“Will you come and talk to me—before dinner? I can’t talk—before him. Guardians are impossible people!” And with another mock curtsey to Lord Buntingford, she hurried Mrs. Friend to the door, and then disappeared.
Her guardian, with a shrug of the shoulders, walked to his writing-table, and wrote a hurried note.
“My dear Geoffrey—I will send to meet you at Dansworth to-morrow by the train you name. Helena is here—very mad and very beautiful. I hope you will stay over Sunday. Yours ever, Buntingford.”
“He shall have his chance anyway,” he thought, “with the others. A fair field, and no pulling.”
“There is only one bathroom in this house, and it is a day’s journey to find it,” said Helena, re-entering her own bedroom, where she had left Mrs. Friend in a dimity-covered arm-chair by the window, while she reconnoitred. “Also, the water is only a point or two above freezing—and as I like boiling—”
She threw herself down on the floor by Mrs. Friend’s side. All her movements had a curious certainty and grace like those of a beautiful animal, but the whole impression of her was still formidable to the gentle creature who was about to undertake what already seemed to her the absurd task of chaperoning anything so independent and self-confident. But the girl clearly wished to make friends with her new companion, and began eagerly to ask questions.
“How did you hear of me? Do you mind telling me?”
“Just through an agency,” said Mrs. Friend, flushing a little. “I wanted to leave the situation I was in, and the agency told me Lord Buntingford was looking for a companion for his ward, and I was to go and see Lady Mary Chance—”
The girl’s merry laugh broke out:
“Oh, I know Mary Chance—twenty pokers up her backbone! I should have thought—”
Then she stopped, looking intently at Mrs. Friend, her brows drawn together over her brilliant eyes.
“What would you have thought?” Mrs. Friend enquired, as the silence continued.
“Well—that if she was going to recommend somebody to Cousin Philip—to look after me, she would never have been content with anything short of a Prussian grenadier in petticoats. She thinks me a demon. She won’t let her daughters go about with me. I can’t imagine how she ever fixed upon anyone so—”
“So what?” said Mrs. Friend, after a moment, nervously. Lost in the big white arm-chair, her small hand propping her small face and head, she looked even frailer than she had looked in the library.
“Well, nobody would ever take you for my jailer, would they?” said Helena, surveying her.
Mrs. Friend laughed—a ghost of a laugh, which yet seemed to have some fun in it, far away.
“Does this seem to you like prison?”
“This house? Oh, no. Of course I shall do just as I like in it. I have only come because—well, my poor Mummy made a great point of it when she was ill, and I couldn’t be a brute to her, so I promised. But I wonder whether I ought to have promised. It is a great tyranny, you know—the tyranny of sick people. I wonder whether one ought to give in to her?”