“Jean, will it always matter to you more than anything in the world what David and Jock and Mhor think? Will you never care for anyone as you care for them?”
“But they are my charge,” Jean explained. “They were left to me. Mother said, before she went away that last time, ’I trust you, Jean, to look after the boys,’ and when father didn’t come back, and Great-aunt Alison died, they had only me.”
“Can’t you adopt me as well? Do you know, Penny-plain, I believe it is all the fault of your Great-aunt Alison. You are thinking that on your death-bed you will like to feel that you sacrificed yourself to others—”
“Oh,” cried Jean, “did Pamela actually tell you about Great-aunt Alison? That wasn’t quite fair.”
“She wasn’t laughing. She only told me because she knew I was interested in every detail of your life, and Great-aunt Alison explains a lot of things about her grand-niece.”
Jean pondered on this for a little and then said:
“Pam once said I was on the verge of being a prig, and I’m not sure that she wasn’t right, and it’s a hateful thing to be. D’you think I’m priggish, Richard Plantagenet? Oh no, don’t kiss me. I hate it.... Why do you want to behave like that? It isn’t nice.”
“I’m sorry, Jean.”
“And now your voice sounds as if you did think me a prig ... Here we are at last, and I simply don’t know what to say kept us.”
“Don’t say anything: leave it to me. I’ll be sure to think of some lie. Do you realise that we are only ten minutes behind the others?”
“Is that all?” cried Jean, amazed. “It seems like hours.”
Lord Bidborough began to laugh helplessly.
“I wonder if any man ever had such a difficult lady,” he said, “or one so uncompromisingly truthful?”
He rang the bell, and as they stood on the doorstep waiting, the light from the hall-door fell on his face, and Jean, looking at him, suddenly felt very low. He was going away, and she might never see him again. The fortnight he had been in Priorsford had given her an entirely new idea of what life might mean. She had not been happy all the time: she had been afflicted with vague discontents and jealousies such as she had not known before, but at the back of them all she was conscious of a shining happiness, something that illuminated and gave a new value to all the commonplace daily doings. Now, as in a flash, while they waited for the door to open, Jean knew what had caused the happiness, and realised that with her own hand she was shutting the door on the light, shutting herself out to a perpetual twilight.
“If only you hadn’t been a man,” she said miserably, “we might have been such friends.”
A servant opened the door and they went in together.