“I took her to him. It seemed the only thing to do—since it’s all through fretting for her. Nobody knows, of course, except the doctor, and—Stacey.”
“Heavens!” muttered Lady Valleys.
“It has saved him.”
The mother instinct in Lady Valleys took sudden fright. “Are you telling me the truth, Babs? Is he really out of danger? How wrong of you not to let me know before?”
But Barbara did not flinch; and her mother relapsed into rumination.
“Stacey is a cat!” she said suddenly. The expurgated details of the scandal she had been retailing to her daughter had included the usual maid. She could not find it in her to enjoy the irony of this coincidence. Then, seeing Barbara smile, she said tartly:
“I fail to see the joke.”
“Only that I thought you’d enjoy my throwing Stacey in, dear.”
“What! You mean she doesn’t know?”
“Not a word.”
Lady Valleys smiled.
“What a little wretch you are, Babs!” Maliciously she added: “Claud and his mother are coming over from Whitewater, with Bertie and Lily Malvezin, you’d better go and dress;” and her eyes searched her daughter’s so shrewdly, that a flush rose to the girl’s cheeks.
When she had gone, Lady Valleys rang for her maid again, and relapsed into meditation. Her first thought was to consult her husband; her second that secrecy was strength. Since no one knew but Barbara, no one had better know.
Her astuteness and experience comprehended the far-reaching probabilities of this affair. It would not do to take a single false step. If she had no one’s action to control but her own and Barbara’s, so much the less chance of a slip. Her mind was a strange medley of thoughts and feelings, almost comic, well-nigh tragic; of worldly prudence, and motherly instinct; of warm-blooded sympathy with all love-affairs, and cool-blooded concern for her son’s career. It was not yet too late perhaps to prevent real mischief; especially since it was agreed by everyone that the woman was no adventuress. Whatever was done, they must not forget that she had nursed him—saved him, Barbara had said! She must be treated with all kindness and consideration.
Hastening her toilette, she in turn went to her daughter’s room.
Barbara was already dressed, leaning out of her window towards the sea.
Lady Valleys began almost timidly:
“My dear, is Eustace out of bed yet?”
“He was to get up to-day for an hour or two.”
“I see. Now, would there be any danger if you and I went up and took charge over from Mrs. Noel?”
“Yes, yes! But, exercise your judgment. Would it harm him?”
Barbara was silent. “No,” she said at last, “I don’t suppose it would, now; but it’s for the doctor to say.”
Lady Valleys exhibited a manifest relief.