Of Milla he spoke unwittingly the literal truth. Even with her hair thus wild and sodden, Milla rose from immersion blushing and prettier than ever; and she was prettiest of all when she stretched out her hand helplessly to Ramsey and he led her up out of the waters. They had plenty of assistance to scramble to the top of the bank, and there Milla was surrounded and borne away with a great clacketing and tumult. Ramsey gave his coat into the hands of friends, who twisted the water out of it for him, while he sat upon the grass in the sun, rubbed his head, and experimented with his neck to see if it would “work.” The sunshine was strong and hot; in half an hour he and his clothes were dry—or at least “dry enough,” as he said, and except for some soreness of head and neck, and the general crumpledness of his apparel, he seemed to be in all ways much as usual when shouts and whistlings summoned all the party to luncheon at the rendezvous. The change that made him different was invisible.
The change in Ramsey was invisible, and yet something must have been seen, for everyone appeared to take it for granted that he was to sit next to Milla at the pastoral meal. She herself understood it, evidently, for she drew in her puckered skirts and without any words make a place for him beside her as he driftingly approached her, affecting to whistle and keeping his eyes on the foliage overhead. He still looked upward, even in the act of sitting down.
“Squirrel or something,” he said, feebly, as if in explanation.
“Where?” Milla asked.
“Up there on a branch.” He accepted a plate from her (she had provided herself with an extra one), but he did not look at it or her. “I’m not just exactly sure it’s a squirrel,” he said. “Kind of hard to make out exactly what it is.” He continued to keep his eyes aloft, because he imagined that all of the class were looking at him and Milla, and he felt unable to meet such publicity. It was to him as if the whole United States had been scandalized to attention by this act of his in going to sit beside Milla; he gazed upward so long that his eyeballs became sensitive under the strain. He began to blink. “I can’t make out whether it’s a squirrel or just some leaves that kind o’ got fixed like one,” he said. “I can’t make out yet which it is, but I guess when there’s a breeze, if it’s a squirrel he’ll prob’ly hop around some then, if he’s alive or anything.”
It had begun to seem that his eyes must remain fixed in that upward stare forever; he wanted to bring them down, but could not face the glare of the world. So the fugitive ostrich is said to bury his head in the sand; he does it, not believing himself thereby hidden but trying to banish from his own cognizance terrible facts which his unsheltered eyes have seemed to reveal. So, too, do nervous children seek to bury their eyes under pillows, and nervous statesmen theirs under oratory. Ramsey’s ostrichings can happen to anybody. But finally the brightness of the sky between the leaves settled matters for him; he sneezed, wept, and for a little moment again faced his fellowmen. No one was looking at him; everybody except Milla had other things to do.