“I liked him,” said Beatrice, carelessly; “he is a gentleman, and would be a pleasant man to have in the house.”
Her mother looked at her sharply. She was playing with the gold locket round her neck, twisting it backwards and forwards along its chain, her eyes fixed upon the heap of cards on her lap. There was not the faintest vestige of a blush upon her face.
“However,” she continued, “if you don’t care about having him, strike his name out. Only it is a pity, because Sophy Macpherson is rather fond of him, I fancy.”
This was a lie; it was Miss Beatrice herself who was fond of him, but not even her mother, keen and quick-scented as she was, could have guessed it from her impassive face. Mrs. Miller was taken in completely.
“Oh,” she said, “if Sophy Macpherson likes him, that alters the case. Oh, yes, I will ask him by all means—as you say, he is a gentleman and pleasant.”
“Look, mamma!” exclaimed Beatrice, suddenly; “there is uncle Tom riding up the drive.”
Now, Tom Esterworth was a very important personage; he was the present head of the Esterworth family, and, as such, the representative of its ancient honours and traditions. He was a bachelor, and reigned in solitary grandeur at Lutterton Castle, and kept the hounds as his fathers had done before him.
Uncle Tom was thought very much of at Shadonake, and his visits always caused a certain amount of agitation in his sister’s mind. To her dying day she would be conscious that in Tom’s eyes she had been guilty of a mesalliance. She never could get that idea out of her head; it made her nervous and ill at ease in his presence. She hustled all her notes and cards hurriedly together into her bureau.
“Uncle Tom! Dear me, what can he have come to-day for! I thought the hounds were out. Ring the bell, Beatrice; he will like some tea. Where is your father?”
“Papa is out superintending the building of the new pigsties,” said Beatrice as she rang the bell. “I think uncle Tom has been hunting; he is in boots and breeches I see.”
“Dear me, I hope your father won’t come in with his muddy feet and his hands covered with earth,” said Mrs. Miller, nervously.
Uncle Tom came in, a tall, dark-faced, strong-limbed man of fifty—an ugly man, if you will, but a gentleman, and an Esterworth, every inch of him. He kissed his sister, and patted his niece on the cheek.
“Why weren’t you out to-day, Pussy?”
“You met so far off, uncle. I had no one to ride with to the meet. The boys will be back next week. Have you had a good run?”
“No, we’ve done nothing but potter about all the morning; there isn’t a scrap of scent.”
“Uncle Tom, will you give us a meet here when we have our house-warming?”
“Humph! you haven’t got any foxes at Shadonake,” answered her uncle. He had drawn his chair to the fire, and was warming his hands over the blazing logs. Beatrice was rather a favourite with him. “I will see about it, Pussy,” he added, kindly, seeing that she looked disappointed. Mrs. Miller was pouring him out a cup of tea.