“I didn’t say that,” she put in quickly. “You haven’t failed, of course. You’ve missed something, but you’ve gained something too.” Her words trailed slowly again and her gaze sought the deep woods. “Yes,” she repeated softly and thoughtfully, “I’m very sure you’ve gained something.”
“What have I gained?”
There was a long pause before she replied.
“Simplicity,” she said carefully. “Life, after all, nowadays, is so very complex,” she sighed.
But when he questioned as to what she meant, she waved him off. “No, I’ve said enough. I didn’t intend to. Don’t let’s talk any more about what I think. Let’s talk about what you think, what you read, what you do. People say you live in the woods most of the time—do you? Where? How?”
“In a cabin. We built it. Would you like to see it? It’s not far. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
As the reader will perceive, in these two conversations, lasting perhaps two hours, this slip of a girl, in mere idle curiosity, had touched with her silly chatter the vital, the vulnerable points of Jerry’s philosophy of life. Fate had not been fair to me or with him. Less than a year; remained of Jerry’s period of probation. In December the boy was to go out into the world. And through an unfortunate accident due to a broken iron, a chaos of half-baked ideas had come pouring through the breach. If I said that my labors of ten years had been useless or that the fruition of John Benham’s ideals for his son were still in doubt I should be putting the matter too strongly, but I have no hesitancy in confessing that the appearance of the girl had at least put them in jeopardy. She had turned his mind into a direction which I had carefully avoided. He must think now and ask questions that I could not be ready to answer. By this time it must be well understood that I have no love for women, but I will do this girl the credit of saying that in a general way she saw fit to respect Jerry’s artlessness. I think that the sex instinct, so ready with its antagonisms, its insinuations, its alternate attacks and defenses, was atrophied as in the presence of a phenomenon. She was modern enough, God knows, but she had some delicacy at least and was impotent before the splendor of Jerry’s innocence.
What they said on the way to the cabin must have been unimportant. I suppose Jerry told her about his routine at the Manor and something of what I had taught him of woodcraft, but I think that she was very reticent in speaking of herself. No doubt her unceremonious visit to our domain and the unusual intimacy of their conversation had made it seem necessary to her to preserve her incognito, or perhaps it was coquetry, which no woman, however placed, is quite without. As far as I have been able to learn, they were as two children, the girl’s mind as well as her actions, in spite of her sophistication, reflecting the artlessness of her companion. The damage that she had done, as I was afterwards to discover, was mainly by the force of suggestion. She assumed the absurd premises of modernity, drew her own preposterous conclusions and Jerry drank them in, absorbed them as he did all information, like a sponge.