They had reached the end of the avenue, so he left her and went homeward along the road. The sun had gone slowly down and the western horizon was ripped open in a deep red track. The charred skeleton of the oak loomed black and sinister against the afterglow, and at its feet the glory went out of the autumn field. Straight ahead the sound of shots rang out where a flock of bats circled above the road. On the darkening landscape the lights began to glimmer in farmhouses far apart, and to Nicholas they seemed watchful, friendly eyes that looked upon him. All Nature was watchful—all the universe friendly. The glow which irradiated his outlook with an abrupt transfiguration was to him the glow of universal joy, though he knew it to be but the vanishing beam of youth and the end thereof age.
It seemed to him that he was singled out—securely set apart by some beneficent hand for some supreme good which, in his limited observation, he had never seen put forth in the lots of others. His own life lay so much nearer the Divine purpose than did the lives of his neighbours—the purpose of Nature, whose end is the happiness that conforms to sane and immutable laws. His kiss on Eugenia’s lips was to him God-given; the answer in her eyes had flamed a Scriptural inspiration. In the tumultuous leaping of his thoughts it seemed to him that the meaning of existence lay unrolled—a meaning obscured in all religions, overlooked in all philosophies—a meaning that could be read only by the lamp that was lit in the eyes that loved.
So in his ignorance and his ecstasy he went on his confident way, while passion throbbed in his pulses and youth quickened in his brain.
From the far-off pines twilight came to meet him, the lights glimmered clearer in distant windows, the afterglow drifted from the west, and the shots ceased where the black bats circled above the road.
Eugenia arranged the goldenrod in the great blue vases and sat in the deserted dining-room thinking of Nicholas. Where the damask curtains were drawn back from the windows a gray line of twilight landscape was visible, and a chill, transparent dusk filled the large room. Outside she would see the box-walk, a stretch of lawn, broken by flower-beds, and the avenue of cedars leading to the highway. From the porch floated the smoke of the general’s pipe.
Her brow was on her hand and she sat so motionless that the place seemed deserted, save for an errant firefly that vainly palpitated in the gloom. The glow that had flamed beneath Nicholas’s kiss still lingered in her face, and she was conscious of a faint, almost hysterical impulse to weep. The fever in her veins had given place to a still tremor which ran through her limbs. At first she felt rather than thought. She lapsed into an emotional reverie as delicate as the fragrance of the October roses on the table. There was a sensation of softness