“Father,” he said, “did you notice? Do you think Mistress Atherton will be able to stay here?”
He saw to his astonishment that the priest’s melancholy face, as the starlight fell on it, was smiling.
“Why, yes, Sir James. She is happy enough.”
“But my wife—”
“Sir James, I think Mistress Atherton may do her good. She—” he hesitated.
“Well?” said the old man.
“She—Lady Torridon has met her match,” said the chaplain, still smiling.
Sir James made a little gesture of bewilderment.
“Well, come in, Chris. I do not understand; but if you both think so—”
He broke off and opened the door.
Lady Torridon was gone to her room; and the two girls were alone. Beatrice was standing before the hearth with her hands behind her back—a gallant upright figure; as they came in, she turned a cheerful face to them.
“Your daughter has been apologising, Sir James,” she said; and there was a ripple of amusement in her voice. “She thinks I have been hardly treated.”
She glanced at the bewildered Margaret, who was staring at her under her delicate eyebrows with wide eyes of amazement and admiration.
Sir James looked confused.
“The truth is, Mistress Atherton, that I too—and my son—”
“Well, not your son,” said Chris smiling.
“You too!” cried Beatrice. “And how have I been hardly treated?”
“Well, I thought perhaps, that what was said at supper—” began the old man, beginning to smile too.
“Lady Torridon, and every one, has been all that is hospitable,” said Beatrice. “It is like old days at Chelsea. I love word-fencing; and there are so few who practise it.”
Sir James was still a little perplexed.
“You assure me, Mistress, that you are not distressed by—by anything that has passed?”
“Distressed!” she cried. “Why, it is a real happiness!”
But he was not yet satisfied.
“You will engage to tell me then, if you think you are improperly treated by—by anyone—?”
“Why, yes,” said the girl, smiling into his eyes. “But there is no need to promise that. I am really happy; and I am sure your daughter and I will be good friends.”
She turned a little towards Margaret; and Chris saw a curious emotion of awe and astonishment and affection in his sister’s eyes.
“Come, my dear,” said Beatrice. “You said you would take me to my room.”
Sir James hastened to push open the further door that led to the stairs; and the two girls passed out together.
Then he shut the door, and turned to his son. Chris had begun to laugh.