The afternoon following the race the Castle guests returned to town, Lord Standon amongst them, and as that light-hearted gentleman departed without making any formal proposal for the hand of his young ward, Lord Barminster was greatly puzzled.
All that day he had watched Lady Constance with an unceasing vigilance, of which, fortunately, she was unaware; but he could detect no traces of affection in her intercourse with Lord Standon, nor could he find any reason for his son’s despair. Like a wise man, however, he made no reference whatever to the conversation of the preceding night, for which Adrien was exceedingly grateful, as he felt ashamed of having exposed his real feelings, even to his father.
Instead, therefore, Lord Barminster endeavoured to find out the true state of the case from his sister Penelope.
That lady, disturbed from her afternoon slumber, was inclined to be testy. As far as she was concerned, she was very much against the idea of Constance marrying any one, for the girl’s presence saved her a great deal of trouble in many ways; the consultations with the housekeeper, the choosing of books, the writing of invitations, these and a hundred other trifles which in the event of Constance’s marriage would be shifted back on to her own shoulders.
Naturally, therefore, she considered the suitor who would be less likely to inconvenience her; and he, of course, was Adrien. For if he married Constance, there would be, at least, some time during the year in which she would be at Barminster, and leave Miss Penelope free to resume the novel reading of which she was so inordinately fond. She scoffed, therefore, at any likelihood of Lord Standon’s suit, and flatly refused to believe a word of it.
Meanwhile, Adrien was in a state of restless excitement, for which he himself could scarcely account, and accordingly he determined to return to London next day.
That night they were a family party of four, and Lady Constance noticed that her guardian’s manner was considerably more cheerful than was its wont, and that during dinner he glanced with even more affection than usual at the handsome face of his only son. Afterwards, when the old man had returned to his own apartments, Adrien found his cousin in the silver drawing-room, with Miss Penelope. The latter had taken up her latest novel, and was devouring it with rapt attention.
Lady Constance, with a smile, beckoned to her cousin and made room for him beside her on the Chesterfield. He sank down with a sigh of content.
“You leave us to-morrow then?” she began, in a tone of calm inquiry.
He was filled with an insane longing to seize her in his arms, and cover her face with kisses; but he restrained himself, though he bent nearer to her as he said in a low voice:
“Yes, I am going back to try and put my affairs in better order. My father has been pulling me up—quite rightly, of course. I ought to have seen to these things before. I am afraid I have not been a good son to him.”