“I never thought you would allow me to go alone,” she resentfully whispered, as he held her hand after she was seated in the train.
He shook his head. “It is your fault, Maude. I told you I could not go to Hartledon.”
And so she went down in rather an angry frame of mind. Many a time and oft had she pictured to herself the triumph of their first visit to Calne, the place where she had taken so much pains to win him: but the arrival was certainly shorn of its glory.
ASKING THE RECTOR.
Perhaps Lady Hartledon had never in all her life been so much astonished as when she reached Hartledon, for the first person she saw there was her mother: her mother, whom she had believed to be in some remote district of Ireland. For the moment she almost wondered whether it was really herself or her ghost. The countess-dowager came flying down the steps—if that term may be applied to one of her age and size—with rather demonstrative affection; which, however, was not cordially received.
“What’s the matter, Maude? How you stare!”
“Is it you, mamma? How can it be you?”
“How can it be me?” returned the dowager, giving Maude’s bonnet a few kisses. “It is me, and that’s enough. My goodness, Maude, how thin you look! I see what it is! you’ve been killing yourself in that racketing London. It’s well I’ve come to take care of you.”
Maude went in, feeling that she could have taken care of herself, and listening to the off-hand explanations of the countess-dowager. “Kirton offended me,” she said. “He and his wife are like two bears; and so I packed up my things and came away at once, and got here straight from Liverpool. And now you know.”
“And is Lady Kirton quite well again?” asked Maude, helplessly, knowing she could not turn her mother out.
“She’d be well enough but for temper. She was ill, though, when they telegraphed for me; her life for three days and nights hanging on a shred. I told that fool of a Kirton before he married her that she had no constitution. I suppose you and Hart were finely disappointed to find I was not in London when you got there.”
“Agreeably disappointed, I think,” said Maude, languidly.
“Indeed! It’s civil of you to say so.”
“On account of the smallness of the house,” added Maude, endeavouring to be polite. “We hardly knew how to manage in it ourselves.”
“You wrote me word to take it. As to me, I can accommodate myself to any space. Where there’s plenty of room, I take plenty; where there’s not, I can put up with a closet. I have made Mirrable give me my old rooms here: you of course take Hart’s now.”
“I am very tired,” said Maude. “I think I will have some tea, and go to bed.”
“Tea!” shrieked the dowager. “I have not yet had dinner. And it’s waiting; that’s more.”