“There’s Janet!” she said, “we can’t talk any more.”
For she had caught sight of Janet in the farm-yard, leading her bicycle.
“Can you meet me to-morrow evening—on the Common?” he said. “I could be there about six.”
She frowned a little.
“Is it worth while?”
“I beg you!” he said huskily.
“Very well—I’ll come. We shall be just friends, please.”
“But, of course, I’ll tell you more—if you wish.”
Janet’s voice and step were heard in the passage. How Ellesborough got through the next ten minutes he never remembered. When they were over, he found himself rushing through the cool and silence of the autumn night, thankful for this sheltering nature in which to hide his trouble, his deep, deep distress.
The October night rang stormily round Great End Farm. The northwest wind rushing over the miniature pass just beyond the farm, where the road dropped from the level of the upland in which Ipscombe lay, to the level of the plain, was blowing fiercely on the square of buildings which stood naked and undefended against weather from that quarter of the heaven, while protected by the hills and the woods from the northeast. And mingled with the noisy or wailing gusts came the shrieking from time to time of one of the little brown owls that are now multiplying so fast in the English midlands.
The noise of the storm and the clamour of the owl were not the cause of Rachel’s wakefulness; but they tended to make it more feverish and irritable. Every now and then she would throw off the bed-clothes, and sit up with her hands round her knees, a white and rigid figure lit by the solitary candle beside her. Then again she would feel the chill of the autumn night, and crouch down shivering among the bed-clothes, pining for a sleep that would not come. Instead of sleep, she could do nothing but rehearse the scene with Ellesborough again and again. She watched the alterations in his face—she heard the changes in his voice—as she told her story. She was now as sorry for him as for herself! The tears came flooding into her eyes as she thought of him. In her selfish fears of his anger she had forgotten his suffering. But the first true love of her life was bringing understanding. She realized the shock to him, and wept over it. She saw, too, that she had been unjust and cowardly in letting the situation go so far without speaking; and that there was no real excuse for her.
Would he give her up? She had told him that all was at an end between them; but that was only pride—making a virtue of a necessity. Oh, no, no, he must not give her up! It was only six weeks since their first meeting, and though it would be untrue to say that since the meeting he had wholly possessed her thoughts, she had been capable all through them of that sort of dallying with the vicar which Janet thought