“We owe you a great debt. It might have been so much worse. You mustn’t be disconsolate. Go to bed and have a good long rest.” And from the door, she murmured again: “He will come and thank you, when he’s well.”
Descending the stone stairs, she thought: “’Anonyma’—’Anonyma’—yes, it was quite the name.” And suddenly she saw Barbara come running up again.
“What is it, Babs?”
“Eustace would like some of those lilies.” And, passing Lady Valleys, she went on up to Miltoun’s chambers.
Mrs. Noel was not in the sitting-room, and going to the bedroom door, the girl looked in.
She was standing by the bed, drawing her hand over and over the white surface of the pillow. Stealing noiselessly back, Barbara caught up the bunch of lilies, and fled.
Miltoun, whose constitution, had the steel-like quality of Lady Casterley’s, had a very rapid convalescence. And, having begun to take an interest in his food, he was allowed to travel on the seventh day to Sea House in charge of Barbara.
The two spent their time in a little summer-house close to the sea; lying out on the beach under the groynes; and, as Miltoun grew stronger, motoring and walking on the Downs.
To Barbara, keeping a close watch, he seemed tranquilly enough drinking in from Nature what was necessary to restore balance after the struggle, and breakdown of the past weeks. Yet she could never get rid of a queer feeling that he was not really there at all; to look at him was like watching an uninhabited house that was waiting for someone to enter.
During a whole fortnight he did not make a single allusion to Mrs. Noel, till, on the very last morning, as they were watching the sea, he said with his queer smile:
“It almost makes one believe her theory, that the old gods are not dead. Do you ever see them, Babs; or are you, like me, obtuse?”
Certainly about those lithe invasions of the sea-nymph waves, with ashy, streaming hair, flinging themselves into the arms of the land, there was the old pagan rapture, an inexhaustible delight, a passionate soft acceptance of eternal fate, a wonderful acquiescence in the untiring mystery of life.
But Barbara, ever disconcerted by that tone in his voice, and by this quick dive into the waters of unaccustomed thought, failed to find an answer.
Miltoun went on:
“She says, too, we can hear Apollo singing. Shall we try.”
But all that came was the sigh of the sea, and of the wind in the tamarisk.
“No,” muttered Miltoun at last, “she alone can hear it.”
And Barbara saw, once more on his face that look, neither sad nor impatient, but as of one uninhabited and waiting.
She left Sea House next day to rejoin her mother, who, having been to Cowes, and to the Duchess of Gloucester’s, was back in Town waiting for Parliament to rise, before going off to Scotland. And that same afternoon the girl made her way to Mrs. Noel’s flat. In paying this visit she was moved not so much by compassion, as by uneasiness, and a strange curiosity. Now that Miltoun was well again, she was seriously disturbed in mind. Had she made a mistake in summoning Mrs. Noel to nurse him?