“As much as I deserve.”
“Of course you don’t have to take guinea-pigs about with you?”
“Not as a rule.”
“I always do. There’s great-Granny!”
There certainly was Lady Casterley, standing a little back from the drive, and directing a tall gardener how to deal with an old oak-tree. Courtier alighted, and went towards her to say good-bye. She greeted him with a certain grim cordiality.
“So you are going! I am glad of that, though you quite understand that I like you personally.”
Her eyes gleamed maliciously.
“Men who laugh like you are dangerous, as I’ve told you before!”
Then, with great gravity; she added
“My granddaughter will marry Lord Harbinger. I mention that, Mr. Courtier, for your peace of mind. You are a man of honour; it will go no further.”
Courtier, bowing over her hand, answered:
“He will be lucky.”
The little old lady regarded him unflinchingly.
“He will, sir. Good-bye!”
Courtier smilingly raised his hat. His cheeks were burning. Regaining the car, he looked round. Lady Casterley was busy once more exhorting the tall gardener. The voice of little Ann broke in on his thoughts:
“I hope you’ll come again. Because I expect I shall be here at Christmas; and my brothers will be here then, that is, Jock and Tiddy, not Christopher because he’s young. I must go now. Good-bye! Hallo, Susie!”
Courtier saw her slide away, and join the little pale adoring figure of the lodge-keeper’s daughter.
The car passed out into the lane.
If Lady Casterley had planned this disclosure, which indeed she had not, for the impulse had only come over her at the sound of Courtier’s laugh, she could not have, devised one more effectual, for there was deep down in him all a wanderer’s very real distrust, amounting almost to contempt, of people so settled and done for; as aristocrats or bourgeois, and all a man of action’s horror of what he called puking and muling. The pursuit of Barbara with any other object but that of marriage had naturally not occurred to one who had little sense of conventional morality, but much self-respect; and a secret endeavour to cut out Harbinger, ending in a marriage whereat he would figure as a sort of pirate, was quite as little to the taste of a man not unaccustomed to think himself as good as other people.
He caused the car to deviate up the lane that led to Audrey Noel’s, hating to go away without a hail of cheer to that ship in distress.
She came out to him on the verandah. From the clasp of her hand, thin and faintly browned—the hand of a woman never quite idle—he felt that she relied on him to understand and sympathize; and nothing so awakened the best in Courtier as such mute appeals to his protection. He said gently:
“Don’t let them think you’re down;” and, squeezing her hand hard: “Why should you be wasted like this? It’s a sin and shame!”