set her foot on the stile. "How dare you frighten a poor helpless woman like that?"
She was at Anne Catherick's side, and had put one arm around her, before I could answer. "What is it, my dear?" she said. "What has he done to you?"
"Nothing," the poor creature answered. "Nothing. I'm only frightened."
Mrs. Clements turned on me with a fearless indignation, for which I respected her.
"I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I deserved that angry look," I said. "But I do not deserve it. I have unfortunately startled her without intending it. This is not the first time she has seen me. Ask her yourself, and she will tell you that I am incapable of willingly harming her or any woman."
I spoke distinctly, so that Anne Catherick might hear and understand me; and I saw that the words and their meaning had reached her.
"Yes, yes," she said; "he was good to me once—he helped me——" She whispered the rest into her friend's ear.
"Strange, indeed!" said Mrs. Clements, with a look of perplexity. "It makes all the difference, though. I'm sorry I spoke so rough to you, sir; but you must own that appearances looked suspicious to a stranger. It's more my fault than yours, for humouring her whims, and letting her be alone in such a place as this. Come, my dear—come home now."
I thought the good woman looked a little uneasy at the prospect of the walk back, and I offered to go with them until they were both within sight of home. Mrs. Clements thanked me civilly, and declined. She said they were sure to meet some of the farm-labourers as soon as they got to the moor.
"Try to forgive me," I said, when Anne Catherick took her friend's arm to go away. Innocent as I had been of any intention to terrify and agitate her, my heart smote me as I looked at the poor, pale, frightened face.
"I will try," she answered. "But you know too much; I'm afraid you'll always frighten me now."
Mrs. Clements glanced at me, and shook her head pityingly.
"Good-night, sir," she said. "You couldn't help it, I know; but I wish it was me you had frightened, and not her."