‘These are my friends,’ said Emily. ’They will follow me to the other end, and I shall be able to feed them as we walk along the meadow.’
Don and Dandy bounded through the tall grass; sometimes foolishly giving chase to the birds that rose up out of the golden grasses, barking in mad eagerness—sometimes pursuing a hare into the distant woods. The last chase had led them far, and both dogs returned panting to walk till they recovered breath by their mistress’s side; and to satisfy the retriever’s affection Emily held one hand to him. Playing gently with his ears, she said—
‘Did you ever see much of Mr. Burnett?’
’Not since I was a boy, ten or twelve years ago, when I was at the University. There was absolutely no reason for his doing what he did.’
‘Yes; there was,’ she said in a strangely decisive tone.
‘May I ask——’
’I do not know if I ought to tell you. It would be better not to. You know,’ she continued, speaking now with a nervous tremor in her voice, ’that I do not want you to think that I am so very disappointed. I do not know that I am disappointed at all. You have acted so generously, and it will be pleasanter to live here with you than with that old man.’
The conversation fell; but the sweet meadow seemed to induce confidences, and they were so happy in their youth and the sorcery of the sunshine. ‘Five years ago I wrote to him,’ said Hubert, speaking very slowly, ’asking him to lend me fifty pounds, and he refused. Since then I have not heard from him.’ At the end of a long silence, the girl said—
’So long as you know that I am no longer angry with him for having disinherited me, I do not mind telling you the reason. Two months before he died he asked me to marry him, and I refused.’
They walked several yards without speaking.
‘Do you not think I was right? I was only eighteen, and he was over sixty.’
’It seems to me quite shocking that he could have even contemplated such a thing.’
’But look at these poor ducks; they have followed us all the way, and I have forgotten to feed them!’ Taking out all the bread that remained in the basket, Emily threw it to the ducks that had collected where the dammed-up stream that filled the lake trickled over a wooden sluice. There was a plank by which to cross the deep cutting. Hubert and Emily paused, and stood gazing at the large beech wood that swept over some rising ground. Don had not been seen for some time, and they both shouted to him. Presently a black mass was seen bounding through the flowers, and the panting animal once more ensconced himself by his mistress’s side.
‘I was very fond of Mr. Burnett,’ she said, ’but I could not marry him. I could not marry any man I did not love.’
’And because you refused to marry him, he did not mention you in his will. I never heard of such selfishness before!’