But when he was gone, Mrs. Goddard grew very nervous. One of her wraps could not be found, and while search was being made for it the motherly Mrs. Ambrose insisted upon giving her something hot, in the way of brandy and water. She looked very ill, but showed the strongest desire to go. It was no matter about the shawl, she said; Mr. Ambrose could send it in the morning; but the thing was found and at last Mrs. Goddard and Nellie and John got into the dog-cart with old Reynolds and drove off. All these things consumed some time.
The squire on the other hand strode briskly forward towards the cottage, not wishing to keep John waiting for him. As he walked his mind wandered back to the consideration of the almost tragic events which were occurring in the peaceful village. He forgot all about John, as he looked up at the half moon which struggled to give some light through the driving clouds; he fell to thinking of Mrs. Goddard and to wondering where her husband might be lying hidden. The road was lonely and he walked fast, with Stamboul close at his heel. The dog-cart did not overtake him before he reached the cottage, and he forgot all about it. By sheer force of habit he opened the white gate and, closing it behind him, entered the park alone.
John’s impression of Mrs. Goddard was strengthened by the scene at the vicarage at the moment of leaving. The extraordinary nervousness she betrayed, the anxiety for her welfare shown by Mrs. Ambrose and the grave face of the vicar all favoured the idea that she had become an invalid since he had last met her. He himself fell into the manner of those about him and spoke in low tones and moved delicately as though fearing to offend her sensitive nerves. The vicar alone understood the situation and had been very much surprised at the squire’s sudden determination to walk home; he would gladly have seized his hat and run after his friend, but he feared Mrs. Ambrose’s curiosity and moreover on reflection felt sure that the dog-cart would overtake Mr. Juxon before he was half way to the cottage. He was very far from suspecting him of the absence of mind which he actually displayed, but it was a great relief to him to see the little party safe in the dog-cart and on the way homeward.
Mrs. Goddard was on the front seat with old Reynolds, and John, who would have preferred to sit by her side a few months ago, was glad to find himself behind with Nellie. It was a curious instinct, but he felt it strongly and was almost grateful to the old man for stolidly keeping his seat. So he sat beside Nellie and talked to her, to the child’s intense delight; she had not enjoyed the evening very much, for she felt the general sense of oppression as keenly as children always feel such things, and she had long exhausted the slender stock of illustrated books which lay upon the table in the vicarage drawing-room.