She turned and fled swiftly back to the house through the darkness, and Maurice was left face to face with Helen.
DENIS WILDE’S LOVE.
A mighty pain to love it is,
And ’tis a pain that love to miss;
But, of all pains, the greatest pain
Is to love, but love in vain.
He had not been mistaken. It was Helen who had crept out after him in the darkness, and whose slight figure, in her pale blue dress, stood close by him in an angle of the road.
How long she had stood there and what she had heard he did not know. He expected a torrent of abuse and a storm of reproaches from her, but she refrained from either. She passed her arm within his, and walked beside him for several minutes in silence. Maurice, who felt rather guilty, was weak enough to say, hesitatingly,
“The night was so fine, I strolled out to smoke——”
“Qui s’excuse s’accuse,” quoted Helen; “only you are not smoking, Maurice!”
“My cigar has gone out; I—I met Miss Nevill at the gate of the vicarage.”
“So I saw,” rather significantly.
“I stopped to have a little talk to her. There is no harm, I suppose, in that!” he added, irritably.
Helen laughed shortly and harshly.
“Harm! oh dear, no; whoever said there was? By the way, is not this freak of yours of going out into the roads to smoke, as you say, alone, rather a slight on your guest? Here is Mr. Wilde; how very amusing! we all seem to be drawn out towards the vicarage to-night.”
Denis Wilde, in fact, had followed in the wake of his hostess, and they met him now by the lodge gates.
“How very strange!” called out Helen to him, in her scornful, bantering voice; “how strange that we should all have gone out for solitary rambles, and all meet in the same place; and there was Miss Nevill out in the vicarage garden, also on a solitary ramble.”
“Is Miss Nevill there? I think I will go on and call upon her,” said Denis.
“You too, Mr. Wilde!” cried Helen. “Have you fallen a victim to the beauty? We heard enough of her in town; she turned all the men’s heads; even married men are not safe from her snares, and yet it is singular that none of her admirers care to marry her; there are some women whom all men make love to, but whom none care to make wives of!”
And Maurice was a coward, and spoke no word in her defence; he did not dare; but young Denis Wilde drew himself up proudly.
“Mrs. Kynaston,” he said, sternly, “I must ask you not to speak slightingly of Miss Nevill.”
“Good gracious, why not? I suppose we are all free to use our tongues and our eyes in this world! Why should you become the woman’s champion?”
“Because,” answered Denis, gravely, “I hope to make her my wife.”
Maurice was man enough to hold out his hand to him in the darkness.