Then in a noisy group in the rear came the three men still fighting for the good graces of Lady Sue, whilst she, silent, absorbed, walked leisurely along, paying no heed to the wrangling of her courtiers, her fingers tearing up with nervous impatience the delicate cups of the acorns, which she then threw from her with childish petulance.
And her eyes still sought the distance beyond the boundaries of Sir Marmaduke’s private grounds, there where cornfields and sky and sea were merged by the summer haze into a glowing line of emerald and purple and gold.
It was about an hour later. Sir Marmaduke’s guests had departed, Dame Harrison in her rickety coach, Mistress Pyncheon in her chaise, whilst Squire Boatfield was riding his well-known ancient cob.
Everyone had drunk sack-posset, had eaten turkey pasties, and enjoyed the luscious fruit: the men had striven to be agreeable to the heiress, the old ladies to be encouraging to their proteges. Sir Marmaduke had tried to be equally amiable to all, whilst favoring none. He was an unpopular man in East Kent and he knew it, doing nothing to counterbalance the unpleasing impression caused invariably by his surly manner, and his sarcastic, often violent, temper.
Mistress Amelia Editha de Chavasse was now alone with her brother-in-law in the great bare hall of the Court, Lady Sue having retired to her room under pretext of the vapors, and young Lambert been finally dismissed from work for the day.
“You are passing kind to the youth, Marmaduke,” said Mistress de Chavasse meditatively when the young man’s darkly-clad figure had disappeared up the stairs.
She was sitting in a high-backed chair, her head resting against the carved woodwork. The folds of her simple gown hung primly round her well-shaped figure. Undoubtedly she was still a very good-looking woman, though past the hey-day of her youth and beauty. The half-light caused by the depth of the window embrasure, and the smallness of the glass panes through which the summer sun hardly succeeded in gaining admittance, added a certain softness to her chiseled features, and to the usually hard expression of her large dark eyes.
She was gazing out of the tall window, wherein the several broken panes were roughly patched with scraps of paper, out into the garden and the distance beyond, where the sea could be always guessed at, even when not seen. Sir Marmaduke had his back to the light: he was sitting astride a low chair, his high-booted foot tapping the ground impatiently, his fingers drumming a devil’s tattoo against the back of the chair.
“Lambert would starve if I did not provide for him,” he said with a sneer. “Adam, his brother, could do naught for him: he is poor as a church-mouse, poorer even than I—but nathless,” he added with a violent oath, “it strikes everyone as madness that I should keep a secretary when I scarce can pay the wages of a serving maid.”