“I can fancy that,” she said, warmly. “I envy you that moment.”
Presently the squire came over to where they were sitting and joined them; and then Mrs. Ambrose spoke to John, and Nellie came and asked him questions. Strange to say John felt none of that annoyance which he formerly felt when his conversations with Mrs. Goddard were interrupted, and he talked with Nellie and Mrs. Ambrose quite as readily as with her. He felt very calm and happy that night, as though he had done with the hard labour of life. In half an hour he had realised that he was no more in love with Mrs. Goddard than he was with Mrs. Ambrose, and he was trying to explain to himself how it was that he had ever believed in such a palpable absurdity. Love was doubtless blind, he thought, but he was surely not so blind as to overlook the evidences of Mrs. Goddard’s age. All the dreams of that morning faded away before the sight of her face, and so deep is the turpitude of the best of human hearts that John was almost ashamed of having once thought he loved her. That was probably the best possible proof that his love had been but a boyish fancy.
What the little party at the vicarage would have been like, if John’s presence had not animated it, would be hard to say. The squire and Mr. Ambrose treated Mrs. Goddard with the sort of paternal but solemn care which is usually bestowed either upon great invalids or upon persons bereaved of some very dear relation. The two elder men occasionally looked at her and exchanged glances when they were not observed by Mrs. Ambrose, wondering perhaps what would next befall the unfortunate lady and whether she could bear much more of the excitement and anxiety to which she had of late been subjected. On the whole the conversation was far from being lively, and Mrs. Goddard herself felt that it was a relief when the hour came for going home.
The vicar had ordered his dog-cart for her and Nellie, but as the night had turned out better than had been expected Mr. Juxon’s groom had not come down from the Hall. Both he and John would be glad of the walk; it had not rained for two days and the roads were dry.
“Look here,” said the squire, as they rose to take their leave, “Mr. Short had better go as far as the cottage in the dog-cart, to see Mrs. Goddard home. I will go ahead on foot—I shall probably be there as soon as you. There is not room for us all, and somebody must go with her, you know. Besides,” he added, “I have got Stamboul with me.”
Mrs. Goddard, who was standing beside the squire, laid her hand beseechingly upon his arm.
“Oh, pray don’t,” she said in low voice. “Why have you not got your carriage?”
“Never mind me,” he answered in the same tone. “I am all right, I like to walk.”
Before she could say anything more, he had shaken hands with Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose and was gone. Perhaps in his general determination to be good to everybody he fancied that John would enjoy the short drive with Mrs. Goddard better than the walk with himself.