She sat there quite quietly, listening to me.
“Guy,” she said, when I had finished, “all that you speak of happened many years ago. There is forgiveness for everybody, isn’t there? You and I are almost alone in the world. I want to be your friend. You might find me a more powerful one than you think. Try me! I will make your future mine. You shall have your own way in all things. I know the hills and the valleys of life, the underneath and the matchless places. If you accept my offer you will never regret it. I can be a faithful friend or a relentless enemy. Between you and me, Guy, there can be no middle course. I want to be your friend. Don’t make me your enemy.”
The woman puzzled me. She had every appearance of being in earnest. Yet the things which she proposed were absurd.
“This is folly,” I answered her. “I cannot count it anything else. Do you suppose that I want to creep through life at a woman’s apron-strings? I am old enough, and strong enough, I hope, to think and act for myself. My career is my own, to make or to mar. I do not wish for enmity from any one, but your friendship I cannot accept. Our ways lie apart—a long way apart.”
“Do not be too sure of that,” she said quietly. “I think that you and I may come together again very soon, and it is possible that you may need my help.”
“All that I need now,” I answered impatiently, “is your absence.”
She rose at once from her chair.
“Very well,” she said, “I will go. Only let me warn you that I am a persistent woman. I think that it will not be very long before you will see things differently. Will you shake hands with me, Guy?”
Her small white fingers came hesitatingly out from under her cloak. I did not stop to think to what my action might commit me, whether indeed it was seemly that I should accept any measure of friendship from this woman. I took her hand and held it for a moment in mine.
“You cannot go back alone,” I said, doubtfully, as I opened the door.
“I have a servant waiting close by,” she answered, “and I am not at all afraid. Think over what I have said to you—and good-bye.”
She drew her cloak around her and flitted away into the darkness.
A WOMAN’S TONGUE
Grooton returned a few minutes later from the village. He begged the favour of a few words with me. He was a man of impassive features and singular quietness of demeanour. Yet it was obvious that something had happened to disturb him.
“I think it only right, sir, that you should know of the reports which are circulating in the neighbourhood,” he said, fixing his dark grave eyes respectfully upon me. “I called for a few minutes at the inn, and made it my business to listen.”
“Do these reports concern me, Grooton?” I asked.