“Thank you,” said Lawrence, “your directions are most precise.” He had one hand in his pocket feeling among his loose silver: tips are more easily given than thanks, especially when one is not feeling grateful, and he was accustomed to pay his way through the world with the facile profusion of a rich man. Still he hesitated: if he had not the refined intuition that would have made such a blunder impossible to Val Stafford, he had at all events enough intelligence to hesitate. There is a coinage that is safer than silver, and Lawrence thought it might well pass current (now that she had washed her face) with this fair schoolgirl of sixteen, ruffled by sun and wind and unaware of her beauty. He would not confess to himself that the prospect of Isabel’s confusion pleased him.
He bent his head, smiling into Isabel’s eyes. “You’re a very kind little girl. May I—?”
“No,” said Isabel.
The blood sprang to her cheek, but she did not budge, not by a hair’s breadth. “I beg your pardon,” said Lawrence, standing erect. He had measured in that moment the extent of his error, and he cursed, not for the first time, his want of perception, which his ever-candid father had once called a streak of vulgarity. Defrauded of the pleasure he had promised himself from the contact of Isabel’s smooth cheek, he grew suddenly very tired of her. Young girls with their trick of attaching importance to trifles are a nuisance!
He forced a smile. “I beg your pardon, I had no idea— I see you’re ever so much older than I thought you were. Some day I shall find my way up here again and you must let me make my peace with a box of chocolates.” He raised his hat—he had not done so when she opened the door—and swung off across the moor, leaving the vicar’s daughter to go back and scrub Mrs. Drury’s floor as it had never been scrubbed before in its life. The honours of the day lay with Isabel, but she was not proud of them, and her face flamed for the rest of the morning. “You’re worse than Major Clowes!” she said violently to the kitchen tap.
“How do?” Bernard Clowes was saying an hour later. “So good of you to look us up.”
Lawrence, coming down from his own room after brushing his muddy clothes, met his cousin with a good humoured smile which covered dismay. Heavens, what a wreck of manhood! And how chill it struck indoors, and how dark, after the June sunshine on the moor! Delicately he took the hand that Clowes held out to him— but seized in a grip that made him wince. Clowes gave his curt “Ha ha!”
“I can still use my arms, Lawrence. Don’t be so timid, I shan’t break to pieces if I’m touched. It’s only these legs of mine that won’t work. Awkward, isn’t it? But never mind that now, it’s an old story. You had a mishap on the moor, the servants tell me? Ah! while I think of it, let me apologize for leaving you to walk from the station. Laura, my wife, you know, forgot to send the car. By the by, you know her, don’t you? She says she met you once or twice before she married me.”