“What!” said Lord Valleys, growing most unphilosophically red.
“Confound it, Gertrude, Miltoun’s business was quite enough for one year.”
“For twenty,” murmured Lady Valleys. “I’m watching her. He’s going to Persia, they say.”
“And leaving his bones there, I hope,” muttered Lord Valleys. “Really, it’s too much. I should think you’re all wrong, though.”
Lady Valleys raised her eyebrows. Men were very queer about such things! Very queer and worse than helpless!
“Well,” she said, “I must go to my meeting. I’ll take her, and see if I can get at something,” and she went away.
It was the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Promotion of the Birth Rate, over which she had promised to preside. The scheme was one in which she had been prominent from the start, appealing as it did to her large and full-blooded nature. Many movements, to which she found it impossible to refuse her name, had in themselves but small attraction; and it was a real comfort to feel something approaching enthusiasm for one branch of her public work. Not that there was any academic consistency about her in the matter, for in private life amongst her friends she was not narrowly dogmatic on the duty of wives to multiply exceedingly. She thought imperially on the subject, without bigotry. Large, healthy families, in all cases save individual ones! The prime idea at the back of her mind was—National Expansion! Her motto, and she intended if possible to make it the motto of the League, was: ’De l’audace, et encore de l’audace!’ It was a question of the full realization of the nation. She had a true, and in a sense touching belief in ‘the flag,’ apart from what it might cover. It was her idealism. “You may talk,” she would say, “as much as you like about directing national life in accordance with social justice! What does the nation care about social justice? The thing is much bigger than that. It’s a matter of sentiment. We must expand!”
On the way to the meeting, occupied with her speech, she made no attempt to draw Barbara into conversation. That must wait. The child, though languid, and pale, was looking so beautiful that it was a pleasure to have her support in such a movement.
In a little dark room behind the hall the Committee were already assembled, and they went at once on to the platform.
Unmoved by the stares of the audience, Barbara sat absorbed in moody thoughts.
Into the three weeks since Miltoun’s election there had been crowded such a multitude of functions that she had found, as it were, no time, no energy to know where she stood with herself. Since that morning in the stable, when he had watched her with the horse Hal, Harbinger had seemed to live only to be close to her. And the consciousness of his passion gave her a tingling sense of pleasure. She had been riding and dancing with him, and sometimes this had been almost blissful. But there were times too, when she felt—though always with a certain contempt of herself, as when she sat on that sunwarmed stone below the tor—a queer dissatisfaction, a longing for something outside a world where she had to invent her own starvations and simplicities, to make-believe in earnestness.