She passed out. Hamel looked after her, for a moment, like a man in a dream. In his fancy he could see her back again once more in the kitchen, kneeling on the stone floor,—listening!
A cold twilight had fallen upon the land when Hamel left the Tower that evening and walked briskly along the foot-way to the Hall. Little patches of mist hung over the creeks, the sky was almost frosty. The lights from St. David’s Hall shone like cheerful beacons before him. He hastened up the stone steps, crossed the terrace, and passed into the hall. A servant conducted him at once to the drawing-room. Mrs. Fentolin, in a pink evening dress, with a pink ornament in her hair, held out both her hands. In the background, Mr. Fentolin, in his queerly-cut evening clothes, sat with folded arms, leaning back in his carriage. He listened grimly to his sister-in-law as she stood with Hamel’s hands in hers.
“My dear Mr. Hamel!” she exclaimed. “How perfectly charming of you to come up and relieve a little our sad loneliness! Delightful, I call it, of you. I was just saying so to Miles.”
Hamel looked around the room. Already his heart was beginning to sink.
“Miss Fentolin is well, I hope?” he asked.
“Well, but a very naughty girl,” her mother declared. “I let her go to Lady Saxthorpe’s to lunch, and now we have had simply the firmest letter from Lady Saxthorpe. They insist upon keeping Esther to dine and sleep. I have had to send her evening clothes, but you can’t tell, Mr. Hamel, how I miss her.”
Hamel’s disappointment was a little too obvious to pass unnoticed. There was a shade of annoyance, too, in his face. Mr. Fentolin smoothly intervened.
“Let us be quite candid with Mr. Hamel, dear Florence,” he begged. “I have spoken to my sister-in-law and told her the substance of our conversation this morning,” he proceeded, wheeling his chair nearer to Hamel. “She is thunderstruck. She wishes to reflect, to consider. Esther chanced to be away. We have encouraged her absence for a few more hours.”
“I hope, Mrs. Fentolin,” Hamel said simply, “that you will give her to me. I am not a rich man, but I am fairly well off. I should be willing to live exactly where Esther wishes, and I would do my best to make her happy.”
Mrs. Fentolin opened her lips once and closed them again. She laughed a little—a high-pitched, semi-hysterical laugh. The hand which gripped her fan was straining so that the blue veins stood out almost like whipcord.
“Esther is very young, Mr. Hamel. We must talk this over. You have known her for such a very short time.”
A servant announced dinner, and Hamel offered his arm to his hostess.
“Is Gerald away, too?” he asked.
“We do indeed owe you our apologies,” Mr. Fentolin declared. “Gerald is spending a couple of days at the Dormy House at Brancaster—a golf arrangement made some time back.”