And I went, leaving him to stare after me jealously.
When I reached Miss Heda she was collecting half-opened monthly roses from the hedge, and not quite knowing what to say I made the appropriate quotation. At least it was appropriate to my thought, and, from her answer, to hers also.
“Yes,” she said, “I am gathering them while I may,” and she sighed and, as I thought, glanced towards the verandah, though of this I could not be sure because of the wide brim of the hat she was wearing.
Then we talked a little on indifferent matters, while I pricked my fingers helping to pluck the roses. She asked me if I thought that Anscombe was getting on well, and how long it would be before he could travel. I replied that Dr. Rodd could tell her better than myself, but that I hoped in about a week.
“In a week!” she said, and although she tried to speak lightly there was dismay in her voice.
“I hope you don’t think it too long,” I answered; “but even if he is fit to go, the oxen have not come yet, and I don’t quite know when they will.”
“Too long!” she exclaimed. “Too long! Oh! if you only knew what it is to me to have such guests as you are in this place,” and her dark eyes filled with tears.
By now we had passed to the side of the house in search of some other flower that grew in the shade, I think it was mignonette, and were out of sight of the verandah and quite alone.
“Mr. Quatermain,” she said hurriedly, “I am wondering whether to ask your advice about something, if you would give it. I have no one to consult here,” she added rather piteously.
“That is for you to decide. If you wish to do so I am old enough to be your father, and will do my best to help.”
We walked on to an orange grove that stood about forty yards away, ostensibly to pick some fruit, but really because we knew that there we should be out of hearing and could see any one who approached.
“Mr. Quatermain,” she said presently in a low voice, “I am in great trouble, almost the greatest a woman can have. I am engaged to be married to a man whom I do not care for.”
“Then why not break it off? It may be unpleasant, but it is generally best to face unpleasant things, and nothing can be so bad as marrying a man whom you do not—care for.”
“Because I cannot—I dare not. I have to obey.”
“How old are you, Miss Marnham?”
“I shall be of age in three months’ time. You may guess that I did not intend to return here until they were over, but I was, well—trapped. He wrote to me that my father was ill and I came.”
“At any rate when they are over you will not have to obey any one. It is not long to wait.”
“It is an eternity. Besides this is not so much a question of obedience as of duty and of love. I love my father who, whatever his faults, has always been very kind to me.”