“And now, not another word. Hugh Alston is the man I have selected for you. He is in love with you, there isn’t a finer lad living. He has eight thousand a year, and Hurst Dormer is one of the best old properties in Sussex. So that’s quite enough, and I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about Tom Arundel. I say nothing against him personally. Colonel Arundel is a gentleman, of course, otherwise I would not permit you to know his son; but the Arundels haven’t a pennypiece to fly with and—and now—Now I see Hugh coming up the drive. Leave me. I want to talk to him. Go into the garden, and wait by the lily-pond. In all probability Hugh will have something to say to you before long.”
“Oh, aunt, I—”
“Shut up!” said her ladyship briefly.
Marjorie went out, with hanging head and bursting heart. She believed herself the most unhappy girl in England. She loved; who could help loving happy-go-lucky, handsome Tom Arundel, who well-nigh worshipped the ground her little feet trod upon? It was the first love and the only love of her life, and of nights she lay awake picturing his bright, young boyish face, hearing again all the things he had said to her till her heart was well-nigh bursting with love and longing for him.
But she did not hate Hugh. Who could hate Hugh Alston, with his cheery smile, his ringing voice, his big generous heart, and his fine manliness? Not she! But from the depths of her heart she wished Hugh Alston a great distance away from Cornbridge.
“Hello, Hugh!” said her ladyship. He had come in, a man of two-and-thirty, big and broad, with suntanned face and eyes as blue as the tear-dimmed eyes of the girl who had gone miserably down to the lily-pond.
Fair haired was Hugh, ruddy of cheek, with no particular beauty to boast of, save the wholesomeness and cleanliness of his young manhood. He seemed to bring into the room a scent of the open country, of the good brown earth and of the clean wind of heaven.
“Hello, Hugh!” said Lady Linden.
“Hello, my lady,” said he, and kissed her. It had been his habit from boyhood, also it had been his lifelong habit to love and respect the old dame, and to feel not the slightest fear of her. In this he was singular, and because he was the one person who did not fear her she preferred him to anyone else.
“Hugh,” she said—she went straight to the point, she always did; as a hunter goes at a hedge, so her ladyship without prevarication went at the matter she had in hand—“I have been talking to Marjorie about Tom Arundel—”
His cheery face grew a little grave.
“Well, it is absurd—you realise that?”
“I suppose so, but—” He paused.
“It is childish folly!”
“Do you think so? Do you think that she—” Again he paused, with a nervousness and diffidence usually foreign to him.
“She’s only a gel,” said her ladyship. Her ladyship was Sussex born, and talked Sussex when she became excited. “She’s only a gel, and gels have their fancies. I had my own—but bless you, they don’t last. She don’t know her own mind.”