‘Thank you! Oh, I did hope that persecution was over!’
’My poor child! Don’t tell me unless you like! Only—–it wasn’t about your work?’
’Oh no, the old story! But he brought his father—–to say he consented—–and wished it—–now.’
There was no letting her say any more at that time, but it was all plain enough. This had been one more attempt of the Stebbing family to recover their former power; Kalliope was assumed to be Mr. White’s favoured niece; Frank could make capital of having loved her when poor and neglected, and his parents were ready to back his suit. The father and son had used their familiarity with the house to obtain admittance to the garden without announcement or preparation, and had pressed the siege, with a confidence that could only be inspired by their own self-opinion. Kalliope had been kept up by her native dignity and resolution, and had at first gently, then firmly, declined the arguments, persuasions, promises, and final reproaches with which they beset her—even threatening to disclose what they called encouragement, and assuring her that she need not reckon on Mr. White, for the general voice declared him likely to marry again, and then where would she be?’
‘I don’t know what would have become of me, if you had not come,’ she said.
And when she had rested long enough, and crept into the house, and Alexis had come home to carry her upstairs, it was plain that she had been seriously thrown back, and she was not able to leave her room for two or three days.
Mr. White was necessarily told what had been the cause of the mischief. He smiled grimly. ’Ay! ay! Master Frank thought he would come round the old man, did he? He will find himself out. Ha, ha! a girl like that in the house is like a honey-pot near a wasps’ nest, and the little sister will be as bad. Didn’t I see the young lord, smart little prig as he looks, holding an umbrella over her with a smile on his face, as much as to say, “I know who is a pretty girl! No one to look after them either!” But maybe they will all find themselves mistaken,’ and his grim smile relaxed into a highly amiable one.
Miss Mohun was not at all uneasy as to the young lord. An Eton boy’s admiration of a pretty face did not amount to much, even if Ivinghoe had not understood ‘Noblesse oblige’ too well to leave a young girl unsheltered. Besides, he and all the rest were going away the next day. But what did that final hint mean?
One secret was soon out, even before the cruel parting of Fly and Mysie, which it greatly mitigated.
Clipston was to be repaired and put in order, to be rented by the Merrifields. It was really a fine old substantial squire’s house, though neglected and consigned to farmers for four generations. It had great capabilities—–a hall up to the roof, wainscoted rooms—–at present happy hunting-grounds to boys and terriers—–a choked fountain, numerous windows, walled up in the days of the ’tax on light,’ and never reopened, and, moreover, a big stone barn, with a cross on the gable, and evident traces of having once been a chapel.