Surrounded by that glance, waiting for Courtier, Barbara, not less British than her neighbours, was secretly slanting her own eyes up and down over the absent figure of her new acquaintance. She too wanted something she could look up to, and at the same time see damned first. And in this knight-errant it seemed to her that she had got it.
He was a creature from another world. She had met many men, but not as yet one quite of this sort. It was rather nice to be with a clever man, who had none the less done so many outdoor things, been through so many bodily adventures. The mere writers, or even the ‘Bohemians,’ whom she occasionally met, were after all only ‘chaplains to the Court,’ necessary to keep aristocracy in touch with the latest developments of literature and art. But this Mr. Courtier was a man of action; he could not be looked on with the amused, admiring toleration suited to men remarkable only for ideas, and the way they put them into paint or ink. He had used, and could use, the sword, even in the cause of Peace. He could love, had loved, or so they said: If Barbara had been a girl of twenty in another class, she would probably never have heard of this, and if she had heard, it might very well have dismayed or shocked her. But she had heard, and without shock, because she had already learned that men were like that, and women too sometimes.
It was with quite a little pang of concern that she saw him hobbling down the street towards her; and when he was once more seated, she told the chauffeur: “To the station, Frith. Quick, please!” and began:
“You are not to be trusted a bit. What were you doing?”
But Courtier smiled grimly over the head of Ann, in silence.
At this, almost the first time she had ever yet encountered a distinct rebuff, Barbara quivered, as though she had been touched lightly with a whip. Her lips closed firmly, her eyes began to dance. “Very well, my dear,” she thought. But presently stealing a look at him, she became aware of such a queer expression on his face, that she forgot she was offended.
“Is anything wrong, Mr. Courtier?”
“Yes, Lady Barbara, something is very wrong—that miserable mean thing, the human tongue.”
Barbara had an intuitive knowledge of how to handle things, a kind of moral sangfroid, drawn in from the faces she had watched, the talk she had heard, from her youth up. She trusted those intuitions, and letting her eyes conspire with his over Ann’s brown hair, she said:
“Anything to do with Mrs. N-----?” Seeing “Yes” in his eyes, she added quickly: “And M-----?”
“I thought that was coming. Let them babble! Who cares?”
She caught an approving glance, and the word, “Good!”
But the car had drawn up at Bucklandbury Station.
The little grey figure of Lady Casterley, coming out of the station doorway, showed but slight sign of her long travel. She stopped to take the car in, from chauffeur to Courtier.