He sat next her at dinner. Again it was puzzling that she should be laughing so serenely at Gordy’s stories. Did the whispering in the porch, then, mean nothing? And Sylvia would not look at him; he felt sure that she turned her eyes away simply because she knew he was going to look in her direction. And this roused in him a sore feeling—everything that night seemed to rouse that feeling—of injustice; he was cast out, and he could not tell why. He had not meant to hurt either of them! Why should they both want to hurt him so? And presently there came to him a feeling that he did not care: Let them treat him as they liked! There were other things besides love! If they did not want him—he did not want them! And he hugged this reckless, unhappy, don’t-care feeling to him with all the abandonment of youth.
But even birthdays come to an end. And moods and feelings that seem so desperately real die in the unreality of sleep.
If to the boy that birthday was all bewildered disillusionment, to Anna it was verily slow torture; she found no relief in thinking that there were things in life other than love. But next morning brought readjustment, a sense of yesterday’s extravagance, a renewal of hope. Impossible surely that in one short fortnight she had lost what she had made so sure of! She had only to be resolute. Only to grasp firmly what was hers. After all these empty years was she not to have her hour? To sit still meekly and see it snatched from her by a slip of a soft girl? A thousand times, no! And she watched her chance. She saw him about noon sally forth towards the river, with his rod. She had to wait a little, for Gordy and his bailiff were down there by the tennis lawn, but they soon moved on. She ran out then to the park gate. Once through that she felt safe; her husband, she knew, was working in his room; the girl somewhere invisible; the old governess still at her housekeeping; Mrs. Doone writing letters. She felt full of hope and courage. This old wild tangle of a park, that she had not yet seen, was beautiful—a true trysting-place for fauns and nymphs, with its mossy trees and boulders and the high bracken. She kept along under the wall in the direction of the river, but came to no gate, and began to be afraid that she was going wrong. She could hear the river on the other side, and looked for some place where she could climb and see exactly where she was. An old ash-tree tempted her. Scrambling up into its fork, she could just see over. There was the little river within twenty yards, its clear dark water running between thick foliage. On its bank lay a huge stone balanced on another stone still more huge. And with his back to this stone stood the boy, his rod leaning beside him. And there, on the ground, her arms resting on her knees, her chin on her hands, that girl sat looking up. How eager his eyes now—how different from the brooding eyes of yesterday!