“I am not entitled to ask your story,” Lady Casterley went on, “but if you make mysteries you must expect the worst interpretation put on them. My grandson is a man of the highest principle; he does not see things with the eyes of the world, and that should have made you doubly careful not to compromise him, especially at a time like this.”
Mrs. Noel smiled. This smile startled Lady Casterley; it seemed, by concealing everything, to reveal depths of strength and subtlety. Would the woman never show her hand? And she said abruptly:
“Anything serious, of course, is out of the question.”
That word, which of all others seemed the right one, was spoken so that Lady Casterley did not know in the least what it meant. Though occasionally employing irony, she detested it in others. No woman should be allowed to use it as a weapon! But in these days, when they were so foolish as to want votes, one never knew what women would be at. This particular woman, however, did not look like one of that sort. She was feminine—very feminine—the sort of creature that spoiled men by being too nice to them. And though she had come determined to find out all about everything and put an end to it, she saw Barbara re-entering the wicket gate with considerable relief.
“I am ready to walk home now,” she said. And getting up from the rustic seat, she made Mrs. Noel a satirical little bow.
“Thank you for letting me rest. Give me your arm, child.”
Barbara gave her arm, and over her shoulder threw a swift smile at Mrs. Noel, who did not answer it, but stood looking quietly after them, her eyes immensely dark and large.
Out in the lane Lady Casterley walked on, very silent, digesting her emotions.
“What about the ‘fly,’ Granny?”
“The one you told me to order.”
“You don’t mean to say that you took me seriously?”
“No,” said Barbara.
They proceeded some little way farther before Lady Casterley said suddenly:
“She is deep.”
“And dark,” said Barbara. “I am afraid you were not good!”
Lady Casterley glanced upwards.
“I detest this habit,” she said, “amongst you young people, of taking nothing seriously. Not even bulls,” she added, with a grim smile.
Barbara threw back her head and sighed.
“Nor ‘flys,’” she said.
Lady Casterley saw that she had closed her eyes and opened her lips. And she thought:
“She’s a very beautiful girl. I had no idea she was so beautiful—but too big!” And she added aloud:
“Shut your mouth! You will get one down!”
They spoke no more till they had entered the avenue; then Lady Casterley said sharply:
“Who is this coming down the drive?”
“Mr. Courtier, I think.”
“What does he mean by it, with that leg?”