“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“Just who he is, and why he is content to let you live with only an old woman to look after you. It isn’t the best thing in the world for you, is it? I should like to know him, Juliet.”
She shook her head.
“I am sorry,” she said, “I cannot tell you anything.”
There was a short silence. Aynesworth was disappointed, and showed it.
“It isn’t exactly ordinary curiosity,” he continued. “Don’t think that! Only I feel that you need someone who has the right to advise you and look after you. I should like to be your guardian, Juliet!”
She laughed merrily.
“Good!” she declared. “I like you so much better frivolous. Well, you shall have your wish. You shall be my guardian for the evening. I have one cutlet for dinner, and I am sure it will be spoilt. Will you come and share it?”
She rose to her feet and stood looking down upon him. He was struck, for the first time, by something different in her appearance. The smooth, delicate girlishness of her young face was, as yet, untroubled. Her eyes laughed frankly into his, and all the grace of natural childhood seemed still to linger about her. And yet—there was a change! Understanding was there; understanding, with sorrow in its wake. Aynesworth was suddenly anxious. Had anything happened of which he was ignorant? He rose up slowly. He was sure of himself now! Was he sure of her?
Wingrave threw the paper aside with an impatient exclamation. A small notice in an obscure corner had attracted his attention; the young man, Richardson, had been fished out of the river half drowned, and in view of his tearful and abject penitence, had been allowed to go his way by a lenient magistrate. He had been ill, he pleaded, and disappointed. His former employer, in an Islington emporium, gave him a good character, and offered to take him back. So that was an end of Mr. Richardson, and the romance of his days!
A worm like that to have brought him—the strong man, low! Wingrave thought with sullen anger as he leaned back in his chair with half-closed eyes. Here was an undignified hiatus, if not a finale, to all his schemes, to the even tenor of his self-restrained, purposeful life! The west wind was rippling through the orchards which bordered the garden. The muffled roar of the Atlantic was in his ears, a strange everlasting background to all the slighter summer sounds, the murmuring of insects, the calling of birds, the melodious swish of the whirling knives in the distant hayfield. Wingrave was alone with his thoughts, and he hated them!
Even Mr. Pengarth was welcome, Mr. Pengarth very warm from his ride, carrying his hat and a small black bag in his hand. As he drew nearer, he became hotter and was obliged to rest his bag upon the path and mop his forehead. He was more afraid of his client than of anything else in the world.