Everard brought him in to her, but for the first time in her life she dismissed him when the introduction was effected.
“We shall get on better alone,” she said, with a smile. “You come back—afterwards.”
So Everard withdrew, and Bernard sat down by her side, his big hand holding hers.
“That is nice,” she said, her pale face turned to him. “I have been wanting to know you ever since Everard first told me of you.”
He bent with a little smile and kissed the slender fingers he held. “Then the desire has been mutual,” he said.
“Thank you.” Stella’s eyes were fixed upon his face. “I was afraid,” she said, with slight hesitation, “that you might think—when you saw Everard—that marriage hadn’t altogether agreed with him.”
Bernard’s kindly blue eyes met hers with absolute directness. “No, I shouldn’t have thought that,” he said. “But I see a change in him of course. He is growing old much too fast. What is it? Overwork?”
“I don’t know.” She still spoke with hesitation. “I think it is a good deal—anxiety.”
“Ah!” Bernard’s hand closed very strongly upon hers. “He is not the only person that suffers from that complaint, I think.”
She smiled rather wanly. “I ought not to worry. It’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“It’s unnecessary,” he said. “And it’s a handicap to progress. But it’s difficult not to when things go wrong, I admit. We need to keep a very tight hold on faith. And even then—”
“Yes, even then—” Stella said, her lips quivering a little—“when the one beloved is in danger, who can be untroubled?”
“We are all in the same keeping,” said Bernard gently. “I think that’s worth remembering. If we can trust ourselves to God, we ought to be able to trust even the one beloved to His care.”
Stella’s eyes were full of tears. “I am afraid I don’t know Him well enough to trust Him like that,” she said.
Bernard leant towards her. “My dear,” he said, “it is only by faith that you can ever come to knowledge. You have to trust without definitely knowing. Knowledge—that inner certainty—comes afterwards, always afterwards. You can’t get it for yourself. You can only pray for it, and prepare the ground.”
Her fingers pressed his feebly. “I wonder,” she said, “if you have ever known what it was to walk in darkness.”
Bernard smiled. “Yes, I have floundered pretty deep in my time,” he said. “There’s only one thing for it, you know; just to keep on till the light comes. You’ll find, when the lamp shines across the desert at last, that you’re not so far out of the track after all—if you’re only keeping on. That’s the main thing to remember.”
“Ah!” Stella sighed. “I believe you could help me a lot.”
“Delighted to try,” said Bernard.
But she shook her head. “No, not now, not yet. I want you—to take care of Everard for me.”