He found himself left at a junction which had no interest for him, and as there was a goods train going further on to that village where he had stopped with Bates on their first arrival in these parts, he followed a whim and went thither, in order to walk home by the road on which he had first heard Sophia’s voice in the darkness.
Ah, that voice—how clear and sweet and ringing it was! It was not words, but tones, of which he was now cherishing remembrance. And he thought of the face he now knew so well, hugged the thought of her to his heart, and knew that he ought not to think of her.
Everywhere the trees hung out red and yellow, as flags upon a gala day. He saw the maples on the mountain rise tier above tier, in feathery scarlet and gold. About his feet the flowering weeds were blowing in one last desperate effort of riotous bloom. The indigo birds, like flakes from the sky above, were flitting, calling, everywhere, as they tarried on their southward journey. Alec walked by the rushing river, almost dazzled by its glitter, and felt himself to be, not only an unhappy, but an ill-disposed man.
“And yet—and yet—” thought he, “if Heaven might grant her to me—“: and the heaven above him seemed like brass, and the wish like a prayer gone mad.
Sophia had lived on through a few more quiet days; and now she knew that the problem to which she had set herself was not that one pleasantly remote from her inmost self, as to where her duty lay in helping on an ideal social state, but another question, that beside the first seemed wholly common and vulgar, one that tore from her all glamours of romantic conception, so that she sat, as it were, in a chamber denuded of all softness and beauty, face to face with her own pride. And so lusty was this pride she had deemed half-dead that beside it all her former enthusiasms seemed to fade into ghostly nothings.
At first she only determined, by all the chivalrous blood that ran in her veins, to continue her kindness to the Trenholmes. She foresaw a gust of unpopularity against them, and she saw herself defending their interests and defying criticism. In this bright prospect the brothers were humbly grateful and she herself not a little picturesque in generous patronage. It was a delightful vision—for an hour; but because she was nearer thirty than twenty it passed quickly. She touched it with her knowledge of the world and it vanished. No; social life could not be changed in a day; it would not be well that it should be. Much of the criticism that would come in this case would be just; and the harsher blows that would be dealt could not be stayed nor the unkindness defied; even in the smaller affairs of life, he who would stand by the wronged must be willing to suffer wrong. Was she ready for that? The longer she meditated, the more surely she knew that Alec Trenholme loved her. And when she had meditated a little longer—in spite of the indignation she had felt at the bare suggestion—she knew that she loved him.