“My word!” said Yvonne Bendish, startled out of her drawl. “Is it you, Isabel?” She reined in and sat gazing with all her eyes at the couple coming down the field path to Chilmark Bridge. “Have you had an accident? What’s happened?”
“Excuse my hat,” said Lawrence with rather more than his habitual calm. “How lucky to have met you. There has been a shocking business up at Wancote. Perhaps you would take Miss Stafford home? She should be got to bed, I think.”
Mrs. Jack Bendish was not soon ruffled, nor for long. “Lift her in,” she said. “Sorry I can’t make room for you too, Captain Hyde, you are as white as a ghost. Very upsetting, isn’t it? but don’t worry, girls of her age turn faint rather easily. Her arm hurt? . . .” She pointed down the road with her whip. “Dr. Verney lives at The Laburnus, on the right, beyond the publichouse. If you would be so kind as to send him up to the vicarage?”
She whipped up her black ponies and was gone. Lawrence was grateful to her for asking no questions, but he would rather have taken Isabel direct to Val. Romance in bud requires a delicate hand. Now Mrs. Jack Bendish had all the bourgeois virtues except modesty and discretion.
The Wancote affair made a nine days’ wonder in the Plain. Indeed it even got into the London papers, under such titles as “A Domestic Tragedy” or “Duel with a Dog”: and, while the Morning Post added a thumbnail sketch of Captain Hyde’s distinguished career, the Spectator took Ben as the text of a “middle” on “The Abuse of Asylum Administration in Rural Districts.”
Lawrence himself, when he had despatched Hubert Verney to the vicarage, would have liked to cut his responsibility. But it could not be done: first there was the village policeman to run to earth and information to be laid before him, and then, since Brown’s first flustered impulse was to arrest all concerned from Lawrence to Clara Janaway, Lawrence had to walk down with him to Wharton to interview Jack Bendish, as both the nearest magistrate and the nearest sensible man. But after pouring his tale into Jack’s sympathetic ear he felt entitled to wash his hands of the affair. Instead of going back to Wanhope with the relief party he got Bendish to drop him at the field path to Wanhope: and he slipped up to his room by a garden door, bathed, changed, and came down to lunch without trace of discomposure. Gaston, curtly ordered to take his master’s clothes away and burn them, was eaten by curiosity, but in vain.
Even before his cousin, Lawrence did not own to his adventure till the servants had left the room. If it could have been kept dark he would not have owned to it at all. He did so only because it must soon be common property and he did not care to be taxed with affectation.