“About two courses ago I was going to tell you,” said Rachel, smiling, “of one of my chief difficulties on my return to the civilized world and ‘Society.’ But now you have had an example of it. I am trying to cure myself of the trick of becoming interested in conversation. I must learn to use words as counters, not as coins. I need not disbelieve what I say, but I must not speak of anything to which I attach value. I perceive that to do this is an art and a means of defence from invasion. But I, on the contrary, become interested, as you have just seen. I forget that I am only playing a game, and I rush into a subject like a bull into a china-shop, and knock about all the crockery until—as I am not opposed by my native pitchfork—I suddenly return to my senses, and discover that I have mistaken a game for real earnest.”
“We were all in earnest five minutes ago,” said Hugh; “at least, I was. I could not bear to hear Miss Gresley patronized by all these failures and amateurs. But, unless I am very much mistaken, you will find several pitchforks laid up for you in the drawing-room.”
“I don’t mean to smash any more china,” said Rachel.
Another wavelet skimmed in and broke a little further up the sand. A sense of freshness, of expectation was in the air. The great gathered ocean was stirring itself in the distance. Hugh had forgotten his trouble.
He turned the conversation back to Hester Gresley and her writing. He spoke of her with sympathy and appreciation, and presently detected a softness in Rachel’s eyes which made him jealous of Hester.
By the time the evening was over the imperceptible travelling of the summer sea had reached as far as the tidal wave.
Hugh left when Rachel did, accompanying her to her carriage. At the door were the darkness and the rain. At the door with them the horror and despair of the morning were in wait for him, and laid hold upon him. Hugh shuddered, and turned instinctively to Rachel.
She was holding out her hand to him. He took it and held it tightly in his sudden fear and desolation.
“When shall I meet you again?” he said, hoarsely.
A long look passed between them. Hugh’s tortured soul, full of passionate entreaty, leaped to his eyes. Hers, sad and steadfast, met the appeal in his, and recognized it as a claim. There was no surprise in her quiet face.
“I ride early in the Row,” she said. “You can join me there if you wish. Good-night.”
She took her hand with great gentleness out of his and drove away.
And the darkness shut down again on Hugh’s heart.
Ici bas tous les hommes
Leurs amities et leurs amours.
Many sarcastic but true words have been said by man, and in no jealous spirit, concerning woman’s friendship for woman. The passing judgment of the majority of men on such devotion might be summed up in the words, “Occupy till I come.” It does occupy till they do come. And if they don’t come the hastily improvised friendship may hold together for years, like an unseaworthy boat in a harbor, which looks like a boat but never goes out to sea.