Ida declined the brandy and the infallible preparation for whitening the hands; and not at all discouraged, Isabel went on:
“Were there any young men at Herondale? You didn’t say anything about them down-stairs, but I thought perhaps you would like to tell me when we were alone. I suppose there was someone you were sorry to part from?” she added, with an inviting smile.
Ida repressed a shudder and plied her brush vigorously, so that her hair hid the scarlet which suffused her face.
“I knew so few of the people,” she said. “As I told you down-stairs, my father and I led the most secluded of lives, and saw scarcely anyone.”
Isabel eyed Ida sharply and suspiciously.
“Oh, well, of course, if you don’t like to tell me,” she said, with a little toss of her head; “but perhaps it’s too soon; when we know each other better you’ll be more open. I’m sure I shall be glad of someone to tell things to.”
She sighed, and looked down with a sentimental air; but Ida did not rise to the occasion; and with a sigh of disappointment, and a last look round, so that nothing should escape her, Isabel took her departure, and Ida was left in peace.
Tired as she was, it was some time before she could get to sleep. The change in her life had come so suddenly that she felt confused and bewildered. It had not needed Joseph Heron’s mention of Sir Stephen Orme’s name to bring Stafford to her mind; for he was always present there; and she lay, with wide-open eyes and aching heart, repeating to herself the letter he had sent her, and wondering why he who, she had thought, loved her so passionately, had left her. Compared with this sorrow, and that of her father’s death, the smaller miseries of her present condition counted as naught.
As Isabel had intimated, life at Laburnum Villa was not altogether hilarious. The environs of London are undeniably pretty, prettier than those of any other capital in Europe, but there is no shirking the fact that the Northern suburbs of our great metropolis are somewhat grim and soul-depressing. Laburnum Villa was in a long street, which resembled the other streets as one tree resembles another; and you had to traverse a great many of these streets before you got into the open country, that is, away from the red-bricked and stucco villas, and still smaller and uglier houses, which had been run up by the enterprising jerry-builder.
But Ida would have been glad enough to have gone through this purgatory to the paradise of country lanes which lay beyond, if she could only have gone alone; but Mrs. Heron and Isabel never left her alone; they seemed to consider it their duty to “keep her company,” and they could not understand her desire for the open air, much less her craving for solitude. Until Ida’s arrival, Isabel had never taken a walk for a walk’s sake, and for the life of her she could not comprehend Ida’s love of “trapesing” about the dusty lanes, and over the commons where there was always a wind, Isabel declared, to blow her hair about. If she went out, she liked to go up to London, and saunter about the hot streets, gazing in at the shop windows, or staring enviously at the “carriage people” as they drove by.