It was long before she closed her eyes, spending the hours in fancy where still less she would have slept. But when she did drop off she dreamed that he and she were alone upon a star, where all the trees were white, the water, grass, birds, everything, white, and they were walking arm in arm, among white flowers. And just as she had stooped to pick one—it was no flower, but—Tryst’s white-banded face! She woke with a little cry.
She was dressed by eight and went at once to Derek’s room. There was no answer to her knock, and in a flutter of fear she opened the door. He had gone—packed, and gone. She ran back to the hall. There was a note for her in the office, and she took it out of sight to read. It said:
“He came back this morning. I’m going home by the first train. He seems to want me to do something.
Came back! That thing—that gray thing that she, too, had seemed to see for a moment in the fields beside the river! And he was suffering again as he had suffered yesterday! It was awful. She waited miserably till her father came down. To find that he, too, knew of this trouble was some relief. He made no objection when she begged that they should follow on to Joyfields. Directly after breakfast they set out. Once on her way to Derek again, she did not feel so frightened. But in the train she sat very still, gazing at her lap, and only once glanced up from under those long lashes.
“Can you understand it, Dad?”
Felix, not much happier than she, answered:
“The man had something queer about him. Besides Derek’s been ill, don’t forget that. But it’s too bad for you, Nedda. I don’t like it; I don’t like it.”
“I can’t be parted from him, Dad. That’s impossible.”
Felix was silenced by the vigor of those words.
“His mother can help, perhaps,” he said.
Ah! If his mother would help—send him away from the laborers, and all this!
Up from the station they took the field paths, which cut off quite a mile. The grass and woods were shining brightly, peacefully in the sun; it seemed incredible that there should be heartburnings about a land so smiling, that wrongs and miseries should haunt those who lived and worked in these bright fields. Surely in this earthly paradise the dwellers were enviable, well-nourished souls, sleek and happy as the pied cattle that lifted their inquisitive muzzles! Nedda tried to stroke the nose of one—grayish, blunt, moist. But the creature backed away from her hand, snuffling, and its cynical, soft eyes with chestnut lashes seemed warning the girl that she belonged to the breed that might be trusted to annoy.