Soon after dawn he had a long interval of consciousness, and took in with a sort of wonder her presence in the low chair by his bed. So still she sat in a white loose gown, pale with watching, her eyes immovably fixed on him, her lips pressed together, and quivering at his faintest motion. He drank in desperately the sweetness of her face, which had so lost remembrance of self.
Barbara gave the news of her brother’s illness to no one else, common sense telling her to run no risk of disturbance. Of her own initiative, she brought a doctor, and went down twice a day to hear reports of Miltoun’s progress.
As a fact, her father and mother had gone to Lord Dennis, for Goodwood, and the chief difficulty had been to excuse her own neglect of that favourite Meeting. She had fallen back on the half-truth that Eustace wanted her in Town; and, since Lord and Lady Valleys had neither of them shaken off a certain uneasiness about their son, the pretext sufficed:
It was not until the sixth day, when the crisis was well past and Miltoun quite free from fever, that she again went down to Nettlefold.
On arriving she at once sought out her mother, whom she found in her bedroom, resting. It had been very hot at Goodwood.
Barbara was not afraid of her—she was not, indeed, afraid of anyone, except Miltoun, and in some strange way, a little perhaps of Courtier; yet, when the maid had gone, she did not at once begin her tale. Lady Valleys, who at Goodwood had just heard details of a Society scandal, began a carefully expurgated account of it suitable to her daughter’s ears—for some account she felt she must give to somebody.
“Mother,” said Barbara suddenly, “Eustace has been ill. He’s out of danger now, and going on all right.” Then, looking hard at the bewildered lady, she added: “Mrs. Noel is nursing him.”
The past tense in which illness had been mentioned, checking at the first moment any rush of panic in Lady Valleys, left her confused by the situation conjured up in Barbara’s last words. Instead of feeding that part of man which loves a scandal, she was being fed, always an unenviable sensation. A woman did not nurse a man under such circumstances without being everything to him, in the world’s eyes. Her daughter went on: