Lady Casterley was that inconvenient thing—an early riser. No woman in the kingdom was a better judge of a dew carpet. Nature had in her time displayed before her thousands of those pretty fabrics, where all the stars of the past night, dropped to the dark earth, were waiting to glide up to heaven again on the rays of the sun. At Ravensham she walked regularly in her gardens between half-past seven and eight, and when she paid a visit, was careful to subordinate whatever might be the local custom to this habit.
When therefore her maid Randle came to Barbara's maid at seven o'clock, and said: “My old lady wants Lady Babs to get up,” there was no particular pain in the breast of Barbara's maid, who was doing up her corsets. She merely answered “I'll see to it. Lady Babs won't be too pleased!” And ten minutes later she entered that white-walled room which smelled of pinks-a temple of drowsy sweetness, where the summer light was vaguely stealing through flowered chintz curtains.
Barbara was sleeping with her cheek on her hand, and her tawny hair, gathered back, streaming over the pillow. Her lips were parted; and the maid thought: “I'd like to have hair and a mouth like that!” She could not help smiling to herself with pleasure; Lady Babs looked so pretty—prettier asleep even than awake! And at sight of that beautiful creature, sleeping and smiling in her sleep, the earthy, hothouse fumes steeping the mind of one perpetually serving in an atmosphere unsuited to her natural growth, dispersed. Beauty, with its queer touching power of freeing the spirit from all barriers and thoughts of self, sweetened the maid's eyes, and kept her standing, holding her breath. For Barbara asleep was a symbol of that Golden Age in which she so desperately believed. She opened her eyes, and seeing the maid, said:
“Is it eight o'clock, Stacey?”
“No, but Lady Casterley wants you to walk with her.”
“Oh! bother! I was having such a dream!”
“Yes; you were smiling.”
“I was dreaming that I could fly.”
“I could see everything spread out below me, as close as I see you; I was hovering like a buzzard hawk. I felt that I could come down exactly where I wanted. It was fascinating. I had perfect power, Stacey.”
And throwing her neck back, she closed her eyes again. The sunlight streamed in on her between the half-drawn curtains.
The queerest impulse to put out a hand and stroke that full white throat shot through the maid's mind.
“These flying machines are stupid,” murmured Barbara; “the pleasure's in one's body—-wings!”
“I can see Lady Casterley in the garden.”
Barbara sprang out of bed. Close by the statue of Diana Lady Casterley was standing, gazing down at some flowers, a tiny, grey figure. Barbara sighed. With her, in her dream, had been another buzzard hawk, and she was filled with a sort of surprise, and queer pleasure that ran down her in little shivers while she bathed and dressed.
In her haste she took no hat; and still busy with the fastening of her linen frock, hurried down the stairs and Georgian corridor, towards the garden. At the end of it she almost ran into the arms of Courtier.
Awakening early this morning, he had begun first thinking of Audrey Noel, threatened by scandal; then of his yesterday's companion, that glorious young creature, whose image had so gripped and taken possession of him. In the pleasure of this memory he had steeped himself. She was youth itself! That perfect thing, a young girl without callowness.
And his words, when she nearly ran into him, were: “The Winged Victory!”
Barbara's answer was equally symbolic: “A buzzard hawk! Do you know, I dreamed we were flying, Mr. Courtier.”
Courtier gravely answered
“If the gods give me that dream——”
From the garden door Barbara turned her head, smiled, and passed through.
Lady Casterley, in the company of little Ann, who had perceived that it was novel to be in the garden at this hour, had been scrutinizing some newly founded colonies of a flower with which she was not familiar. On seeing her granddaughter approach, she said at once:
“What is this thing?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It's rather the fashion, Granny.”
“Nemesia?” repeated Lady Casterley. “What has Nemesis to do with flowers? I have no patience with gardeners, and these idiotic names. Where is your hat? I like that duck's egg colour in your frock. There's a button undone.” And reaching up her little spidery hand, wonderfully steady considering its age, she buttoned the top button but one of Barbara's bodice.
“You look very blooming, my dear,” she said. “How far is it to this woman's cottage? We'll go there now.”
“She wouldn't be up.”
Lady Casterley's eyes gleamed maliciously.
