‘Come in!’ said Alice Gaddesden in a languid tone. From the knock, sharp and loud, on her bedroom door, she guessed that it was her sister Margaret who wished to see her. She did not wish, however, to see Margaret at all. Margaret, who was slightly the elder, tired and coerced her. But she had no choice.
Mrs. Strang entered briskly.
’My dear Alice! what a time of day to be in bed! Are you really ill?’
Mrs. Gaddesden grew red with annoyance.
’I thought I had told you, Margaret, that Dr. Crother advised me more than a year ago not to come down till the middle of the morning. It rests my heart.’
Mrs. Strang, who had come up to the bedside, looked down upon her sister with amused eyes. She herself was curiously like the Squire, even as to her hair, which was thick and fair, and already whitening, though she was not yet thirty. Human thinness could hardly have been carried further than she and the Squire achieved it. She had her father’s nose also. But the rest of her features were delicately regular, and her quick blue eyes were those of a woman who told no falsehoods herself, and had little patience with other people’s.
’My dear Alice, why do you believe doctors? They always tell you what you want to hear. I am sure you told Dr. Crother exactly what to say,’ said Margaret, laughing, as she placed a chair by the bedside.
’Oh, of course I know you think everybody’s a sham who isn’t as strong as yourself!’ said Mrs. Gaddesden, sinking back on her pillows with a soft sigh of resignation. ’Though I think you might have remembered the horribly hard work I’ve been doing lately.’
‘Have you?’ Mrs. Strang wrinkled her brow, as though in an effort to recollect. ’Oh, yes, I know. I have always been getting notices lately with your name on them, at the end of a long tail beginning with a Duchess, and stuffed with Countesses. And I always think—there’s Alice doing the work, and the Countesses getting the glory. Do you really do the work?’
And Margaret, who did not often see her sister, and was of a genuinely inquiring turn of mind, turned upon her a penetrating look.
‘Well, of course,’ said Mrs. Gaddesden, a little confused, ’there are always the secretaries.’
‘Ah-ha!’ Mrs. Strang laughed—one might almost say crowed. ’Yes, indeed, if it weren’t for the secretaries! By the way, what do you think about the specimen here?’
Mrs. Gaddesden lost her languid air at once. She sat up among her pillows, a reasonably pretty woman, not without some likeness to Pamela, in points that did not matter.
‘My dear Margaret,’ she said, with emphasis, ’this has got to be watched!—watched, I tell you.’
Mrs. Strang opened her eyes wide.
‘What on earth do you mean?’
Alice Gaddesden smiled.