“You don’t, I think, understand the kind of feeling I have for Mrs. Noel. It does not come into your scheme of things. It is the only feeling, however, with which I should care to marry, and I am not likely to feel it for anyone again.”
Lord Valleys felt once more that uncanny sense of insecurity. Was this true? And suddenly he felt Yes, it is true! The face before him was the face of one who would burn in his own fire sooner than depart from his standards. And a sudden sense of the utter seriousness of this dilemma dumbed him.
“I can say no more at the moment,” he muttered and got up from the table.
Lady Casterley was that inconvenient thing—an early riser. No woman in the kingdom was a better judge of a dew carpet. Nature had in her time displayed before her thousands of those pretty fabrics, where all the stars of the past night, dropped to the dark earth, were waiting to glide up to heaven again on the rays of the sun. At Ravensham she walked regularly in her gardens between half-past seven and eight, and when she paid a visit, was careful to subordinate whatever might be the local custom to this habit.
When therefore her maid Randle came to Barbara’s maid at seven o’clock, and said: “My old lady wants Lady Babs to get up,” there was no particular pain in the breast of Barbara’s maid, who was doing up her corsets. She merely answered “I’ll see to it. Lady Babs won’t be too pleased!” And ten minutes later she entered that white-walled room which smelled of pinks-a temple of drowsy sweetness, where the summer light was vaguely stealing through flowered chintz curtains.
Barbara was sleeping with her cheek on her hand, and her tawny hair, gathered back, streaming over the pillow. Her lips were parted; and the maid thought: “I’d like to have hair and a mouth like that!” She could not help smiling to herself with pleasure; Lady Babs looked so pretty—prettier asleep even than awake! And at sight of that beautiful creature, sleeping and smiling in her sleep, the earthy, hothouse fumes steeping the mind of one perpetually serving in an atmosphere unsuited to her natural growth, dispersed. Beauty, with its queer touching power of freeing the spirit from all barriers and thoughts of self, sweetened the maid’s eyes, and kept her standing, holding her breath. For Barbara asleep was a symbol of that Golden Age in which she so desperately believed. She opened her eyes, and seeing the maid, said:
“Is it eight o’clock, Stacey?”
“No, but Lady Casterley wants you to walk with her.”
“Oh! bother! I was having such a dream!”
“Yes; you were smiling.”
“I was dreaming that I could fly.”
“I could see everything spread out below me, as close as I see you; I was hovering like a buzzard hawk. I felt that I could come down exactly where I wanted. It was fascinating. I had perfect power, Stacey.”