Poor Fordham, it was very trying for him, and he could only command himself with difficulty and speak briefly. He thanked his friends with all his heart for their kindness and good wishes. Whatever might be the will of God concerning himself, they had given him one of the most precious recollections of his life, and he trusted that when sooner or later he should leave them, they would convey the same warm and friendly feelings to his successor.
There were so many tears by that time, and Mrs. Evelyn felt so much shaken, that she made the signal for breaking up. No one was more relieved than Barbara. She must go to her room to compose herself before she could bear a word from any one, and as soon as she could gain the back stair, she gathered up her heavy white silk and dashed up, rushing along the gallery so blinded by tears under her veil that she would have had a collision if a hand had not been put out as some one drew aside to let her fly past if she wished; but as the mechanical “beg pardon” was exchanged, she knew Fordham’s voice and paused. “I was going to look after the wounded Friar,” he said, and then he saw her tearful eyes, and she exclaimed, “I could not help it! I could not stay. You would say such things. O, Duke! Duke!”
It was the first time she had used the familiar old name, but she did not know what she said. He put her into a great carved chair, and knelt on one knee by her, saying, “Poor Rogers, I wish he had let it alone. It was hard for my mother and Cecil.”
“Then how could you go on and break all our hearts!” sobbed Babie.
“It will make a better beginning for Cecil. I want them to learn to look to him. I thought every one knew that each month I am here is like an extra time granted after notice, and that it was no shock to any one to look forward to that fine young couple.”
“Oh, don’t! I can’t bear it,” she exclaimed, weeping bitterly.
“Don’t grieve, dearest. I have tried hard, but I find I cannot do my work as it ought to be done. People are very kind, but I am content, when the time comes, to leave it to one to whom it will not be such effort and weariness. This is really one of the most gladsome days of my life. Won’t you believe it?”
“I know unselfish people are happy.”
“And do you know that you are giving me the sweetest drop of all, today?” said Fordham, giving one shy, fervent kiss to the hand that clasped the arm of the chair just as sounds of ascending steps caused them to start asunder and go their separate ways.
’Tis true bright hours together told,
And blissful dreams in secret shared,
Serene or solemn, gay or bold,
Still last in fancy unimpaired.
To his mother’s surprise, Lucas did not betray any discomfiture at Sydney’s adventure, nor even at John’s having, of necessity, been left behind for a week at Fordham after all the other guests were gone. All he said was that the Friar was in luck.