They walked on silently, side by side, round the square. Some girls were playing at lawn-tennis within the garden. There was an occasional shout or a ringing laugh from their fresh young voices. A footman was walking along the pavement opposite, with two fat pugs and a white Spitz in the last stage of obesity in tow, which it was his melancholy duty to parade daily up and down for their mid-day airing. An occasional hansom dashing quickly by broke the stillness of the “empty” hour. Years and years afterwards every detail of the scene came back to his memory with the distinctness of a photograph when he passed once more through the square.
“You have been no curse to me, Vera,” he said, presently, breaking the silence. “Do not reproach yourself; it is I who was a madman to deem that I could win your love. Child, we are both sufferers; but time heals most things, and we must learn to wait and be patient. Will you ever marry, Vera?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps I may be obliged to. It might be better for me. I cannot say. Don’t speak of it. Why, is there nothing else for a woman to do but to marry? John, it must be late. Ought you not to go back—to—to your mother’s?”
Insensibly, she resumed a lighter manner. On that other subject there was nothing left to be said. She had had her last chance of becoming John Kynaston’s wife. After what she had said to him, she knew he would never ask her again. That chapter in her life was closed for ever.
They parted, unromantically enough, in front of St. George’s Hospital. He called a hansom for her, and stood holding her hand, one moment longer, possibly, than was strictly necessary, looking intently into her face as he did so.
“Will you think of me sometimes?”
“Good-bye, John. God bless you wherever you may go.”
She got into her hansom, and he told the cabman where to drive her; then he lifted his hat to her with grave politeness, and walked away in the opposite direction. It was a common-place enough parting, and yet these two never saw each other’s faces again in this world.
So it is with our lives. Some one or other who has been a part of our very existence for a space goes his way one day, and we see him no more. For a little while our hearts ache, and we shed tears in secret for him who is gone, but by-and-by we get to understand that he is part of our past, never, to be recalled, and after a while we get used to his absence; we think of him less and less, and the death of him, who was once bound up in our very lives, strikes us only with a mild surprise, hardly even tinged with a passing melancholy.
“Poor old so-and-so, he is dead,” we say. “What a time it is since we met,” and then we go our way and think of him no more.
But Vera knew that, in all human probability, she would never see him again, this man, who had once so nearly been her husband. It was another link of her past life severed. It saddened her, but she knew it was inevitable.