impossible that she

The little house called Greenbank was like a hundred other little houses
in the country, the superior houses of the village, the homes of small
people with small incomes, who still are ladies and gentlemen, the
equals of those in the hall, not those in the cottage. The drawing-room
was darkened in the winter days by the veranda, which was very desirable
and pleasant in the summer, and chilled a little by the windows which
opened to the floor on a level with the little terrace on which the
house stood. It looked most comfortable and bright in the evening when
the lamps were lighted and there was a good fire and the curtains were
drawn. Mrs. Nugent was considered to have made a great difference in the
house since the doctor’s time. His heavy, old furniture was still in
the dining-room, and indeed, more or less, throughout the rooms; but
chintz or cretonne and appropriate draperies go a long way, according to
the taste of the time. The new resident had been moderate and had not
overdone it; she had not piled the stuffs and ornaments of Liberty into
the old-fashioned house, but she had brightened the whole in a way which
was less commonplace. Tiny was perhaps the great ornament of all–Tiny
and indeed herself, a young woman not more than thirty, in the fulness
of her best time, with a little dignity, which became her isolated
position and her widowhood, and showed that, as the ladies in the
neighborhood said, she was fully able to take care of herself. He would
have been a bold man indeed who would have been rude or, what was more
dangerous, overkind to Mrs. Nugent. She was one of those women, who, as
it is common to say, keep people in their place. She was very gracious,
very kind; but either she never forgot that she was alone and needed to
be especially circumspect, or else it was her nature always to hold
back a little, to be above impulse. I think this last was the case; for
to be always on one’s guard is painful, and betrays a suspicion of
others or doubt of one’s self, and neither of these was in Mrs. Nugent’s
mind. She liked society, and she did not shut herself out from the kind
people who had adopted her, though she did not bring introductions or
make any appeal to their kindness. There was no reason why she should
shut them out; but she was not one who much frequented her neighbors’
houses. She was always to be found in her own, with her little girl at
her knee. Tiny was a little spoiled, perhaps, or so the ladies who had
nurseries and many children to regulate, thought. She was only five, yet
she sat up till eight, and had her bread-and-milk when her mother had
her small dinner, at the little round table before the dining-room fire.
Some of the ladies had even said to Mrs. Nugent that this was a
self-indulgence on her part, and bad for the child; but, if so, she did
not mind, but went on with the custom, which it was evident, for the
moment did Tiny no harm.

The excitement of Tiny’s escapade had been got over, and the child was
sitting on the carpet in the firelight playing with her doll and singing
to herself. She was always singing to herself or to the waxen companion
in her arms, which was pale with much exposure to the heat of the fire.
Tiny had a little tune which was quite different from the little
snatches of song which she picked up from every one–from the butcher’s
boy and the postman and the maids in the kitchen, as well as from her
mother’s performances. The child was all ear, and sang everything,
whatever she heard. But besides all this she had her own little tune, in
which she kept singing sometimes the same words over and over again,
sometimes her dialogues with her doll, sometimes scraps of what she
heard from others, odds and ends of the conversation going on over her
head. It was the prettiest domestic scene, the child sitting in front of
the fire, in the light of the cheerful blaze, undressing her doll,
hushing it in her arms, going through all the baby routine with which
she was so familiar, singing, talking, cooing to the imaginary baby in
her arms, while the pretty young mother sat at the side of the hearth,
with the little table and work-basket overflowing with the fine muslin
and bits of lace, making one of Tiny’s pretty frocks or pinafores, which
was her chief occupation. Sometimes Tiny’s monologue was broken by a
word from her mother; but sewing is a silent occupation when it is
pursued by a woman alone, and generally Mrs. Nugent said nothing more
than a word from time to time, while the child’s little voice ran on.
Was there something wanting to the little bright fireside–the man to
come in from his work, the woman’s husband, the child’s father? But it
was too small, too feminine a place for a man. One could not have said
where he would sit, what he would do–there seemed no place for him, if
such a man there had been.

Nevertheless a place was made for Mr. Wradisley when he came in, as he
did immediately, announced by the smart little maid, carrying his hat
in his hand. A chair was got for him out of the glow of the firelight,
which affected his eyes. He made a little apology for coming so late.

“But I have a liking for the twilight; I love the park in the dusk; and
as you have been so good as to let me in once or twice, and in the
confidence that when I am intrusive you will send me away–”

“If you had come a little sooner,” said Mrs. Nugent, in a frank, full
voice, different from her low tones, “you might have taken care of Lucy,
who ran in to see me.”

