The soft rustle of her dress upon the carpet struck his ear; he looked up with a start, like one waking out of a painful dream.
“You are going!” he said, in his usual voice.
“Yes; I am going.”
He stood up, facing her.
“There is nothing more to be said, is there?” He said it not as though he asked her a question, but as one asserting a fact.
“Nothing, I suppose,” she answered, rather wearily, not looking at him as she spoke.
“I shall not see you again, as I leave to-morrow morning by the early train. You will, at least, wish me good-bye?”
“Good-bye, Vera; God bless you.”
She opened the door softly and went out. She went slowly away down the avenue, wrapping her cloak closely around her; the wind blew cold and chill, and she shivered a little as she walked. Presently she struck aside along a narrow pathway through the grass that led her homewards by a shorter cut. She had forgotten that Sir John was to wait for her at the lodge-gates.
She had forgotten his very existence. For she knew. She had eaten of the tree of knowledge, and the scales had fallen for ever from her eyes.
She knew that Maurice loved her—and, alas! for her—she knew also that she loved him. And between them a great gulf was fixed; deep, and wide, and impassable as the waters of Lethe.
Out of the calm, unconscious lethargy of her maidenhood’s untroubled dreams the soul of Vera had awakened at length to the realization of the strong, passionate woman’s heart that was within her.
She loved! It had come to her at last; this thing that she had scorned and disbelieved in, and yet that, possibly, she had secretly longed for. She had deemed herself too cold, too wise, too much set upon the good things of earth, to be touched by that scorching fire; but now she was no colder than any other love-sick maiden, no wiser than every other foolish woman who had been ready to wreck her life for love in the world’s history.
Surely no girl ever learnt the secret of her own heart with such dire dismay as did Vera Nevill. There was neither joy nor gladness within her, only a great anger against herself and her fate, and even against him who, as he had said, had dared to love her. She had courted the avowal from his lips, and yet she resented the words she had wrung from him. But, more than all, she resented the treachery of the heart that was within her.
“Why did I ever see him?” she cried aloud in her bitterness, striking her hands wildly against each other. “What evil fate brought us together? What fool’s madness induced me to go near him to-day? I was happy enough; I had all I wanted; I was content with my fate—and now—now!” Her passionate words died away into a wail. In her haste and her abstraction her foot caught against a long, withered bramble trail that lay across her path; she half stumbled. It was sufficient to arrest her steps. She stood still, and leant against the smooth, whitened trunk of a beech tree. Her hands locked themselves tightly together; her face, white and miserable, lifted itself despairingly towards the pitiless winter sky above her.