Before I had reached the end of the tunnel through the wood and had come out into the open whence I could, now, see the loom of Jervaise Clump swelling up before me in the deep, gray gloom of early dawn, I had decided that my suggestion had been prompted by an intuition of truth. Brenda had fallen under the spell of the moon, and gone for a long drive in the motor. She had taken Banks with her, obviously; but that action need not be presumed to have any romantic significance. And the Jervaises had accepted that solution. They had been more convinced of its truth than I had imagined. They would never have gone to bed, tired as they were, if they had not been satisfied that Brenda had committed no other indiscretion than that of indulging herself in the freak of a moonlight drive. It had, certainly, been unduly prolonged; but, as old Jervaise had said, there might be half a dozen reasons to account for that.
As I turned off the road and breasted the lower slopes of the hill, I was constructing the details of the Jervaises’ explanatory visit to the Atkinsons. I had reached the point of making Mrs. Jervaise repeat the statement she had made in the Hall that “dear Brenda was so impossibly headstrong,” when I heard the sweet, true notes of some one ahead of me, whistling, almost miraculously, in tune.
It isn’t one man in a million who can whistle absolutely true.
He was whistling Schubert’s setting of “Who is Sylvia?” and as I climbed slowly and as silently as I could towards him, I fitted the music to the words of the second verse:—
Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Only a man in love, I thought, could be whistling that air with such attention and accuracy. He hit that unusual interval—is it an augmented seventh?—with a delicacy that was quite thrilling.
He had the world to himself, as yet. The birds of the morning had not begun their orisons, while the birds of the night, the owls and the corncrakes had, happily, retired before the promise of that weakening darkness which seemed nevertheless to have reached a moment of suspense—indeed, I fancied that it was darker, now, than when I had come out of the Hall a quarter of an hour before.
The whistler had stopped before I reached the crest of the hill, and after trying vainly to locate his whereabouts in the gloom, I leaned up against one of the outermost trunks of the perky little clump of trees, and facing East awaited developments. A thin, cold wind had sprung up, and was quietly stirring the leaves above me to an uneasy sibilance. I heard, now, too, an occasional sleepy twitter as if a few members of the orchestra had come into their places and were indolently testing the tune of their pipes. It came into my mind that the cold stir of air was the spirit of the dying night, fleeing