Down the avenue there came to them, with the opening of the door, the voice of Owen's motor. It was the signal which had interrupted their first talk, and again, instinctively, they drew apart at the sound. Without a word Darrow turned back into the room, while Sophy Viner went down the steps and walked back alone toward the court.
At luncheon the presence of the surgeon, and the non- appearance of Madame de Chantelle--who had excused herself on the plea of a headache--combined to shift the conversational centre of gravity; and Darrow, under shelter of the necessarily impersonal talk, had time to adjust his disguise and to perceive that the others were engaged in the same re-arrangement. It was the first time that he had seen young Leath and Sophy Viner together since he had learned of their engagement; but neither revealed more emotion than befitted the occasion. It was evident that Owen was deeply under the girl's charm, and that at the least sign from her his bliss would have broken bounds; but her reticence was justified by the tacitly recognized fact of Madame de Chantelle's disapproval. This also visibly weighed on Anna's mind, making her manner to Sophy, if no less kind, yet a trifle more constrained than if the moment of final understanding had been reached. So Darrow interpreted the tension perceptible under the fluent exchange of commonplaces in which he was diligently sharing. But he was more and more aware of his inability to test the moral atmosphere about him: he was like a man in fever testing another's temperature by the touch.
After luncheon Anna, who was to motor the surgeon home, suggested to Darrow that he should accompany them. Effie was also of the party; and Darrow inferred that Anna wished to give her step-son a chance to be alone with his betrothed. On the way back, after the surgeon had been left at his door, the little girl sat between her mother and Darrow, and her presence kept their talk from taking a personal turn. Darrow knew that Mrs. Leath had not yet told Effie of the relation in which he was to stand to her. The premature divulging of Owen's plans had thrown their own into the background, and by common consent they continued, in the little girl's presence, on terms of an informal friendliness.
The sky had cleared after luncheon, and to prolong their excursion they returned by way of the ivy-mantled ruin which was to have been the scene of the projected picnic. This circuit brought them back to the park gates not long before sunset, and as Anna wished to stop at the lodge for news of the injured child Darrow left her there with Effie and walked on alone to the house. He had the impression that she was slightly surprised at his not waiting for her; but his inner restlessness vented itself in an intense desire for bodily movement. He would have liked to walk himself into a state of torpor; to tramp on for hours through the moist winds and the healing darkness and come back staggering with fatigue and sleep. But he had no pretext for such a flight, and he feared that, at such a moment, his prolonged absence might seem singular to Anna.
As he approached the house, the thought of her nearness produced a swift reaction of mood. It was as if an intenser vision of her had scattered his perplexities like morning mists. At this moment, wherever she was, he knew he was safely shut away in her thoughts, and the knowledge made every other fact dwindle away to a shadow. He and she loved each other, and their love arched over them open and ample as the day: in all its sunlit spaces there was no cranny for a fear to lurk. In a few minutes he would be in her presence and would read his reassurance in her eyes. And presently, before dinner, she would contrive that they should have an hour by themselves in her sitting-room, and he would sit by the hearth and watch her quiet movements, and the way the bluish lustre on her hair purpled a little as she bent above the fire.
A carriage drove out of the court as he entered it, and in the hall his vision was dispelled by the exceedingly substantial presence of a lady in a waterproof and a tweed hat, who stood firmly planted in the centre of a pile of luggage, as to which she was giving involved but lucid directions to the footman who had just admitted her. She went on with these directions regardless of Darrow's entrance, merely fixing her small pale eyes on him while she proceeded, in a deep contralto voice, and a fluent French pronounced with the purest Boston accent, to specify the destination of her bags; and this enabled Darrow to give her back a gaze protracted enough to take in all the details of her plain thick-set person, from the square sallow face beneath bands of grey hair to the blunt boot-toes protruding under her wide walking skirt.
She submitted to this scrutiny with no more evidence of surprise than a monument examined by a tourist; but when the fate of her luggage had been settled she turned suddenly to Darrow and, dropping her eyes from his face to his feet, asked in trenchant accents: "What sort of boots have you got on?"
Before he could summon his wits to the consideration of this question she continued in a tone of suppressed indignation: "Until Americans get used to the fact that France is under water for half the year they're perpetually risking their lives by not being properly protected. I suppose you've been tramping through all this nasty clammy mud as if you'd been taking a stroll on Boston Common."
Darrow, with a laugh, affirmed his previous experience of French dampness, and the degree to which he was on his guard against it; but the lady, with a contemptuous snort, rejoined: "You young men are all alike----"; to which she appended, after another hard look at him: "I suppose you're George Darrow? I used to know one of your mother's cousins, who married a Tunstall of Mount Vernon Street. My name is Adelaide Painter. Have you been in Boston lately? No? I'm sorry for that. I hear there have been several new houses built at the lower end of Commonwealth Avenue and I hoped you could tell me about them. I haven't been there for thirty years myself."
Miss Painter's arrival at Givre produced the same effect as the wind's hauling around to the north after days of languid weather. When Darrow joined the group about the tea-table she had already given a tingle to the air. Madame de Chantelle still remained invisible above stairs; but Darrow had the impression that even through her drawn curtains and bolted doors a stimulating whiff must have entered.
Anna was in her usual seat behind the tea-tray, and Sophy Viner presently led in her pupil. Owen was also there, seated, as usual, a little apart from the others, and following Miss Painter's massive movements and equally substantial utterances with a smile of secret intelligence which gave Darrow the idea of his having been in clandestine parley with the enemy. Darrow further took note that the girl and her suitor perceptibly avoided each other; but this might be a natural result of the tension Miss Painter had been summoned to relieve.
Sophy Viner would evidently permit no recognition of the situation save that which it lay with Madame de Chantelle to accord; but meanwhile Miss Painter had proclaimed her tacit sense of it by summoning the girl to a seat at her side.