Perhaps Mr. Danesfield had called to announce some misfortune. Perhaps the two hundred pounds was lost; perhaps there was no balance at the bank!
When the good gentleman was ushered into the room she glanced at him mysteriously, and even while he was shaking hands with Jasmine and Daisy, began letting fall short, but mysterious sentences—
“Mrs. Ellsworthy has called—much pleased—inclined to take them up. They are to spend to-morrow at Shortlands.” Mr. Danesfield raised his eyebrows, pulled Daisy to stand between his knees; and, staring at Miss Martineau over his gold-rimmed glasses, said—
“Eh! eh!—Shortlands—Ellsworthy’s—worthy folk!” here he laughed, pleased with his pun; “yes, Miss Martineau, a good opportunity, undoubtedly!”
At this moment Primrose came into the room, and Miss Martineau, judging that she might best serve her cause by retiring from the scene of action, went away.
Mr. Danesfield did not pay a long visit. He had known the Mainwarings, although not very intimately, for years. He was a good-hearted, kind, and very busy man, and during their mother’s lifetime he had taken but little notice of the girls.
To-day, however, he seemed to regard them with fresh interest. He assured Primrose that if he could assist her in any business capacity he would only be too pleased to do so. “Our good friend Miss Martineau assures me that your means are likely to be a little straitened, my dear. I am sincerely sorry, although there are worse troubles—yes, assuredly, far worse troubles. It cannot do a healthy girl any harm to work. Yes, come to me for advice if you care to, and look on me as an old friend. And hark ye, Miss Primrose, I am glad Mrs. Ellsworthy has called. Make the most of your opportunity at Shortlands, my dears. Yes; I’ll look in another day with pleasure. Good-bye, good-bye.”
When Mr. Danesfield went away the two elder sisters looked at each other. What did it all mean? What mystery was there in the air? Jasmine thought both Miss Martineau and Mr. Danesfield very disagreeable but Primrose pondered these things and felt anxious.
“A most extraordinary thing has happened,” said Mrs. Ellsworthy that evening to her husband. “We have lived for several years at Shortlands, and except when we have people in the house I have actually been without any society. My dear Joseph, you will forgive my counting you as nobody at all. Well, we have lived here, and I have often been dull beyond words, and yet the nicest creatures have been within a stone’s throw of me.”
Mr. Ellsworthy was at least twenty years older than his wife—a reserved individual, with a rather long and melancholy face. Mrs. Ellsworthy was plump, and round, and pretty—kittenish some people called her.
She was certainly fond of emphasizing her words, and of going into raptures, and her husband now only raised his eyebrows, and said, “Well, Kate?” in a somewhat lethargic voice.