Lady Casterley lost the little colour in her cheeks; lost, too, all her superfluity of irritable energy.
“Tell me, at once!”
Having heard, she said nothing; but Lady Valleys noticed with alarm that over her eyes had come suddenly the peculiar filminess of age.
“Well, what do you advise?” she asked.
Herself tired, and troubled, she was conscious of a quite unwonted feeling of discouragement before this silent little figure, in the silent white room. She had never before seen her mother look as if she heard Defeat passing on its dark wings. And moved by sudden tenderness for the little frail body that had borne her so long ago, she murmured almost with surprise:
“Yes,” said Lady Casterley, as if speaking to herself, “the boy saves things up; he stores his feelings—they burst and sweep him away. First his passion; now his conscience. There are two men in him; but this will be the death of one of them.” And suddenly turning on her daughter, she said:
“Did you ever hear about him at Oxford, Gertrude? He broke out once, and ate husks with the Gadarenes. You never knew. Of course—you never have known anything of him.”
Resentment rose in Lady Valleys, that anyone should knew her son better than herself; but she lost it again looking at the little figure, and said, sighing:
Lady Casterley murmured:
“Go away, child; I must think. You say he’s to consult’ Dennis? Do you know her address? Ask Barbara when you get back and telephone it to me. And at her daughter’s kiss, she added grimly:
“I shall live to see him in the saddle yet, though I am seventy-eight.”
When the sound of her daughter’s car had died away, she rang the bell.
“If Lady Valleys rings up, Clifton, don’t take the message, but call me.” And seeing that Clifton did not move she added sharply: “Well?”
“There is no bad news of his young lordship’s health, I hope?”
“Forgive me, my lady, but I have had it on my mind for some time to ask you something.”
And the old man raised his hand with a peculiar dignity, seeming to say: You will excuse me that for the moment I am a human being speaking to a human being.
“The matter of his attachment,” he went on, “is known to me; it has given me acute anxiety, knowing his lordship as I do, and having heard him say something singular when he was here in July. I should be grateful if you would assure—me that there is to be no hitch in his career, my lady.”
The expression on Lady Casterley’s face was strangely compounded of surprise, kindliness, defence, and impatience as with a child.
“Not if I can prevent it, Clifton,” she said shortly; “in fact, you need not concern yourself.”
“Excuse me mentioning it, my lady;” a quiver ran over his face between its long white whiskers, “but his young lordship’s career is more to me than my own.”