But Mrs. Noel did not answer; and sweeping her glance from that crown of soft dark hair, down the soft white figure, to the very feet, Barbara cried:
“I believe you are a fatalist.”
Soon after that, not knowing what more to say, she went away. But walking home across the fields, where full summer was swinging on the delicious air and there was now no bull but only red cows to crop short the ‘milk-maids’ and buttercups, she suffered from this strange revelation of the strength of softness and passivity—as though she had seen in the white figure of ‘Anonyma,’ and heard in her voice something from beyond, symbolic, inconceivable, yet real.
Lord Valleys, relieved from official pressure by subsidence of the war scare, had returned for a long week-end. To say that he had been intensely relieved by the news that Mrs. Noel was not free, would be to put it mildly. Though not old-fashioned, like his mother-in-law, in regard to the mixing of the castes, prepared to admit that exclusiveness was out of date, to pass over with a shrug and a laugh those numerous alliances by which his order were renewing the sinews of war, and indeed in his capacity of an expert, often pointing out the dangers of too much in-breeding—yet he had a peculiar personal feeling about his own family, and was perhaps a little extra sensitive because of Agatha; for Shropton, though a good fellow, and extremely wealthy, was only a third baronet, and had originally been made of iron. It was inadvisable to go outside the inner circle where there was no material necessity for so doing. He had not done it himself. Moreover there was a sentiment about these things!
On the morning after his arrival, visiting the kennels before breakfast, he stood chatting with his head man, and caressing the wet noses of his two favourite pointers,—with something of the feeling of a boy let out of school. Those pleasant creatures, cowering and quivering with pride against his legs, and turning up at him their yellow Chinese eyes, gave him that sense of warmth and comfort which visits men in the presence of their hobbies. With this particular pair, inbred to the uttermost, he had successfully surmounted a great risk. It was now touch and go whether he dared venture on one more cross to the original strain, in the hope of eliminating the last clinging of liver colour. It was a gamble—and it was just that which rendered it so vastly interesting.
A small voice diverted his attention; he looked round and saw little Ann. She had been in bed when he arrived the night before, and he was therefore the newest thing about.
She carried in her arms a guinea-pig, and began at once:
“Grandpapa, Granny wants you. She’s on the terrace; she’s talking to Mr. Courtier. I like him—he’s a kind man. If I put my guinea-pig down, will they bite it? Poor darling—they shan’t! Isn’t it a darling!”