And she, silent and unresponsive as she was, could not avoid answering him.
“Well, Tommy dear—I don’t know, but I suppose I shall.”
“I don’t like him, poor thing, and I wish you—mustn’t.”
“That’s exactly the word. I fear I must.” Her eyes nearly closed as she refused to frown. “This kind of thing can’t go on for ever.”
“You mean the mater. Well, look here, Bicky, she’ll be better when Carron is here—she always is.”
“But she is. She obeys him rather, don’t you think? I suppose because he was a friend of father’s. Is she really very bad to-day?”
“Well, why don’t you ask him to tell her to chuck it? I say, dear old thing, I wish I were nine years older!”
“If you were, I should be thirty-four!”
“I meant about the beastly money.”
She laughed. “Funny little kiddie! You aren’t going to have any money either. If we lived within our means we’d be enjoying life in a villa in some horrible suburb. We are hideously poor, Kingsmead.”
She so rarely called him by his name that the boy felt alarmed. Pontefract, with his red neck and his short legs, seemed suddenly very near.
“Isn’t there anyone else?” he blurted out, as she led the way towards the house. “I mean, any other chap with money?”
“No one with as much. And then, he isn’t so very bad, Tommy. He’s good-natured. Think of Clandon, or—Negroponte!” Her shudder was perfectly genuine.
“But Pontefract is so thundering old!”
She made no reply, and after a minute he went on: “What about Theo Joyselle?”
“My dear child, he is three years younger than I, even counting in bare years! And in reality I am twenty years too old for him. Silly little boy, don’t bother about me.” And her face, as she smiled down at her brother, was very pleasant as well as very beautiful.
“But he has money——”
“How did you know that, imp?”
“Having eyes to see, I saw. And I’d like to be an In-law to Victor Joyselle. I’d make him play to me all day. I say, I suppose she wouldn’t let us run up to hear him to-morrow?”
He sighed, and it was a grown-up sigh issuing from a child’s throat, for he loved music and had read the programme.
“How glorious the last one was! Upon my word, if I were you, I’d marry Theo just to be that man’s daughter-in-law.”
Again she laughed and laid her hand on his head.
“Good old Thomas. He’s a Norman peasant, remember—probably eats with his knife. Oh, here’s a motor—and it is Theo himself.”
“Yes, speak of an angel and you hear his horn.”
“Shall I tell him of your plan?” she teased as the motor slowed up.
But Tommy had disappeared, and in his place, small, freckled, and untidy, it is true, but a gentlemanly host welcoming his mother’s guest, stood Lord Kingsmead.