In their own language they invariably “stand up to it.” Mr. Tristram stood up physically and mentally. He also raised his voice, causing two rabbits to hurry back into their holes.
Women, he said, were incalculable. He would never believe in one again. His disbelief in woman rose even to the rookery in the high elms close at hand. That she, Rachel, whom he had always regarded as the first among women, should be dazzled by the empty glamour of rank, now that her fortune put such marriages within her reach, was incredible. He should have repudiated such an idea with scorn, if he had not heard it from her own lips. Well, he would leave her to the life she had chosen. It only remained for him to thank her for stripping his last illusions from him and to bid her good-bye.
“We shall never meet again,” he said, holding her hand, and looking very much the same without his illusions as he did when he had them on. He had read somewhere a little poem about “A Woman’s No,” which at the last moment meant “Yes.” And then there was another which chronicled how, after several stanzas of upbraiding, “we rushed into each other’s arms.” Both recurred to him now. He had often thought how true they were.
“I do not think we shall meet again,” said Rachel, who apparently had an unpoetic nature; “but I am glad for my own sake that we have met this once, and have had this conversation. I think we owed it to each other and to our—former attachment.”
“Well, good-bye.” He still held her hand. If she was not careful she would lose him.
“You understand it is for always?”
He became suddenly livid. He loved her more than ever. Would she really let him go?
“I am not the kind of man to be whistled back,” he said, fiercely. It was an appeal and a defiance, for he was just the kind of man, and they both knew it.
“Of course not.”
“That is your last word?”
“My last word.”
He dropped her hand and half turned to go.
She made no sign.
Then he strode violently out of the wood without looking behind him. At the little gate he stopped a moment, listening intently. No recalling voice reached him. Poets did not know what they were talking about. With a trembling hand he slammed the gate and departed.
Rachel remained a long time sitting on the wooden bench, so long that the stooping sun found out the solemn, outstretched arms of the cedar, and touched them till they gleamed green as a beetle’s wing. Each little twig and twiglet was made manifest, raw gold against the twilight that lurked beneath the heavy boughs.
She sat so still that a squirrel came tiptoeing across the moss, and struck tail momentarily to observe her. He looked critically at her, first with one round eye, and then, turning his sleek head, with the other, and decided that she was harmless.