“You are lucky to be abusing me to-day—if it had been yesterday——”
At these dark words Lady Casterley turned away, her shoes leaving little dull stains on the polished floor.
Barbara raised to her cheek the fingers which she had been so convulsively embracing. “Don’t let her go on, uncle,” she whispered, “not just now!”
“No, no, my dear,” Lord Dennis murmured, “certainly not—it is enough.”
“It has been your sentimental folly,” came Lady Casterley’s voice from a far corner, “which has brought this on the boy.”
Responding to the pressure of the hand, back now at her waist, Barbara did not answer; and the sound of the little feet retracing their steps rose in the stillness. Neither of those two at the window turned their heads; once more the feet receded, and again began coming back.
Suddenly Barbara, pointing to the floor, cried:
“Oh! Granny, for Heaven’s sake, stand still; haven’t you squashed the hornet enough, even if he did come in where he hadn’t any business?”
Lady Casterley looked down at the debris of the insect.
“Disgusting!” she said; but when she next spoke it was in a less hard, more querulous voice.
“That man—what was his name—have you got rid of him?”
Barbara went crimson.
“Abuse my friends, and I will go straight home and never speak to you again.”
For a moment Lady Casterley looked almost as if she might strike her granddaughter; then a little sardonic smile broke out on her face.
“A creditable sentiment!” she said.
Letting fall her uncle’s hand, Barbara cried:
“In any case, I’d better go. I don’t know why you sent for me.”
Lady Casterley answered coldly:
“To let you and your mother know of this woman’s most unselfish behaviour; to put you on the ‘qui vive’ for what Eustace may do now; to give you a chance to make up for your folly. Moreover to warn you against——” she paused.
“Let me——” interrupted Lord Dennis.
“No, Uncle Dennis, let Granny take her shoe!”
She had withdrawn against the wall, tall, and as it were, formidable, with her head up. Lady Casterley remained silent.
“Have you got it ready?” cried Barbara: “Unfortunately he’s flown!”
A voice said:
He had come in quietly and quickly, preceding the announcement, and stood almost touching that little group at the window before they caught sight of him. His face had the rather ghastly look of sunburnt faces from which emotion has driven the blood; and his eyes, always so much the most living part of him, were full of such stabbing anger, that involuntarily they all looked down.
“I want to speak to you alone,” he said to Lady Casterley.
Visibly, for perhaps the first time in her life, that indomitable little figure flinched. Lord Dennis drew Barbara away, but at the door he whispered: