‘I have given you your warning,’ was her inscrutable rejoinder, uttered within earshot of the young people, to whom, especially to Elizabeth, she was gracious. The damsel’s boating uniform was praised, and her sunny flush of exercise and exposure.
Lady Camper regretted that she could not abandon her parasol: ’I freckle so easily.’
The General, puzzling over her strange words about a warning, gazed at the red rose of art on her cheek with an air of profound abstraction.
‘I freckle so easily,’ she repeated, dropping her parasol to defend her face from the calculating scrutiny.
‘I burn brown,’ said Elizabeth.
Lady Camper laid the bud of a Falcot rose against the young girl’s cheek, but fetched streams of colour, that overwhelmed the momentary comparison of the sunswarthed skin with the rich dusky yellow of the rose in its deepening inward to soft brown.
Reginald stretched his hand for the privileged flower, and she let him take it; then she looked at the General; but the General was looking, with his usual air of satisfaction, nowhere.
‘Lady Camper is no common enigma,’ General Ople observed to his daughter.
Elizabeth inclined to be pleased with her, for at her suggestion the General had bought a couple of horses, that she might ride in the park, accompanied by her father or the little groom. Still, the great lady was hard to read. She tested the resources of his income by all sorts of instigation to expenditure, which his gallantry could not withstand; she encouraged him to talk of his deeds in arms; she was friendly, almost affectionate, and most bountiful in the presents of fruit, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and hot-house wonders, that she showered on his table; but she was an enigma in her evident dissatisfaction with him for something he seemed to have left unsaid. And what could that be?
At their last interview she had asked him, ’Are you sure, General, you have nothing more to tell me?’
And as he remarked, when relating it to Elizabeth, ’One might really be tempted to misapprehend her ladyship’s . . . I say one might commit oneself beyond recovery. Now, my dear, what do you think she intended?’
Elizabeth was ‘burning brown,’ or darkly blushing, as her manner was.
She answered, ’I am certain you know of nothing that would interest her; nothing, unless . . .’
‘Well?’ the General urged her.
‘How can I speak it, papa?’
‘You really can’t mean . . .’
‘Papa, what could I mean?’
‘If I were fool enough!’ he murmured. ’No, no, I am an old man. I was saying, I am past the age of folly.’
One day Elizabeth came home from her ride in a thoughtful mood. She had not, further than has been mentioned, incited her father to think of the age of folly; but voluntarily or not, Lady Camper had, by an excess of graciousness amounting to downright invitation; as thus, ’Will you persist in withholding your confidence from me, General?’ She added, ’I am not so difficult a person.’ These prompting speeches occurred on the morning of the day when Elizabeth sat at his table, after a long ride into the country, profoundly meditative.