“Why are n’t cats dogs; or pagans Christians?”
Antonia slid down from the wall.
“You don’t seem to think there ’s any use in trying,” she said, and turned away.
Shelton made a movement as if he would go after her, and then stood still, watching her figure slowly pass, her head outlined above the wall, her hands turned back across her narrow hips. She halted at the bend, looked back, then, with an impatient gesture, disappeared.
Antonia was slipping from him!
A moment’s vision from without himself would have shown him that it was he who moved and she who was standing still, like the figure of one watching the passage of a stream with clear, direct, and sullen eyes.
One day towards the end of August Shelton took Antonia on the river—the river that, like soft music, soothes the land; the river of the reeds and poplars, the silver swan-sails, sun and moon, woods, and the white slumbrous clouds; where cuckoos, and the wind, the pigeons, and the weirs are always singing; and in the flash of naked bodies, the play of waterlily leaves, queer goblin stumps, and the twilight faces of the twisted tree-roots, Pan lives once more.
The reach which Shelton chose was innocent of launches, champagne bottles and loud laughter; it was uncivilised, and seldom troubled by these humanising influences. He paddled slowly, silent and absorbed, watching Antonia. An unaccustomed languor clung about her; her eyes had shadows, as though she had not slept; colour glowed softly in her cheeks, her frock seemed all alight with golden radiance. She made Shelton pull into the reeds, and plucked two rounded lilies sailing like ships against slow-moving water.
“Pull into the shade, please,” she said; “it’s too hot out here.”
The brim of her linen hat kept the sun from her face, but her head was drooping like a flower’s head at noon.
Shelton saw that the heat was really harming her, as too hot a day will dim the icy freshness of a northern plant. He dipped his sculls, the ripples started out and swam in grave diminuendo till they touched the banks.
He shot the boat into a cleft, and caught the branches of an overhanging tree. The skiff rested, balancing with mutinous vibration, like a living thing.
“I should hate to live in London,” said Antonia suddenly; “the slums must be so awful. What a pity, when there are places like this! But it’s no good thinking.”
“No,” answered Shelton slowly! “I suppose it is no good.”
“There are some bad cottages at the lower end of Cross Eaton. I went them one day with Miss Truecote. The people won’t help themselves. It’s so discouraging to help people who won’t help themselves.”
She was leaning her elbows on her knees, and, with her chin resting on her hands, gazed up at Shelton. All around them hung a tent of soft, thick leaves, and, below, the water was deep-dyed with green refraction. Willow boughs, swaying above the boat, caressed Antonia’s arms and shoulders; her face and hair alone were free.