But the buggy was beside him now, and he lifted his hat as Mamie Rodgers pulled up the horse.
“Good afternoon, Miss Rodgers,” he said. “Good afternoon, Miss Vail—how is the Patriarch to-day?”
“He is very well, thank you,” Helena answered—and being custodian of the whip brushed a fly off the horse’s flank.
“I was just coming out to pay you a little visit,” remarked Madison, trying to catch her eye.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” said Helena sweetly, still busy with the fly. “Mamie is going to take me for a drive—and afterwards we are going to her house for tea.”
“Oh!” said Madison, a little blankly.
Helena smiled at him, nodded, and touched the horse with the whip—and then she leaned suddenly out toward him, as the buggy started forward.
“Oh, Mr. Madison,” she called, “I forgot to tell you! I had a letter from Mr. Thornton to-day—and he’s coming back to-morrow.”
The wind kissed Helena’s face, bringing dainty color to her cheeks, tossing truant wisps of hair this way and that, as the car swept onward. But she sat strangely silent now beside Thornton at the steering wheel.
It seemed to her that she was living, not her own life, not life as she had known and looked upon it in the years before, but living, as it were, in a strange, suspended state that was neither real nor unreal, as in a dream that led her, now through cool, deep forests, beside clear, sparkling streams where all was a great peace and the soul was at rest, serene, untroubled, now into desolate places where misery had its birth and shame was, where there was fear, and the mind stood staggered and appalled and lost and knew not how to guide her that she might flee from it all.
At moments most unexpected, as now when motoring with Thornton in the car that he had brought back with him on, his return to Needley, when laughing at the Flopper’s determined pursuit of Mamie Rodgers, when engaged in the homely, practical details of housekeeping about the cottage, there came flashing suddenly upon her the picture of Mrs. Thornton lying on the brass bed in the car compartment that night, every line of the pale, gentle face as vivid, as actual as though it were once more before her in reality, and in her ears rang again, stabbing her with their unmeant condemnation, those words of sweetness, love and purity that held her up to gaze upon herself in ghastly, terrifying mockery.
It stupified her, bewildered her, frightened her. She seemed, for days and weeks now, to be drifting with a current that, eddying, swirling, swept her this way and that. How wonderful it was, this life she was now leading compared with the old life—so full of the better things, the better emotions, the better thoughts that she had never known before! How monstrous in its irony that she was leading it