“When we were young,” Miss La Sarthe remarked severely, “our Mamma would never have allowed us to know any divorced person—and, indeed, our good Queen Victoria would never have received one at her Court. We cannot possibly call, Roberta.”
Poor Miss Roberta’s face fell. She had been secretly much elated by the thoughts of a neighbor, and to have all her hopes thus nipped in the bud was painful. She had heard (from Hester again, it is to be feared!) that Mrs. Cricklander’s maid, who was a cousin of the baker in Applewood, and who had originally instigated her discovery of Wendover, had said that her lady knew all the greatest people in England—lords and duchesses by the dozen, and even an archbishop! Surely that was respectable enough.
But Miss La Sarthe, while again deploring the source of her sister’s information, was firm. Ideas might have changed, but they had not. Since the last time they had curtsied to the beloved late Queen, in about 1879, she believed new rules had been made, but the La Sarthe had nothing to do with such things!
Halcyone caught Miss Roberta’s piteous, subdued eye, and smiled a tender, kind smile. With years her understanding of her ancient aunts had grown. They were no longer rather contemptible, narrow-minded elders in her eyes, but filled her with a pitiful and gentle respect. Their courage under adversity, their firm self-control, and the force which made them live up to their idea of the fitness of things, appealed to her strongly. She had John Derringham’s quality of detached consideration, and appreciated her old relatives as exquisite relics of the past, as well as her own kith and kin.
“In America, divorce is not considered the heinous crime it was once in England,” Mr. Carlyon said. “Perhaps this lady may have been greatly sinned against and deserves all our pity and regard.”
But Miss La Sarthe remained obdurate. The point was not as to who was in the right, she explained, but that certain conventions, laid down by one whose memory was revered, had been outraged, and she could never permit her sister or Halcyone to have any intercourse with the tenant of Wendover Park!
The preparations for the new arrival went on apace all the autumn and winter. Armies of workpeople were reported to be in possession, and whole train-loads of splendid French furniture were known to have arrived at Applewood, to augment the antique and time-worn pieces which were Wendover’s own.
Miss Le Sarthe sent for the Long Man. Things had been rather better of late, and no more precious belongings had been forced to be parted with. An investment which had been valueless for years now began to produce some interest which was a great comfort, for Miss La Sarthe was now seventy-nine and Miss Roberta seventy-six.
The orders that the agent received were precise. The gate between Wendover and La Sarthe Chase which had been closed for over a hundred years was to be boarded up, and their side of the haw-haw which for nearly a mile divided the two parks was to be deepened and cleared out, and the spikes mended in any places where the ground might have seemed to have fallen in sufficiently, or the irons to have become broken enough to make the passage easy.