“This business of distinctions; of masters and servants; of families in possession and families in dependence,” I enunciated.
“It isn’t such dangerous bosh as socialism,” Jervaise replied.
“I wasn’t thinking of socialism,” I said; “I was thinking of interplanetary space.”
Jervaise blew contemptuously. “Don’t talk rot,” he said, and I realised that we were back again on the old footing of our normal relations. Nevertheless I made one more effort.
“It isn’t rot,” I said. “If it is, then every impulse towards beauty and freedom is rot, too.” (I could not have said that to Jervaise in a house, but I drew confidence from the last tip of the moon beckoning farewell above the curve of the hill.) “Your, whatever it is you feel for Miss Banks—things like that ... all our little efforts to get away from these awful, clogging human rules.”
I had given him his opportunity and he took it. He was absolutely ruthless. “No one but a fool tries to be superhuman,” he said. “Come on!”
He had turned and was walking back in the direction of the Hall, and I followed him, humiliated and angry.
It was so impossible for me at that moment to avoid the suspicion that he had led me on by his appealing confidences solely in order to score off me when I responded. It is not, indeed, surprising that that should be my reaction while the hurt of his sneer still smarted. For he had pricked me on a tender spot. I realised the weakness of what I had said; and it was a characteristic weakness. I had been absurdly unpractical, as usual, aiming like a fool, as Jervaise had said, at some “superhuman” ideal of freedom that perhaps existed solely in my own imagination; and would certainly be regarded by Mr. and Mrs. Jervaise and their circle of county friends as the vapourings of a weak mind. In short, Jervaise had made me aware of my own ineptitude, and it took me a full ten minutes before I could feel anything but resentment.
We had passed back through the kitchen garden with its gouty espaliers, and come into the pleasance before I forgave him. According to his habit, he made no apology for his rudeness, but his explicit renewal of confidence in me more nearly approached an overt expression of desire for my friendship than anything I had ever known him to show hitherto.
“Look here, Melhuish,” he said, stopping suddenly in the darkness of the garden. I could not “look” with much effect, but I replied, a trifle sulkily, “Well? What?”
“If she hasn’t come back...” he said.
“I don’t see that we can do anything more till to-morrow,” I replied.
“No use trying to find her, of course,” he agreed, irritably, “but we’d better talk things over with the governor.”
“If I can be of any help...” I remarked elliptically.
“You won’t be if you start that transcendental rot,” he returned, as if he already regretted his condescension.