Birthdays, like Christmas days, were made for disenchantment. Always the false gaiety of gaiety arranged—always that pistol to the head: ‘Confound you! enjoy yourself!’ How could he enjoy himself with the thought of Sylvia in her room, made ill by his brutality! The vision of her throat working, swallowing her grief, haunted him like a little white, soft spectre all through the long drive out on to the moor, and the picnic in the heather, and the long drive home—haunted him so that when Anna touched or looked at him he had no spirit to answer, no spirit even to try and be with her alone, but almost a dread of it instead.
And when at last they were at home again, and she whispered:
“What is it? What have I done?” he could only mutter:
“Nothing! Oh, nothing! It’s only that I’ve been a brute!”
At that enigmatic answer she might well search his face.
“Is it my husband?”
He could answer that, at all events.
“What is it, then? Tell me.”
They were standing in the inner porch, pretending to examine the ancestral chart—dotted and starred with dolphins and little full-rigged galleons sailing into harbours—which always hung just there.
“Tell me, Mark; I don’t like to suffer!”
What could he say, since he did not know himself? He stammered, tried to speak, could not get anything out.
“Is it that girl?”
Startled, he looked away, and said:
“Of course not.”
She shivered, and went into the house. But he stayed, staring at the chart with a dreadful stirred-up feeling—of shame and irritation, pity, impatience, fear, all mixed. What had he done, said, lost? It was that horrid feeling of when one has not been kind and not quite true, yet might have been kinder if one had been still less true. Ah! but it was all so mixed up. It felt all bleak, too, and wintry in him, as if he had suddenly lost everybody’s love. Then he was conscious of his tutor.
“Ah! friend Lennan—looking deeply into the past from the less romantic present? Nice things, those old charts. The dolphins are extremely jolly.”
It was difficult to remember not to be ill-mannered then. Why did Stormer jeer like that? He just managed to answer:
“Yes, sir; I wish we had some now.”
“There are so many moons we wish for, Lennan, and they none of them come tumbling down.”
The voice was almost earnest, and the boy’s resentment fled. He felt sorry, but why he did not know.
“In the meantime,” he heard his tutor say, “let us dress for dinner.”
When he came down to the drawing-room, Anna in her moonlight-coloured frock was sitting on the sofa talking to—Sylvia. He kept away from them; they could neither of them want him. But it did seem odd to him, who knew not too much concerning women, that she could be talking so gaily, when only half an hour ago she had said: “Is it that girl?”