For some days, as though by mutual consent, neither Mrs. Goddard nor the squire spoke of John Short. The squire was glad he was gone and hoped that he would not come back, but was too kind-hearted to say so; Mrs. Goddard instinctively understood Mr. Juxon’s state of mind and did not disturb his equanimity by broaching an unpleasant subject. Several days passed by after John had gone and he would certainly not have been flattered had he known that during that time two, out of the four persons he had met so often in his short holiday, had never so much as mentioned him.
One afternoon in January the squire found himself alone with Mrs. Goddard. It was a great exception, and she herself doubted whether she were wise to receive him when she had not Nellie with her. Nellie had gone to the vicarage to help Mrs. Ambrose with some work she had in hand for her poor people, but Mrs. Goddard had a slight headache and had stayed at home in consequence. The weather was very bad; heavy clouds were driving overhead and the north-east wind howled and screamed through the leafless oaks of the park, driving a fine sleet against the cottage windows and making the dead creepers rattle against the wall. It was a bitter January day, and Mrs. Goddard felt how pleasant a thing it was to stay at home with a book beside her blazing fire. She was all alone, and Nellie would not be back before four o’clock. Suddenly a well-known step echoed upon the slate flags without and there was a ring at the bell. Mrs. Goddard had hardly time to think what she should do, as she laid her book upon her knee and looked nervously over her shoulder towards the door. It was awkward, she thought, but it could not be helped. In such weather it seemed absurd to send the squire away because her little girl was not with her. He had come all the way down from the Hall to spend this dreary afternoon at the cottage—she could not send him away. There were sounds in the passage as of some one depositing a waterproof coat and an umbrella, the door opened and Mr. Juxon appeared upon the threshold.
“Come in,” said Mrs. Goddard, banishing her scruples as soon as she saw him. “I am all alone,” she added rather apologetically. The squire, who was a simple man in many ways, understood the remark and felt slightly embarrassed.