“Lucy was well accompanied,” said her brother; “besides, a walk is no
walk unless one is alone; and the great pleasure of a conversation, if
you will allow me to say so, is doubled when there are but two to talk.
I know all Lucy’s opinions, and she,” he said, pausing with a smile, as
if there was something ridiculous in the idea, “knows, or at least
thinks she knows, mine.”

“She knows more than she has generally credit for,” said Mrs. Nugent;
“but your brother was with her. It has pleased her so much to have him
back.”

“Raaf? yes. He has been so long away, it is like a stranger come to the
house. He has forgotten the old shibboleths, and it takes one a little
time to pick up his new ones. He is a man of the desert.”

“Perhaps he has no shibboleths at all.”

“Oh, don’t believe that! I have always found the more unconventional a
man is supposed to be, the furthest from our cut-and-dry systems, the
more conventional he really is. We are preserved by the understood
routine, and keep our independence underneath; but those who have to
make new laws for themselves are pervaded by them. The new, uneasy code
is on their very soul.”

He spoke with a little warmth–unusual to him–almost excitement, his
correct, calm tone quickening. Then he resumed his ordinary note.

“I hope,” he said, with a keen look at her, “that poor Raaf made a
favorable impression upon you.”

Her head was bent over her needlework, which she had gone on with, not
interrupting her occupation.

“I did not see him,” she said. “Lucy ran in by herself; they waited for
her, I believe, at the door.”

“Me see gemplemans,” sang Tiny, at his feet, making him start. She went
on with her little song, repeating the words, “Dolly, such nice
gemplemans. Give Dolly ride on’s shoulder ’nother time.”

And then Mrs. Nugent laughed, and told the story of Tiny’s escapade. It
jarred somehow on the visitor. He did not know what to make of Tiny; her
little breaks into the conversation, the chant that could not be taken
for remark or criticism, and yet was so, kept him in a continual fret;
but he tried to smile.

“My brother,” he said, “is the kind of primitive man who, I believe,
pleases children–and dogs and primitive creatures generally–I–I beg
your pardon, Mrs. Nugent.”

“No; why should you?” She dropped her work on her knee and looked up at
him with a laugh. “Tiny is quite a primitive creature. She likes what
is kind and big and takes her up with firm hands. That is how I have
always explained the pleasure infants take often in men. They are only
accustomed to us women about them; but they almost invariably turn from
us poor small things and rejoice in the hold of a man–when he’s not
frightened for them,” she added, taking up her work again.

“As most men are, however,” Mr. Wradisley said.

“Yes; that is our salvation. It would be too humiliating to think the
little things preferred the look of a man. I have always thought it was
the strength of his grasp.”

“We shall shortly have to give in to the ladies even in that, they say,”
Mr. Wradisley went on, with relief in the changed subject. “Those tall
girls–while we, it appears, are growing no taller, or perhaps
dwindling–I am sure you, who are so womanly in everything, don’t
approve of that.”

“Of tall girls? oh, why not? It is not their fault to be tall. It is
very nice for them to be tall. I am delighted with my tall maid; she
can reach things I have to get up on a chair for, and it is not
dignified getting up on a chair. And she even snatches up Tiny before
she has time to struggle or remonstrate.”

“Tiny,” said Mr. Wradisley, with a little wave of his hand, “is the
be-all and end-all, I know; no one can hope to beguile your thoughts
from that point.”

Mrs. Nugent looked up at him quickly with surprise, holding her work
suspended in her hand.

“Do you think it is quite right,” he said, “or just to the rest of the
world? A child is much, but still only a child; and here are you, a
noble, perfect woman, with many greater capabilities. I do not flatter;
you must know that you are not like other women–gossips, triflers,
foolish persons–”

“Or even as this publican,” said Mrs. Nugent, who had kept her eyes on
him all the time, which had made him nervous, yet gave him a kind of
inspiration. “I give alms of all I possess–I–Mr. Wradisley, do you
really think this is the kind of argument which you would like a woman
whom you profess to respect to adopt?”

“Oh, you twist what I say. I am conscious of the same thing myself,
though I am, I hope, no Pharisee. To partly give up what was meant for
mankind–will that please you better?–to a mere child–”

“You must not say such thing over Tiny’s head, Mr. Wradisley. She
understands a great deal. If she were not so intent upon this most
elaborate part of Dolly’s toilet for the night–”

“Mrs. Nugent, could not that spectator for one moment be removed?–could
not I speak to you–if it were but for a minute–alone?”

