But they were walking on such a thin crust of facts, and there was so deep a quagmire of supposition beneath, that talk was almost painfully difficult. Never before perhaps had each of these four women realized so clearly how much Miltoun—that rather strange and unknown grandson, son, and brother—counted in the scheme of existence. Their suppressed agitation was manifested in very different ways. Lady Casterley, upright in her chair, showed it only by an added decision of speech, a continual restless movement of one hand, a thin line between her usually smooth brows. Lady Valleys wore a puzzled look, as if a little surprised that she felt serious. Agatha looked frankly anxious. She was in her quiet way a woman of much character, endowed with that natural piety, which accepts without questioning the established order in life and religion. The world to her being home and family, she had a real, if gently expressed, horror of all that she instinctively felt to be subversive of this ideal. People judged her a little quiet, dull, and narrow; they compared her to a hen for ever clucking round her chicks. The streak of heroism that lay in her nature was not perhaps of patent order. Her feeling about her brother’s situation however was sincere and not to be changed or comforted. She saw him in danger of being damaged in the only sense in which she could conceive of a man—as a husband and a father. It was this that went to her heart, though her piety proclaimed to her also the peril of his soul; for she shared the High Church view of the indissolubility of marriage.
As to Barbara, she stood by the hearth, leaning her white shoulders against the carved marble, her hands behind her, looking down. Now and then her lips curled, her level brows twitched, a faint sigh came from her; then a little smile would break out, and be instantly suppressed. She alone was silent—Youth criticizing Life; her judgment voiced itself only in the untroubled rise and fall of her young bosom, the impatience of her brows, the downward look of her blue eyes, full of a lazy, inextinguishable light:
Lady Valleys sighed.
“If only he weren’t such a queer boy! He’s quite capable of marrying her from sheer perversity.”
“What!” said Lady Casterley.
“You haven’t seen her, my dear. A most unfortunately attractive creature—quite a charming face.”
Agatha said quietly:
“Mother, if she was divorced, I don’t think Eustace would.”
“There’s that, certainly,” murmured Lady Valleys; “hope for the best!”
“Don’t you even know which way it was?” said Lady Casterley.
“Well, the vicar says she did the divorcing. But he’s very charitable; it may be as Agatha hopes.”
“I detest vagueness. Why doesn’t someone ask the woman?”
“You shall come with me, Granny dear, and ask her yourself; you will do it so nicely.”
Lady Casterley looked up.