That was a bitter and frightening hour under the faintly rustling ash-tree, while the wind sprinkled over her flakes of the may blossom, just past its prime. Love seemed now so little a thing, seemed to have lost warmth and power, seemed like a suppliant outside a door. Why did trouble come like this the moment one felt deeply?
The church bell was tolling; they could see the little congregation pass across the churchyard into that weekly dream they knew too well. And presently the drone emerged, mingling with the voices outside, of sighing trees and trickling water, of the rub of wings, birds’ songs, and the callings of beasts everywhere beneath the sky.
In spite of suffering because love was not the first emotion in his heart, the girl could only feel he was right not to be loving her; that she ought to be glad of what was eating up all else within him. It was ungenerous, unworthy, to want to be loved at such a moment. Yet she could not help it! This was her first experience of the eternal tug between self and the loved one pulled in the hearts of lovers. Would she ever come to feel happy when he was just doing what he thought was right? And she drew a little away from him; then perceived that unwittingly she had done the right thing, for he at once tried to take her hand again. And this was her first lesson, too, in the nature of man. If she did not give her hand, he wanted it! But she was not one of those who calculate in love; so she gave him her hand at once. That went to his heart; and he put his arm round her, till he could feel the emotion under those stays that would not be drawn any closer. In this nest beneath the ash-tree they sat till they heard the organ wheeze and the furious sound of the last hymn, and saw the brisk coming-forth with its air of, ’Thank God! And now, to eat!’ till at last there was no stir again about the little church—no stir at all save that of nature’s ceaseless thanksgiving. . . .
Tod, his brown face still rueful, had followed those two out into the air, and Sheila had gone quickly after him. Thus left alone with his sister-in-law, Felix said gravely:
“If you don’t want the boy to get into real trouble, do all you can to show him that the last way in the world to help these poor fellows is to let them fall foul of the law. It’s madness to light flames you can’t put out. What happened this morning? Did the man resist?”
Her face still showed how bitter had been her mortification, and he was astonished that she kept her voice so level and emotionless.
“No. He went with them quite quietly. The back door was open; he could have walked out. I did not advise him to. I’m glad no one saw his face except myself. You see,” she added, “he’s devoted to Derek, and Derek knows it; that’s why he feels it so, and will feel it more and more. The boy has a great sense of honour, Felix.”
Under that tranquillity Felix caught the pain and yearning in her voice. Yes! This woman really felt and saw. She was not one of those who make disturbance with their brains and powers of criticism; rebellion leaped out from the heat in her heart. But he said: