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Chapter 23 


The spectacle of Nutty in his anguish did not touch Elizabeth. Normally a kind-hearted girl, she was not in the least sorry for him. She had even taken a bitter pleasure and found a momentary relief in loosing the thunderbolt which had smitten him down. Even if it has to manufacture it, misery loves company. She watched Nutty with a cold and uninterested eye as he opened his mouth feebly, shut it again and reopened it; and then when it became apparent that these manoeuvres were about to result in speech, she left him and walked quickly down the drive again. She had the feeling that if Nutty were to begin to ask her questions--and he had the aspect of one who is about to ask a thousand--she would break down. She wanted solitude and movement, so she left Nutty sitting and started for the gate. Presently she would go and do things among the beehives; and after that, if that brought no solace, she would go in and turn the house upside down and get dusty and tired. Anything to occupy herself.

Reaction had set in. She had known it would come, and had made ready to fight against it, but she had underestimated the strength of the enemy. It seemed to her, in those first minutes, that she had done a mad thing; that all those arguments which she had used were far-fetched and ridiculous. It was useless to tell herself that she had thought the whole thing out clearly and had taken the only course that could have been taken. With Bill's departure the power to face the situation steadily had left her. All she could think of was that she loved him and that she had sent him away.

Why had he listened to her? Why hadn't he taken her in his arms and told her not to be a little fool? Why did men ever listen to women? If he had really loved her, would he have gone away? She tormented herself with this last question for a while. She was still tormenting herself with it when a melancholy voice broke in on her meditations.

'I can't believe it,' said the voice. She turned, to perceive Nutty drooping beside her. 'I simply can't believe it!'

Elizabeth clenched her teeth. She was not in the mood for Nutty.

'It will gradually sink in,' she said, unsympathetically.

'Did you really send him away?'

'I did.'

'But what on earth for?'

'Because it was the only thing to do.'

A light shone on Nutty's darkness.

'Oh, I say, did he hear what I said last night?'

'He did hear what you said last night.'

Nutty's mouth opened slowly.

'Oh!'

Elizabeth said nothing.

'But you could have explained that.'

'How?'

'Oh, I don't know--somehow or other.' He appeared to think. 'But you said it was you who sent him away.'

'I did.'

'Well, this beats me!'

Elizabeth's strained patience reached the limit.

'Nutty, please!' she said. 'Don't let's talk about it. It's all over now.'

'Yes, but--'

'Nutty, don't! I can't stand it. I'm raw all over. I'm hating myself. Please don't make it worse.'

Nutty looked at her face, and decided not to make it worse. But his anguish demanded some outlet. He found it in soliloquy.

'Just like this for the rest of our lives!' he murmured, taking in the farm-grounds and all that in them stood with one glassy stare of misery. 'Nothing but ghastly bees and sweeping floors and fetching water till we die of old age! That is, if those blighters don't put me in jail for getting that money out of them. How was I to know that it was obtaining money under false pretences? It simply seemed to me a darned good way of collecting a few dollars. I don't see how I'm ever going to pay them back, so I suppose it's prison for me all right.'

Elizabeth had been trying not to listen to him, but without success.

'I'll look after that, Nutty. I have a little money saved up, enough to pay off what you owe. I was saving it for something else, but never mind.'

'Awfully good of you,' said Nutty, but his voice sounded almost disappointed. He was in the frame of mind which resents alleviation of its gloom. He would have preferred at that moment to be allowed to round off the picture of the future which he was constructing in his mind with a reel or two showing himself brooding in a cell. After all, what difference did it make to a man of spacious tastes whether he languished for the rest of his life in a jail or on a farm in the country? Jail, indeed, was almost preferable. You knew where you were when you were in prison. They didn't spring things on you. Whereas life on a farm was nothing but one long succession of things sprung on you. Now that Lord Dawlish had gone, he supposed that Elizabeth would make him help her with the bees again. At this thought he groaned aloud. When he contemplated a lifetime at Flack's, a lifetime of bee-dodging and carpet-beating and water-lugging, and reflected that, but for a few innocent words--words spoken, mark you, in a pure spirit of kindliness and brotherly love with the object of putting a bit of optimistic pep into sister!--he might have been in a position to touch a millionaire brother-in-law for the needful whenever he felt disposed, the iron entered into Nutty's soul. A rotten, rotten world!

Nutty had the sort of mind that moves in circles. After contemplating for a time the rottenness of the world, he came back to the point from which he had started.

'I can't understand it,' he said. 'I can't believe it.'

He kicked a small pebble that lay convenient to his foot.

'You say you sent him away. If he had legged it on his own account, because of what he heard me say, I could understand that. But why should you--'

It became evident to Elizabeth that, until some explanation of this point was offered to him, Nutty would drift about in her vicinity, moaning and shuffling his feet indefinitely.

'I sent him away because I loved him,' she said, 'and because, after what had happened, he could never be certain that I loved him. Can you understand that?'

'No,' said Nutty, frankly, 'I'm darned if I can! It sounds loony to me.'

'You can't see that it wouldn't have been fair to him to marry him?'

'No.'

The doubts which she was trying to crush increased the violence of their attack. It was not that she respected Nutty's judgement in itself. It was that his view of what she had done chimed in so neatly with her own. She longed for someone to tell her that she had done right: someone who would bring back that feeling of certainty which she had had during her talk with Bill. And in these circumstances Nutty's attitude had more weight than on its merits it deserved. She wished she could cry. She had a feeling that if she once did that the right outlook would come back to her.

Nutty, meanwhile, had found another pebble and was kicking it sombrely. He was beginning to perceive something of the intricate and unfathomable workings of the feminine mind. He had always looked on Elizabeth as an ordinary good fellow, a girl whose mind worked in a more or less understandable way. She was not one of those hysterical women you read about in the works of the novelists; she was just a regular girl. And yet now, at the one moment of her life when everything depended on her acting sensibly, she had behaved in a way that made his head swim when he thought of it. What it amounted to was that you simply couldn't understand women.

Into this tangle of silent sorrow came a hooting automobile. It drew up at the gate and a man jumped out.

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