Stanley noted that all—save the big man with the threatening, sad eyes, the old, yellow-faced man with a limp, and the little man who came out last, lost in his imaginary beasts—looked at the car furtively as they went their ways. And Stanley thought: ’English peasant! Poor devil! Who is he? What is he? Who’d miss him if he did die out? What’s the use of all this fuss about him? He’s done for! Glad I’ve nothing to do with him at Becket, anyway! “Back to the land!” “Independent peasantry!” Not much! Shan’t say that to Clara, though; knock the bottom out of her week-ends!’ And to his chauffeur he muttered:
“Get on, Batter!”
So, through the peace of that country, all laid down in grass, through the dignity and loveliness of trees and meadows, this May evening, with the birds singing under a sky surcharged with warmth and color, he sped home to dinner.
But next morning, turning on his back as it came dawn, Stanley thought, with the curious intensity which in those small hours so soon becomes fear: ’By Jove! I don’t trust that woman a yard! I shall wire for Felix!’ And the longer he lay on his back, the more the conviction bored a hole in him. There was a kind of fever in the air nowadays, that women seemed to catch, as children caught the measles. What did it all mean? England used to be a place to live in. One would have thought an old country like this would have got through its infantile diseases! Hysteria! No one gave in to that. Still, one must look out! Arson was about the limit! And Stanley had a vision, suddenly, of his plough-works in flames. Why not? The ploughs were not for the English market. Who knew whether these laboring fellows mightn’t take that as a grievance, if trouble began to spread? This somewhat far-fetched notion, having started to burrow, threw up a really horrid mole-hill on Stanley. And it was only the habit, in the human mind, of saying suddenly to fears: Stop! I’m tired of you! that sent him to sleep about half past four.
He did not, however, neglect to wire to Felix:
“If at all possible, come down again at once; awkward business at Joyfields.”
Nor, on the charitable pretext of employing two old fellows past ordinary work, did he omit to treble his night-watchman. . .
On Wednesday, the day of which he had seen the dawn rise, Felix had already been startled, on returning from his constitutional, to discover his niece and nephew in the act of departure. All the explanation vouchsafed had been: “Awfully sorry, Uncle Felix; Mother’s wired for us.” Save for the general uneasiness which attended on all actions of that woman, Felix would have felt relieved at their going. They had disturbed his life, slipped between him and Nedda! So much so that he did not even expect her to come and tell him why they had gone, nor feel inclined to ask her. So little breaks the fine coherence of really tender ties! The deeper the quality of affection, the more it ’starts and puffs,’ and from sheer sensitive feeling, each for the other, spares attempt to get back into touch!