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Chapter XVII

When young Mark came on Sylvia by the logan-stone, it was less surprising to him than if he had not known she was there--having watched her go. She was sitting, all humped together, brooding over the water, her sunbonnet thrown back; and that hair, in which his star had caught, shining faint-gold under the sun. He came on her softly through the grass, and, when he was a little way off, thought it best to halt. If he startled her she might run away, and he would not have the heart to follow. How still she was, lost in her brooding! He wished he could see her face. He spoke at last, gently:

"Sylvia! . . . Would you mind?"

And, seeing that she did not move, he went up to her. Surely she could not still be angry with him!

"Thanks most awfully for that book you gave me--it looks splendid!"

She made no answer. And leaning his rod against the stone, he sighed. That silence of hers seemed to him unjust; what was it she wanted him to say or do? Life was not worth living, if it was to be all bottled up like this.

"I never meant to hurt you. I hate hurting people. It's only that my beasts are so bad--I can't bear people to see them--especially you--I want to please you--I do really. So, you see, that was all. You might forgive me, Sylvia!"

Something over the wall, a rustling, a scattering in the fern-- deer, no doubt! And again he said eagerly, softly:

"You might be nice to me, Sylvia; you really might."

Very quickly, turning her head away, she said:

"It isn't that any more. It's--it's something else."

"What else?"

"Nothing--only, that I don't count--now--"

He knelt down beside her. What did she mean? But he knew well enough.

"Of course, you count! Most awfully! Oh, don't be unhappy! I hate people being unhappy. Don't be unhappy, Sylvia!" And he began gently to stroke her arm. It was all strange and troubled within him; one thing only plain--he must not admit anything! As if reading that thought, her blue eyes seemed suddenly to search right into him. Then she pulled some blades of grass, and began plaiting them.

"She counts."

Ah! He was not going to say: She doesn't! It would be caddish to say that. Even if she didn't count--Did she still?--it would be mean and low. And in his eyes just then there was the look that had made his tutor compare him to a lion cub in trouble.

Sylvia was touching his arm.

"Mark!"

"Yes."

"Don't!"

He got up and took his rod. What was the use? He could not stay there with her, since he could not--must not speak.

"Are you going?"

"Yes."

"Are you angry? Please don't be angry with me."

He felt a choke in his throat, bent down to her hand, and kissed it; then shouldered his rod, and marched away. Looking back once, he saw her still sitting there, gazing after him, forlorn, by that great stone. It seemed to him, then, there was nowhere he could go; nowhere except among the birds and beasts and trees, who did not mind even if you were all mixed up and horrible inside. He lay down in the grass on the bank. He could see the tiny trout moving round and round the stones; swallows came all about him, flying very low; a hornet, too, bore him company for a little. But he could take interest in nothing; it was as if his spirit were in prison. It would have been nice, indeed, to be that water, never staying, passing, passing; or wind, touching everything, never caught. To be able to do nothing without hurting someone--that was what was so ghastly. If only one were like a flower, that just sprang up and lived its life all to itself, and died. But whatever he did, or said now, would be like telling lies, or else being cruel. The only thing was to keep away from people. And yet how keep away from his own guests?

He went back to the house for lunch, but both those guests were out, no one seemed quite to know where. Restless, unhappy, puzzled, he wandered round and about all the afternoon. Just before dinner he was told of Mrs. Stormer's not being well, and that they would be leaving to-morrow. Going--after three days! That plunged him deeper into his strange and sorrowful confusion. He was reduced now to a complete brooding silence. He knew he was attracting attention, but could not help it. Several times during dinner he caught Gordy's eyes fixed on him, from under those puffy half-closed lids, with asphyxiated speculation. But he simply could not talk--everything that came into his mind to say seemed false. Ah! it was a sad evening--with its glimmering vision into another's sore heart, its confused gnawing sense of things broken, faith betrayed; and yet always the perplexed wonder--"How could I have helped it?" And always Sylvia's wistful face that he tried not to look at.

He stole out, leaving Gordy and his tutor still over their wine, and roamed about the garden a long time, listening sadly to the owls. It was a blessing to get upstairs, though of course he would not sleep.

