’While you’ve been away? Nothing of the sort. He’s not crossed the threshold since I turned him out six months ago. But he’s coming all the same—as mild as milk.’
‘Very good of him!’ said Elizabeth with spirit.
‘That’s as you choose to look at it. And as to everything else—’
‘Gone to the crows!’ said the Squire gloomily. ’Levasseur took some references to look out last week, and made twenty mistakes in as many lines. He’s off!’
Elizabeth removed her hat and pressed her hands to her eyes, half laughing, half aghast. Never had anything been more welcome to the Squire than the sheen of her hair in the semi-darkness. Mrs. Gaddesden had once annoyed him by calling it red.
‘And the farms?’
’Oh, that I leave you to find out. I shovelled all the letters on to your table, just as Pamela left them.’
‘Pamela!’ said Elizabeth, looking up. ‘But where is she?’
The Squire held his peace. Mrs. Gaddesden drily observed that she was staying with Mrs. Strang in town. A bright colour spread in Elizabeth’s cheeks and she fell silent, staring into the fire.
‘Hadn’t you better take your things off?’ said Mrs. Gaddesden.
Elizabeth rose. As she passed the Squire, he said gruffly:
‘Of course you’re not ready for any Greek before dinner?’
She smiled. ‘But of course I am. I’ll be down directly.’
In a few more minutes she was standing alone in her room. The housemaid, of her own accord, had lit a fire, and had gathered some snowdrops for the dressing table. Elizabeth’s bags had been already unpacked, and all her small possessions had been arranged just as she liked them.
‘They spoil me,’ she thought, half pleased, half shrinking. ’But why am I here? Why have I come back? And what do I mean to do?’
These questions—’Why did I come back?—What am I going to do?’ were still ringing through Elizabeth’s mind when, on the evening of her return, she entered the library to find the Squire eagerly waiting for her.
But the spectacle presented by the room quickly drove out other matters. She stood aghast at the disorder which three weeks of the Squire’s management had brought about. Books on the floor and piled on the chairs—a dusty confusion of papers everywhere—drawers open and untidy—her reign of law seemed to have been wiped out.
‘Oh, what a dreadful muddle!’
The Squire looked about him—abashed.
’Yes, it’s awful—it’s all that fellow Levasseur. I ought to have turned him out sooner. He’s the most helpless, incompetent idiot. But it won’t take you very long to get straight? I’ll do anything you tell me.’
He watched her face appealingly, like a boy in a scrape. Elizabeth shook her head.
’It’ll take me a full day. But never mind; we need not begin to-night.’