Mrs. Golding was still comparing us with each other and speaking of our parents, when I was aware of a tall man coming up to the garden gate; and my aunt, turning as she heard the latch clink, cried,—
’Ah, here is Andrew! he will have come to have my orders for the night; I think we may welcome him in, nieces.’ So she stepped to him, and taking him by the hand led him to us. ‘This,’ quoth she, ’is my husband’s nephew and mine, but he is something more—he is my steward and my heir. I hold him for my son; I were but a lost woman without him. He would not hear of my coming to Milthorpe with no company but that of my serving-men, but must needs be my conductor himself; so precious a jewel as I was sure to be lost in the hedges otherwise;’ and she laughed cordially. ’And, Andrew, these are two poor fatherless girls, Althea and Lucia Dacre by name; fatherless, I say, but not motherless, for I am their mother from this day forth, and so they are your sisters; see you use them kindly.’
Andrew coloured up to his hair, and bowed to us, with some confused words about the honour of being as a brother to such gentle ladies; then he turned to her and they talked of our morrow’s journey, and how our mails should be conveyed; and Mrs. Golding, telling him she would sleep at the Manor, bade him be early at the gate with horses for us; ’for we have many a mile to go,’ she said to us; ’and make what speed we may, we shall be a day or two on the road.’
And Althea spoke very prettily to Mr. Golding, praying him to sup with us; but he excused himself, still in a confused and disturbed way, and went away.
While he stood and talked I was able to take note of his aspect, and I thought he looked a very homely youth indeed, after Mr. Dacre, though he was taller and of a better shape, and I believe a better face too; though burnt with the sun, and ruddy like a country-man, he had well-cut features and a full mild eye, with a right pleasant smile. But his garb was so ordinary, being of some dark cloth, and cut very plainly, and his hat with no feather in it, that though I had little cause to love Mr. Dacre, yet I wished our new friend was more like him outwardly, and thought I should then have been prouder to ride in his company. And Mrs. Golding praising him to us, and saying how good he was, and wise beyond his years, I thought it was pity such good people as he and she did not go handsomer; so little I knew of what belonged to goodness.