Val’s pleasant laugh was the avoidance of an answer. “So sorry! But I can’t come in now, Laura: I have to go over to Countisford to talk to Bishop about the new tractor, and I want to get back by teatime. Isabel tells me you’re bringing Captain Hyde up to see us.” He raised his cap again, smiling directly at Lawrence, who returned the salute with such gay good humour that Laura was able to dismiss that first fleeting impression from her mind. So this was Val Stafford, was it? And a very personable fellow too! Hyde had not foreseen that ten years would work as great a change in Val as in himself, or greater.
“I was going to call on you in due form, sir, but my young sister hasn’t left me the chance. You haven’t forgotten me, have you?”
“No, I remember you most distinctly. Delighted to meet you again.”
“Thank you. The pleasure is mutual. Now I must push on or I shall be late.”
“He can use his arm, then,” said Lawrence, as Val rode away, jumping his mare over a fence into the road. “Shaves himself and all that, I suppose? He rides well.”
“A great deal too well! and rides to hounds too, but he ought not to do it, and I’m always scolding him. He can’t straighten his right arm, and has very little power in it. He was badly thrown last winter, but directly he got up he was out again on Kitty.”
“Living up to his reputation.” Lawrence flicked the ash from his cigar. “I should have known him anywhere by his eyes.”
“He has kept very young, hasn’t he? An uneventful life without much anxiety does keep people young,” philosophized Laura. “I feel like a mother to him. But you’ll see more of him this afternoon.”
“So I shall,” said Lawrence, “if he isn’t detained at Countisford.”
The reason why Lawrence found Isabel scrubbing Mrs. Drury’s floor was that Dorrie’s pretty, sluttish little mother had been whisked off to the Cottage Hospital with appendicitis an hour earlier. She was in great distress about Dorrie when Isabel, coming in with the parish magazine, offered to stay while Drury went to fetch an aunt from Winterbourne Stoke. When Drury drove up in a borrowed farm cart, Isabel without expecting or receiving many thanks dragged her bicycle to the top of the glen and pelted off across the moor. Her Sunbeam was worn and old, so old that it had a fixed wheel, but what was that to Isabel? She put her feet up and rattled down the hill, first on the turf and then on the road, in a happy reliance on her one serviceable brake.
Her father was locked in his study writing a sermon: Isabel however tumbled in by the window. She sidled up to Mr. Stafford, sat on his knee, and wound one arm round his neck. “Jim darling,” she murmured in his ear, “have you any money?”
“Isabel,” said Mr. Stafford, “how often have I told you that I will not be interrupted in the middle of my morning’s work? You come in like a whirlwind, with holes in your stockings—”