“That was prudent of her,” said Advena.
He turned a look upon her. “You are not—making a mock of it?” he said.
“I am not making a mock of it.”
“My aunt now writes to me that Miss Christie’s home has been broken up by the death of her mother, and that if it can be arranged she is willing to come to me here. My aunt talks of bringing her. I am to write.”
He said the last words slowly, as if he weighed them. They had passed the turning to the Murchisons’, walking on with the single consciousness of a path under them, and space before them. Once or twice before that had happened, but Advena had always been aware. This time she did not know.
“You are to write,” she said. She sought in vain for more words; he also, throwing back his head, appeared to search the firmament for phrases without result. Silence seemed enforced between them, and walked with them, on into the murky landscape, over the fallen leaves. Passing a streetlamp, they quickened their steps, looking furtively at the light, which seemed leagued against them with silence.
“It seems so extraordinarily—far away,” said Hugh Finlay, of Bross, Dumfries, at length.
“But it will come near,” Advena replied.
“I don’t think it ever can.”
She looked at him with a sudden leap of the heart, a wild, sweet dismay.
“They, of course, will come. But the life of which they are a part, and the man whom I remember to have been me—there is a gulf fixed—”
“It is only the Atlantic,” Advena said. She had recovered her vision; in spite of the stone in her breast she could look. The weight and the hurt she would reckon with later. What was there, after all, to do? Meanwhile she could look, and already she saw with passion what had only begun to form itself in his consciousness, his strange, ironical, pitiful plight.
He shook his head. “It is not marked in any geography,” he said, and gave her a troubled smile. “How can I make it clear to you? I have come here into a new world, of interests unknown and scope unguessed before. I know what you would say, but you have no way of learning the beauty and charm of mere vitality—you have always been so alive. One finds a physical freedom in which one’s very soul seems to expand; one hears the happiest calls of fancy. And the most wonderful, most delightful thing of all is to discover that one is oneself, strangely enough, able to respond—”
The words reached the woman beside him like some cool dropping balm, healing, inconceivably precious. She knew her share in all this that he recounted. He might not dream of it, might well confound her with the general pulse; but she knew the sweet and separate subcurrent that her life had been in his, felt herself underlying all these new joys of his, could tell him how dear she was. But it seemed that he must not guess.
It came to her with force that his dim perception of his case was grotesque, that it humiliated him. She had a quick desire that he should at least know that civilized, sentient beings did not lend themselves to such outrageous comedies as this which he had confessed; it had somehow the air of a confession. She could not let him fall so lamentably short of man’s dignity, of man’s estate, for his own sake.