“The express has gone by.”
“Then we will cross over.”
“You would rather not be seen by Mrs. Mountstuart. That is her carriage drawn up at the station, and she is in it.”
Clara looked, and with the sinking of her heart said: “I must brave her!”
“In that case I will take my leave of you here, Miss Middleton.”
She gave him her hand. “Why is Mrs. Mountstuart at the station to-day?”
“I suppose she has driven to meet one of the guests for her dinner-party. Professor Crooklyn was promised to your father, and he may be coming by the down-train.”
“Go back to the Hall!” exclaimed Clara. “How can I? I have no more endurance left in me. If I had some support!—if it were the sense of secretly doing wrong, it might help me through. I am in a web. I cannot do right, whatever I do. There is only the thought of saving Crossjay. Yes, and sparing papa.—Good-bye, Mr. Whitford. I shall remember your kindness gratefully. I cannot go back.”
“You will not?” said he, tempting her to hesitate.
“But if you are seen by Mrs. Mountstuart, you must go back. I’ll do my best to take her away. Should she see you, you must patch up a story and apply to her for a lift. That, I think, is imperative.”
“Not to my mind,” said Clara.
He bowed hurriedly, and withdrew. After her confession, peculiar to her, of possibly finding sustainment in secretly doing wrong, her flying or remaining seemed to him a choice of evils: and whilst she stood in bewildered speculation on his reason for pursuing her—which was not evident—he remembered the special fear inciting him, and so far did her justice as to have at himself on that subject. He had done something perhaps to save her from a cold: such was his only consolatory thought. He had also behaved like a man of honour, taking no personal advantage of her situation; but to reflect on it recalled his astonishing dryness. The strict man of honour plays a part that he should not reflect on till about the fall of the curtain, otherwise he will be likely sometimes to feel the shiver of foolishness at his good conduct.
Posted in observation at a corner of the window Clara saw Vernon cross the road to Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson’s carriage, transformed to the leanest pattern of himself by narrowed shoulders and raised coat-collar. He had such an air of saying, “Tom’s a-cold”, that her skin crept in sympathy.
Presently he left the carriage and went into the station: a bell had rung. Was it her train? He approved her going, for he was employed in assisting her to go: a proceeding at variance with many things he had said, but he was as full of contradiction to-day as women are accused of being. The train came up. She trembled: no signal had appeared, and Vernon must have deceived her.