She shook her head, and her eyes, looking beyond him into the garden, were dreamy and strangely soft.
“Tell me about that man, Johnny,” she said. “Will you take me back to Little Langbourne with you?”
“To see him.”
“But he maligned, he lied—”
“He is hurt, and why should I hate him? You did not believe. Will you take me back with you?”
“You know I will.”
Helen, watching from the upper window, saw them drive away together, never had they seemed better friends. The cloud had passed completely away, and so too had all Helen’s plans; yet she did not know it.
“As we forgive—”
Slotman opened dazed eyes and looked up into a face that might well have been the face of an angel, so soft, so pitying, so tender was its expression.
“Joan!” he whispered.
She nodded and smiled.
“But,” he said—“but—” and hesitated. “Joan, I went to Buddesby to see—”
“And yet you come here?”
“Of course. Hush! you must not talk. You are going to get well and strong again. The Matron says I am allowed to come sometimes and see you, and sit beside you, but you must not talk yet. Later on we are going to talk about the future.”
He lay staring at her. He could not understand. How could such a mind as his understand the workings of such a mind as hers? But she was here, she knew and she forgave, and there was comfort in her presence.
God knew he had suffered. God knew it.
“When you are better, stronger, you and I are going to talk, not till then; but I want to tell you this now. I want to help you, all the past is past. I knew about that night, about your visit. It does not matter; it is all gone by. It is only the future that matters, and in the future you may find that I will give and help willingly what I would not have given under compulsion. Now, hush for the Matron is coming.” She smiled down at him.
“I don’t understand,” Slotman said; “I’ll try and understand.” He turned his face away, realising a sense of shame such as he had never felt before.
He had been her enemy, and yet perhaps in his way, a bad and vile way, selfish and dishonourable, he had loved her; but as she had said, all that was of the past. Now she sat beside the man, broken in limb and in fortune, a wreck of what he had been; and for him her only feeling was of pity, and already in her mind she was forming plans for his future. For she had said truly she could give of her own free will and in charity and sympathy that which could never be forced from her.
Connie looked at her brother curiously.
* * * * *
“I saw you just now. You drove past the gate with Joan. You took her to Langbourne, didn’t you?”