It was their only ground for real dissension. Harriet usually was ready to laugh and forget it almost instantly; but Linda, who was deeply spiritual, never ceased to pray that all the dangers of life at Crownlands would pass safely over the little sister’s beloved head, and that some real man, “like Fred,” would win Harriet’s turbulent and restless heart, after all.
Madame Carter, gathering her draperies about her, was one of the first to leave the terrace. Dressing for dinner was a slow and serious business for her. She gave Harriet a cold, appraising glance as she passed her; Richard Carter had risen to escort his mother, but she delayed him for a moment.
“Miss Nina gone in, Miss Field?”
Harriet, whose manner with all old persons was the essence of scrupulous formality, rose at once to her feet.
“Nina has gone to change her dress, Madame Carter.”
“She took it upon herself to ask you to help us out this afternoon?” the old lady added, with the sort of gracious cruelty of which she was mistress. Richard Carter gave his daughter’s companion a look that asked indulgence. Harriet coloured brightly, fixing her eyes upon his mother.
“Nina brought me a message from her mother, Madame Carter.”
“Miss Nina did?” Madame Carter amended the title as if absently. “Mrs. Carter,” she added, with a glance toward the near-by group in whose centre they could see the cream-coloured gown with its pink poppies, “told me that she was surprised to see that you had--had stepped into the breach so nicely—” Her son’s reproachful glance had the effect of interrupting her, and she turned to him. “Well, I am saying that it was very nice of Miss Field, Richard,” she protested. “I am sure there is no harm in my saying that, my dear!”
Harriet said nothing, and resumed her seat as the old lady rustled slowly away. Her heart was hot with fury, and she was only partly soothed by hearing Richard Carter’s murmur of reproach: “How can you be so perverse, Mother—”
“Of all the detestable, horrible, maddening—” Harriet thought, splashing hot water and clattering tea-cups. “Who’s coming?” she added aloud in an undertone to Ward, as one more motor swept about the carriage drive.
“What is it, Beautiful?” Ward laughed. Harriet’s glorious eyes widened into smiling warning. His open and boyish admiration was a sort of joke between them. Yet in this second, as he craned his neck to get a glimpse of the approaching guests, a sudden thought was born in her. Honour had compelled her to a generous policy with Ward. She had held his admiration firmly in check, she had maintained a big-sister attitude that was as wholesome for herself as for him.
But here, she thought with sudden satisfaction, might be her answer to his grandmother’s snubs, might be the realization of her own ambition, after all. Ward was but four years her junior, and Ward would be Richard Carter’s heir.