Stafford was completely taken by surprise. “I’d rather—it’s most awfully kind of you,” he stammered, “but I couldn’t trespass on your kindness—”
“Kindness, nonsense! Bernard’s my cousin: if your services are worth more in the open market than he pays you, it’s up to me to see he doesn’t fleece you. Otherwise you might ultimately chuck up your job, and where should we be then? In the soup: for he’d never get another man of your class—a gentleman—to put up with the rough side of his tongue. No: he must be brought to book: if you’ll allow me?”
Val’s disposition was to refuse; it was odious to him to accept a favour from Hyde. But pride is one of the luxuries that poor men cannot afford. “I should be most grateful. Thank you very much.”
“And now go to bed: you’re tired and so am I. I’ve had the devil of a hard day.” He stretched himself, raising his wrists to the level of his shoulders, luxuriously tense under the closefitting coat. “I shall hope to see your sister again after the inquest.”
“Yes,” said Val, hesitating: “are you staying on, then?”
“As you advised.”
“You’ll be very bored.”
“No, I’ve fallen in love.” Val gave a perceptible start. “With the country,” Lawrence explained with a merry laugh. “Rustic ideals. Don’t misjudge me, I beg: I have no designs on Mrs. Bendish.”
“Hyde . . .
“Well, my dear Val?”
“Give me back my parole.”
“You’re unjust and ungenerous,” said Val with repressed passion. “But I warn you that I shall interfere none the less to protect others if necessary. Good-night.”
Lawrence watched him across the lawn with a bewildered expression. But he forgot him in a minute—or remembered him only in the association with Isabel which brought Val into the radius of his good will.
“Hadow’s bringing out a new play,” remarked Lawrence, looking up from the Morning Post. “A Moore comedy, They’re clever stuff, Moore’s comedies: always well written, and well put on when Hadow has a hand in it. You never were a playgoer, Bernard.”
“Not I,” said Bernard Clowes. He and his guest were smoking together in the hall after breakfast, Lawrence imparting items of news from the Morning Post, while Bernard, propped up in a sitting attitude on the latest model of invalid couch, turned over and sorted on a swing table a quantity of curios mainly in copper, steel, and iron. Both swing-table and couch had been bought in London by Lawrence, and to his vigorous protests it was also due that the great leaved doors were thrown wide to the amber sunshine: while the curios came out of one of his Eastern packing-cases, which he had had unpacked by Gaston for Bernard to take what he liked. Lawrence’s instincts were acquisitive, not to say predatory. Wherever