“You tell me she's so nice,” she said. “No nice unencumbered woman lies in bed after half-past seven. Which is the very shortest way? No, Ann, we can't take you.”
Little Ann, after regarding her great-grandmother rather too intently, replied:
“Well, I can't come, you see, because I've got to go.”
“Very well,” said Lady Casterley, “then trot along.”
Little Ann, tightening her lips, walked to the next colony of Nemesia, and bent over the colonists with concentration, showing clearly that she had found something more interesting than had yet been encountered.
“Ha!” said Lady Casterley, and led on at her brisk pace towards the avenue.
All the way down the drive she discoursed on woodcraft, glancing sharply at the trees. Forestry—she said-like building, and all other pursuits which required, faith and patient industry, was a lost art in this second-hand age. She had made Barbara's grandfather practise it, so that at Catton (her country place) and even at Ravensham, the trees were worth looking at. Here, at Monkland, they were monstrously neglected. To have the finest Italian cypress in the country, for example, and not take more care of it, was a downright scandal!
Barbara listened, smiling lazily. Granny was so amusing in her energy and precision, and her turns of speech, so deliberately homespun, as if she—than whom none could better use a stiff and polished phrase, or the refinements of the French language—were determined to take what liberties she liked. To the girl, haunted still by the feeling that she could fly, almost drunk on the sweetness of the air that summer morning, it seemed funny that anyone should be like that. Then for a second she saw her grandmother's face in repose, off guard, grim with anxious purpose, as if questioning its hold on life; and in one of those flashes of intuition which come to women—even when young and conquering like Barbara—she felt suddenly sorry, as though she had caught sight of the pale spectre never yet seen by her. “Poor old dear,” she thought; “what a pity to be old!”
But they had entered the footpath crossing three long meadows which climbed up towards Mrs. Noel's. It was so golden-sweet here amongst the million tiny saffron cups frosted with lingering dewshine; there was such flying glory in the limes and ash-trees; so delicate a scent from the late whins and may-flower; and, on every tree a greybird calling to be sorry was not possible!
In the far corner of the first field a chestnut mare was standing, with ears pricked at some distant sound whose charm she alone perceived. On viewing the intruders, she laid those ears back, and a little vicious star gleamed out at the corner of her eye. They passed her and entered the second field. Half way across, Barbara said quietly:
“Granny, that's a bull!”
It was indeed an enormous bull, who had been standing behind a clump of bushes. He was moving slowly towards them, still distant about two hundred yards; a great red beast, with the huge development of neck and front which makes the bull, of all living creatures, the symbol of brute force.
Lady Casterley envisaged him severely.
“I dislike bulls,” she said; “I think I must walk backward.”
“You can't; it's too uphill.”
“I am not going to turn back,” said Lady Casterley. “The bull ought not to be here. Whose fault is it? I shall speak to someone. Stand still and look at him. We must prevent his coming nearer.”
They stood still and looked at the bull, who continued to approach.
“It doesn't stop him,” said Lady Casterley. “We must take no notice. Give me your arm, my dear; my legs feel rather funny.”
Barbara put her arm round the little figure. They walked on.
“I have not been used to bulls lately,” said Lady Casterley. The bull came nearer.
“Granny,” said Barbara, “you must go quietly on to the stile. When you're over I'll come too.”
“Certainly not,” said Lady Casterley, “we will go together. Take no notice of him; I have great faith in that.”
“Granny darling, you must do as I say, please; I remember this bull, he is one of ours.”
At those rather ominous words Lady Casterley gave her a sharp glance.
“I shall not go,” she said. “My legs feel quite strong now. We can run, if necessary.”
“So can the bull,” said Barbara.
“I'm not going to leave you,” muttered Lady Casterley. “If he turns vicious I shall talk to him. He won't touch me. You can run faster than I; so that's settled.”
“Don't be absurd, dear,” answered Barbara; “I am not afraid of bulls.”
Lady Casterley flashed a look at her which had a gleam of amusement.
“I can feel you,” she said; “you're just as trembly as I am.”
The bull was now distant some eighty yards, and they were still quite a hundred from the stile.
“Granny,” said Barbara, “if you don't go on as I tell you, I shall just leave you, and go and meet him! You mustn't be obstinate!”
