Absorbed in the intensity of her purpose, she did not observe a peculiar little smile playing round Barbara’s lips.
“You had better speak to Nature, too, Granny!”
Lady Casterley stopped short, and looked up in her granddaughter’s face.
“Now what do you mean by that?” she said “Tell me!”
But noticing that Barbara’s lips had closed tightly, she gave her arm a hard—if unintentional-pinch, and walked on.
Lady Casterley’s rather malicious diagnosis of Audrey Noel was correct. The unencumbered woman was up and in her garden when Barbara and her grandmother appeared at the Wicket gate; but being near the lime-tree at the far end she did not hear the rapid colloquy which passed between them.
“You are going to be good, Granny?”
“As to that—it will depend.”
Lady Casterley could not possibly have provided herself with a better introduction than Barbara, whom Mrs. Noel never met without the sheer pleasure felt by a sympathetic woman when she sees embodied in someone else that ‘joy in life’ which Fate has not permitted to herself.
She came forward with her head a little on one side, a trick of hers not at all affected, and stood waiting.
The unembarrassed Barbara began at once:
“We’ve just had an encounter with a bull. This is my grandmother, Lady Casterley.”
The little old lady’s demeanour, confronted with this very pretty face and figure was a thought less autocratic and abrupt than usual. Her shrewd eyes saw at once that she had no common adventuress to deal with. She was woman of the world enough, too, to know that ‘birth’ was not what it had been in her young days, that even money was rather rococo, and that good looks, manners, and a knowledge of literature, art, and music (and this woman looked like one of that sort), were often considered socially more valuable. She was therefore both wary and affable.
“How do you do?” she said. “I have heard of you. May we sit down for a minute in your garden? The bull was a wretch!”
But even in speaking, she was uneasily conscious that Mrs. Noel’s clear eyes were seeing very well what she had come for. The look in them indeed was almost cynical; and in spite of her sympathetic murmurs, she did not somehow seem to believe in the bull. This was disconcerting. Why had Barbara condescended to mention the wretched brute? And she decided to take him by the horns.