Robin followed her closely, as one in her confidence; and Jack laid a quiet hand on his wife’s arm.
“Don’t laugh at her!” he said.
She stared at him. “Good gracious, Jack! What’s the matter? I didn’t mean anything.”
“I know you didn’t. But this thing is serious. If Fletcher Hill comes to-night, I believe she’ll have him—that is, if she’s let alone. But she won’t if you twit her with it. It’s touch and go.”
Jack spoke with great earnestness. It was evident that the matter was one upon which he felt very strongly, and Adela shrugged a tolerant shoulder and yielded to his persuasion.
“I’ll be as solemn as a judge,” she promised. “The affair certainly has hung fire considerably. It would be a good thing to get it settled. But Fletcher Hill! Well, he wouldn’t be my choice!”
“He’s a fine man,” asserted Jack.
“Oh, I’ve no doubt. But he’s an animal with a nasty bite, or I am much mistaken. However, let Dot marry him by all means if she feels that way! It’s certainly high time she married somebody.”
She turned aside to put the teapot on the hob, humming inconsequently, and the subject dropped.
Jack went to his room to wash, and in a few minutes more they gathered round the supper-table with careless talk of the doings of the day.
It had always been Dot’s favourite time, the supper-hour. In the old days before Jack’s marriage she had looked forward to it throughout the day. The companionship of this beloved brother of hers had been the chief joy of her life.
But things were different now. It was her part to serve the meal, to clear the table, and to wash the dishes Jack and Adela were complete without her. Though they always welcomed her when the work was done, she knew that her society was wholly unessential, and she often prolonged her labours in the scullery that she might not intrude too soon upon them. She was no longer necessary to anyone—except to Robin the faithful, who followed her as her shadow. She had become Number Three, and she was lonely—she was lonely!
There came a sound of hoofs thudding over the pastures. Robin lifted his eyebrows and cocked his ears with a growl.
Dot barely glanced up from the saucepan she was cleaning; her lips tightened a little, that was all.
The hoofs drew rapidly nearer, dropping from a canter to a quick trot that ended in a clattering walk on the stones of the yard. Through the open window Dot heard the heavy thud of a man’s feet as he jumped to the ground.
Then came Jack’s voice upraised in greeting. “Hallo, Fletcher! Come in, man! Come in! Delighted to see you.”
The voice that spoke in answer was short and clipped. Somehow it had an official sound. “Hallo, Jack! Good evening, Mrs. Burton! What! Alone?”