The flames crackled low on the hearth: the wind, a small autumn wind, piped weakly round white wall and high chimneypot: outside in the garden late roses were shedding their petals loosened by a touch of frost in the night. “Tears because you mistrusted me?” said Hyde in his soft voice. “But why should the Gentile maiden trust a Jew?”
Riding back from Liddiard St. Agnes in the low September sunshine, Val became aware of something pleasantly pictorial in the landscape. It was a day when the hills looked higher than usual, the tilt of the Plain sharper, the shadows a darker umber, the light clearer under a softly-quilted autumn sky. When he crossed a reaped cornfield, the pale golden stalks of stubble to westward were tipped each with a spark of light, so that all the upland flashed away from him toward the declining sun.
In his own mind there was a lull which corresponded with this clear quietness of Nature: a pleasant vacancy and a suspension of personal interest, so that even his anxiety about Laura was put at a little distance, and he could see her and Bernard, and Lawrence himself, like figures in a picture, hazed over by a kind of moral sunlight—the Grace of God, say, which from Val’s point of view shapes all our ends:
do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me,
this courage came to Val now without effort, and not for himself only, which would have been easy at any time, but for Laura in her difficult married life, and for those other beloved heads on which he was fated to bring disgrace—his father, Rowsley, Isabel: come what might, sorrow could not harm them, nor fear annoy. How quiet it was! the quieter for the wrangling of rooks in the border elms, and for the low autumn wind that rustled in the hedgerows: and how full of light the sky, in spite of the soft bloomy clouds that had hung about all day, imbrowning the sunshine! far off in the valley doves were grieving, and over the reaped and glittering cornstalks curlews were flying and calling with their melancholy—shrill wail, an echo from the sea, while small birds in flocks flew away twittering as he rode up, and settled again further on, and rose and settled again, always with a clatter of tiny wings. Evening coming on: and winter coming on: and light, light everywhere, and calm, over the harvest fields and the darkened copses, and the far blue headlands that seemed to lift themselves up into immeasurable serenities of sky.
It was lucky for Val that he was able to enjoy this quiet hour, for it was soon over. When he crossed the turf to the diningroom window, the fire had burnt down into red embers and not much light came in from out of doors under that low ceiling, but there was enough to show him Isabel in Lawrence’s arms. Fatality! He had not foreseen it, not for a moment: and yet directly he saw it he seemed to have known it all along. After a momentary suspension of his faculties, during which his ideas shifted much as they do when an unfamiliar turns into a familiar road, Val tapped on the glass and strolled in, giving his young sister one of his light teasing smiles. “Am I to bestow my consent, Isabel?”