“Only six miles, fortunately. I say fortunately, now, because I hope we are going to be very good friends, but till I saw you, I was not sure whether it was fortunate. It is so disagreeable to have near neighbours whom one does not like, especially if they are relations.”
Her frankness was amusing, but not very easy to answer. However, the two or three words he found for the occasion did perfectly well.
“You are exactly like the Beresfords,” she went on, “and that I know must please grandpapa. He never liked me because I am like my mother’s family. I don’t mean that he is not fond of me in one way; I only mean that my being like the St. Clairs instead of like the Beresfords is one reason why he would never have left Hunsdon to me when there was anybody else to leave it to.”
Maurice felt a little relieved and enlightened. His cousin then had never expected to inherit Hunsdon; he took courage on that, to ask a question.
“But as he could not have thought until lately of making a child of my mother’s his heir, who was supposed to stand next in succession to my uncle?”
Lady Dighton gave a little sigh to the memory of her father.
“Grandpapa always wished him to marry again,” she said. “Mamma died six years ago; then I was married, and from that time I know perfectly well that grandpapa was continually looking out for a new daughter-in-law. He was disappointed, however; I do not think myself that papa would have married. At any rate he did not; and then, nearly two years ago, he died.”
“And has my grandfather been alone ever since?”
“Yes. For some time he was too much grieved to trouble himself about the future—and then he was paralysed. Perhaps you have found out already that Hunsdon is a great deal more to him than so many acres of land and so much money? He loves it, and cares about it, more I believe than about any living creature.”
“Yes; I can understand that the future of his estate is quite as important as the future of a son or daughter would be.”
“Quite. He never could have borne the idea of its being joined to, or swallowed up by another. Therefore, I do not think, in any case, he would have left it to me. It was necessary he should have an heir, who would be really his successor, and I am very glad indeed that he found you.”
Maurice did not quite understand the slight unconscious sadness of the tone in which Lady Dighton said, “in any case;” he did not even know that the one baby who had been for a little while heir of Dighton, and possible heir of Hunsdon, had died in her arms when the rejoicings for its birth were scarcely over. But he felt grateful to her for speaking to him so frankly, and his new position looked the more satisfactory now he knew that no shadow of wrong was done to any one by his occupying it.