Clara did not ask her to signalize the person thus abruptly obtruded.
“He has faults,” she said.
“There’s an end to Sir Willoughby, then! Though I don’t say he will give you up even when he hears the worst, if he must hear it, as for his own sake he should. And I won’t say he ought to give you up. He’ll be the pitiable angel if he does. For you—but you don’t deserve compliments; they would be immoral. You have behaved badly, badly, badly. I have never had such a right-about-face in my life. You will deserve the stigma: you will be notorious: you will be called Number Two. Think of that! Not even original! We will break the conference, or I shall twaddle to extinction. I think I heard the luncheon bell.”
“You don’t look fit for company, but you had better come.”
“Oh, yes; every day it’s the same.”
“Whether you’re in my hands or I’m in yours, we’re a couple of arch-conspirators against the peace of the family whose table we’re sitting at, and the more we rattle the viler we are, but we must do it to ease our minds.”
Mrs. Mountstuart spread the skirts of her voluminous dress, remarking further: “At a certain age our teachers are young people: we learn by looking backward. It speaks highly for me that I have not called you mad.—Full of faults, goodish-looking, not a bad talker, cheerful, poorish;—and she prefers that to this!” the great lady exclaimed in her reverie while emerging from the circle of shrubs upon a view of the Hall. Colonel De Craye advanced to her; certainly good-looking, certainly cheerful, by no means a bad talker, nothing of a Croesus, and variegated with faults.
His laughing smile attacked the irresolute hostility of her mien, confident as the sparkle of sunlight in a breeze. The effect of it on herself angered her on behalf of Sir Willoughby’s bride.
“Good-morning, Mrs. Mountstuart; I believe I am the last to greet you.”
“And how long do you remain here, Colonel De Craye?”
“I kissed earth when I arrived, like the Norman William, and consequently I’ve an attachment to the soil, ma’am.”
“You’re not going to take possession of it, I suppose?”
“A handful would satisfy me.”
“You play the Conqueror pretty much, I have heard. But property is held more sacred than in the times of the Norman William.”
“And speaking of property, Miss Middleton, your purse is found.” he said.
“I know it is,” she replied as unaffectedly as Mrs. Mountstuart could have desired, though the ingenuous air of the girl incensed her somewhat.
Clara passed on.
“You restore purses,” observed Mrs. Mountstuart.
Her stress on the word and her look thrilled De Craye; for there had been a long conversation between the young lady and the dame.
“It was an article that dropped and was not stolen,” said he.