“Stay here quietly, Babs; I don’t like the look of this.”
Unnoticed, Barbara remained hovering.
The two voices, low, and so far off in the long white room, were uncannily distinct, emotion charging each word with preternatural power of penetration; and every movement of the speakers had to the girl’s excited eyes a weird precision, as of little figures she had once seen at a Paris puppet show. She could hear Miltoun reproaching his grandmother in words terribly dry and bitter. She edged nearer and nearer, till, seeing that they paid no more heed to her than if she were an attendant statue, she had regained her position by the window.
Lady Casterley was speaking.
“I was not going to see you ruined before my eyes, Eustace. I did what I did at very great cost. I did my best for you.”
Barbara saw Miltoun’s face transfigured by a dreadful smile—the smile of one defying his torturer with hate. Lady Casterley went on:
“Yes, you stand there looking like a devil. Hate me if you like—but don’t betray us, moaning and moping because you can’t have the moon. Put on your armour, and go down into the battle. Don’t play the coward, boy!”
Miltoun’s answer cut like the lash of a whip.
“By God! Be silent!”
And weirdly, there was silence. It was not the brutality of the words, but the sight of force suddenly naked of all disguise—like a fierce dog let for a moment off its chain—which made Barbara utter a little dismayed sound. Lady Casterley had dropped into a chair, trembling. And without a look Miltoun passed her. If their grandmother had fallen dead, Barbara knew he would not have stopped to see. She ran forward, but the old woman waved her away.
“Go after him,” she said, “don’t let him go alone.”
And infected by the fear in that wizened voice, Barbara flew.
She caught her brother as he was entering the taxi-cab in which he had come, and without a word slipped in beside him. The driver’s face appeared at the window, but Miltoun only motioned with his head, as if to say: Anywhere, away from here!
The thought flashed through Barbara: “If only I can keep him in here with me!”
She leaned out, and said quietly:
“To Nettlefold, in Sussex—never mind your petrol—get more on the road. You can have what fare you like. Quick!”
The man hesitated, looked in her face, and said:
“Very well; miss. By Dorking, ain’t it?”