Owen Ford left Four Winds the next morning. In the evening Anne went over to see Leslie, but found nobody. The house was locked and there was no light in any window. It looked like a home left soulless. Leslie did not run over on the following day—which Anne thought a bad sign.
Gilbert having occasion to go in the evening to the fishing cove, Anne drove with him to the Point, intending to stay awhile with Captain Jim. But the great light, cutting its swathes through the fog of the autumn evening, was in care of Alec Boyd and Captain Jim was away.
“What will you do?” asked Gilbert. “Come with me?”
“I don’t want to go to the cove—but I’ll go over the channel with you, and roam about on the sand shore till you come back. The rock shore is too slippery and grim tonight.”
Alone on the sands of the bar Anne gave herself up to the eerie charm of the night. It was warm for September, and the late afternoon had been very foggy; but a full moon had in part lessened the fog and transformed the harbor and the gulf and the surrounding shores into a strange, fantastic, unreal world of pale silver mist, through which everything loomed phantom-like. Captain Josiah Crawford’s black schooner sailing down the channel, laden with potatoes for Bluenose ports, was a spectral ship bound for a far uncharted land, ever receding, never to be reached. The calls of unseen gulls overhead were the cries of the souls of doomed seamen. The little curls of foam that blew across the sand were elfin things stealing up from the sea-caves. The big, round-shouldered sand-dunes were the sleeping giants of some old northern tale. The lights that glimmered palely across the harbor were the delusive beacons on some coast of fairyland. Anne pleased herself with a hundred fancies as she wandered through the mist. It was delightful—romantic—mysterious to be roaming here alone on this enchanted shore.
But was she alone? Something loomed in the mist before her—took shape and form—suddenly moved towards her across the wave-rippled sand.
“Leslie!” exclaimed Anne in amazement. “Whatever are you doing—HERE—tonight?”
“If it comes to that, whatever are YOU doing here?” said Leslie, trying to laugh. The effort was a failure. She looked very pale and tired; but the love locks under her scarlet cap were curling about her face and eyes like little sparkling rings of gold.
“I’m waiting for Gilbert—he’s over at the Cove. I intended to stay at the light, but Captain Jim is away.”
“Well, I came here because I wanted to walk—and walk—and WALK,” said Leslie restlessly. “I couldn’t on the rock shore—the tide was too high and the rocks prisoned me. I had to come here—or I should have gone mad, I think. I rowed myself over the channel in Captain Jim’s flat. I’ve been here for an hour. Come—come—let us walk. I can’t stand still. Oh, Anne!”
“Leslie, dearest, what is the trouble?” asked Anne, though she knew too well already.
“I can’t tell you—don’t ask me. I wouldn’t mind your knowing—I wish you did know—but I can’t tell you—I can’t tell anyone. I’ve been such a fool, Anne—and oh, it hurts so terribly to be a fool. There’s nothing so painful in the world.”
She laughed bitterly. Anne slipped her arm around her.
“Leslie, is it that you have learned to care for Mr. Ford?”
Leslie turned herself about passionately.
“How did you know?” she cried. “Anne, how did you know? Oh, is it written in my face for everyone to see? Is it as plain as that?”
“No, no. I—I can’t tell you how I knew. It just came into my mind, somehow. Leslie, don’t look at me like that!”
“Do you despise me?” demanded Leslie in a fierce, low tone. “Do you think I’m wicked—unwomanly? Or do you think I’m just plain fool?”
“I don’t think you any of those things. Come, dear, let’s just talk it over sensibly, as we might talk over any other of the great crises of life. You’ve been brooding over it and let yourself drift into a morbid view of it. You know you have a little tendency to do that about everything that goes wrong, and you promised me that you would fight against it.”
“But—oh, it’s so—so shameful,” murmured Leslie. “To love him—unsought—and when I’m not free to love anybody.”
“There’s nothing shameful about it. But I’m very sorry that you have learned to care for Owen, because, as things are, it will only make you more unhappy.”
“I didn’t LEARN to care,” said Leslie, walking on and speaking passionately. “If it had been like that I could have prevented it. I never dreamed of such a thing until that day, a week ago, when he told me he had finished his book and must soon go away. Then—then I knew. I felt as if someone had struck me a terrible blow. I didn’t say anything—I couldn’t speak—but I don’t know what I looked like. I’m so afraid my face betrayed me. Oh, I would die of shame if I thought he knew—or suspected.”
