“No, I would not believe you,” she said, with a smile. “If you did love him, you would not proclaim it.”
“Exactly. I was jesting. What is Lord Hartledon to me?—save that we are cousins, and passably good friends. I must avow one thing, that I like him better than I do his brother.”
“For that no avowal is necessary,” said Anne; “the fact is sufficiently evident.”
“You are right, Anne;” and for once Maude spoke earnestly. “I do not like Percival Elster. But I will always be civil to him for your sweet sake.”
“Why do you dislike him?—if I may ask it. Have you any particular reason for doing so?”
“I have no reason in the world. He is a good-natured, gentlemanly fellow; and I know no ill of him, except that he is always getting into scrapes, and dropping, as I hear, a lot of money. But if he got out of his last guinea, and went almost in rags, it would be nothing to me; so that’s not it. One does take antipathies; I dare say you do, Miss Ashton. What a blessing Hartledon did not die in that fever he caught last year! Val would have inherited. What a mercy!”
“That he lived? or that Val is not Lord Hartledon?”
“Both. But I believe I meant that Val is not reigning.”
“You think he would not have made a worthy inheritor?”
“A worthy inheritor? Oh, I was not glancing at that phase of the question. Here he comes! I will give up my seat to him.”
It is possible Lady Maude expected some pretty phrases of affection; begging her to keep it. If so, she was mistaken. Anne Ashton was one of those essentially quiet, self-possessed girls in society, whose manners seem almost to border on apathy. She did not say “Do go,” or “Don’t go.” She was perfectly passive; and Maude moved away half ashamed of herself, and feeling, in spite of her jealousy and her prejudice, that if ever there was a ladylike girl upon earth, it was Anne Ashton.
“How do you like her, Anne?” asked Val Elster, dropping into the vacant place.
“Don’t you? She is very handsome.”
“Very handsome indeed. Quite beautiful. But still I don’t like her.”
“You would like her if you knew her. She has a rare spirit, only the old dowager keeps it down.”
“I don’t think she much likes you, Val.”
“She is welcome to dislike me,” returned Val Elster.
AT THE BRIDGE.
The famous boat-race was postponed. Some of the competitors had discovered they should be the better for a few days’ training, and the contest was fixed for the following Monday.
Not a day of the intervening week but sundry small cockle-shells—things the ladies had already begun to designate as the “wager-boats,” each containing a gentleman occupant, exercising his arms on a pair of sculls—might be seen any hour passing and repassing on the water; and the green slopes of Hartledon, which here formed the bank of the river, grew to be tenanted with fair occupants. Of course they had their favourites, these ladies, and their little bets of gloves on them.