“Well, Lennan, and how’s old Noll? Hypocrite of genius, eh? Draw up; let’s get him over!”
Motionless, from her seat at the window, she watched those two figures at the table—the boy reading in his queer, velvety bass voice; her husband leaning back with the tips of his fingers pressed together, his head a little on one side, and that faint, satiric smile which never reached his eyes. Yes, he was dozing, falling asleep; and the boy, not seeing, was going on. Then he came to the end and glanced up. What eyes he had! Other boys would have laughed; but he looked almost sorry. She heard him murmur: “I’m awfully sorry, sir.”
“Ah, Lennan, you caught me! Fact is, term’s fagged me out. We’re going to the mountains. Ever been to the mountains? What—never! You should come with us, eh? What do you say, Anna? Don’t you think this young man ought to come with us?”
She got up, and stood staring at them both. Had she heard aright?
Then she answered—very gravely:
“Yes; I think he ought.”
“Good; we’ll get him to lead up the Cimone della Pala!”
When the boy had said good-bye, and she had watched him out into the street, Anna stood for a moment in the streak of sunlight that came in through the open door, her hands pressed to cheeks which were flaming. Then she shut the door and leaned her forehead against the window-pane, seeing nothing. Her heart beat very fast; she was going over and over again the scene just passed through. This meant so much more than it had seemed to mean. . . .
Though she always had Heimweh, and especially at the end of the summer term, this year it had been a different feeling altogether that made her say to her husband: “I want to go to the mountains!”
For twelve years she had longed for the mountains every summer, but had not pleaded for them; this year she had pleaded, but she did not long for them. It was because she had suddenly realized the strange fact that she did not want to leave England, and the reason for it, that she had come and begged to go. Yet why, when it was just to get away from thought of this boy, had she said: “Yes, I think he ought to come!” Ah! but life for her was always a strange pull between the conscientious and the desperate; a queer, vivid, aching business! How long was it now since that day when he first came to lunch, silent and shy, and suddenly smiling as if he were all lighted up within—the day when she had said to her husband afterwards: “Ah, he’s an angel!” Not yet a year—the beginning of last October term, in fact. He was different from all the other boys; not that he was a prodigy with untidy hair, ill-fitting clothes, and a clever tongue; but because of something—something— Ah! well—different; because he was—he; because she longed to take his head between her hands and kiss it. She remembered so well the day