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The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XXV

page 269

Chapter XXV

Sidney did not get to sleep till long after midnight, partly because she was overtired and deeply stirred by the atmosphere of the last three days, and partly because she was wondering what on earth she was going to say to Arthur. After all she had never written to him, and she knew now she could not write. And everything that she had meant to say a week ago now seemed childish and hysterical.

The fire had changed her. Who knows what it is that such experience does to one?

Last thing that night before returning to her own house she had stood with Sophie to look at the two men. They had shown signs of life in the evening only by moving a little, but their faces were losing the ghastly strain of the morning. For an hour the two women had put hot packs to their backs to ease their stiffness while they slept.

Sidney wondered if Mrs. Jack suspected anything between herself and Arthur, if she knew he was married. Sophie had given no sign of curiosity She had not wondered aloud why he hadpage 270 come back there with Jack. She had accepted his presence as naturally as she had her husband's.

Sidney did not want to meet Arthur till he was well. She knew the sight of him as he stumbled in with Jack had weakened her will. She knew that the fact that he had worked himself as he had for interests not his own had warmed her heart. She knew she could never be hard with those memories close upon her. And she told herself that she had to be hard, that it was all over, and that she must tell him as soon as possible and be done with it. As she lay listening to the rain she felt tired of all feeling and wished she could go off somewhere where nobody knew her, and where she could vegetate like an animal for a while and rest.

The first thing she thought of when she woke in the morning was how she could avoid meeting Arthur that day.

She called to see Sophie on her way to the Mackenzies' to breakfast. She learned that both men had waked and spoken and eaten a little, and fallen into a doze again. There was nothing she could do, Sophie said.

The rain had stopped in the night, and the morning broke clear and fresh. Sidney met her pupils with a funny feeling that it was hard to get back to the normal round again. All day she had a queer feeling of blankness, of suspense. Shepage 271 looked often out of her windows, but saw no sign of life about the Ridgefields'. She did not want to go there again, and shirked it till after supper.

Then she was surprised to find that Arthur had ridden home in the afternoon, leaving a note with Sophie for her.

It asked her to meet him the following Saturday afternoon, as usual, out on the road. He hoped she had fully recovered from her experience. He would have called upon her if he had had clean clothes.

She opened and read it before Sophie, as if it meant nothing.

"He ought not to have gone back," volunteered Sophie. "He really is not well enough to look after himself. We begged him to stay, but he was worried about his clothes."

Then they went in to Jack who was sitting up talking to Bob.

Before he would talk he insisted on hearing about her experience with Mrs. James. Sidney made light of it, it seemed so insignificant.

And then they all got into a mood of exaltation about the men.

"It's worth all the grind to have the fellows stick to one like that," said Jack. "Funny thing, the most godless blackguards will work the hardest for you in a pinch. Ordinarily they'll slack, they will make mischief, but give them a fire andpage 272 they will go till they drop. They like the excite ment, I suppose. But Devereux surprised me. I didn't know he had the strength. Spirit will do wonders for a man. And he kept the men going. I'm afraid, though, he's worse knocked up than anybody. I know I don't want to go through it again in a hurry."

His head fell back on his pillow.

Sidney wondered if he had had any intention in talking thus of Arthur. In spite of her resolve that she was done with him she felt a very live concern about his health. And before Saturday came she was anxious to know how he was.

The mill did not start again till Thursday morning, and Jack made it clear that no man who did not feel able was to return to his job, and for some days the work went easy. Jack himself, and several of his men felt the strain for weeks.

James Ridgefield came up on the Wednesday night in answer to a telegram from his son, and went the rounds of the camps thanking the men for their loyalty. He was shrewd enough to know that if they had not paid most of them on a scale well above the union wages the loyalty might have been a doubtful quantity. But he realized also that appreciation, or a wise expression of it, did a great deal to oil the machinery between master and man in the troubled days of mutual suspicion.