The summer heat had nearly passed now, and perhaps some of the battle was passing with it. None knew—let me repeat it—what that battle had been; none ever can know, unless they go through it themselves. In Miss Ashton’s case there was a feature some are spared—her love had been known—and it increased the anguish tenfold. She would overcome it if she could only forget him; but it would take time; and she would come out of it an altogether different woman, her best hope in life gone, her heart dead.
“What brought him down here?” mentally questioned Mr. Hillary, in an explosion of wrath, as he watched his visitor down the street. “It will undo all I have been doing. He, and his wife too, might have had the grace to keep away for this year at least. I loved him once, with all his faults; but I should like to see him in the pillory now. It has told on him also, if I’m any reader of looks. And now, Miss Anne, you go off from Calne to-morrow an I can prevail. I only hope you won’t come across him in the meantime.”
UNDER THE TREES.
It was the same noble-looking man Calne had ever known, as he went down the road, throwing a greeting to one and another. Lord Hartledon was not a whit less attractive than Val Elster, who had won golden opinions from all. None would have believed that the cowardly monster Fear was for ever feasting upon his heart.
He came to a standstill opposite the clerk’s house, looked at it for a moment, as if deliberating whether he should enter, and crossed the road. The shades of evening had begun to fall whilst he talked with the surgeon. As he advanced up the clerk’s garden, some one came out of the house with a rush and ran against him.
“Take care,” he lazily said.
The girl—it was no other than Miss Rebecca Jones—shrank away when she recognized her antagonist. Flying through the gate she rapidly disappeared up the street. Lord Hartledon reached the house, and made his way in without ceremony. At a table in the little parlour sat the clerk’s wife, presiding at a solitary tea-table by the light of a candle.
“How are you, Mrs. Gum?”
She had not heard him enter, and started at the salutation. Lord Hartledon laughed.
“Don’t take me for a housebreaker. Your front-door was open, and I came in without knocking. Is your husband at home?”
What with shaking and curtseying, Mrs. Gum could scarcely answer. It was surprising how a little shock of this sort, or indeed of any sort, would upset her. Gum was away on some business or other, she replied—which caused their tea-hour to be delayed—but she expected him in every moment. Would his lordship please to wait in the best parlour, she asked, taking the candle to marshal him into the state sitting-room.
No; his lordship would not go into the best parlour; he would wait two or three minutes where he was, provided she did not disturb herself, and went on with her tea.