She looked at him again, this time putting down the needle-work with a
disturbed air.

“I wish to hear nothing, from any one, Mr. Wradisley, which she cannot
hear.”

“Not if I implored for one moment?”

His eyes, which were dull by nature, had become hot and shining, his
colorless face was flushed; he was so reticent, so calm, that the
swelling of something new within him took a form that was alarming. He
turned round his hat in his hands as if it were some mystic implement of
fate. She hesitated, and cast a glance round her at all the comfort of
the little room, as if her shelter had suddenly been endangered, and the
walls of her house were going to fall about her ears. Tiny all the time
was very busy with her doll. She had arranged its nightgown, settled
every button, tied every string, and now, holding it against her little
bosom, singing to it, got up to put it to bed. “Mammy’s darling,” said
Tiny, “everything as mammy has–dood dolly, dood dolly. Dolly go to
bed.”

Both the man and the woman sat watching her as she performed this little
ceremony. Dolly’s bed was on a sofa, carefully arranged with a cushion
and coverlet. Tiny laid the doll down, listened, made as if she heard a
little cry, bent over the mimic baby, soothing and quieting. Then she
turned round to the spectators, holding up a little finger. “Gone to
sleep,” said Tiny in a whisper. “Hush, hush–dolly not well, not twite
well–me go and ask nursie what she sinks.”

The child went out on tip-toe, making urgent little gesticulations that
the others might keep silence. There was a momentary hush; she had left
the door ajar, but Mr. Wradisley did not think of that. He looked with a
nervous glance at the doll on the sofa, which seemed to him like another
child laid there to watch.

“Mrs. Nugent,” he said at last, “you must know what I mean. I never
thought this great moment of my life would come thus, as if it were a
boy’s secret, to be kept from a child!–but you know; I have tried to
make it very clear. You are the only woman in the world–I want you to
be my wife.”

“Mr. Wradisley–God help me–I have tried to make another thing still
more clear, that I can never more be any one’s wife.”

She clasped her hands and looked at him as if it were she who was the
supplicant.

He, having delivered himself, became more calm; he regained his
confidence in himself.

“I am very much in earnest,” he said; “don’t think it is lightly said.
I have known since the first moment I saw you, but I have not yielded to
any impulse. It has grown into my whole being; I accept Tiny and
everything. I don’t offer you any other inducements, for you are above
them. You know a little what I am, but I will change my very nature to
please you. Be my wife.”

She rose up, the tears came in a flood to her eyes.

“Be content,” she said; “it is impossible, it is impossible. Don’t ask
me any more, oh, for God’s sake don’t ask me any more, neither you nor
any man. I would thank you if I could, but it is too dreadful. For the
love of heaven, let this be final and go away.”

“I cannot go away with such an answer. I have startled you, though I
hoped not to do so. You are agitated, you have some false notions, as
women have, of loving only once. Mrs. Nugent–”

She crossed the room precipitately in front of him as he approached
toward her, and closing the door, stood holding it with her hand.

“I could explain in a word,” she said, “but do not force me to
explain–it would be too hard; it is impossible, only understand that.
Here is my child coming back, who must not indeed hear this. I will give
you my hand and say farewell, and you will never think of me again.”

“That is the thing that is impossible,” he said.

Tiny was singing at the door, beating against it. What an interruption
for a tale–and such a love tale as his! Mr. Wradisley was terribly
jarred in all his nerves. He was more vexed even than disappointed; he
could not acknowledge himself disappointed. It was the child, the
surprise, the shock of admitting for the first time such an idea; he
would not believe it was anything else, not even when she held open the
door for him with what in any other circumstances would have been an
affront, sending him away. The child got between them somehow with her
little song. “Dood-night, dood-night,” said Tiny. “Come again anodder
day,” holding her mother’s dress with one hand, and with the other
waving to him her little farewell, as was her way.

He made a step or two across the little hall, and then came back.
“Promise me that you will let this make no difference, that you will
come to-morrow, that I shall see you again,” he said.

“No, no; let it be over, let it be over!” she cried.

“You will come to-morrow? I will not speak to you if I must not; but
make no difference. Promise that, and I will go away.”

“I will come to-morrow,” she said. “Good-by.”

