“A great deal,” she echoed, looking steadily ahead of her.
“I came,” he went on, “because it occurred to me that, after all, I had my duties as your guardian, dear Esther. I am not sure that we can permit flirtations, you know. Let me see, how old are you?”
“Twenty-one,” she replied.
“In a magazine I was reading the other day,” he continued, “I was interested to observe that the modern idea as regards marriage is a changed one. A woman, they say, should not marry until she is twenty-seven or twenty-eight—a very excellent idea. I think we agree, do we not, on that, Esther?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I have never thought about the matter.”
“Then,” he went on, “we will make up our minds to agree. Twenty-seven or twenty-eight, let us say. A very excellent age! A girl should know her own mind by then. And meanwhile, dear Esther, would it be wise, I wonder, to see a little less of our friend Mr. Hamel? He leaves us to-day, I think. He is very obstinate about that. If he were staying still in the house, well, it might be different. But if he persists in leaving us, you will not forget, dear, that association with a guest is one thing; association with a young man living out of the house is another. A great deal less of Mr. Hamel I think that we must see.”
She made no reply whatever. Hamel was coming now towards them.
“Really a very personable young man,” Mr. Fentolin remarked, studying him through his eyeglass. “Is it my fancy, I wonder, as an observant person, or is he just a little—just a little taken with you, Esther? A pity if it is so—a great pity.”
She said nothing, but her hand which rested upon the rug was trembling a little.
“If you have an opportunity,” Mr. Fentolin suggested, dropping his voice, “you might very delicately, you know—girls are so clever at that sort of thing-convey my views to Mr. Hamel as regards his leaving us and its effect upon your companionship. You understand me, I am sure?”
For the first time she turned her head towards him.
“I understand,” she said, “that you have some particular reason for not wishing Mr. Hamel to leave St. David’s Hall.”
He smiled benignly.
“You do my hospitable impulses full justice, dear Esther,” he declared. “Sometimes I think that you understand me almost as well as your dear mother. If, by any chance, Mr. Hamel should change his mind as to taking up his residence at the Tower, I think you would not find me in any sense of the word an obdurate or exacting guardian. Come along, Mr. Hamel. That seat opposite to us is quite comfortable. You see, I resign myself to the inevitable. I have come to fetch golfers home to luncheon, and I compose myself to listen. Which of you will begin the epic of missed putts and brassey shots which failed by a foot to carry?”