“No, sir,” said the priest. “I do not think it is that. I think it is the other way about. She did dislike her—but not now.”
“You do not think, Mistress Atherton is—is a little—discourteous and sharp sometimes. I have wondered whether that was so. Chris thinks not, however.”
“Neither do I, sir. I think—I think it is all very well as it is. I hope Mistress Atherton is to stay yet a while.”
“She speaks of going in a week or two,” said the old man. “She has been here six weeks now.”
“I hope not,” said the priest, “since you have asked my opinion, sir.”
Sir James sighed, looked at the other, and then left him, to search for his wife and see if she wanted him. He was feeling a little sorry for her.
* * * * *
A week later the truth began to come out, and Beatrice had the opportunity for which she was waiting.
They were all gathered before the hall-fire expecting supper; the painted windows had died with the daylight, and the deep tones of the woodwork in gallery and floor and walls had crept out from the gloom into the dancing flare of the fire and the steady glow of the sconces. The weather had broken a day or two before; all the afternoon sheets of rain had swept across the fields and gardens, and heavy cheerless clouds marched over the sky. The wind was shrilling now against the north side of the hall, and one window dripped a little inside on to the matting below it. The supper-table shone with silver and crockery, and the napkins by each place; and the door from the kitchen was set wide for the passage of the servants, one of whom waited discreetly in the opening for the coming of the lady of the house. They were all there but she; and the minutes went by and she did not come.
Sir James turned enquiringly as the door from the court opened, but it was only a wet shivering dog who had nosed it open, and now crept deprecatingly towards the blaze.
“You poor beast,” said Beatrice, drawing her skirts aside. “Take my place,” and she stepped away to allow him to come. He looked gratefully up, wagged his rat-tail, and lay down comfortably at the edge of the tiles.
“My wife is very late,” said Sir James. “Chris—”
He stopped as footsteps sounded in the flagged passage leading from the living rooms; and the next moment the door was flung open, and a woman ran forward with outstretched hands.
“O! mon Dieu, mon Dieu!” she cried. “My lady is ill. Come, sir, come!”
THE ELDER SON