“Blinking little spitfire, that’s what she is!” he thought. “If she means to grow like the old girl, then—then—Hello, here’s old Alston!”
Hugh could give Tom Arundel a matter of eight years, and therefore Tom regarded him as elderly. “A decent old bird!” was his favourite estimate.
“Hello!” said Hugh. “What’s the matter? Not been rowing, have you? Tom, not rowing with the little girl, eh?”
Hugh’s face was serious, for he had caught a glimpse of Marjorie a while ago hurrying through the garden, and the look on her face had sent him to find Tom.
“Not worrying—her or rowing her?”
“No, goodness knows I haven’t said a word, but she flew at me and bit me!”
“Metaphorically, of course,” said Tom. “I say, Alston, do you think Marjorie is going to grow like her aunt?”
“Look here,” said Hugh, and he gripped Tom by the shoulder with such strength that Tom was surprised and a little pained. “Look here, I don’t know what Marjorie is going to grow like, but I know this—that she is the sweetest, most tender-hearted, dearest little soul, loyal and true and straight, and because you’ve won her love, my good lad, you ought to go down on your knees and thank Heaven for it. She’s worth ten, fifty, a hundred of you and of me. A good woman—and Marjorie is that—a good woman, I tell you, is better, infinitely better, than the finest man that walks; and you are not that, not by a long way, Tom Arundel. So if you’ve offended the child, go after her. Ask her to forgive you and ask her humbly. You hear me? Ask her deucedly humbly, my lad! And listen to this—if you bring one tear to her eyes, one tear, one little stab to that tender heart of hers, if you—you bring one breath of sorrow and sadness into her life, I’ll break your confounded neck for you! Have you got that, Tom Arundel?”
A final shake that made Tom’s teeth rattle, and Hugh turned and strode away to find Marjorie. Tom Arundel stared after him.
“Well, I—hang me! Hang me if I don’t believe old Alston’s in love with her himself!”
Hugh Alston had meant to run over to Hurst Dormer and see how things were getting on there, and incidentally to collect any letters that might have come for him. But the days passed, and Hugh did not go. Lady Linden required her fat horses for her own purposes. Marjorie’s own little ancient car had developed a serious internal complaint that had put it definitely out of commission, so there was no means of getting to Hurst Dormer unless he walked, or wired to his man to bring over his own car, but Hugh did not trouble to do that. They did not want him there, everything would be all right, so Joan’s letter, with others, was propped up on the mantelpiece in his study and dusted carefully every morning; and Joan watched the post in vain, and with a growing sense of anger and humiliation in her breast.
But of this Hugh knew nothing. He was watching Marjorie and Tom. Somehow his sacrifice did not seem to have brought about the happy results that he had hoped for.