Their eyes met, hers half shy, half repentant, his full of a kindness she had never yet seen there.
“Oh, what a jolly day! We’ve had a glorious ride,” said Helena, throwing herself down on the grass beside Mrs. Friend. “And how are you? Have you been resting—or slaving—as you were expressly forbidden to do?”
For Mrs. Friend had been enjoying a particularly bad cold and had not long emerged from her bedroom, looking such a pitiful little wreck, that both Lord Buntingford and Helena had been greatly concerned. In the five weeks that had now elapsed since her arrival at Beechmark she had stolen her quiet way into the liking of everybody in the house to such an extent that, during the days she had been in bed with a high temperature, she had been seriously missed in the daily life of the place, and the whole household had actively combined to get her well again. Mrs. Mawson had fed her; and Lucy Friend was aghast to think how much her convalescence must be costing her employer in milk, eggs, butter, cream and chickens, when all such foods were still so frightfully, abominably dear. But they were forced down her throat by Helena and the housekeeper; while Lord Buntingford enquired after her every morning, and sent her a reckless supply of illustrated papers and novels. To see her now in the library or on the lawn again, with her white shawl round her, and the usual needlework on her knee, was a pleasant sight to everybody in the house.
The little lady had not only won this place for herself by the sweet and selfless gift which was her natural endowment; she was becoming the practical helper of everybody, of Mrs. Mawson in the house, of old Fenn in the garden, even of Buntingford himself, who was gradually falling into the habit of letting her copy important letters for him, and keep some order in the library. She was not in the least clever or accomplished; but her small fingers seemed to have magic in them; and her good will was inexhaustible.
Helena had grown amazingly fond of her. She appealed to something maternal and protecting in the girl’s strong nature. Since her mother’s death, there had been a big streak of loneliness in Helena’s heart, though she would have suffered tortures rather than confess it; and little Lucy Friend’s companionship filled a void. She must needs respect Lucy’s conscience, Lucy’s instincts had more than once shamed her own.
“What are you going to wear to-night?” said Mrs. Friend, softly smoothing back the brown hair from the girl’s hot brow.
“Pale green and apple-blossom.”
Lucy Friend smiled, as though already she had a vision of the full-dress result.
“That’ll be delicious,” she said, with enthusiasm.
“Lucy!—am I good-looking?”
The girl spoke half wistfully, half defiantly, her eyes fixed on Lucy.
Mrs. Friend laughed.