“I think it is,” Joan said. “But then, dear, if he loves me, he could not love you?”
“I think he might,” Ellice said softly.
She was thinking of the morning, of the look she had seen in his eyes, the awakening look of a man who sees things he has been blind to.
“I think he might,” her heart echoed. “I think he might, in time, in a little time.” And did not know, could not guess, that even at this moment Johnny Everard, sitting alone in his little study with untended papers strewn about him, was thinking of her—thinking of the look he had seen in her eyes that very day, out in the sunshine of the fields.
“So you came to me to tell me. It was brave of you?”
“I had to come. I could not have come if you had been different from what you are.”
“Then, even though I am taking away the man you love from you, you do not hate me?”
“Hate you? Sometimes I think I wished I could—but I could not. If I had hated you, if I had thought you cold and hard to all the world, I would not be here. I have come to plead to you because you are generous and honest, true and good. I could not have come otherwise.”
“What must I do, little Ellice?”
“Tell him the truth, if there is—”
“There is—yet that could never come to anything.”
“Because—ah, you can’t understand.”
“Still, your heart is not your own; you could never give it to Johnny Everard.”
“And I must tell him so, and then—”
“And then you will ask him if he would be content to live all his life without love, knowing that he will never, never win your heart, because it would be impossible.”
“But I have given him my promise, Ellice.”
“I know, I know; and you will not break it, because you could not break a promise. But you will tell him this, and offer him his freedom; it will be for him to decide.”
Joan stood for many moments in silence, her hand still resting on the girl’s shoulder. Then she drew Ellice to her; she thrust back the shining hair, and kissed the girl’s forehead. “I think—yes, I think I shall do all this, Ellice,” she said.
“Johnny! Johnny! Have you gone to sleep, dear? There is someone here to see you.”
“Eh?” Johnny started into wakefulness, he huddled his untidy papers together. “I must have been dozing off. I was thinking. Con, is Gipsy back yet?”
“Not yet, and I am getting a little anxious about her; it is almost dusk. But there is someone here asking for you.”
“A man, a—a—gentleman, I suppose. He looks as if he has been drinking, though.”
“A nice sort of visitor for a Sunday evening. What is his name, Con?”
“Don’t know it. I suppose I’d better see him. Wait, I’ll light the lamp. If Ellice isn’t back soon I shall go and hunt for her. Do you know which direction she went in?”