All the same there was present in her own mind an ideal of what the action and bearing of a girl in her position should be, which, with the help of pride, would not allow her to drift into mere temper. She put her hands firmly behind her; so that Buntingford was forced to withdraw his; but she kept her self-possession.
“I don’t see what there is but quarrelling before us, Cousin Philip, if you are to proceed on these lines. Are you really going to keep me to my promise?”
“To let me take care of you—for these two years? It was not a promise to me, Helena.”
The girl’s calm a little broke down.
“Mummy would never have made me give it,” she said fiercely, “if she had known—”
“Well, you can’t ask her now,” he said gently. “Hadn’t we better make the best of it?”
She scorned to reply. He opened the door for her, and she swept through it.
Left to himself, Buntingford gave a great stretch.
“That was strenuous!”—he said to himself—“uncommonly strenuous. How many times a week shall I have to do it? Can’t Cynthia Welwyn do anything? I’ll go and see Cynthia this afternoon.”
With which very natural, but quite foolish resolution, he at last succeeded in quieting his own irritation, and turning his mind to a political speech he had to make next week in his own village.
Cynthia Welwyn was giving an account of her evening at Beechmark to her elder sister, Lady Georgina. They had just met in the little drawing-room of Beechmark Cottage, and tea was coming in. It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than the two sisters presented. They were the daughters of a peer belonging to what a well-known frequenter of great houses and great families before the war used to call “the inferior aristocracy”—with an inflection of voice caught no doubt from the great families themselves. Yet their father had been an Earl, the second of his name, and was himself the son of a meteoric personage of mid-Victorian days—parliamentary lawyer, peer, and Governor of an Indian Presidency, who had earned his final step in the peerage by the skilful management of a little war, and had then incontinently died, leaving his family his reputation, which was considerable, and his savings, which were disappointingly small. Lady Cynthia and Lady Georgina were his only surviving children, and the earldom was extinct.
The sisters possessed a tiny house in Brompton Square, and rented Beechmark Cottage from Lord Buntingford, of whom their mother, long since dead, had been a cousin. The cottage stood within the enclosure of the park, and to their connection with the big house the sisters owed a number of amenities,—game in winter, flowers and vegetables in summer—which were of importance to their small income. Cynthia Welwyn, however, could never have passed as anybody’s