Again Nedda saw her father wince. But Frances Freeland, bending forward, fixed her eyes piercingly on Kirsteen’s neck, as if she were noticing something there more important than that about tyranny!
Then John said very gravely:
“You seem to think that we approve of such things being done to the helpless!”
“I know that you disapprove.”
“With the masterly inactivity,” Felix said suddenly, in a voice more bitter than Nedda had ever heard from him, “of authority, money, culture, and philosophy. With the disapproval that lifts no finger—winking at tyrannies lest worse befall us. Yes, we— brethren—we—and so we shall go on doing. Quite right, Kirsteen!”
“No. The world is changing, Felix, changing!”
But Nedda had started up. There at the door was Derek.
Derek, who had slept the sleep of the dead, having had none for two nights, woke thinking of Nedda hovering above him in the dark; of her face laid down beside him on the pillow. And then, suddenly, up started that thing, and stood there, haunting him! Why did it come? What did it want of him? After writing the little note to Nedda, he hurried to the station and found a train about to start. To see and talk with the laborers; to do something, anything to prove that this tragic companion had no real existence! He went first to the Gaunts’ cottage. The door, there, was opened by the rogue-girl, comely and robust as ever, in a linen frock, with her sleeves rolled up, and smiling broadly at his astonishment.
“Don’t be afraid, Mr. Derek; I’m only here for the week-end, just to tiddy up a bit. ’Tis all right in London. I wouldn’t come back here, I wouldn’t—not if you was to give me—” and she pouted her red lips.
“Where’s your father, Wilmet?”
“Over in Willey’s Copse cuttin’ stakes. I hear you’ve been ill, Mr. Derek. You do look pale. Were you very bad?” And her eyes opened as though the very thought of illness was difficult for her to grasp. “I saw your young lady up in London. She’s very pretty. Wish you happiness, Mr. Derek. Grandfather, here’s Mr. Derek!”
The face of old Gaunt, carved, cynical, yellow, appeared above her shoulder. There he stood, silent, giving Derek no greeting. And with a sudden miserable feeling the boy said:
“I’ll go and find him. Good-by, Wilmet!”
“Good-by, Mr. Derek. ’Tis quiet enough here now; there’s changes.”
Her rogue face twinkled again, and, turning her chin, she rubbed it on her plump shoulder, as might a heifer, while from behind her Grandfather Gaunt’s face looked out with a faint, sardonic grin.