It all grew clear to Lucy—Helena’s gradual capture, and the innocence, the unconsciousness, of her captor. Her own shrewdness, nevertheless, put the same question as Buntingford’s conscience. Could he ever have been quite sure of his freedom? Yet he had taken the risks of a free man. But she could not, she did not blame him. She could only ask herself the breathless question that French had already asked:
“How far has it gone with her? How deep is the wound?”
Cynthia and Georgina Welwyn were dining at Beechmark on the eventful evening. They took their departure immediately after the scene in the drawing-room when Geoffrey French, at his cousin’s wish, gathered Buntingford’s guests together, and revealed the identity of the woman in the wood. In the hurried conversation that followed, Cynthia scarcely joined, and she was more than ready when Georgina proposed to go. Julian Horne found them their wraps, and saw them off. It was a beautiful night, and they were to walk home through the park.
“Shall I bring you any news there is to-morrow?” said Horne from the doorstep—“Geoffrey has asked me to stay till the evening. Everybody else of course is going early. It will be some time, won’t it,”—he lowered his voice—“before we shall see the bearing of all this?”
Cynthia assented, rather coldly; and when she and her sister were walking through the moonlit path leading to the cottage, her silence was still marked, whereas Georgina in her grim way was excited and eager to talk.
The truth was that Cynthia was not only agitated by the news of the evening. She was hurt—bitterly hurt. Could not Buntingford have spared her a word in private? She was his kinswoman, his old and particular friend, neglectful as he had shown himself during the war. Had he not only a few weeks before come to ask her help with the trouble-some girl whose charge he had assumed? She had been no good, she knew. Helena had not been ready to make friends; and Cynthia’s correctness had always been repelled by the reckless note in Helena. Yet she had done her best on that and other occasions and she had been rewarded by being treated in this most critical, most agitated moment like any other of Buntingford’s week-end guests. Not a special message even—just the news that everybody might now know, and—Julian Horne to see them off! Yet Helena had been sent for at once. Helena had been closeted with Philip for half an hour. No doubt he had a special responsibility towards her. But what use could she possibly be? Whereas Cynthia felt herself the practical, experienced woman, able to give an old friend any help he might want in a grave emergency.
“Of course we must all hope she will die—and die quickly!” said Lady Georgina, with energy, after some remarks to which Cynthia paid small attention. “It would be the only sensible course for Providence—after making such a terrible mistake.”