And much as she would have liked to disagree, Avery knew that she was right.
A FRIEND IN NEED
Mrs. Marshall at the lodge was a hard-featured old woman whose god was cleanliness. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected of her that she should throw open her door to the whole party. Piers, with his limp burden, and Avery she had to admit, but after the latter’s entrance she sternly blocked the way.
“There’s no room for any more,” she declared with finality. “You’d best run along home.”
And with that she shut the door upon them and followed her unwelcome visitors into her spotless parlour.
“What’s the matter with the young lady?” she enquired sourly.
Avery answered her in her quick, friendly way. “She has had a fall, poor little thing, and hurt her foot—I’m afraid, badly. It’s so good of you to let us bring her in here. Won’t you spread a cloth to keep her boots off your clean chintz?”
The suggestion was what Piers described later as “a lucky hit.” It melted old Mrs. Marshall on the instant. She hastened to comply with it, and saw Jeanie laid down upon her sofa with comparative resignation.
“She do look mortal bad, to be sure,” she remarked.
“Can’t you find some brandy?” said Piers.
“I think she will come to, now,” Avery said. “Yes, look! Her eyes are opening.”
She was right. Jeanie’s eyes opened very wide and fixed themselves enquiringly upon Piers’ face. There was something in them, a species of dumb appeal, that went straight to his heart. He moved impulsively, and knelt beside her.
Jeanie’s hand came confidingly forth to him. “I did try to be brave,” she whispered.
Piers’ hand closed instantly and warmly upon hers. “That’s all right, little girl,” he said kindly. “Pain pretty bad, eh?”
“Yes,” murmured Jeanie.
“Ah, well, don’t move!” he said. “We’ll get your boot off and then you’ll feel better.”
“Oh, don’t trouble, please!” said Jeanie politely.
She held his hand very tightly, and he divined that the prospect of the boot’s removal caused her considerable apprehension.
He looked round to consult Avery on the subject, but found that she had slipped out of the room. He heard her in the porch speaking to the children, and in a few seconds she was back again.
“Don’t let us keep you!” she said to Piers. “I can stay with Jeanie now. I have sent the children home, all but Ronald and Julian who have gone to fetch Dr. Tudor.”
Piers looked at Jeanie, and Jeanie looked at Piers. Her hand was still fast locked in his.
“Shall I go?” said Piers.
Jeanie’s blue eyes were very wistful. “I would like you to stay,” she said shyly, “if you don’t mind.”
“If Mrs. Denys doesn’t mind?” suggested Piers.