’Very good—very good, indeed! Clare to join you at the Towers! Capital! I could not have planned it better myself! I shall go down with you on Wednesday in time for the jollification on Thursday. I always enjoy that day; they are such nice, friendly people, those good Hollingford ladies. Then I’ll have a day with Sheepshanks, and perhaps I may ride over to Ashcombe and see Preston—Brown Jess can do it in a day, eighteen miles—to be sure! But there’s back again to the Towers! how much is twice eighteen—thirty?’
‘Thirty-six,’ said Lady Cumnor, sharply.
’So it is; you’re always right, my dear. Preston’s a clever, sharp fellow.’
‘I don’t like him,’ said my lady.
’He takes looking after; but he’s a sharp fellow. He’s such a good-looking man, too, I wonder you don’t like him.’
’I never think whether a land-agent is handsome or not. They don’t belong to the class of people whose appearance I notice.’
’To be sure not. But he is a handsome fellow; and what should make you like him is the interest he takes in Clare and her prospects. He is constantly suggesting something that can be done to her house, and I know he sends her fruit, and flowers, and game just as regularly as we should ourselves if we lived at Ashcombe.’
‘How old is he?’ said Lady Cumnor, with a faint suspicion of motives in her mind.
’About twenty-seven, I think. Ah! I see what is in your ladyship’s head. No! no! he’s too young for that. You must look out for some middle-aged man, if you want to get poor Clare married; Preston won’t do.’
’I’m not a match-maker, as you might know. I never did it for my own daughters. I’m not likely to do it for Clare,’ said she, leaning back languidly.
’Well! you might do a worse thing. I’m beginning to think she’ll never get on as a schoolmistress, though why she should not, I’m sure I don’t know; for she’s an uncommonly pretty woman for her age, and her having lived in our family, and your having had her so often with you, ought to go a good way. I say, my lady, what do you think of Gibson? He would be just the right age—widower—lives near the Towers.’
’I told you just now I was no match-maker, my lord. I suppose we had better go by the old road—the people at those inns know us?’
And so they passed on to speaking about other things than Mrs Kirkpatrick and her prospects, scholastic or matrimonial.
THE WIDOWER AND THE WIDOW
Mrs. Kirkpatrick was only too happy to accept Lady Cumnor’s invitation. It was what she had been hoping for, but hardly daring to expect, as she believed that the family were settled in London for some time to come. The Towers was a pleasant and luxurious house in which to pass her holidays; and though she was not one to make deep plans, or to look far ahead, she was quite aware of the prestige