‘I’ve been calling you several times, my dear,’ he complained. ’We start in seven minutes. Bustle, and bonnet at once. Nevil, I’m sorry for this business. Good-bye. Be a good boy, Nevil,’ he murmured kindheartedly, and shook Beauchamp’s hand with the cordiality of an extreme relief in leaving him behind.
The colonel and Mr. Romfrey and Beauchamp were standing on the hall-steps when Rosamund beckoned the latter and whispered a request for that letter of Dr. Shrapnel’s. ‘It is for Miss Halkett, Nevil.’
He plucked the famous epistle from his bulging pocketbook, and added a couple of others in the same handwriting.
‘Tell her, a first reading—it’s difficult to read at first,’ he said, and burned to read it to Cecilia himself: to read it to her with his comments and explanations appeared imperative. It struck him in a flash that Cecilia’s counsel to him to quit Steynham for awhile was good. And if he went to Bevisham he would be assured of Dr. Shrapnel’s condition: notes and telegrams from the cottage were too much tempered to console and deceive him.
‘Send my portmanteau and bag after me to Bevisham,’ he said Rosamund, and announced to the woefully astonish colonel that he would have the pleasure of journeying in his company as far as the town.
‘Are you ready? No packing?’ said the colonel.
‘It’s better to have your impediments in the rear of you, and march!’ said Mr. Romfrey.
Colonel Halkett declined to wait for anybody. He shouted for his daughter. The lady’s maid appeared, and then Cecilia with Rosamund.
‘We can’t entertain you, Nevil; we’re away to the island: I’m sorry,’ said the colonel; and observing Cecilia’s face in full crimson, he looked at her as if he had lost a battle by the turn of events at the final moment.
Mr. Romfrey handed Cecilia into the carriage. He exchanged a friendly squeeze with the colonel, and offered his hand to his nephew. Beauchamp passed him with a nod and ‘Good-bye, sir.’
‘Have ready at Holdesbury for the middle of the month,’ said Mr. Romfrey, unruffled, and bowed to Cecilia.
‘If you think of bringing my cousin Baskelett, give me warning, sir,’ cried Beauchamp.
‘Give me warning, if you want the house for Shrapnel,’ replied his uncle, and remarked to Rosamund, as the carriage wheeled round the mounded laurels to the avenue, ’He mayn’t be quite cracked. The fellow seems to have a turn for catching his opportunity by the tail. He had better hold fast, for it’s his last.’