Without saying where he was going, he strolled out the moment after breakfast—and took a train to Beaulieu. At the young man’s hotel he sent in his card, and was told that this Monsieur had already gone out for the day. His mood of marching straight up to the guns thus checked, he was left pensive and distraught. Not having seen Beaulieu (they spoke of it then as a coming place), he made his way up an incline. That whole hillside was covered with rose-trees. Thousands of these flowers were starring the lower air, and the strewn petals of blown and fallen roses covered the light soil. The Colonel put his nose to blossoms here and there, but they had little scent, as if they knew that the season was already over. A few blue-bloused peasants were still busy among them. And suddenly he came on young Lennan himself, sitting on a stone and dabbing away with his fingers at a lump of putty stuff. The Colonel hesitated. Apart from obvious reasons for discomfiture, he had that feeling towards Art common to so many of his caste. It was not work, of course, but it was very clever—a mystery to him how anyone could do it! On seeing him, Lennan had risen, dropping his handkerchief over what he was modelling—but not before the Colonel had received a dim impression of something familiar. The young man was very red—the Colonel, too, was conscious suddenly of the heat. He held out his hand.
“Nice quiet place this,” he stammered; “never seen it before. I called at your hotel.”
Now that he had his chance, he was completely at a loss. The sight of the face emerging from that lump of ‘putty stuff’ had quite unnerved him. The notion of this young man working at it up here all by himself, just because he was away an hour or two from the original, touched him. How on earth to say what he had come to say? It was altogether different from what he had thought. And it suddenly flashed through him—Dolly was right! She’s always right— hang it!
“You’re busy,” he said; “I mustn’t interrupt you.”
“Not at all, sir. It was awfully good of you to look me up.”
The Colonel stared. There was something about young Lennan that he had not noticed before; a ‘Don’t take liberties with me!’ look that made things difficult. But still he lingered, staring wistfully at the young man, who stood waiting with such politeness. Then a safe question shot into his mind:
“Ah! And when do you go back to England? We’re off on Tuesday.”
While he spoke, a puff of wind lifted the handkerchief from the modelled face. Would the young fellow put it back? He did not. And the Colonel thought:
“It would have been bad form. He knew I wouldn’t take advantage. Yes! He’s a gentleman!”
Lifting his hand to the salute, he said: “Well, I must be getting back. See you at dinner perhaps?” And turning on his heel he marched away.
The remembrance of that face in the ‘putty stuff’ up there by the side of the road accompanied him home. It was bad—it was serious! And the sense that he counted for nothing in all of it grew and grew in him. He told no one of where he had been. . . .