The farm was less than a hundred yards from the wood's edge. The wall of trees formed the fourth side to the open quadrangle. The house faced the wood. With tangled emotions, Syson noted the plum blossom falling on the profuse, coloured primroses, which he himself had brought here and set. How they had increased! There were thick tufts of scarlet, and pink, and pale purple primroses under the plum trees. He saw somebody glance at him through the kitchen window, heard men's voices.
The door opened suddenly: very womanly she had grown! He felt himself going pale.
"You? - Addy!" she exclaimed, and stood motionless.
"Who?" called the farmer's voice. Men's low voices answered. Those low voices, curious and almost jeering, roused the tormented spirit in the visitor. Smiling brilliantly at her, he waited.
"Myself - why not?" he said.
The flush burned very deep on her cheek and throat.
"We are just finishing dinner," she said.
"Then I will stay outside." He made a motion to show that he would sit on the red earthenware pipkin that stood near the door among the daffodils, and contained the drinking water.
"Oh no, come in," she said hurriedly. He followed her. In the doorway, he glanced swiftly over the family, and bowed. Everyone was confused. The farmer, his wife, and the four sons sat at the coarsely laid dinner-table, the men with arms bare to the elbows.
"I am sorry I come at lunch-time," said Syson.
"Hello, Addy!" said the farmer, assuming the old form of address, but his tone cold. "How are you?"
And he shook hands.
"Shall you have a bit?" he invited the young visitor, but taking for granted the offer would be refused. He assumed that Syson was become too refined to eat so roughly. The young man winced at the imputation.
"Have you had any dinner?" asked the daughter.
"No," replied Syson. "It is too early. I shall be back at half- past one."
"You call it lunch, don't you?" asked the eldest son, almost ironical. He had once been an intimate friend of this young man.
"We'll give Addy something when we've finished," said the mother, an invalid, deprecating.
"No - don't trouble. I don't want to give you any trouble," said Syson.
"You could allus live on fresh air an' scenery," laughed the youngest son, a lad of nineteen.
Syson went round the buildings, and into the orchard at the back of the house, where daffodils all along the hedgerow swung like yellow, ruffled birds on their perches. He loved the place extraordinarily, the hills ranging round, with bear-skin woods covering their giant shoulders, and small red farms like brooches clasping their garments; the blue streak of water in the valley, the bareness of the home pasture, the sound of myriad-threaded bird-singing, which went mostly unheard. To his last day, he would dream of this place, when he felt the sun on his face, or saw the small handfuls of snow between the winter twigs, or smelt the coming of spring.
Hilda was very womanly. In her presence he felt constrained. She was twenty-nine, as he was, but she seemed to him much older. He felt foolish, almost unreal, beside her. She was so static. As he was fingering some shed plum blossom on a low bough, she came to the back door to shake the table-cloth. Fowls raced from the stackyard, birds rustled from the trees. Her dark hair was gathered up in a coil like a crown on her head. She was very straight, distant in her bearing. As she folded the cloth, she looked away over the hills.
Presently Syson returned indoors. She had prepared eggs and curd cheese, stewed gooseberries and cream.
"Since you will dine to-night," she said, "I have only given you a light lunch."
"It is awfully nice," he said. "You keep a real idyllic atmosphere - your belt of straw and ivy buds."
Still they hurt each other.
He was uneasy before her. Her brief, sure speech, her distant bearing, were unfamiliar to him. He admired again her grey-black eyebrows, and her lashes. Their eyes met. He saw, in the beautiful grey and black of her glance, tears and a strange light, and at the back of all, calm acceptance of herself, and triumph over him.
He felt himself shrinking. With an effort he kept up the ironic manner.
She sent him into the parlour while she washed the dishes. The long low room was refurnished from the Abbey sale, with chairs upholstered in claret-coloured rep, many years old, and an oval table of polished walnut, and another piano, handsome, though still antique. In spite of the strangeness, he was pleased. Opening a high cupboard let into the thickness of the wall, he found it full of his books, his old lesson-books, and volumes of verse he had sent her, English and German. The daffodils in the white window- bottoms shone across the room, he could almost feel their rays. The old glamour caught him again. His youthful water-colours on the wall no longer made him grin; he remembered how fervently he had tried to paint for her, twelve years before.