Anne was miserably silent, hampered by her deductions from her conversation with Owen. Leslie went on feverishly, as if she found relief in speech.
“I was so happy all this summer, Anne—happier than I ever was in my life. I thought it was because everything had been made clear between you and me, and that it was our friendship which made life seem so beautiful and full once more. And it WAS, in part—but not all—oh, not nearly all. I know now why everything was so different. And now it’s all over—and he has gone. How can I live, Anne? When I turned back into the house this morning after he had gone the solitude struck me like a blow in the face.”
“It won’t seem so hard by and by, dear,” said Anne, who always felt the pain of her friends so keenly that she could not speak easy, fluent words of comforting. Besides, she remembered how well-meant speeches had hurt her in her own sorrow and was afraid.
“Oh, it seems to me it will grow harder all the time,” said Leslie miserably. “I’ve nothing to look forward to. Morning will come after morning—and he will not come back—he will never come back. Oh, when I think that I will never see him again I feel as if a great brutal hand had twisted itself among my heartstrings, and was wrenching them. Once, long ago, I dreamed of love—and I thought it must be beautiful—and NOW—its like THIS. When he went away yesterday morning he was so cold and indifferent. He said ‘Good-bye, Mrs. Moore’ in the coldest tone in the world—as if we had not even been friends—as if I meant absolutely nothing to him. I know I don’t—I didn’t want him to care—but he MIGHT have been a little kinder.”
“Oh, I wish Gilbert would come,” thought Anne. She was racked between her sympathy for Leslie and the necessity of avoiding anything that would betray Owen’s confidence. She knew why his good-bye had been so cold—why it could not have the cordiality that their good-comradeship demanded—but she could not tell Leslie.
“I couldn’t help it, Anne—I couldn’t help it,” said poor Leslie.
“I know that.”
“Do you blame me so very much?”
“I don’t blame you at all.”
“And you won’t—you won’t tell Gilbert?”
“Leslie! Do you think I would do such a thing?”
“Oh, I don’t know—you and Gilbert are such CHUMS. I don’t see how you could help telling him everything.”
“Everything about my own concerns—yes. But not my friends’ secrets.”
“I couldn’t have HIM know. But I’m glad YOU know. I would feel guilty if there were anything I was ashamed to tell you. I hope Miss Cornelia won’t find out. Sometimes I feel as if those terrible, kind brown eyes of hers read my very soul. Oh, I wish this mist would never lift—I wish I could just stay in it forever, hidden away from every living being. I don’t see how I can go on with life. This summer has been so full. I never was lonely for a moment. Before Owen came there used to be horrible moments—when I had been with you and Gilbert—and then had to leave you. You two would walk away together and I would walk away ALONE. After Owen came he was always there to walk home with me—we would laugh and talk as you and Gilbert were doing—there were no more lonely, envious moments for me. And NOW! Oh, yes, I’ve been a fool. Let’s have done talking about my folly. I’ll never bore you with it again.”
“Here is Gilbert, and you are coming back with us,” said Anne, who had no intention of leaving Leslie to wander alone on the sand-bar on such a night and in such a mood. “There’s plenty of room in our boat for three, and we’ll tie the flat on behind.”
“Oh, I suppose I must reconcile myself to being the odd one again,” said poor Leslie with another bitter laugh. “Forgive me, Anne—that was hateful. I ought to be thankful—and I AM—that I have two good friends who are glad to count me in as a third. Don’t mind my hateful speeches. I just seem to be one great pain all over and everything hurts me.”
“Leslie seemed very quiet tonight, didn’t she?” said Gilbert, when he and Anne reached home. “What in the world was she doing over there on the bar alone?”
“Oh, she was tired—and you know she likes to go to the shore after one of Dick’s bad days.”
“What a pity she hadn’t met and married a fellow like Ford long ago,” ruminated Gilbert. “They’d have made an ideal couple, wouldn’t they?”
“For pity’s sake, Gilbert, don’t develop into a match-maker. It’s an abominable profession for a man,” cried Anne rather sharply, afraid that Gilbert might blunder on the truth if he kept on in this strain.
“Bless us, Anne-girl, I’m not matchmaking,” protested Gilbert, rather surprised at her tone. “I was only thinking of one of the might-have-beens.”
“Well, don’t. It’s a waste of time,” said Anne. Then she added suddenly:
“Oh, Gilbert, I wish everybody could be as happy as we are.”