Leonard Boyce had received me on sufferance. I had come upon him while he was imprudently exposing himself to view. There had been no way out of it. But he made it clear that he desired no other Wellingsfordian to invade his privacy. Secretly he had come to see his mother and secretly he intended to go. I remembered that before he went to the front he had not come home, but his mother had met him in London. He had asked me for no local news. He had inquired after the welfare of none of his old friends. Never an allusion to poor Oswald Fenimore’s gallant death—he used to run in and out of Wellings Park as if it were his own house. What had he against the place which for so many years had been his home?
With regard to Betty Fairfax, he had loved and ridden away, it is true, leaving her disconsolate. But though everyone knew of the engagement, no one had suspected the defection. Betty was a young woman who could keep her own counsel and baffle any curiosity-monger or purveyor of gossip in the country. So when she married Captain Connor, a little gasp went round the neighbourhood, which for the first time remembered Leonard Boyce. There were some who blamed her for callous treatment of Boyce, away and forgotten at the front. The majority, however, took the matter calmly, as we have had to take far more amazing social convulsions. The fact remained that Betty was married, and there was no reason whatever, on the score of the old engagement, for Boyce to manifest such exaggerated shyness with regard to Wellingsford society.
If it had been any other man than Boyce, I should not have worried about the matter at all. Save that I was deeply attached to Betty, what had her discarded lover’s attitude to do with me? But Boyce was Boyce, the man of the damnable story of Vilboek’s Farm. And he, of his own accord, had revived in my mind that story in all its intensity. A chance foolish question, such as thousands of gentle, sheltered women have put to their suddenly, uncomprehended, suddenly deified sons and husbands, had obviously disturbed his nervous equilibrium. That little reflex twitch at the corner of his lips—I have seen it often in the old times. I should like to have had him stripped to the waist so that I could have seen his heart—the infallible test. At moments of mighty moral strain men can keep steady eyes and nostrils and mouth and speech; but they cannot control that tell-tale diaphragm of flesh over the heart. I have known it to cause the death of many a Kaffir spy. ... But, at any rate, there was the twitch of the lips ... I deliberately threw weight into the scale of Mrs. Boyce’s foolish question. If he had not lost his balance, why should he have launched into an almost passionate defence of the physical coward?