It was not in Audrey Noel to deny herself to any spirit that was abroad; to repel was an art she did not practise. But this night, though the Spirit of Peace hovered so near, she did not seem to know it. Her hands trembled, her cheeks were burning; her breast heaved, and sighs fluttered from her lips, just parted.
Eustace Cardoc, Viscount Miltoun, had lived a very lonely life, since he first began to understand the peculiarities of existence. With the exception of Clifton, his grandmother’s ‘majordomo,’ he made, as a small child, no intimate friend. His nurses, governesses, tutors, by their own confession did not understand him, finding that he took himself with unnecessary seriousness; a little afraid, too, of one whom they discovered to be capable of pushing things to the point of enduring pain in silence. Much of that early time was passed at Ravensham, for he had always been Lady Casterley’s favourite grandchild. She recognized in him the purposeful austerity which had somehow been omitted from the composition of her daughter. But only to Clifton, then a man of fifty with a great gravity and long black whiskers, did Eustace relieve his soul. “I tell you this, Clifton,” he would say, sitting on the sideboard, or the arm of the big chair in Clifton’s room, or wandering amongst the raspberries, “because you are my friend.”
And Clifton, with his head a little on one side, and a sort of wise concern at his ‘friend’s’ confidences, which were sometimes of an embarrassing description, would answer now and then: “Of course, my lord,” but more often: “Of course, my dear.”
There was in this friendship something fine and suitable, neither of these ‘friends’ taking or suffering liberties, and both being interested in pigeons, which they would stand watching with a remarkable attention.
In course of time, following the tradition of his family, Eustace went to Harrow. He was there five years—always one of those boys a little out at wrists and ankles, who may be seen slouching, solitary, along the pavement to their own haunts, rather dusty, and with one shoulder slightly raised above the other, from the habit of carrying something beneath one arm. Saved from being thought a ‘smug,’ by his title, his lack of any conspicuous scholastic ability, his obvious independence of what was thought of him, and a sarcastic tongue, which no one was eager to encounter, he remained the ugly duckling who refused to paddle properly in the green ponds of Public School tradition. He played games so badly that in sheer self-defence his fellows permitted him to play without them. Of ‘fives’ they made an exception, for in this he attained much proficiency, owing to a certain windmill-like quality of limb. He was noted too for daring chemical experiments, of which he usually had one or two brewing, surreptitiously at first, and afterwards by special permission of his house-master, on the principle that if a room must smell, it had better smell openly. He made few friendships, but these were lasting.