“There, there,” she said, uneasily. “It is too late, anyway, my deary, but he’ll understand that we could none of us stand against madam—if he should come back, ever. He—he—won’t blame us.”
I did not ask her what he should blame us for—her, poor soul! for having been unable to keep me with her, free; me for having submitted to the mutilation of my own life. Would papa blame us for this?
Kind, awkward, abrupt papa!
Hephzibah glanced round the room. It is the first time she had been in my boudoir since it was finished.
“Why won’t you have up some of your things?” she said, at last. “It don’t look like you, this grand place.”
“No, it is not very like me, is it? But you see everything is changed, and they would not do mixed, the old and the new. I am a new person.” I sighed. “See—this book is the only thing I brought with me, besides the miniature of my great-great-grandmother,” and I took up La Rochefoucauld tenderly.
“It don’t feel like home,” said Hephzibah, and then she suddenly burst into tears.
“Oh, my deary!” she sobbed, “And you so beautiful, and pale, and proud, and never saying a word, and they are none of them fit to black your boots.”
“Oh, hush, hush, Hephzibah!” I said.
My voice calmed her. She looked round as though afraid that grandmamma would come in and scold her for crying.
“There! I am an old fool!” she whimpered. “But it is being so happy myself and knowing what real love is that makes me cry.”
This picture of my dear old nurse as the heroine of a real love story was so pathetically comic that a lump, half tears, half laughter, rose in my own throat.
“I am so glad you are happy, Hephzibah,” I said, unsteadily. “And of course I am happy, too. Come—I will show you the beautiful chain Mr. Gurrage gave me lately, and a set of new rings, a ruby, a sapphire, a diamond, each stone as big as a peanut.”
Hephzibah had not lived with grandmamma for years without acquiring a certain tact. She spoke no more of things that could emotion us, and soon we parted, smiling grimly at each other.
But the sense of exaltation was gone.
I could fly a little, like a bird round a large aviary. The bars were there beyond.
It was odious weather, the afternoon of the 15th. Our eight guns had arrived in time for tea, some with wives, some without—one with a playful, giddy daughter. Men predominated.
There were some two or three decent people from the county round. The remainder, commercial connections, friends of the past.
One terrible woman, with parted, plastered hair and an aggressive voice and rustling silks, dominated the conversation. She is the wife of the brother of the late Mr. Gurrage’s partner who “died youngish.”
This couple come apparently every year to the best partridge drive. “Dodd” is their name.