“Oh, it’s only a line of an old poem—I don’t know by whom—my father used to quote it. Well, now—did you see what happened at dinner?”
Helena had established herself comfortably in a capacious arm-chair opposite Mrs. Friend, tucking her feet under her. She was in a white dressing-gown, and she had hastily tied a white scarf round her loosened hair. In the dim light of a couple of candles her beauty made an even more exciting impression on the woman watching her than it had done in the lamp-lit drawing-room.
“It’s war!” she said firmly, “war between Buntingford and me. I’m sorry it’s come so soon—the very first evening!—and I know it’ll be beastly for you—but I can’t help it. I won’t be dictated to. If I’m not twenty-one, I’m old enough to choose my own friends; and if Buntingford chooses to boycott them, he must take the consequences.” And throwing her white arms above her head, her eyes looked out from the frame of them—eyes sparkling with pride and will.
Mrs. Friend begged for an explanation.
“Well, I happened to tell him that I had invited Lord Donald for Sunday. I’ll tell you about Lord Donald presently—and he simply—behaved like a brute! He said he was sorry I hadn’t told him, that he couldn’t have Donald here, and would telegraph to him to-morrow—not to come. Just think of that! So then I said—why? And he said he didn’t approve of Donald—or some nonsense of that sort. I was quite calm. I reminded him he had promised to let me invite my friends—that was part of the bargain. Yes—he said—but within limits—and Donald was the limit. That made me savage—so I upped and said, very well, if I couldn’t see Donald here, I should see him somewhere else—and he wouldn’t prevent me. I wasn’t going to desert my friends for a lot of silly tales. So then he said I didn’t know what I was talking about, and turned his back on me. He kept his temper provokingly—and I lost mine—which was idiotic of me. But I mean to be even with him—somehow. And as for Donald, I shall go up to town and lunch with him at the Ritz next week!”
“Oh, no, no, you can’t!” cried Mrs. Friend in distress. “You can’t treat your guardian like that! Do tell me what it’s all about!” And bending forward, she laid her two small hands entreatingly on the girl’s knee. She looked so frail and pitiful as she did so, in her plain black, that Helena was momentarily touched. For the first time her new chaperon appeared to her as something else than a mere receiver into which, or at which, it suited her to talk. She laid her own hand soothingly on Mrs. Friend’s.
“Of course I’ll tell you. I really don’t mean to be nasty to you. But all the same I warn you that it’s no good trying to stop me, when I’ve made up my mind. Well, now, for Donald. I know, of course, what Cousin Philip means. Donald ran away with the wife of a friend of his—of Buntingford’s, I mean—three or four weeks ago.”