“I say I’ll come.” She enunciated the words emphatically as Hutchins’s crutches were heard coming near the door. Then she left the room.
The wood behind the college grounds and Captain Rexford’s pasture had appeared to Bates to be a place possessed only by the winds of heaven and by such sunshine and shadow as might fall to its share. He had formed this estimate of it while he had lain for many days watching the waving of its boughs from out his window, and therefore he had named it to Eliza as a place where he could talk to her. Eliza well knew that this wood was no secluded spot in the season of summer visitors, but she was in too reckless a mood to care for this, any more than she cared for the fact that she had no right to leave the hotel in the morning. She left that busy house, not caring whether it suffered in her absence or not, and went to the appointed place, heedless of the knowledge that she was as likely as not to meet with some of her acquaintances there. Yet, as she walked, no one seeing her would have thought that this young woman had a heart rendered miserable by her own acts and their legitimate outcome. In her large comeliness she suggested less of feeling than of force, just as the gown she wore had more pretension to fashion than to grace.
When she entered the wood it was yet early morning. Bates was not there. She had come thus early because she feared hindrance to her coming, not because she cared when he came. She went into the young spruce fringes of the wood near the Rexford pasture, and sat down where she had before sat to watch Principal Trenholme’s house. The leaves of the elm above her were turning yellow; the sun-laden wind that came between the spruce shades seemed chill to her; she felt cold, an unusual thing for her, and the time seemed terribly long. When she saw Bates coming she went to the more frequented aisles of the trees to meet him.
Bates had never been a tall man, but now, thin and weak, he seemed a small one, although he still strove to hold himself up manfully. His face this day was grey with the weariness of a sleepless night, and his enemy, asthma, was hard upon him—a man’s asthma, that is a fierce thing because it is not yielded to gracefully, but is struggled against.
“Oh, but you’re ill, Mr. Bates,” she said, relapsing into that repeated expression of yesterday.
“I’m no so ill as I—I seem,” he panted, “but that’s neither here—nor there.”
This was their greeting. Round them the grass was littered by old picnic papers, and this vulgar marring of the woodland glade was curiously akin to the character of this crucial interview between them, for the beauty of its inner import was overlaid with much that was common and garish. A rude bench had been knocked together by some picnicker of the past, and on this Bates was fain to sit down to regain his breath. Sissy stood near him, plucking at some coloured leaves she had picked up in her restlessness.