The maid was standing behind him to close the outer door. Did that
account for the softening of her tone? or had she begun already to see
that nothing was impossible–that her foolish, womanish prejudice about
a dead husband could never stand in the way of a love like his? Mr.
Wradisley’s heart was beating in his ears, as he went down the bank, as
it had never done before. He had come in great excitement, but it was
with much greater excitement that he was going away. When the maid came
running after him that laboring heart stood still for an instant. He
thought he was recalled, and that everything was to be as he desired; he
felt even a slight regret in the joy of being recalled so soon. It would
have been even better had she taken longer to think of it. But it was
only his umbrella which he had forgotten. Mr. Wradisley to forget his
umbrella! That showed indeed the pass to which the man had come.

It was quite dark now, and the one or two rare passers-by that he met on
the way passed him like ghosts, yet turned their heads toward him
suspiciously, wondering who he was. They were villagers unwillingly out
in the night upon business of their own; they divined a gentleman,
though it was too dark to see him, and wondered who the soft-footed,
slim figure could be, no one imagining for a moment who it really was.
And yet he had already made two or three pilgrimages like this to visit
the lady who for the first time in his life had made the sublime Mr.
Wradisley a suitor. He felt, as he opened softly his own gate, that it
was a thing that must not be repeated; but yet that it was in its way
natural and seemly that his suit should not be precisely like that of an
ordinary man. Henceforward it could be conducted in a different way, now
that she was aware of his feelings without the cognizance of any other
person. If it could be possible that her prejudices or caprice should
hold out, nobody need be the wiser. But he did not believe that this
would be the case. She had been startled, let it even be said shocked,
to have discovered that she was loved, and by such a man as himself.
There was even humility–the sweetest womanly quality–in her conviction
that it was impossible, impossible that she, with no first love to give
him, should be sought by him. But this would not stand the reflection of
a propitious night, of a new day.

The dinner was quite a cheerful meal at Wradisbury that night. The
master of the house was exactly as he always was. Punctilious in every
kindness and politeness, perfect in his behavior. To see him take his
mother in as he always did, as if she were the queen, and place her in
her own chair, where she had presided at the head of that table for over
forty years, was in itself a sight. He was the king regnant escorting a
queen dowager–a queen mother, not exactly there by personal right, but
by conscious delegation, yet supreme naturalness and reverence, from
him. He liked to put her in her place. Except on occasions when there
were guests he had always done it since the day of his father’s death,
with a sort of ceremony as showing how he gave her all honor though
this supreme position was no longer her absolute due. He led her in with
special tenderness to-night. It perhaps might not last long, this reign
of hers. Another and a brighter figure was already chosen for that
place, but as long as the mother was in it, the honor shown to her
should be special, above even ordinary respect. I think Ralph was a
little fretted by this show of reverence. Perhaps, with that subtle
understanding of each other which people have in a family, even when
they reach the extreme of personal difference or almost alienation, he
knew what was in his brother’s mind, and resented the consciousness of
conferring honor which moved Reginald. In Ralph’s house (or so he
thought) the mother would rule without any show of derived power. It
would be her own, not a grace conferred; but though he chafed he was
silent, for it was very certain that there was not an exception to be
taken, not a word to say. It is possible that Mrs. Wradisley was aware
of it too, but she liked it, liked her son’s magnanimous giving up to
her of all the privileges which had for so long been hers. Many men
would not have done that. They would have liked their houses to
themselves; but Reginald had always been a model son. She was not in any
way an exacting woman, and when she turned to her second son, come back
in peace after so many wanderings, her heart overflowed with content.
She was the only one in the party who was not aware that the master of
the house had left his library in the darkening. The servants about the
table all knew, and had formed a wonderfully close guess as to what was
“up,” as they said, and Lucy knew with a great commotion and trouble of
her thoughts, wondering, not knowing if she were sorry or glad, looking
very wistfully at her brother to see if he had been fortunate or
otherwise. Was it possible that Nelly Nugent might be her sister, and
sit in her mother’s place? Oh, it would be delightful, it would be
dreadful! For how would mamma take it to be dethroned? And then if Nelly
would not, poor Reginald! Lucy watched him covertly, and could scarcely
contain herself. Ralph and Mr. Bertram, I fear, did not think of Mrs.
Nugent, but of something less creditable to Mr. Wradisley. The mother
was the only one to whom any breach in his usual habits remained
unknown.

“You really mean to have this garden party to-morrow, mother?” he said.

“Oh, yes, my dear, it is all arranged–the last, the very last of the
season. Not so much a garden party as a sort of farewell to summer
before your shooting parties arrive. We are so late this year. The
harvest has been so late,” Mrs. Wradisley said, turning toward Bertram.
“St. Swithin, you know, was in full force this year, and some of the
corn was still out when the month began. But the weather lately has been
so fine. There was a little rain this morning, but still the weather has
been quite remarkable. I am glad you came in time for our little
gathering, for Raaf will see a number of old friends, and you, I hope,
some of the nicest people about.”

