“Very well, I will.”
He had perceived suddenly that he did not know his wife, having always till now believed that it was she who did not quite know him.
If she had not been out at lunch-time, he would have lunched out himself—afraid of his own face. For feverishness in sick persons mounts steadily with the approach of a certain hour. And surely his face, to anyone who could have seen him being conveyed to Piccadilly, would have suggested a fevered invalid rather than a healthy, middle-aged sculptor in a cab.
The horses were before the door—the little magpie horse, and a thoroughbred bay mare, weeded from Dromore’s racing stable. Nell, too, was standing ready, her cheeks very pink, and her eyes very bright. She did not wait for him to mount her, but took the aid of the confidential man. What was it that made her look so perfect on that little horse—shape of limb, or something soft and fiery in her spirit that the little creature knew of?
They started in silence, but as soon as the sound of hoofs died on the tan of Rotten Row, she turned to him.
“It was lovely of you to come! I thought you’d be afraid—you are afraid of me.”
And Lennan thought: You’re right!
“But please don’t look like yesterday. To-day’s too heavenly. Oh! I love beautiful days, and I love riding, and—” She broke off and looked at him. ’Why can’t you just be nice to me’—she seemed to be saying—’and love me as you ought!’ That was her power—the conviction that he did, and ought to love her; that she ought to and did love him. How simple!
But riding, too, is a simple passion; and simple passions distract each other. It was a treat to be on that bay mare. Who so to be trusted to ride the best as Johnny Dromore?
At the far end of the Row she cried out: “Let’s go on to Richmond now,” and trotted off into the road, as if she knew she could do with him what she wished. And, following meekly, he asked himself: Why? What was there in her to make up to him for all that he was losing—his power of work, his dignity, his self-respect? What was there? Just those eyes, and lips, and hair?
And as if she knew what he was thinking, she looked round and smiled.
So they jogged on over the Bridge and across Barnes Common into Richmond Park.
But the moment they touched turf, with one look back at him, she was off. Had she all the time meant to give him this breakneck chase—or had the loveliness of that Autumn day gone to her head— blue sky and coppery flames of bracken in the sun, and the beech leaves and the oak leaves; pure Highland colouring come South for once.