cannot like her; I can only endure her, and that only for a little while. I thought that I knew Herbert so well; what he likes I like, and what I fancy he fancies; in that we are almost as tied as twins, but in this one matter I have no sympathy with him. You do not know, Mr. Beavis, how I have striven to regard her as a sister. I cannot; I cannot do it! But it is not that that troubles me. I would never let her suppose I could not love her, but I am not sure that Herbert loves her. I cannot think they will be happy together. What is the attraction in her?’
She looked round to make sure that she was not overheard.
‘I had a battle with myself; at last I plucked up sufficient courage to approach the subject with him. You know that she has had a bad cold, and has kept her room. During this time I have been able to talk to my brother and walk with him, with my hand through his arm, on the terrace, whilst he smokes, just as before this—this affair. I have crept very near to the question that perplexes me, but he will not allow me to touch it. He glances aside and bids me keep at arm’s length. He turns the conversation to indifferent subjects, and then my heart sinks. Only once did I wring anything like an answer from him, and that was “Beavis approves.” That was referring me to you, was it not? That is why I speak now. O prithee tell me the truth! Why do you approve?
Beavis looked down. What could he answer?
‘I have not had much conversation with Saltcombe since his engagement,’ he answered in a low tone. He blushed as he spoke, for it was an evasion, but he could not help himself.
‘Oh, Mr. Beavis!’ she exclaimed, with pain and discouragement in her expressive voice, ‘you are playing with me. I ask for the truth, and you throw up a soap-bubble!’
‘Lady Grace,’ he said gravely, ‘this is not the place, nor have we now the time, for speaking on this matter. I must, unworthy as I may seem, ask you to do that which I appear unwilling to do to you. I must ask you to trust me. I do approve of Saltcombe’s engagement—I may add, I advised it. This latter was a responsibility—a terrible one; nevertheless, I took it upon me. I did advise this engagement.’
‘So did Uncle Edward, I know, and Aunt Elizabeth as well,’ said Lady Grace sadly. ‘I am treated like a child. I am given no reasons. I can hardly bear it. I am no longer a child; I am growing into the old woman.’