As to Vera, she turned away and retraced her steps slowly towards St. Paul’s Church. It was a foolish romantic fancy, she could not tell what impelled her to it, but she felt as though she must go back there once more.
The church was not closed. She pushed open the swing-door and went in. It was all hushed and silent and empty. Where so lately the gay throng of well-dressed men and women had passed in and out, chattering, smiling, nodding—displaying their radiant toilettes one against the other, there were only now the dark, empty rows of pews, and the bent figure of one shabbily-dressed old woman gathering together the prayer-books and hymn-books that had been tumbled out of their places in the scuffle, and picking up morsels of torn finery that had dropped about along the nave.
Vera passed by her and went up into the chancel. She stood where Maurice had stood by the altar rails. A soft, subdued light came streaming in through the coloured glass window; a bird was chirping high up somewhere among the oak rafters of the roof, the roar of the street without was muffled and deadened; the old woman slammed-to the door of a pew, the echo rang with a hollow sound through the empty building, and her departing footsteps shuffled away down the aisle into silence.
Vera lifted her eyes; great tears welled down slowly, one by one, over her cheeks—burning, blistering tears, such as, thank God, one sheds but once or twice in a lifetime—that seem to rend our very hearts as they rise.
Presently she sank down upon her knees and prayed—prayed for him, that he might be happy and forget her, but most of all for herself, that she might school her rebellious heart to patience, and her wild passion of misery into peace and submission.
And by degrees the tempest within her was hushed. Then, ere she rose from her knees, something lying on the ground, within a yard of where she knelt, caught her eye. It was a little Russia-leather letter-case. She recognized it instantly; she had often seen Maurice take it out of his pocket.
She caught at it hungrily and eagerly, as a miser clutches a treasure-trove, pressing it wildly to her bosom, and covering it with passionate kisses. Dear little shabby case, that had been so near his heart; that his hand, perchance, only on hour ago had touched. Could anything on earth be more priceless to her than this worn and faded object!
It seemed to be quite empty. It had fallen evidently from his pocket during the service. If he ever missed it, there was nothing in it to lose; and now it was hers, hers by every right; she would never part with it, never. It was all she had of him; the one single thing he had touched which she possessed.
She rose hurriedly. She was in haste now to be gone with her treasure, lest any one should wrest it from her. She carried it down the church with a guilty delight, kissing it more than once as she went. And then, as she opened the church door, some one ran up the steps outside, and she stood face to face with Sir John Kynaston.