19. The Bridge Of Broken Hearts
Listless leaves were tossing in the light wind or borne downward in the swirl of the
flooded Midburn, to the weary shallows where they lay, beached high and sodden, till
the frost nipped and shrivelled their rottenness into dust. A bleak, thin wind it was, like a
fine sour wine, searching the marrow and bringing no bloom to the cheek. A light snow
powdered the earth, the grey forerunner of storms.
Alice stood back in the shelter of the broken parapet. The highway with its modern
crossing-place was some hundreds of yards up stream, but here, at the burn mouth,
where the turbid current joined with the cold, glittering Avelin, there was a grass-grown
track, and an ancient, broken-backed bridge. There were few passers on the high-road,
none on this deserted way; but the girl in all her loneliness shrank back into the shadow.
In these minutes she endured the bitter mistrust, the sore hesitancy, of awaiting on a
certain but unknown grief.
She had not long to wait, for Lewis came down the Avelin side by a bypath from Etterick
village. His alert gait covered his very real confusion, but to the girl he seemed one who
belonged to an alien world of cheerfulness. He could not know her grief, and she
regretted her coming.
His manners were the same courteous formalities. The man was torn with emotion, and
yet he greeted her with a conventional ease.
"It was so good of you, Miss Wishart, to give me a chance to come and say good-bye.
My going is such a sudden affair, that I might have had no time to come to Glenavelin,
but I could not have left without seeing you."
The girl murmured some indistinct words. "I hope you will have a good time and come
back safely," she said, and then she was tongue-tied.
The two stood before each other, awkward and silent--two between whom no word of
love had ever been spoken, but whose hearts were clamouring at the iron gates of
Alice's face and neck were dyed crimson, as the impossible position dawned on her
mind. No word could break down the palisade, of form. Lewis, his soul a volcano,
struggled for the most calm and inept words. He spoke of the weather, of her father, of
his aunt's messages.
Then the girl held out her hand.
"Good-bye," she said, looking away from him.