“I suspect I must have seen the nicest people already,” said Bertram,
with a laugh and a bow.

“Oh, that is a very kind thing to say, Mr. Bertram, and, indeed, I am
very glad that Raaf’s friend should like his people. But no, you will
see some very superior people to-morrow. Lord Dulham was once a Cabinet
Minister, and Colonel Knox has seen an immense deal of service in
different parts of the world; not to speak of Mr. Sergeant–Geoffrey
Sergeant, you know, who is so well known in the literary world–but I
don’t know whether you care for people who write,” Mrs. Wradisley said.

“He writes himself,” said Ralph, out of his beard. “Letters half a mile
long, and leaders, and all sorts of things. If we don’t look out he’ll
have us all in.”

The other members of the party looked at Bertram with alarm. Mr.
Wradisley with a certain half resentment, half disgust.

“Indeed,” he said; “I thought I had been so fortunate as to discover for
myself a most intelligent critic–but evidently I ought to have known.”

“Don’t say that,” said Bertram, “indeed I’m not here on false pretenses.
I’m not a literary man afloat on the world, or making notes. Only a
humble newspaper correspondent, Mrs. Wradisley, and only that when it
happens to suit me, as your son knows.”

“Oh, I am sure we are very highly honored,” said the lady, disturbed,
“only Raaf, you should have told me, or I might have said something
disagreeable about literary people, and that would have been so very–I
assure you we are all quite proud of Mr. Sergeant, and still more, Mr.
Bertram, to have some one to meet him whom he will–whom he is sure
to–”

“You might have said he was a queer fish. I think he is,” said Bertram,
“but don’t suppose he knows me, or any of my sort. Raaf is only playing
you a trick. I wrote something about Africa, that’s all. When one is
knocking about the world for years without endless money to spend,
anything to put a penny in one’s purse is good. But I can’t write a
bit–except a report about Africa,” he added, hurriedly.

“Oh, about Africa,” Mrs. Wradisley said, with an expression of greater
ease, and there was a little relief in the mind of the family generally.
Bertram seized the opportunity to plunge into talk about Africa and the
big game, drawing Ralph subtly into the conversation. It was not easy to
get Ralph set a-going, but when he was so, there was found to be much in
him wanting expression, and the stranger escaped under shelter of
adventures naturally more interesting to the family than any he had to
tell. He laughed a little to himself over it as the talk flowed on, and
left him with not much pride in the literary profession, which he had in
fact only played with, but which had inspired him at moments with a
little content in what he did too. These good folk, who were intelligent
enough, would have been a little afraid of him, not merely gratified by
his acquaintance, had he been really a writer of books. They were much
more at their ease to think him only a sportsman like Ralph, and a
gentleman at large. When they went into the drawing-room afterwards,
the conversation came back to the party of to-morrow, and to the pretty
widow in the cottage, of whom Mrs. Wradisley began to talk, saying they
would leave the flowers till Mrs. Nugent came, who was so great in
decoration.

“I thought,” said Ralph, “this widow of yours–was not to be here.”

Mr. Wradisley interposed at this point from where he stood, with his
back to the fire. “Ah,” he said, “oh,” with a clearing of his throat, “I
happened to see Mrs. Nugent in the village to-day, and I certainly
understood from her that she would be here.”

“You saw her–after I did, Reginald?” said Lucy, in spite of herself.

“Now, how can you say anything so absurd, Lucy–when you saw her just
before dinner, and Reginald could only have seen her in the morning, for
he never goes out late,” Mrs. Wradisley said.

Bertram felt that he was a conspirator. He gave a furtive glance at the
others who knew different. He could see that Lucy grew scarlet, but not
a word was said.

“You are mistaken, mother,” said Mr. Wradisley, with his calm voice, “I
sometimes do take a little _giro_ in the evening.”

“Oh, a _giro_;” said his mother, as if that altered the matter;
“however,” she added, “there never was any question about the party;
that she fully knew we expected her for; but I wanted her to come for
lunch that she might make Ralph’s acquaintance before the crowd came;
but it doesn’t matter, for no doubt they’ll meet often enough. Only when
you men begin to shoot you’re lost to all ordinary occupations; and so
tired when you come in that you have not a word to throw at–a lady
certainly, if you still may have at a dog.”

