“But why did they leave you here?” she said. “Please come in!”
He followed her in with scarcely a word.
She led him down a long oak passage to a room that was plainly the library, and there in her quick, gracious way she turned and faced him.
“I am very pleased to see you, Mr. Ironside. I was going to write to you to thank you again for all your kindness, but lately—there has been so much to think about—so much to do. I know you will understand. Do sit down!”
But Jeff remained squarely on his feet. “I hope you have quite recovered from your fall?” he said.
“Quite, thank you.” She smiled faintly. “It seems such an age ago. Hector came home quite safely too.” She broke off short, paused as if seeking for words, then said rather abruptly, “I shall never go hunting again.”
“You mean not this year?” suggested Jeff.
She looked at him, and he saw that her smile Was piteous. “No, I mean never. Everything is to be sold. Haven’t you heard?”
He nodded. “Yes, I had heard. I hoped it wasn’t true.”
“Yes, it is true.” Her two hands fastened very tightly upon the back of a chair. There was something indescribably pathetic in the action. She seemed on the verge of saying more, but in the end she did not say it. She just stood looking at him with the wide grey eyes that tried so hard not to be tragic.
Jeff stood looking back with great sturdiness and not much apparent feeling. He offered no word of condolence or sympathy. Only after a very decided pause he said, “I wonder what you will do?”
“I am going to London,” she said.
“Soon?” Jeff’s voice was curt, almost gruff.
“Yes, very soon.” She hesitated momentarily, then went on rapidly, as if it were a relief to tell someone. “My father’s life was insured. It has left my stepmother enough to live on; but, of course, not here. The place is mortgaged up to the hilt. I have nothing at all. I have got to make my own living.”
“You?” said Jeff.
She smiled again faintly, “Yes, I. What is there in that? Lots of women work for their living.”
“You are not going to work for yours,” he said.
She thrust the chair from her with a quick little movement of the hands. “I would begin to-morrow—if I only knew how. But I don’t—yet. I’ve got to look about me for a little. I am going first to a cousin at Kensington.”
“Who doesn’t want you,” said Jeff.
She looked at him in sharp surprise. “Who—who told you that?”
“You did,” he said doggedly. “At least, you told Mr. Chesyl—in my presence.”
“Ah, I remember!” She uttered a tremulous little laugh. “That was the day I caught you eavesdropping and ordered you off your own ground.”
“It was,” said Jeff. “I heard several things that day, and I guessed—other things.” He paused, still looking straight at her. “Miss Elliot,” he said, “wouldn’t it be easier for you to marry than to work for your living?”