* * * * *
The dewy brightness of tangled blush roses had faded in the vague twilight; through the aisles of the little wood leading to the pool the light timidly flickered as Hubert and Elaine walked with the hesitating steps of perplexed persons. They had not spoken since they left the house—there in a few hurried words he told her of the accident and noted with sorrow the look of anguish in her eyes. Without knowing why, they went in the direction of the wall.
There was no moon when they reached the highroad. It would rise later, Elaine said in her low, slightly monotonous voice. Hubert was so stunned by the memory of his ruined picture that he forgot his earlier encounter with Berenice—that is, in describing it he had failed to minutely record his behaviour. But in the cool evening air his conscience became alive and he guiltily wondered whether he dare tell his misconduct—no, imprudence? Why not? She regarded him as a possible husband for Berenice—but how embarrassing! He made up his mind to say nothing; when the morrow came he would write Elaine the truth and bid her good-by. He could not in honour continue to visit this home where resided the woman he loved—with a jealous daughter. Why jealous? What a puzzle, and what an absurd one! He helped Elaine to a seat on the wall and sat near her. For several minutes neither spoke. They were again facing the pool, which looked in the dusk like a cracked mirror.
“It is not clear yet to me,” murmured Elaine. “That the unfortunate child has always been more or less morbid and sick-brained, I have been aware. The world, marriage, and active existence will mend all that, I hope. I fear she is a little spoilt and selfish. And she doesn’t love me very much. She has inherited all her father’s passion for Poe’s tales. My dear friend, she is jealous—that’s the only solution of this shocking act. She disliked the idea of my portrait from the start. You remember on this spot hardly a month ago she challenged you to paint her as the drowned Ophelia!—and all her teasing about Monsieur Mineur and his jealousy, and—”
“Our flirtation,” added Hubert, sadly.
“Oh, pray do not say such a thing! She is so hot-headed, so fond of you. Yes, I saw it from the beginning, and your talk about the insurmountable wall of middle-age did not deceive me. I only hope that will not be a tragic wall for her, for you—or for me....”
Her words trailed into a mere whisper. He put his hand over hers and again they were silent. About them the green of the forest had been transformed by the growing night into great clumps of velvety darkness and the vault overhead was empty of stars. June airs fanned their discontent into mild despair, and simultaneously they dreamed of another life, of a harmonious existence far from Paris, into which the