It is not too much to say that the friend jumped at it. On the shortest possible notice he arrived, bag and baggage, professing himself charmed with the bachelor’s quarters; and, burning with an insatiable desire to behold the rurality of the village, to listen to the beauty and the harmony of the daily choral performances, he took up his abode in the clergyman’s establishment; and the very next morning he sent a rural villager over to Shadonake with a half-crown for himself and a note to be given to Miss Miller the very first time she walked or rode out alone. This note was duly delivered, and that same afternoon Beatrice met her lover by appointment in an empty lime-kiln up among the chalk hills. This romantic rendezvous was, however, discontinued shortly, owing to the fact of Mrs. Miller having become suspicious of her daughter’s frequent and solitary walks, and insisting on sending out Geraldine and her governess with her.
A few mornings later a golden chance presented itself. Mr. and Mrs. Miller went away for the night to dine and sleep at a distant country house. Beatrice had not been invited to go with them. She did not venture to ask her lover to the house he had been forbidden to enter, but she ordered the carriage for herself, caught the early train to Tripton, met Herbert, by appointment, outside the station, and stood talking to him in the fog by the wayside, where Vera suddenly burst upon their astonished gaze.
There was nothing for it but to take Vera into their confidence; and they were so much engrossed in their affairs that they entirely failed to notice how mechanically she answered, and how apathetically she appeared for the first few minutes to listen to their story. Presently, however, she roused herself into a semblance of interest. She promised not to betray the fact of the stolen interview, all the more readily because it did not strike either of them to inquire what she herself was doing in the Tripton road.
In the end Vera walked on slowly by herself, and the Shadonake carriage, ordered to go along at a foot’s pace from Sutton station towards Tripton, picked both girls up and conveyed them safely, each to their respective homes.
“You will never tell of me, will you, Vera?” said Beatrice to her, for the twentieth time, ere they parted.
“Of course not; indeed, I would gladly help you if I could,” she answered, heartily.
“You will certainly be able to help us both very materially some day,” said Beatrice, who had visions of being asked to stay at Kynaston, to meet Herbert.
“I am afraid not,” answered Vera, with a sigh. Already there was regret in her mind for the good things of life which she had elected to relinquish. “Put me down at this corner, Beatrice; I don’t want to drive up to the vicarage. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, Vera—and—and you won’t mind my saying it—but I like you so much.”
Vera smiled, and, with a kiss, the girls parted; and Mrs. Daintree never heard after all the story of her sister’s early visit to Tripton, for she returned so soon that she had not yet been missed. The vicar and his family had but just gathered round the breakfast-table, when, after having divested herself of her walking garments, she came in quietly and took her vacant place amongst them unnoticed and unquestioned.