“I am not so bent on meeting this widow, mother, as you seem to think,”
said Ralph.

“You need not always call her a widow. That’s her misfortune; it’s not
her character,” said Lucy, unconsciously epigrammatic.

“Oh, well, whatever you please–this beautiful lady–is that better?
The other sounds designing, I allow.”

“I think,” said Mr. Wradisley, “that we have perhaps discussed Mrs.
Nugent as much as is called for. She is a lady–for whom we all have the
utmost respect.” He spoke as if that closed the question, as indeed it
generally did; and going across the room to what he knew was the most
comfortable chair, possessed himself of the evening paper, and sitting
down, began to read it. Mrs. Wradisley had by no means done with her
evening paper, and that Reginald should thus take it up under her very
eyes filled her soul with astonishment. She looked at him with a gasp,
and then, after a moment, put out her hand for her knitting. Nothing
that could have happened could have given her a more bewildering and
mysterious shock.

All this, perhaps, was rather like a play to Bertram, who saw everything
with a certain unconscious exercise of that literary faculty which he
had just found so little impressive to the people among whom he found
himself. They were very kind people, and had received him confidingly,
asking no questions, not even wondering, as they might have done, what
queer companion Ralph had picked up. Indeed, he was not at all like
Ralph, though circumstances had made them close comrades. Perhaps if
they could have read his life as he thought he could read theirs, they
might not have opened their doors to him with such perfect trust. He had
(had he?) the ruin of a woman’s happiness on his heart, and the
destruction of many hopes. He had been wandering about the world for a
number of years, never knowing how to make up his mind on this question.
Was it indeed his fault? Was it her fault? Were they both to blame?
Perhaps the last was the truth; but he knew very well he would never get
her, or any one, to confess or to believe that. There are some cases in
which the woman has certainly the best of it; and when the man who has
been the means of bringing a young, fair, blameless creature into great
trouble, even if he never meant it, is hopelessly put in the wrong even
when there may be something to be said for him. He was himself
bewildered now and then when he thought it all over, wondering if
indeed there might be something to be said for him. But if he could not
even satisfy himself of that, how should he ever satisfy the world? He
was a little stirred up and uncomfortable that night, he could scarcely
tell why, for the brewing troubles of the Wradisleys, if it was trouble
that was brewing, was unlikely to affect a stranger. Ralph, indeed, had
been grumbling in his beard with complaints over what was in fact the
blamelessness of his brother, but it did not trouble Bertram that his
host should be too perfect a man. He had quite settled in his own mind
what it was that was going to happen. The widow, no doubt, was some
pretty adventuress who, by means of the mother and sister, had
established a bold over the immaculate one, and meant to marry him and
turn her patronesses adrift–the commonest story, vulgar, even. And the
ladies would really have nothing to complain of, for Wradisley was
certainly old enough to choose for himself, and might have married and
turned off his mother to her jointure house years ago, and no harm
done. It was not this that made Bertram sleepless and nervous, who
really had so little to do with them, and no call to fight their
battles. Perhaps it was the sensation of being in England, and within
the rules of common life again, after long disruption from all ordinary
circumstances of ordinary living. He to plunge into garden parties, and
common encounters of men and women! He might meet some one who knew him,
who would ask him questions, and attempt to piece his life together with
guesses and conjectures. He had a great mind to repack his portmanteau
and sling it over his shoulder, and tramp through the night to the
nearest station. But to what good? For wherever he might go the same
risk would meet him. How tranquil the night was as he looked out of the
window, a great moon shining over the openings of the park, making the
silence and the vacant spaces so doubly solitary! He dared not break the
sanctity of that solitude by going out into it, any more than he dared
disturb the quiet of the fully populated and deeply sleeping house. He
had no right, for any caprice or personal cowardice of his, to disturb
that stillness. And then it gave him a curious contradictory sensation,
half of relief from his own thoughts, half of sympathy, to think that
there were already here the elements of a far greater disturbance than
any he could work, beginning to move within the house itself, working,
perhaps, toward a catastrophe of its own. In the midst of all he
suddenly stopped and laughed to himself, and went to bed at last with
the most curiously subdued and softened sensation. He had remembered the
look of the child whom he had lifted from the ground at the little gate
of Greenbank–how she had suddenly been stilled in her childish
mischief, and fixed him with her big, innocent, startled eyes. Poor
little thing! She was innocent enough, whatever might be the nest from
which she came. This was the thought with which he closed his eyes.