered smile. “Indeed he never let me in. I went home soon after you left me. The door was shut, I tried the window, but that was shut too, so I had to go back to the door. I couldn’t open it and I rang. He answered me through the door, ’Who’s there?’” She ended as if the motive power of speech had died down in her.
“Oh, I said, ‘It’s I—Laura.’”
“Go on, dear,” Lawrence gently prompted her.