She entered, wiping a dish, and he saw again the bright, kernel- white beauty of her arms.
"You are quite splendid here," he said, and their eyes met.
"Do you like it?" she asked. It was the old, low, husky tone of intimacy. He felt a quick change beginning in his blood. It was the old, delicious sublimation, the thinning, almost the vaporizing of himself, as if his spirit were to be liberated.
"Aye," he nodded, smiling at her like a boy again. She bowed her head.
"This was the countess's chair," she said in low tones. "I found her scissors down here between the padding."
"Did you? Where are they?"
Quickly, with a lilt in her movement, she fetched her work-basket, and together they examined the long-shanked old scissors.
"What a ballad of dead ladies!" he said, laughing, as he fitted his fingers into the round loops of the countess's scissors.
"I knew you could use them," she said, with certainty. He looked at his fingers, and at the scissors. She meant his fingers were fine enough for the small-looped scissors.
"That is something to be said for me," he laughed, putting the scissors aside. She turned to the window. He noticed the fine, fair down on her cheek and her upper lip, and her soft, white neck, like the throat of a nettle flower, and her fore-arms, bright as newly blanched kernels. He was looking at her with new eyes, and she was a different person to him. He did not know her. But he could regard her objectively now.
"Shall we go out awhile?" she asked.
"Yes!" he answered. But the predominant emotion, that troubled the excitement and perplexity of his heart, was fear, fear of that which he saw. There was about her the same manner, the same intonation in her voice, now as then, but she was not what he had known her to be. He knew quite well what she had been for him. And gradually he was realizing that she was something quite other, and always had been.
She put no covering on her head, merely took off her apron, saying, "We will go by the larches." As they passed the old orchard, she called him in to show him a blue-tit's nest in one of the apple trees, and a sycock's in the hedge. He rather wondered at her surety, at a certain hardness like arrogance hidden under her humility.
"Look at the apple buds," she said, and he then perceived myriads of little scarlet balls among the drooping boughs. Watching his face, her eyes went hard. She saw the scales were fallen from him, and at last he was going to see her as she was. It was the thing she had most dreaded in the past, and most needed, for her soul's sake. Now he was going to see her as she was. He would not love her, and he would know he never could have loved her. The old illusion gone, they were strangers, crude and entire. But he would give her her due - she would have her due from him.
She was brilliant as he had not known her. She showed him nests: a jenny wren's in a low bush.
"See this jinty's!" she exclaimed.
He was surprised to hear her use the local name. She reached carefully through the thorns, and put her fingers in the nest's round door.
"Five!" she said. "Tiny little things."
She showed him nests of robins, and chaffinches, and linnets, and buntings; of a wagtail beside the water.
"And if we go down, nearer the lake, I will show you a kingfisher's . . ."
"Among the young fir trees," she said, "there's a throstle's or a blackie's on nearly every bough, every ledge. The first day, when I had seen them all, I felt as if I mustn't go in the wood. It seemed a city of birds: and in the morning, hearing them all, I thought of the noisy early markets. I was afraid to go in my own wood."
She was using the language they had both of them invented. Now it was all her own. He had done with it. She did not mind his silence, but was always dominant, letting him see her wood. As they came along a marshy path where forget-me-nots were opening in a rich blue drift: "We know all the birds, but there are many flowers we can't find out," she said. It was half an appeal to him, who had known the names of things.
She looked dreamily across to the open fields that slept in the sun.
"I have a lover as well, you know," she said, with assurance, yet dropping again almost into the intimate tone.
This woke in him the spirit to fight her.
"I think I met him. He is good-looking - also in Arcady."
Without answering, she turned into a dark path that led up-hill, where the trees and undergrowth were very thick.
"They did well," she said at length, "to have various altars to various gods, in old days."
"Ah yes!" he agreed. "To whom is the new one?"
"There are no old ones," she said. "I was always looking for this."
"And whose is it?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, looking full at him.
"I'm very glad, for your sake," he said, "that you are satisfied."
"Aye - but the man doesn't matter so much," she said. There was a pause.
"No!" he exclaimed, astonished, yet recognizing her as her real self.
"It is one's self that matters," she said. "Whether one is being one's own self and serving one's own God."
There was silence, during which he pondered. The path was almost flowerless, gloomy. At the side, his heels sank into soft clay.