“I am very sorry, my dear, very,” said the old gentleman apologetically, “but—hullo! I’ve knocked my head—here, Mary, bring me a light!”
“Here is a light,” said the voice, and at the same moment there was a sound of a match being struck.
In another moment the candle was burning, and the owner of the voice had turned, holding it in such a fashion that its rays surrounded her like an aureole—showing Harold Quaritch that face of which the memory had never left him. There were the same powerful broad brow, the same nobility of look, the same brown eyes and soft waving hair. But the girlhood had gone out of them, the face was now the face of a woman who knew what life meant, and had not found it too easy. It had lost some of its dreaminess, he thought, though it had gained in intellectual force. As for the figure, it was much more admirable than the face, which was strictly speaking not a beautiful one. The figure, however, was undoubtedly beautiful, indeed, it is doubtful if many women could show a finer. Ida de la Molle was a large, strong woman, and there was about her a swing and a lissom grace which is very rare, and as attractive as it is rare. She was now nearly six-and-twenty years of age, and not having begun to wither in accordance with the fate which overtakes all unmarried women after thirty, was at her very best. Harold Quaritch, glancing at her well-poised head, her perfect neck and arms (for she was in evening dress) and her gracious form, thought to himself that he had never seen a nobler-looking woman.
“Why, my dear father,” she went on as she watched the candle burn up, “you made such a fuss this morning about the dinner being punctually at half-past seven, and now it is eight o’clock and you are not dressed. It is enough to ruin any cook,” and she broke off for the first time, seeing that her father was not alone.
“Yes, my dear, yes,” said the old gentleman, “I dare say I did. It is human to err, my dear, especially about dinner on a fine evening. Besides, I have made amends and brought you a visitor, our new neighbour, Colonel Quaritch. Colonel Quaritch, let me introduce you to my daughter, Miss de la Molle.”
“I think that we have met before,” said Harold, in a somewhat nervous fashion, as he stretched out his hand.
“Yes,” answered Ida, taking it, “I remember. It was in the long drift, five years ago, on a windy afternoon, when my hat blew over the hedge and you went to fetch it.”
“You have a good memory, Miss de la Molle,” said he, feeling not a little pleased that she should have recollected the incident.
“Evidently not better than your own, Colonel Quaritch,” was the ready answer. “Besides, one sees so few strangers here that one naturally remembers them. It is a place where nothing happens—time passes, that is all.”
Meanwhile the old Squire, who had been making a prodigious fuss with his hat and stick, which he managed to send clattering down the flight of stone steps, departed to get ready, saying in a kind of roar as he went that Ida was to order in the dinner, as he would be down in a minute.