“Of course, you count! Most awfully! Oh, don’t be unhappy! I hate people being unhappy. Don’t be unhappy, Sylvia!” And he began gently to stroke her arm. It was all strange and troubled within him; one thing only plain—he must not admit anything! As if reading that thought, her blue eyes seemed suddenly to search right into him. Then she pulled some blades of grass, and began plaiting them.
Ah! He was not going to say: She doesn’t! It would be caddish to say that. Even if she didn’t count—Did she still?—it would be mean and low. And in his eyes just then there was the look that had made his tutor compare him to a lion cub in trouble.
Sylvia was touching his arm.
He got up and took his rod. What was the use? He could not stay there with her, since he could not—must not speak.
“Are you going?”
“Are you angry? Please don’t be angry with me.”
He felt a choke in his throat, bent down to her hand, and kissed it; then shouldered his rod, and marched away. Looking back once, he saw her still sitting there, gazing after him, forlorn, by that great stone. It seemed to him, then, there was nowhere he could go; nowhere except among the birds and beasts and trees, who did not mind even if you were all mixed up and horrible inside. He lay down in the grass on the bank. He could see the tiny trout moving round and round the stones; swallows came all about him, flying very low; a hornet, too, bore him company for a little. But he could take interest in nothing; it was as if his spirit were in prison. It would have been nice, indeed, to be that water, never staying, passing, passing; or wind, touching everything, never caught. To be able to do nothing without hurting someone—that was what was so ghastly. If only one were like a flower, that just sprang up and lived its life all to itself, and died. But whatever he did, or said now, would be like telling lies, or else being cruel. The only thing was to keep away from people. And yet how keep away from his own guests?
He went back to the house for lunch, but both those guests were out, no one seemed quite to know where. Restless, unhappy, puzzled, he wandered round and about all the afternoon. Just before dinner he was told of Mrs. Stormer’s not being well, and that they would be leaving to-morrow. Going—after three days! That plunged him deeper into his strange and sorrowful confusion. He was reduced now to a complete brooding silence. He knew he was attracting attention, but could not help it. Several times during dinner he caught Gordy’s eyes fixed on him, from under those puffy half-closed lids, with asphyxiated speculation. But he simply could not talk—everything that came into his mind to say seemed false. Ah! it was a sad evening—with its glimmering vision into another’s sore heart, its confused gnawing sense of things broken, faith betrayed; and yet always the perplexed wonder—“How could I have helped it?” And always Sylvia’s wistful face that he tried not to look at.