“I am glad of it,” he said, rather hoarsely; “make her happy, Denis, if you can.”
“Thanks. I shall go on to see her now.”
Helen murmured an unintelligible apology, and Denis Wilde passed onwards towards the vicarage.
He had taken her good name into his keeping, he had shielded her from that other woman’s slandering tongue; but he had done so in his despair. He had spoken no lie in saying that he hoped to make her his wife; but it was no doubt a fact that Helen and her husband would now believe him to be engaged to her. Would Vera be induced to verify his words, and to place herself and her life beneath the shelter of his love, or would she only be angry with him for venturing to presume upon his hopes? Denis could not tell.
Ten minutes later he stood alone with her in the vicarage dining-room; he had sent in his card with a pencilled line upon it to ask for a few minutes’ conversation with her.
Vera had desired that her visitor might be shown into the dining-room. Old Mrs. Daintree had been amazed and scandalized, and even Marion had opened her eyes at so unusual a proceeding; but the vicar was out by a sick bedside in the village, and no one else ever controlled Vera’s actions.
Nevertheless, she herself looked somewhat surprised at so late a visit from him. And then, somehow or other, Denis made it plain to her how it was he had come, and what he had said of her. Her name, he told her, had been lightly spoken of; to have defended it without authority would have been to do her more harm than good; to take it under his lawful protection had been instinctively suggested to him by his longing to shield her. Would she forgive him?
“It was Mrs. Kynaston who spoke evil things of me,” said Vera, wearily. She was very tired, she hardly understood, she scarcely cared about what he was saying to her; it mattered very little what was said to her. There was that other scene under the shadow of the roses of the gateway so vividly before her; the memory of Maurice’s passionate kisses upon her lips, the sound of his beloved voice in her ears. What did anything else signify?
And meanwhile Denis Wilde was pouring out his whole soul to her.
“My darling, give me the right to defend you now and always,” he pleaded; “do not refuse me the happiness of protecting your dear name from such women. I know you don’t love me, dear, not as I love you, but I will not mind that; I will ask you for nothing that you will not give me freely; only try me—I think I could make you happy, love. At any rate, you shall have anything that tenderness and devotion can give you to bring peace into your life. Vera, darling, answer me.”
“Oh, I am very tired,” was all she said, moaningly and wearily, passing her hand across her aching brow like a worn-out child.
It was life or death to him. To her it was such a little matter! What were all his words and his prayers beside that heartache that was driving her into her grave! He could do her no good. Why could he not leave her in peace?