“He is coming to talk to you, Granny.”
Lady Casterley stopped short.
“You are a cat,” she said; “a sly cat. Now mind, Babs, I won’t have it!”
“No, darling,” murmured Barbara; “you shan’t have it—I’ll take him off your hands.”
“What does your mother mean,” stammered Lady Casterley, “letting you grow up like this! You’re as bad as she was at your age!”
“Worse!” said Barbara. “I dreamed last night that I could fly!”
“If you try that,” said Lady Casterley grimly, “you’ll soon come to grief. Good-morning, sir; you ought to be in bed!”
Courtier raised his hat.
“Surely it is not for me to be where you are not!” And he added gloomily: “The war scare’s dead!”
“Ah!” said Lady Casterley: “your occupation’s gone then. You’ll go back to London now, I suppose.” Looking suddenly at Barbara she saw that the girl’s eyes were half-closed, and that she was smiling; it seemed to Lady Casterley too or was it fancy?—that she shook her head.
Thanks to Lady Valleys, a patroness of birds, no owl was ever shot on the Monkland Court estate, and those soft-flying spirits of the dusk hooted and hunted, to the great benefit of all except the creeping voles. By every farm, cottage, and field, they passed invisible, quartering the dark air. Their voyages of discovery stretched up on to the moor as far as the wild stone man, whose origin their wisdom perhaps knew. Round Audrey Noel’s cottage they were as thick as thieves, for they had just there two habitations in a long, old, holly-grown wall, and almost seemed to be guarding the mistress of that thatched dwelling—so numerous were their fluttering rushes, so tenderly prolonged their soft sentinel callings. Now that the weather was really warm, so that joy of life was in the voles, they found those succulent creatures of an extraordinarily pleasant flavour, and on them each pair was bringing up a family of exceptionally fine little owls, very solemn, with big heads, bright large eyes, and wings as yet only able to fly downwards. There was scarcely any hour from noon of the day (for some of them had horns) to the small sweet hours when no one heard them, that they forgot to salute the very large, quiet, wingless owl whom they could espy moving about by day above their mouse-runs, or preening her white and sometimes blue and sometimes grey feathers morning and evening in a large square hole high up in the front wall. And they could not understand at all why no swift depredating graces nor any habit of long soft hooting belonged to that lady-bird.