How delicate, she thought, must be his understanding of her, that he should have spoken so!
"I was glad to stay," she answered, in a low voice. "I--enjoyed it, too."
"They have very little in their lives," he said, and added, with a characteristic touch, "I do not mean to say that your coming would not be an event in any household."
She laughed with him, softly, at this sally.
"Not to speak of the visit you are making them," she replied.
"Oh, I'm one of the family," he said; "I come and go. Jabe's is my country house, when I can't stand the city any longer."
She saw that he did not intend to tell her why he had left Ripton on this occasion. There fell another silence. They were like prisoners, and each strove to explore the bounds of their captivity: each sought a lawful ground of communication. Victoria suddenly remembered--with an access of indignation--her father's words, "I do not know what sort he is, but he is not my sort." A while ago, and she had blamed herself vehemently for coming to Jabe Jenney's, and now the act had suddenly become sanctified in her sight. She did not analyze her feeling for Austen, but she was consumed with a fierce desire that justice should be done him. He was honourable--honourable!" she found herself repeating under her breath. No man or woman could look into his face, take his hand, sit by his side, without feeling that he was as dependable as the stars in their courses. And her father should know this, must be made to know it. This man was to be distinguished from opportunists and self- seekers, from fanatics who strike at random. His chief possession was a priceless one--a conscience.
As for Austen, it sufficed him for the moment that he had been lifted, by another seeming caprice of fortune, to a seat of torture the agony whereof was exquisite. An hour, and only the ceaseless pricking memory of it would abide. The barriers had risen higher since he had seen her last, but still he might look into her face and know the radiance of her presence. Could he only trust himself to guard his tongue! But the heart on such occasions will cheat language of its meaning.