Marjorie welcomed him with tearful gladness in her eyes. She said nothing, she held his hand tightly. Not till afterwards did she thank him for coming.
“I felt you would,” she said. “I knew you would!”
And so he was glad he came.
And was she? She wondered, better a thousand times for her and her happiness if she never saw him again. So long as she lived she would not forget those four words that had entered like a sword into her heart and had slain for ever the last hope of happiness for her—“Better than my life!”
It was odd how women remembered Hugh Alston’s words. How even on this very day another woman was remembering, and was fighting a fight, pride and obstinacy opposed to fear and loneliness and weariness of soul.
Hugh noticed a change in Tom.
“Hello, Alston,” said Tom, and gripped him by the hand; but it was a weary and dispirited voice and grip, unlike those of Tom Arundel of yore.
They walked about Lady Linden’s model farm together, Tom acting as showman with no little pride, and yet behind even the enthusiasm there was a weariness that Hugh detected.
“And the wedding, Tom?” Hugh asked him presently. “When is it to be?”
Tom looked up. “I don’t know, Alston, sometimes I think never. Alston, you—you’ve seen her. You remember her as she was, the sweetest, dearest girl in the world, her eyes and her heart filled with sunshine, and now...” The lad’s voice trailed off miserably.
“Hugh, I can’t make her out; it worries me and puzzles me and—and hurts me. She is so different, she takes me up so sharply. I—I know I am a fool, I know I am not fit to touch her little hand. I know that I am not a man—like you, a man a girl could look up to and respect, but I’ve always loved her, Hugh, and I’ve kept straight. There are things I might have done and didn’t do—for her sake. I just thought of her, Hugh, and so—so I’ve lived a decent life!”
Hugh’s eyes kindled, for he knew that what the boy said was truth.
Thursday afternoon saw Hugh back at Hurst Dormer. It was a week now since he had left Starden. She had asked him to leave, and he had left, yet not exactly for that reason. His coming here had done no good, had only given him fresh worry and anxiety, and now he realised that all his sympathy was for Tom and not for Marjorie.
“Oh, my Lord! Uncertain, coy and hard to please is correct, and I suppose some of them can be ministering angels—yes, God bless them! I’ve seen them!” His face softened, his thoughts flew back to other days, days of strife and bloodshed, of misery and death, days when men lay helpless and in pain, and in memory Hugh saw the gentle, soft-footed girls at their work of mercy. Ministering angels—God’s own!
“Mrs. Morrisey, I am going to London.”
“Very good, sir!” Mrs. Morrisey was giving up all hopes of this restless young master of hers. “Very good, sir!”