Lady Casterley's answer was to grip her granddaughter round the waist; the nervous force of that thin arm was surprising.
“You will do nothing of the sort,” she said. “I refuse to have anything more to do with this bull; I shall simply pay no attention.”
The bull now began very slowly ambling towards them.
“Take no notice,” said Lady Casterley, who was walking faster than she had ever walked before.
“The ground is level now,” said Barbara; “can you run?”
“I think so,” gasped Lady Casterley; and suddenly she found herself half-lifted from the ground, and, as it were, flying towards the stile. She heard a noise behind; then Barbara's voice:
“We must stop. He's on us. Get behind me.”
She felt herself caught and pinioned by two arms that seemed set on the wrong way. Instinct, and a general softness told her that she was back to back with her granddaughter.
“Let me go!” she gasped; “let me go!”
And suddenly she felt herself being propelled by that softness forward towards the stile.
“Shoo!” she said; “shoo!”
“Granny,” Barbara's voice came, calm and breathless, “don't! You only excite him! Are we near the stile?”
“Ten yards,” panted Lady Casterley.
“Look out, then!” There was a sort of warm flurry round her, a rush, a heave, a scramble; she was beyond the stile. The bull and Barbara, a yard or two apart, were just the other side. Lady Casterley raised her handkerchief and fluttered it. The bull looked up; Barbara, all legs and arms, came slipping down beside her.
Without wasting a moment Lady Casterley leaned forward and addressed the bull:
“You awful brute!” she said; “I will have you well flogged.”
Gently pawing the ground, the bull snuffled.
“Are you any the worse, child?”
“Not a scrap,” said Barbara's serene, still breathless voice.
Lady Casterley put up her hands, and took the girl's face between them.
“What legs you have!” she said. “Give me a kiss!”
Having received a hot, rather quivering kiss, she walked on, holding somewhat firmly to Barbara's arm.
“As for that bull,” she murmured, “the brute—to attack women!”
Barbara looked down at her.
“Granny,” she said, “are you sure you're not shaken?”
Lady Casterley, whose lips were quivering, pressed them together very hard.
“Not a b-b-bit.”
“Don't you think,” said Barbara, “that we had better go back, at once—the other way?”
“Certainly not. There are no more bulls, I suppose, between us and this woman?”
“But are you fit to see her?”
Lady Casterley passed her handkerchief over her lips, to remove their quivering.
“Perfectly,” she answered.
“Then, dear,” said Barbara, “stand still a minute, while I dust you behind.”
This having been accomplished, they proceeded in the direction of Mrs. Noel's cottage.
At sight of it, Lady Casterley said:
“I shall put my foot down. It's out of the question for a man of Miltoun's prospects. I look forward to seeing him Prime Minister some day.” Hearing Barbara's voice murmuring above her, she paused: “What's that you say?”
“I said: What is the use of our being what we are, if we can't love whom we like?”
“Love!” said Lady Casterley; “I was talking of marriage.”
“I am glad you admit the distinction, Granny dear.”
“You are pleased to be sarcastic,” said Lady Casterley. “Listen to me! It's the greatest nonsense to suppose that people in our caste are free to do as they please. The sooner you realize that, the better, Babs. I am talking to you seriously. The preservation of our position as a class depends on our observing certain decencies. What do you imagine would happen to the Royal Family if they were allowed to marry as they liked? All this marrying with Gaiety girls, and American money, and people with pasts, and writers, and so forth, is most damaging. There's far too much of it, and it ought to be stopped. It may be tolerated for a few cranks, or silly young men, and these new women, but for Eustace—” Lady Casterley paused again, and her fingers pinched Barbara's arm, “or for you—there's only one sort of marriage possible. As for Eustace, I shall speak to this good lady, and see that he doesn't get entangled further.”
Absorbed in the intensity of her purpose, she did not observe a peculiar little smile playing round Barbara's lips.
“You had better speak to Nature, too, Granny!”
Lady Casterley stopped short, and looked up in her granddaughter's face.
“Now what do you mean by that?” she said “Tell me!”
But noticing that Barbara's lips had closed tightly, she gave her arm a hard—if unintentional-pinch, and walked on.