The morning she came was the morning Eric said good-bye "just for a few days," he dreaming, as little as we, of what those few days were to bring.
And so, ignorant of what I was facing, I was almost happy in spite of the parting, because of what Eric said to me that last Monday morning.
The cart had been ordered to go for Madame Aurore at 9:42. Directly after breakfast my mother and Bettina set about trimming hats--a business in which they scorned my help. I had something particular to finish in the garden. I went on digging up the bare patches on the south bank, sharing the delight of all things growing and blowing and flying under the glorious cloud-piled sky of May. I listened intently, as I worked, to that orchestra of tiny sound underneath the loud birds' singing. The spring, unlike last year's, had been cold and late; many days like this--with crisp air and fitful sunshine. Only here, in the sheltered south-west corner, were
the bees in any number tuning up their fiddles.
I looked up from my work and saw--at that most unusual hour--Eric Annan at the gate! I saw, too, that he looked odd--excited. I dropped the garden-fork. "What is the matter?" I said.
"Matter? What should be the matter?"
I only smiled. It was so like Eric not to be pleased at hearing he had betrayed himself.
"I thought you looked as if--as if something had happened," I said. What I meant was, as if something were about to happen. Only one thing, I thought, could make Eric look like that; make him interrupt his precious morning; one thing, alone, could have grown so great overnight that the heart of man could not conceal it, or contain it, for another hour.
But, even if my hopes were not misleading me, I felt that Eric would not like my having guessed so much. To hide my eyes from him I bent down over my basket. I lifted out tufts of aromatic green, and set them firmly in the loosened soil. I pressed the earth down tight about their roots.
"What are you planting there?" he asked.
"Re-planting the wild thyme," I said. Something had killed it last year.
"Where do you find wild thyme?" he asked.
I told him how far I had to go for it. And when? Before breakfast! He looked astonished.
I did not like to explain that I had got into the habit of waking early to study. And, now that studying was no use, I spent the time in taking delicious walks in the early morning, before other people were awake. I confessed the walks.
"You ought not to have told me," he said.
"Because, for these next days I can't come too."
I went on planting thyme.
"Promise me, for these next days you won't go either."
"Why?" I asked again.
"Because my thoughts might go wandering."
I nudged the wild thyme, and we both smiled secretly.
"I can't afford, just at this moment, to have anything distracting me." He said this in an anxious, almost appealing, way.
"Very well," I answered. "I won't go early walks for the next--how many days am I to be
cooped up when the morning is at its best?"
"Oh, not long." Then with that impatience of his, if you were doing other things while he was there: "How much more of that stuff are you going to put in?"
"All there is," I said provokingly. And I did not hurry.
"Why must you have wild thyme there?" he grumbled.
"So as not to disappoint the blue butterflies," I said gravely. "They 'know a bank' and this is it. They've had an understanding with my mother about it for years. If they don't find thyme here they're annoyed. They go on dying out. My mother says a world without blue butterflies would be a poor sort of place."
We talked irrelevancies for a moment more--the passion of the convolvulus moth for petunias, and the other flowers the different sorts of moths and butterflies preferred.
He was surprised to hear that for years my mother had taken all that trouble to please even the ordinary red admirals and spotted footmen and painted ladies. I explained that I was replanting this thyme only to please my mother.
"Personally," I had never bothered much about the butterfly-garden, I said, in what he promptly called a superior tone.
I maintained that the pampered creatures were dreadful "slackers" and sybarites--all for colour and sweet scents.
He stood listening a moment to the bees' band playing in the rhododendron concert, and then he defended the butterflies. Butterflies were much misunderstood. "In their way--and a very good way, too--they answer to the call."
"The call to serve the ends of life."
I looked up, surprised, from my fresh thyme patch, for general moralisings were not much in Eric's way. "What are the ends of life?"
"More life." There was a moment's pause. Then he said butterflies were no more "idle" than bees and birds. Besides attending to their more immediate affairs they were pollen-bringers.
It was such solemn talk for butterflies. I told him the two sulphur yellows reeling in the sunshine were laughing at him. "'Ends of life' indeed! They simply love bright colour and things that smell sweet. . . . "
"Of course they love them!" Then he said something that sank deeper than any single sentence I ever heard: "Hating never created anything; all life comes from lovers."
At the moment that great saying only frightened me. And the strange thing was it seemed to frighten him.
We were very still for a moment. I thought even the little music of the honey bees had slackened. I and all the world waited--holding breath.
Then a gust of wind veered round the corner, and Eric turned up his collar. He asked if I wasn't cold. I was anything but cold. But I had noticed that after his long hours of motionless concentration indoors, Eric was very sensitive to chill. So I put off planting the rest of the thyme, and I took Eric up to the morning-room.
"What is he going to tell me?" I asked myself on the way. And though I asked, I thought I knew.
End Chapter XXII
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