“Afterwards?” the girl echoed.
“Afterwards. My cousin Oliver is a tenacious man, and you would seem to have worked him up to temporary heroics. But I beg you to reflect that what for you must have been a real glimpse into hell”—Diana shivered—” was likely enough for him no more than an occasion for posing. Fine posing, I’ll allow.” She paused. “It didn’t degrade him, actually. He’s a Vyell; and as another of ’em I may tell you there never was a Vyell could face out actual degradation. You almost make me wish we were capable of it. To lose everything—” She paused again. “You make it more alluring, somehow, than the prospect of endless London seasons—Diana Vyell, with a fading face and her market missed—that’s how they’ll put it—and, pour me distraire this side of the grave, the dower-house, a coach, a pair of wind-broken horses, and the consolations of religion! If we were capable of it. . . . But where’s the use of talking? We’re Vyells. And—here’s my point—Oliver is a Vyell. He may be strong-willed, but—did mamma happen to talk at all about the ’Family’?”
“I think,” answered Ruth with another faint flash of mirth, “it was I who asked her questions about it.”
Diana threw out her hands, laughing. “You are invincible! Well, I cannot hate you; and I’ve given you my warning. Make him marry you; you can if you choose, and now is your time. If there should be children— legitimate children, O my poor mamma!—there will be the devil to pay and helpless family councils, all of which I shall charge myself to enjoy and to report to you. If there should be none, we’re safe with Mrs. Harry. She’ll breed a dozen. . . . Am I coarse? Oh, yes, the Vyells can be coarse! while as for the Petts—but you have heard dear mamma.”
They talked together for a few minutes after this. But their talk shall not be reported: for with what do you suppose it dealt?
—With Dress. As I am a living man, with Dress.
In the midst of it, and while Ruth listened eagerly to what Diana had to tell of London fashions, Lady Caroline’s voice was heard summoning her daughter away.
Diana rose. “It is close upon dusk,” she said, “and Mrs. Harry has command of the waggon. She drives very well—not better than I perhaps; but she understands this country better. All the same, the road—call it an apology for one—bristles with tree-stumps, and mamma’s temper will be unendurable if the dark overtakes us before we reach the next farm. I forget its name.”
“Yes, Natchett. We spend the night there.”
“But why did not Mr. Silk drive you over?”
“Did mamma tell you he was escorting us?”
“No. I guessed.”
“Nasty little fellow. Sloppy underlip. I cannot bear him. Can you?”
“I do not like him.”
“It’s a marvel to me that my cousin tolerates him. . . . By the way, I shall not wonder if he—Oliver, I mean—loses his temper heavily when he learns of our expedition, and bundles us straight back to Europe. I warned mamma.”