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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > 31 IN DEEP WATERS
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 Rena was unusually fatigued2 at the close of her school on Wednesday afternoon. She had been troubled all day with a headache, which, beginning with a dull pain, had gradually increased in intensity3 until every nerve was throbbing4 like a trip-hammer. The pupils seemed unusually stupid. A discouraging sense of the insignificance6 of any part she could perform towards the education of three million people with a school term of two months a year hung over her spirit like a pall7. As the object of Wain's attentions, she had begun to feel somewhat like a wild creature who hears the pursuers on its track, and has the fear of capture added to the fatigue1 of flight. But when this excitement had gone too far and had neared the limit of exhaustion8 came Tryon's letter, with the resulting surprise and consternation9. Rena had keyed herself up to a heroic pitch to answer it; but when the inevitable10 reaction came, she was overwhelmed with a sickening sense of her own weakness. The things which in another sphere had constituted her strength and shield were now her undoing11, and exposed her to dangers from which they lent her no protection. Not only was this her position in theory, but the pursuers were already at her heels. As the day wore on, these dark thoughts took on an added gloom, until, when the hour to dismiss school arrived, she felt as though she had not a friend in the world. This feeling was accentuated12 by a letter which she had that morning received from her mother, in which Mis' Molly spoke13 very highly of Wain, and plainly expressed the hope that her daughter might like him so well that she would prefer to remain in Sampson County.  
Plato, bright-eyed and alert, was waiting in the school-yard until the teacher should be ready to start. Having warned away several smaller children who had hung around after school as though to share his prerogative14 of accompanying the teacher, Plato had swung himself into the low branches of an oak at the edge of the clearing, from which he was hanging by his legs, head downward. He dropped from this reposeful15 attitude when the teacher appeared at the door, and took his place at her side.
A premonition of impending16 trouble caused the teacher to hesitate. She wished that she had kept more of the pupils behind. Something whispered that danger lurked17 in the road she customarily followed. Plato seemed insignificantly18 small and weak, and she felt miserably19 unable to cope with any difficult or untoward20 situation.
"Plato," she suggested, "I think we'll go round the other way to-night, if you don't mind."
Visions of Mars Geo'ge disappointed, of a dollar unearned and unspent, flitted through the narrow brain which some one, with the irony21 of ignorance or of knowledge, had mocked with the name of a great philosopher. Plato was not an untruthful lad, but he seldom had the opportunity to earn a dollar. His imagination, spurred on by the instinct of self-interest, rose to the emergency.
"I's feared you mought git snake-bit gwine roun' dat way, Miss Rena. My brer Jim kill't a water-moccasin down dere yistiddy 'bout22 ten feet long."
Rena had a horror of snakes, with which the swamp by which the other road ran was infested23. Snakes were a vivid reality; her presentiment24 was probably a mere25 depression of spirits due to her condition of nervous exhaustion. A cloud had come up and threatened rain, and the wind was rising ominously26. The old way was the shorter; she wanted above all things to get to Elder Johnson's and go to bed. Perhaps sleep would rest her tired brain—she could not imagine herself feeling worse, unless she should break down altogether.
She plunged27 into the path and hastened forward so as to reach home before the approaching storm. So completely was she absorbed in her own thoughts that she scarcely noticed that Plato himself seemed preoccupied28. Instead of capering29 along like a playful kitten or puppy, he walked by her side unusually silent. When they had gone a short distance and were approaching a path which intersected their road at something near a right angle, the teacher missed Plato. He had dropped behind a moment before; now he had disappeared entirely30. Her vague alarm of a few moments before returned with redoubled force.
"Plato!" she called; "Plato!"
There was no response, save the soughing of the wind through the swaying treetops. She stepped hastily forward, wondering if this were some childish prank31. If so, it was badly timed, and she would let Plato feel the weight of her displeasure.
Her forward step had brought her to the junction32 of the two paths, where she paused doubtfully. The route she had been following was the most direct way home, but led for quite a distance through the forest, which she did not care to traverse alone. The intersecting path would soon take her to the main road, where she might find shelter or company, or both. Glancing around again in search of her missing escort, she became aware that a man was approaching her from each of the two paths. In one she recognized the eager and excited face of George Tryon, flushed with anticipation33 of their meeting, and yet grave with uncertainty34 of his reception. Advancing confidently along the other path she saw the face of Jeff Wain, drawn35, as she imagined in her anguish36, with evil passions which would stop at nothing.
What should she do? There was no sign of Plato—for aught she could see or hear of him, the earth might have swallowed him up. Some deadly serpent might have stung him. Some wandering rabbit might have tempted
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