The little group kept its place for some time, the two well-dressed and good-looking women sitting down, the two or three idlers who stood in front of them gossiping about nothing at all—last night’s ball, to-day’s plans, a little bit of scandal about one passer-by, somebody’s rumoured engagement, somebody else’s reported elopement. Denis Wilde stood behind Vera’s chair and listened to it all, the well-known familiar chatter of a knot of London idlers. There was nothing new or interesting or entertaining about it. Only a string of names, some of which were strange to him, but most of which were familiar; and always some little story, ill-natured or harmless as the case might be, about each name that was mentioned. And Vera listened, smiling, assenting, but only half attentive, with her eyes dreamily fixed upon the long procession of riders passing ever ceaselessly to and fro along the ride.
Suddenly Denis Wilde felt a sudden movement of the chair beneath his hand. Vera had started violently.
“Here comes Sir John Kynaston,” the man before her was saying to his companion. “What a time it is since he has shown himself; he looks as if he had had a bad illness.”
“Some woman jilted him, I’ve heard,” answered the other man: “some girl down in the country. People say, Miss Nevill, he is going to die of that old-fashioned complaint, which you certainly will not believe in, a broken heart! Poor old boy, he looks as if he had been buried, and had come up again for a breath of air!”
Vera followed the direction of their eyes. Sir John was walking slowly towards them; he was thin and careworn; he looked aged beyond all belief. He walked slowly, as though it were an effort to him, with his eyes upon the ground. He had not seen her yet; in another minute he would be within a couple of yards of her. It was next to impossible that he could avoid seeing her, the centre, as she was, of that noisy, chattering group.
A sort of despair seized her. How was she to meet him—this man whom she had so cruelly treated? She could not meet him; she felt that it was an impossibility. Like an imprisoned bird that seeks to escape, she looked about instinctively from side to side. What possible excuse could she frame? In what direction could she fly to avoid the glance of reproach that would smite her to the heart.
Suddenly Denis Wilde bent down over her.
“Miss Nevill, there goes a Dachshund, exactly like the one you wanted; come quickly, and we shall catch him up. He ran away down here.”
She sprang up and turned after him; a path leading away from the crowded Row, towards the comparatively empty park at the back, opened out immediately behind her chair.
Young Wilde strode rapidly along it before her, and Vera followed him blindly and thankfully.
After a few minutes he stopped and turned round.
“Where is—the dog—wasn’t it a dog, you said? Where is it?” She was white and trembling.