“Just so,” said Hester.
“The last few days. But, of course, I took no notice of it. A married woman often has to deal with such things without making a fuss about them. Well, I overslept myself, and it was nearly half-past four before I awoke. And when I went into my sitting-room a servant brought me a note. It was from him, saying he had been obliged to leave Wilderleigh suddenly on urgent business, and asking that his baggage might be sent after him.”
Hester raised her eyes slightly, as if words failed her. Sybell’s conversation always interested her.
“Perhaps the reason she is never told anything,” she said to herself, “is because the ground the confidence would cover is invariably built over already by a fiction of her own which it would not please her to see destroyed.”
“Who would have thought,” continued Sybell, “that he would have behaved in that way because I was one little half-hour late. And of course the pretext of urgent business is too transparent, because there is no Sunday post, and the telegraph-boy had not been up. I asked that. And he was so anxious to finish the sketch. He almost asked to stay over Sunday on purpose.”
Rachel and Hester looked on the ground.
“Rachel said he was all right in the garden just before, didn’t you, Rachel?”
“I said I thought he was a little nervous.”
And what did he talk to you about?”
“He spoke about the low tone of the morals of the day, and about marriage.”
“Ah! I don’t wonder he talked to you, Rachel, you are so sympathetic. I expect lots of people confide in you about their troubles and love affairs. Morals of the day! Marriage! Poor, poor Mr. Tristram! I shall tell Doll quietly this evening. On the whole, it is just as well he is gone.”
“Just as well,” said Rachel and Hester, with surprising unanimity.
So fast does a little
leaven spread within us—so incalculable
the effect of one personality on another.—GEORGE ELIOT.
Hugh was not ill after what Mr. Gresley called “his immersion,” but for some days he remained feeble and exhausted. Sybell quite forgot she had not liked him, insisted on his staying on indefinitely at Wilderleigh, and, undaunted by her distressing experience with Mr. Tristram, read poetry to Hugh in the afternoons and surrounded him with genuine warm-hearted care. Doll was steadily, quietly kind.
It was during these days that Hugh and Rachel saw much of each other, during these days that Rachel passed in spite of herself beyond the anxious impersonal interest which Hugh had awakened in her, on to that slippery much-trodden ground of uncomfortable possibilities where the unmarried meet.
Hugh attracted and repelled her.
It was, alas! easy to say why she was repelled. But who shall say why she was attracted? Has the secret law ever been discovered which draws one man and woman together amid the crowd? Hugh was not among the best men who had wished to marry her, but nevertheless he was the only man since Mr. Tristram who had succeeded in making her think continually of him. And perhaps she half knew that though she had been loved by better men, Hugh loved her better than they had.