The drought continued; and under the hot sun the lilacs were already pyramids of purple, the oaks were nearly in full leaf, and the hawthorns in the park and along the hedges would soon replace with another white splendour the fading blossom of the wild cherries.
It was Sunday morning, and none of the Beechmark party except Mrs. Friend, Lady Luton and her seventeen-year-old daughter had shown any inclination to go to church. Geoffrey French and Helena had escorted the churchgoers the short way across the park, taking a laughing leave of them at the last stile, whence the old church was but a stone’s throw. There was a circle of chairs on the lawn intermittently filled by talkers. Lord Buntingford was indoors and was reported to have had some ugly news that morning of a discharged soldiers’ riot in a neighbouring town where he owned a good deal of property. The disturbance had been for the time being suppressed, but its renewal was expected, and Buntingford, according to Julian Horne, who had been in close consultation with him, was ready to go over at any moment, on a telephone call from the town authorities, and take what other “specials” he could gather with him.
“It’s not at all a nice business,” said Horne, looking up from his long chair, as Geoffrey French and Helena reappeared. “And if Philip is rung up, he’ll sweep us all in. So don’t be out of the way, Geoffrey.”
“What’s the matter? Somebody has been bungling as usual, I suppose,” said Helena in her most confident and peremptory tone.
“The discharged men say that nobody pays any attention to them—and they mean to burn down something.”
“On the principle of the Chinaman, and ‘roast pig,’” said French, stretching himself at full length on the grass, where Helena was already sitting. “What an extraordinary state of mind we’re all in! We all want to burn something. I want to burn the doctors, because some of the medical boards have been beasts to some of my friends; the soldiers over at Dansworth want to burn the town, because they haven’t been made enough of; the Triple Alliance want to burn up the country to cook their roast pig—and as for you, Helena—”
He turned a laughing face upon her—but before she could reply, a telephone was heard ringing, through the open windows of the house.
“For me, I expect,” exclaimed Helena, springing up. She disappeared within the drawing-room, returning presently, with flushed cheeks, and a bearing of which Geoffrey French at once guessed the meaning.
“Donald has thrown her over?” he said to himself. “Of course Philip had the trump card!”
Helena, however, said nothing. She took up a book she had left on the grass, and withdrew with it to the solitary shelter of a cedar some yards away. Quiet descended on the lawns. The men smoked or buried themselves in a sleepy study of the Sunday papers. The old house lay steeped in sunshine. Occasional bursts of talk arose and died away; a loud cuckoo in a neighbouring plantation seemed determined to silence all its bird rivals; while once or twice the hum of an aeroplane overhead awoke even in the drowsiest listener dim memories of the war.