Tom stood for a moment looking after her, while the two men indulged in surprised comments.
"Andrews," said young Mr. Gaylord, "just fetch my buggy and follow her until she gets into the gate."
Empires crack before they crumble, and the first cracks seem easily mended--even as they have been mended before. A revolt in Gaul or Britain or Thrace is little to be minded, and a prophet in Judea less. And yet into him who sits in the seat of power a premonition of something impending gradually creeps--a premonition which he will not acknowledge, will not define. Yesterday, by the pointing of a finger, he created a province; to-day he dares not, but consoles himself by saying he does not wish to point. No antagonist worthy of his steel has openly defied him, worthy of recognition by the opposition of a legion. But the sense of security has been subtly and indefinably shaken.
By the strange telepathy which defies language, to the Honourable Hilary Vane, Governor of the Province, some such unacknowledged forebodings have likewise been communicated. A week after his conversation with Austen, on the return of his emperor from a trip to New York, the Honourable Hilary was summoned again to the foot of the throne, and his thoughts as he climbed the ridges towards Fairview were not in harmony with the carols of the birds in the depths of the forest and the joy of the bright June weather. Loneliness he had felt before, and to its ills he had applied the antidote of labour. The burden that sat upon his spirit to- day was not mere loneliness; to the truth of this his soul attested, but Hilary Vane had never listened to the promptings of his soul. He would have been shocked if you had told him this. Did he not confess, with his eyes shut, his sins every Sunday? Did he not publicly acknowledge his soul?
Austen Vane had once remarked that, if some keen American lawyer would really put his mind to the evasion of the Ten Commandments, the High Heavens themselves might be cheated. This saying would have shocked the Honourable Hilary inexpressibly. He had never been employed by a syndicate to draw up papers to avoid these mandates; he revered them, as he revered the Law, which he spelled with a capital. He spelled the word Soul with a capital likewise, and certainly no higher recognition could be desired than this! Never in the Honourable Hilary's long, laborious, and preeminently model existence had he realized that happiness is harmony. It would not be true to assert that, on this wonderful June day, a glimmering of this truth dawned upon him. Such a statement would be open to the charge of exaggeration, and his frame of mind was pessimistic. But he had got so far as to ask himself the question,--Cui bono? and repeated it several times on his drive, until a verse of Scripture came, unbidden, to his lips. "For what hate man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?" and "there is one event unto all." Austen's saying, that he had never learned how to enjoy life, he remembered, too. What had Austen meant by that?
Hitherto Hilary Vane had never failed of self-justification in any event which had befallen him; and while this consciousness of the rectitude of his own attitude had not made him happier, there had been a certain grim pleasure in it. To the fact that he had ruined, by sheer over- righteousness, the last years of the sunny life of Sarah Austen he had been oblivious--until to-day. The strange, retrospective mood which had come over him this afternoon led his thoughts into strange paths, and he found himself wondering if, after all, it had not been in his power to make her happier. Her dryad-like face, with its sweet, elusive smile, seemed to peer at him now wistfully out of the forest, and suddenly a new and startling thought rose up within him--after six and thirty years. Perhaps she had belonged in the forest! Perhaps, because he had sought to cage her, she had pined and died! The thought gave Hilary unwonted pain, and he strove to put it away from him; but memories such as these, once aroused, are not easily set at rest, and he bent his head as he recalled (with a new and significant pathos) those hopeless and pitiful flights into the wilds she loved.
Now Austen had gone. Was there a Law behind these actions of mother and son which he had persisted in denouncing as vagaries? Austen was a man: a man, Hilary could not but see, who had the respect of his fellows, whose judgment and talents were becoming recognized. Was it possible that he, Hilary Vane, could have been one of those referred to by the Preacher? During the week which had passed since Austen's departure the house in Hanover Street had been haunted for Hilary. The going of his son had not left a mere void,--that would have been pain enough. Ghosts were there, ghosts which he could but dimly feel and see, and more than once, in the long evenings, he had taken to the streets to avoid them.
In that week Hilary's fear of meeting his son in the street or in the passages of the building had been equalled by a yearning to see him. Every morning, at the hour Austen was wont to drive Pepper to the Ripton House stables across the square, Hilary had contrived to be standing near his windows--a little back, and out of sight. And--stranger still!--he had turned from these glimpses to the reports of the Honourable Brush Bascom and his associates with a distaste he had never felt before.