Then the major went, and Miss Prettyman herself actually descended with him into the hall, and bade him farewell most affectionately before her sister and two of the maids who came out to open the door. Miss Anne Prettyman, when she saw the great friendship with which the major was dismissed, could not contain herself, but asked most impudent questions, in a whisper indeed, but in such a whisper that any sharp-eared maid-servant could hear and understand them. ‘Is it settled,’ she asked when her sister had ascended only the first flight of stairs;—’has he popped?’ The look with which her elder sister punished and dismayed the younger, I would not have borne for twenty pounds. She simply looked, and said nothing, but passed on. When she had regained her room she rang the bell, and desired to ask the servant to ask Miss Crawley to be good enough to step to her. Poor Miss Anne retired discomforted into the solitude of one of the lower rooms, and sat for some minutes all alone, recovering from the shock of her sister’s anger. ’At any rate, he hasn’t popped,’ she said to herself, as she made her way back to the school.
After that Miss Prettyman and Miss Crawley were closeted together for about an hour. What passed between them need not be repeated here word for word; but it may be understood that Miss Prettyman said no more than she ought to have said, and that Grace understood all that she ought to have understood.
’No man ever behaved with more considerate friendship, or more like a gentleman,’ said Miss Prettyman.
‘I am sure he is very good, and I am so glad he did not ask to see me,’ said Grace. Then Grace went away, and Miss Prettyman sat awhile in thought, considering what she had done, not without some stings of conscience.
Major Grantly as he walked home was not altogether satisfied with himself, though he gave himself credit for some diplomacy which I do not think he deserved. He felt that Miss Prettyman and the world in general, should the world in general ever hear anything about it, would give him credit for having behaved well; and that he had obtained this credit without committing himself to the necessity of marrying the daughter of a thief, should things turn out badly in regard to the father. But—and this but robbed him of all the pleasure which comes from real success—but he had not treated Grace Crawley with the perfect generosity which love owes, and he was in some degree ashamed of himself. He felt, however, that he might probably have Grace, should he choose to ask for her when this trouble should have passed by. ’And I will,’ he said to himself, as he entered the gate of his own paddock, and saw his child in her perambulator before the nurse. ’And I will ask her, sooner or later, let things go as they may.’ Then he took the perambulator under his own charge for half-an-hour, to the satisfaction of the nurse, of the child, and of himself.