By Sunday evening Mrs. Gaddesden, instead of a watchful enemy, had become his firm friend; and in her timid, confused way she asked him to come for a walk with her in the November dusk. Then, to his astonishment, she poured out her heart to him about her son, whose health, together with his recklessness, his determination to live like other and sound men, was making the two women who loved him more and more anxious. Anderson was very sorry for the little lady, and genuinely alarmed himself with regard to Philip, whose physical condition seemed to him to have changed considerably for the worse since the Canadian journey. His kindness, his real concern, melted Mrs. Gaddesden’s heart.
“I hope we shall find you in town when we come up!” she said, eagerly, as they turned back to the house, forgetting, in her maternal egotism, everything but her boy. “Our man here wants a consultation. We shall go up next week for a short time before Christmas.”
Anderson hesitated a moment.
“Yes,” he said, slowly, but in a changed voice, “Yes, I shall still be there.”
Whereupon, with perturbation, Mrs. Gaddesden at last remembered there were other lions in the path. They had not said a single word—however conventional—of Elizabeth. But she quickly consoled herself by the reflection that he must have seen by now, poor fellow, how hopeless it was; and that being so, what was there to be said against admitting him to their circle, as a real friend of all the family—Philip’s friend, Elizabeth’s, and her own?
That night Mrs. Gaddesden was awakened by her maid between twelve and one. Mr. Gaddesden wanted a certain medicine that he thought was in his mother’s room. Mrs. Gaddesden threw on her dressing-gown and looked for it anxiously in vain. Perhaps Elizabeth might remember where it was last seen. She hurried to her. Elizabeth had a sitting-room and bedroom at the end of the corridor, and Mrs. Gaddesden went into the sitting-room first, as quietly as possible, so as not to startle her daughter.
She had hardly entered and closed the door behind her, guided by the light of a still flickering fire, when a sound from the inner room arrested her.
Elizabeth—Elizabeth in distress?
The mother stood rooted to the spot, in a sudden anguish. Elizabeth—sobbing? Only once in her life had Mrs. Gaddesden heard that sound before—the night that the news of Francis Merton’s death reached Martindale, and Elizabeth had wept, as her mother believed, more for what her young husband might have been to her, than for what he had been. Elizabeth’s eyes filled readily with tears answering to pity or high feeling; but this fierce stifled emotion—this abandonment of pain!
Mrs. Gaddesden stood trembling and motionless, the tears on her own cheeks. Conjecture hurried through her mind. She seemed to be learning her daughter, her gay and tender Elizabeth, afresh. At last she turned and crept out of the room, noiselessly shutting the door. After lingering a while in the passage, she knocked, with an uncertain hand, and waited till Elizabeth came—Elizabeth, hardly visible in the firelight, her brown hair falling like a veil round her face.