But Lady Valleys’ face had suddenly become rather grim.
“So we think, child; it’s not so simple.”
“It can’t be worse, anyway,” muttered Barbara, “than being buried alive as that wretched woman is.”
For answer Lady Valleys only murmured:
“The doctor promised that ambulance carriage at four o’clock. What am I going to say?”
“She’ll understand when you look at her. She’s that sort.”
The door was opened to them by Mrs. Noel herself.
It was the first time Lady Valleys had seen her in a house, and there was real curiosity mixed with the assurance which masked her nervousness. A pretty creature, even lovely! But the quite genuine sympathy in her words: “I am truly grateful. You must be quite worn out,” did not prevent her adding hastily: “The doctor says he must be got home out of these hot rooms. We’ll wait here while you tell him.”
And then she saw that it was true; this woman was the sort who understood.
Left in the dark passage, she peered round at Barbara.
The girl was standing against the wall with her head thrown back. Lady Valleys could not see her face; but she felt all of a sudden exceedingly uncomfortable, and whispered:
“Two murders and a theft, Babs; wasn’t it ’Our Mutual Friend’?”
“Her face! When you’re going to throw away a flower, it looks at you!”
“My dear!” murmured Lady Valleys, thoroughly distressed, “what things you’re saying to-day!”
This lurking in a dark passage, this whispering girl—it was all queer, unlike an experience in proper life.
And then through the reopened door she saw Miltoun, stretched out in a chair, very pale, but still with that look about his eyes and lips, which of all things in the world had a chastening effect on Lady Valleys, making her feel somehow incurably mundane.
She said rather timidly:
“I’m so glad you’re better, dear. What a time you must have had! It’s too bad that I knew nothing till yesterday!”
But Miltoun’s answer was, as usual, thoroughly disconcerting.
“Thanks, yes! I have had a perfect time—and have now to pay for it, I suppose.”
Held back by his smile from bending to kiss him, poor Lady Valleys fidgeted from head to foot. A sudden impulse of sheer womanliness caused a tear to fall on his hand.
When Miltoun perceived that moisture, he said:
“It’s all right, mother. I’m quite willing to come.”
Still wounded by his voice, Lady Valleys hardened instantly. And while preparing for departure she watched the two furtively. They hardly looked at one another, and when they did, their eyes baffled her. The expression was outside her experience, belonging as it were to a different world, with its faintly smiling, almost shining, gravity.
Vastly relieved when Miltoun, covered with a fur, had been taken down to the carriage, she lingered to speak to Mrs. Noel.