“You are exceedingly kind; I shall be only too delighted.”
“When will you be home?”
“I can be home at any time—there is nothing to keep me.”
“Well, then, come as soon as you like, the sooner the better. And now I must say good-night and good-bye too, I fear, for we are off early to-morrow. I shall be glad enough to be home; I’m dead sick of the travelling. Good-night, old fellow; it has been a real pleasure to meet you.”
And, positively, this was the only evening out of his whole wedding-trip that Maurice had thoroughly enjoyed.
“What on earth kept you out so late with that solemn young prig?” says his wife to him as he opens her door.
“I find him a very pleasant companion, and I have asked him to come to Kynaston,” answers Maurice, shortly.
“Umph!” grunts Helen, and inwardly determines that his visit shall be a short one.
Four days later they were in England again.
It was only when the train had actually stopped at Sutton, and he was handing his wife into her own carriage under the arch of greenery across the road, and amid the ringing cheers of the rustics, who had gathered to see them arrive, that Maurice began to realise how powerfully that home-coming was to be tinged in his own mind with thoughts of her who was once so nearly going as a bride to the same house where now he was taking Helen.
All along the lane, as they drove under the arches of flags and flowers that had been put up from the station to the park gates, and as they responded to the hearty welcome from the village-folk who lined the road, Maurice was asking himself, with a painful anxiety, whether she was at Sutton now; whether her eyes had rested upon these rustic decorations, whether her steps had passed along under these mottoes of welcome and of happiness. And then, as they neared the church, the clang of the bells burst forth loudly and jarringly.
Was she, perchance, there in the house, kneeling alone, white and stricken by her bedside, whilst those joy-bells rang out their deafening clamour from the church hard by?
For the life of him, Maurice could not help casting a glance at the vicarage as they drove swiftly by it.
The windows were wide open, but no one looked out of them, the muslin blinds fluttered in the wind, the Gloire de Dijon roses nodded upon the wall, the Virginia creeper hung in crimson festoons over the porch; but there was not a living creature to be seen.
He had caught no glimpse of the woman that was ever in his heart; and it was a great pity that he had looked for her, because his wife, whose sharp eyes nothing ever escaped, had seen him look.
“IF I COULD DIE!”
Why cannot I forgo, forget
That ever I loved thee, that ever we met?
There is not a single link or sign
To bind thy life in this world with mine.