He motored homeward, ill at ease, aware after a time that the girl cradled in his arm had fallen asleep. Her tears worried him.
“But I’m quite all right now, Kenny,” she protested as they drove up the lane. “It’s partly the heat. Why didn’t you wake me?”
He swung her lightly to the ground.
“I liked to think I was helping you rest,” he said gently. “You need it. Don’t wait, dear. It’s late.”
He climbed back in the car and glided off barnwards, waving his arm. Joan went slowly up the stairway to her room.
Latticed moonlight lay upon a chair by the window. She dropped into it, weary and inert, grateful for the rushing sound of the river; it soothed her with familiar music. A clock downstairs chimed the hour, then the half—and then another hour. Below in the moonlight a man was climbing up from the river.
“Brian,” she called breathlessly, “is it you?”
“Dr. Cole will scold. It’s twelve o’clock.”
Brian tossed his cigarette away with a sigh.
“He’ll never know. I’ve been sitting down there in the punt. The river’s silver. Come down for a while,” he implored. “All evening I’ve been as lonely as a leper. Ever since you motored off with Kenny, Don’s been a grouch. Can’t you climb down the vine?”
“I—I can’t, Brian.”
“Please, Joan. I’ll tell Kenny myself in the morning.”
“No,” said Joan. “I—can’t. I—I wish I could.”
“So do I,” said Brian. He walked away.
Shaking and sobbing, Joan flung herself upon the bed.
“Sid writes me you’re home,” Kenny wrote to Garry in September. “What about the car? Come up for a while and drive it home. We can do some sketching. Brian’s full of Irish melancholy and waiting for word from Whitaker. He may go any time. Joan’s tired and busy with clothes. Don’s cranky and I’m rather at a loose end, hunting things to do.”
Puzzled, Garry went.
“I can’t make out what’s wrong,” he wrote to Sid, “Kenny’s rational enough, but Brian’s strung to the breaking point. I suspect it’s just as it always has been—they’re miserable apart and hopeless together. But the year has been a sobering one, and what used to flash, they bottle up. In my opinion the sooner Brian gets away the better. He’s not himself.”
THE TENSION SNAPS
Months back Fate had flung out a skein of broken threads to the wind of Chance. In mid September she chose to bring the flying ends together.
It began when Hannah dropped a dipper. Hughie on his way to the wood-box with an armful of kindlings jumped and dropped them with a clatter. And he stepped on Toby’s tail and swore. Hannah and Hughie and Toby, startled, shared a sharp moment of resentment.
“Hughie,” Hannah’s impatience keyed her voice a trifle high, “’pon my honor I don’t know what gets into you. Ever since you took to diggin’ dots you’ve been as nervous as a cat. You’re full of jumps. It’s my opinion if the doctor hadn’t told you that Mr. O’Neill himself buried the money in the fireplace, you’d be diggin’ dots in a lunatic asylum!”