“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” says the old proverb. True enough. But one might write it this way, with even more truth: “It is better to love and lose than to love and gain.” One means by love, romantic love, of course.
Dinner was over. They had all gone up to the big drawing-room, which was the feature of the ’new part’—the third house of the series which now made one. The new part was incongruously solid and modern, with a storey (comprising the drawing-room and its staircase only) which overtopped the adjacent roofs. Below it was a corresponding dining-room, and both apartments were furnished richly in the fashion of the time—tons of solid mahogany in the latter, and a pasture of grass-green carpet and brocade upholsterings in the former, lit up with gilded wall-paper and curtain-cornices as by rays of a pale sun. Curly rosewood sofas and arm-chairs, and marbled and mirrored chiffonniers, and the like, were in such profusion upstairs as to do away with the air of bleakness common to a right-angled chamber of large size and middle-class arrangement. A fine grand piano stood open in a prominent place. Four large shaded lamps and four piano candles pleasantly irradiated the whole; while three French windows, opening on a balcony, still stood wide to the summer night.
By the great white marble mantelpiece, under the great gilt-framed pier-glass, filling the huge chair specially dedicated to his use, Father Pennycuick sat in comfortable gossip with his old friend, Thornycroft of Bundaboo. It irked him to separate himself from pipe and newspaper, baggy coat and slouchy slippers, and his corpulent frame objected to stairs; but when he had guests he considered it his duty to toil up after them, in patent shoes and dining costume, and sit amongst them until music or card games were on the way, when he would retire as unobtrusively as his size and heavy footstep permitted. It was the custom to pretend not to see or hear him go, and it would have annoyed him exceedingly had anyone bidden him good-night.
The pair talked shop, after the manner of old squatters when they sit apart; but the tall, spare, grey man with the thoughtful face—more like a soldier than a sheep-farmer—was not thinking much of his flocks and herds. His thoughts followed the direction of his quiet eyes, focussed upon an amber silk gown and its immediate surroundings. Mr Thornycroft was Deborah’s godfather, and at forty-seven was to all the sisters quite an elderly man, a sort of bachelor uncle to the family, one with no concern in such youthful pastimes as love-making and marrying, except as a benevolent onlooker and present-giver; and so the veiled vigilance of his regard was not noticed, as it would not have been understood, by anybody.
But other eyes, similarly occupied, were plainer to read.