But he did sleep, all through a night of many dreams, in the last of which he was lying on a mountain side, Anna looking down into his eyes, and bending her face to his. He woke just as her lips touched him. Still under the spell of that troubling dream, he became conscious of the sound of wheels and horses' hoofs on the gravel, and sprang out of bed. There was the waggonette moving from the door, old Godden driving, luggage piled up beside him, and the Stormers sitting opposite each other in the carriage. Going away like that--having never even said good-bye! For a moment he felt as people must when they have unwittingly killed someone-- utterly stunned and miserable. Then he dashed into his clothes. He would not let her go thus! He would--he must--see her again! What had he done that she should go like this? He rushed downstairs. The hall was empty; nineteen minutes to eight! The train left at eight o'clock. Had he time to saddle Bolero? He rushed round to the stables; but the cob was out, being shoed. He would--he must get there in time. It would show her anyway that he was not quite a cad. He walked till the drive curved, then began running hard. A quarter of a mile, and already he felt better, not so miserable and guilty; it was something to feel you had a tough job in hand, all your work cut out--something to have to think of economizing strength, picking out the best going, keeping out of the sun, saving your wind uphill, flying down any slope. It was cool still, and the dew had laid the dust; there was no traffic and scarcely anyone to look back and gape as he ran by. What he would do, if he got there in time--how explain this mad three-mile run-- he did not think. He passed a farm that he knew was just half-way. He had left his watch. Indeed, he had put on only his trousers, shirt, and Norfolk jacket; no tie, no hat, not even socks under his tennis shoes, and he was as hot as fire, with his hair flying back-- a strange young creature indeed for anyone to meet. But he had lost now all feeling, save the will to get there. A flock of sheep came out of a field into the lane. He pushed through them somehow, but they lost him several seconds. More than a mile still; and he was blown, and his legs beginning to give! Downhill indeed they went of their own accord, but there was the long run-in, quite level; and he could hear the train, now slowly puffing its way along the valley. Then, in spite of exhaustion, his spirit rose. He would not go in looking like a scarecrow, utterly done, and make a scene. He must pull himself together at the end, and stroll in-- as if he had come for fun. But how--seeing that at any moment he felt he might fall flat in the dust, and stay there for ever! And, as he ran, he made little desperate efforts to mop his face, and brush his clothes. There were the gates, at last--two hundred yards away. The train, he could hear no longer. It must be standing in the station. And a sob came from his overdriven lungs. He heard the guard's whistle as he reached the gates. Instead of making for the booking-office, he ran along the paling, where an entrance to the goods'-shed was open, and dashing through he fell back against the honeysuckle. The engine was just abreast of him; he snatched at his sleeve and passed it over his face, to wipe the sweat away. Everything was blurred. He must see--surely he had not come in time just not to see! He pushed his hands over his forehead and hair, and spied up dizzily at the slowly passing train. She was there, at a window! Standing, looking out! He dared not step forward, for fear of falling, but he put out his hand-- She saw him. Yes, she saw him! Wasn't she going to make a sign? Not one? And suddenly he saw her tear at her dress, pluck something out, and throw it. It fell close to his feet. He did not pick it up--he wanted to see her face till she was gone. It looked wonderful--very proud, and pale. She put her hand up to her lips. Then everything went blurred again and when he could see once more, the train had vanished. But at his feet was what she had thrown. He picked it up! All dry and dark, it was the flower she had given him in the Tyrol, and stolen back from his buttonhole.

Creeping out, past the goods'-shed, he made his way to a field, and lay down with his face pressed to that withered thing which still had its scent. . . .

The asphyxiated speculation in his guardian's eyes had not been without significance. Mark did not go back to Oxford. He went instead to Rome--to live in his sister's house, and attend a school of sculpture. That was the beginning of a time when nothing counted except his work.

To Anna he wrote twice, but received no answer. From his tutor he had one little note:

"MY DEAR LENNAN,

"So! You abandon us for Art? Ah! well--it was your moon, if I remember--one of them. A worthy moon--a little dusty in these days--a little in her decline--but to you no doubt a virgin goddess, whose hem, etc.

"We shall retain the friendliest memories of you in spite of your defection.

"Once your tutor and still your friend,

"HAROLD STORMER."

After that vacation it was long--very long before he saw Sylvia again.

John Galsworthy