Still holding that hand before his mouth, and smothering the sound of his feet in the long grass, he crept away.
In the great glass house at Ravensham, Lady Casterley stood close to some Japanese lilies, with a letter in her hand. Her face was very white, for it was the first day she had been allowed down after an attack of influenza; nor had the hand in which she held the letter its usual steadiness. She read:
“Just a line, dear, before the post goes, to tell you that Babs has gone off happily. The child looked beautiful. She sent you her love, and some absurd message—that you would be glad to hear, she was perfectly safe, with both feet firmly on the ground.”
A grim little smile played on Lady Casterley’s pale lips:—Yes, indeed, and time too! The child had been very near the edge of the cliffs! Very near committing a piece of romantic folly! That was well over! And raising the letter again, she read on:
“We were all down for it, of course, and come back tomorrow. Geoffrey is quite cut up. Things can’t be what they were without our Babs. I’ve watched Eustace very carefully, and I really believe he’s safely over that affair at last. He is doing extraordinarily well in the House just now. Geoffrey says his speech on the Poor Law was head and shoulders the best made.”
Lady Casterley let fall the hand which held the letter. Safe? Yes, he was safe! He had done the right—the natural thing! And in time he would be happy! He would rise now to that pinnacle of desired authority which she had dreamed of for him, ever since he was a tiny thing, ever since his little thin brown hand had clasped hers in their wanderings amongst the flowers, and the furniture of tall rooms. But, as she stood—crumpling the letter, grey-white as some small resolute ghost, among her tall lilies that filled with their scent the great glass house-shadows flitted across her face. Was it the fugitive noon sunshine? Or was it some glimmering perception of the old Greek saying—’Character is Fate;’ some sudden sense of the universal truth that all are in bond to their own natures, and what a man has most desired shall in the end enslave him?