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- Thyrza - 2/122 -
'Ah! I have been in Jersey for a month; I have heard nothing.'
'You were able to tear yourself from London in mid-season?'
'But when was I a devotee of the Season, Miss Newthorpe?'
'We hear you progress in civilisation.'
'Well, I hope so. I've had a month of steady reading, and feel better for it. I took a big chest of books to Jersey. But I hope Miss Tyrrell is better?'
'Quite herself again. Shall we walk up to the house?'
'I have broken in upon your reading.'
She exhibited the volume; it was Buskin's 'Sesame and Lilies.'
'Ah! you got it; and like it?'
'On the whole.'
'That is disappointing.'
Annabel was silent, then spoke of another matter as they walked up from the lake.
This Mr. Egremont had not the look of a man who finds his joy in the life of Society. His clean-shaven face was rather bony, and its lines expressed independence of character. His forehead was broad, his eyes glanced quickly and searchingly, or widened themselves into an absent gazing which revealed the imaginative temperament. His habitual cast of countenance was meditative, with a tendency to sadness. In talk he readily became vivacious; his short sentences, delivered with a very clear and conciliating enunciation, seemed to indicate energy. It was a peculiarity that he very rarely smiled, or perhaps I should say that he had the faculty of smiling only with his eyes. At such moments his look was very winning, very frank in its appeal to sympathy, and compelled one to like him. Yet, at another time, his aspect could be shrewdly critical; it was so when Annabel fell short of enthusiasm in speaking of the book he had recommended to her when last at Ullswater. Probably he was not without his share of scepticism. For all that, it was the visage of an idealist.
Annabel led him into the house and to the study door, at which she knocked; then she stood aside for him to enter before her. Mr. Newthorpe was writing; he looked up absently, but light gathered in his eyes as he recognised the visitor.
'So here you are! We talked of you this morning. How have you come?'
'On foot from Pooley Bridge.'
They clasped hands, then Egremont looked behind him; but Annabel had closed the door and was gone.
She went up to the room in which Paula sat scribbling letters.
'Ten minutes more!' exclaimed that young lady. 'I'm just finishing a note to mamma--so dutiful!'
'Have you written to Mr. Egremont?'
Paula nodded and laughed.
'He is downstairs.'
Paula started, looking incredulous.
'He has just walked over from Pooley Bridge.'
'Oh, Bell, do tell me! Have those horrid measles left any trace? I really can't discover any, but of course one hasn't good eyes for one's own little speckles. Well, at all events, everybody hasn't forgotten me. But do look at me, Bell.'
Her cousin regarded her with conscientious gravity.
'I see no trace whatever; indeed, I should say you are looking better than you ever did.'
'Now that's awfully kind of you. And you don't pay compliments, either. Shall I go down? Did you tell him where I was?'
Had Annabel been disposed to dainty feminine malice, here was an opportunity indeed. But she looked at Paula with simple curiosity, seeming for a moment to lose herself. The other had to repeat her question.
'I mentioned that you were in the house,' she replied. 'He is talking with father.'
Paula moved to the door, but suddenly paused and turned.
'Now I wonder what thought you have in your serious head?' she said, merrily. 'It's only my fun, you know.'
Annabel nodded, smiling.
'But it is only my fun. Say you believe me. I shall be cross with you if you put on that look.'
They went into the morning room. Annabel stood at the window; her companion flitted about, catching glimpses of herself in reflecting surfaces. In five minutes the study door opened, and men's voices drew near.
Egremont met Miss Tyrrell with the manner of an old acquaintance, but unsmiling.
'I am fortunate enough to see you well again without having known of your illness,' he said.
'You didn't know that I was ill?'
Paula looked at him dubiously. He explained, and, in doing so, quite dispelled the girl's illusion that he was come on her account. When she remained silent, he said:
'You must pity the people in London.'
'Certainly I do. I'm learning to keep my temper and to talk wisely. I know nobody in London who could teach me to do either the one or the other.'
'Well, I suppose you'll go out till luncheon-time?' said Mr. Newthorpe. 'Egremont wants to have a pull. You'll excuse an old man.'
They left the house, and for an hour drank the breath of the hillsides. Paula was at first taciturn. Very unlike herself she dabbled her fingers over the boat-side, and any light remark that she made was addressed to her cousin. Annabel exerted herself to converse, chiefly telling of the excursions that had been made with Paula during the past week.
'What have you been doing in Jersey?' Paula asked of Egremont, presently. Her tone was indifferent, a little condescending.
'And where are you going next?'
'I shall live in London. My travels are over, I think.'
'We have heard that too often,' said Annabel. 'Did you ever calculate how many miles you have travelled since you left Oxford?'
'I have been a restless fellow,' he admitted, regarding her with quiet scrutiny, 'but I dare say some profit has come of my wanderings. However, it's time to set to work.'
'Work!' asked Paula in surprise. 'What sort of work?'
Paula moved her lips discontentedly.
'That is your way of telling me to mind my own business. Don't you find the sun dreadfully hot, Annabel? Do please row into a shady place, Mr. Egremont.'
His way of handling the oars showed that he was no stranger to exercise of this kind. His frame, though a trifle meagre, was well set. By degrees a preoccupation which had been manifest in him gave way under the influence of the sky, and when it was time to approach the landing-place he had fallen into a mood of cheerful talk--light with Paula, with Annabel more earnest. His eyes often passed from one to the other of the faces opposite him, with unmarked observation; frequently he fixed his gaze on the remoter hills in brief musing.
Mr. Newthorpe had come down to the water to meet them; he had a newspaper in his hand.
'Your friend Dalmaine is eloquent on education,' he said, with a humorous twitching of the eyebrows.
'Yes, he knows his House,' Egremont replied. 'You observe the construction of his speech. After well-sounding periods on the elevation of the working classes, he casually throws out the hint that employers of labour will do wisely to increase the intelligence of their hands in view of foreign competition. Of course that is the root of the matter; but Dalmaine knows better than to begin with crude truths.'
In the meanwhile the boat was drawn up and the chain locked. The girls walked on in advance; Egremont continued to speak of Mr. Dalmaine, a rising politician, whose acquaintance he had made on the voyage home from New York.
'One of the few sincere things I ever heard from his lips was a
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