“Yes, Hugh?” She looked up.
“Tell me the truth, dear,” he said gravely. “Do you realise that you are not in love with Tom because you know now that you are in love with someone else?”
She did not answer in words, nodding speechlessly.
“Is he a good man, dear?”
“The best in the world, Hugh,” she said softly—“the finest, the dearest, and best.”
“That’s bad!” Hugh thought. “But I might have guessed that she would say that, bless her little heart! Poor Tom!” He sighed. “So, after all, this beautiful muddle I have made of things goes for nothing! Do you care to tell me who he is, Marjorie?”
“Don’t ask me—don’t ask me! I can’t tell you! I wish I hadn’t come. I had no right to ask you to—to listen to me. I wish I hadn’t written now!”
He came across to her and put his hand on her shoulder. He bent and kissed the bright hair.
“Little girl, remember always that I am your old friend and your true friend, who would help you in every way at any time. I am not of much use, I am afraid; but such as I am, I am at your service, dear, always, always! Tell me, what can I do? How can I help you?”
“Nothing, nothing, you—you can’t help me, Hugh!”
“Can I see Tom?”
“No, oh no, you must not!”
“Can I see—the other? Marjorie, does he know? Has he spoken to you—not knowing perhaps of your engagement to Tom?”
She shook her head. “He—he doesn’t know anything!”
Silence fell on them.
“Don’t think about it any more, you can’t help me. Hugh, where have you been all this long time?”
“I have been in Kent, at Starden.”
“Is—is that where she—”
“Joan? Yes! she lives there. I have been there, believing I can help her, and I shall help her!”
“You—you love her so?”
“Better than my life,” he said quietly, and never dreamed how those four words entered like a keen-edged sword into the heart of the girl who heard them.
She rose almost immediately.
“I am a foolish, silly girl, and—and, Hugh, I want you to forget what I told you. I shall forget it. I shall go back to—to Tom, and I will try and be worthy of him, try and be good-tempered and—all he wants me to be. Good-bye, Hugh!”
It seemed to him that she had changed suddenly, changed under his very eyes; the tenderness and the tears seemed to have vanished. She spoke almost coldly, and with a dignity he had never seen in her before, and then she went with scarce a look at him, leaving him sorely puzzled.