“Muriel Branton,” interrupted Constance softly. “He told me himself.”
For a moment Adrien stared at her in stupefaction.
“If I had known we were at cross-purposes!” he exclaimed. “I see it all now—when it is too late,” and sinking down on the stone seat he buried his face in his hands.
For a minute there was silence, broken at last by the rustle of Lady Constance’s dress as she came timidly towards him.
“Adrien,” she murmured, very low indeed, but not so low that he did not hear.
He looked up, gave one swift glance at her blushing face, then, with an incoherent cry of delight, caught her in his arms.
“My darling!” he cried. “I love you. Believe that, though I failed you so.”
No further words were spoken—none were needed; then Adrien said gently:
“Darling, before we return, tell me, just once—let me hear it from your own lips, that you love me; for I can scarcely believe I am awake.”
“It is no dream, Adrien,” she said, her face flushing and quivering with pent-up emotion. “I love you, dear.”
Again he clasped her in his arms and neither heard a step behind them. It was not until a warning cough roused them, that Adrien started, and became aware of the presence of Mr. Jasper Vermont.
While the preparations for the ball at Barminster Castle had been going on apace, trouble and confusion reigned in the little village on the banks of the Thames.
No sooner had Mr. Jasper Vermont taken his departure, than poor Lucy Ashford sank on the floor of the shop, and burst into a flood of tears. So great had been the strain that she was completely unnerved, and had quite forgotten the likelihood of her husband’s return from Richmond, as well as the mysterious disappearance of Jessica, who had not been seen in the house since the arrival of Adrien Leroy and his unconscious burden.
This sudden realisation of all the presentiment of evil which Lucy Ashford had ever in her mind, had burst on her like a thunderbolt. She had known always that the man, Mr. Jasper Vermont, who knew her secret, was alive; but never before had she been actually threatened with its betrayal. Her father, Mr. Harker, had always stood between her and that dreadful possibility.
Presently, she jumped up and called to Jessica. Then she remembered that the girl had disappeared from the time she had sent her from the room. Fearful that Vermont might yet change his mind and return for the night, she ran to the door, calling out Jessica’s name in a paroxysm of nervous terror, which finally, on receiving no reply, ended in a severe attack of hysterics, in the midst of which her husband returned and found her.