No business of his! The merest sense of comradeship, then, took him once more to Dromore's after that disclosure, to prove that the word 'outside' had no significance save in his friend's own fancy; to assure him again that Sylvia would be very glad to welcome the child at any time she liked to come.
When he had told her of that little matter of Nell's birth, she had been silent a long minute, looking in his face, and then had said: "Poor child! I wonder if she knows! People are so unkind, even nowadays!" He could not himself think of anyone who would pay attention to such a thing, except to be kinder to the girl; but in such matters Sylvia was the better judge, in closer touch with general thought. She met people that he did not--and of a more normal species.
It was rather late when he got to Dromore's diggings on that third visit.
"Mr. Dromore, sir," the man said--he had one of those strictly confidential faces bestowed by an all-wise Providence on servants in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly--"Mr. Dromore, sir, is not in. But he will be almost sure to be in to dress. Miss Nell is in, sir."
And there she was, sitting at the table, pasting photographs into an album--lonely young creature in that abode of male middle-age! Lennan stood, unheard, gazing at the back of her head, with its thick crinkly-brown hair tied back on her dark-red frock. And, to the confidential man's soft:
"Mr. Lennan, miss," he added a softer: "May I come in?"
She put her hand into his with intense composure.
"Oh, yes, do! if you don't mind the mess I'm making;" and, with a little squeeze of the tips of his fingers, added: "Would it bore you to see my photographs?"
And down they sat together before the photographs--snapshots of people with guns or fishing-rods, little groups of schoolgirls, kittens, Dromore and herself on horseback, and several of a young man with a broad, daring, rather good-looking face. "That's Oliver--Oliver Dromore--Dad's first cousin once removed. Rather nice, isn't he? Do you like his expression?"
Lennan did not know. Not her second cousin; her father's first cousin once removed! And again there leaped in him that unreasoning flame of indignant pity.
"And how about drawing? You haven't come to be taught yet."
She went almost as red as her frock.
"I thought you were only being polite. I oughtn't to have asked. Of course, I want to awfully--only I know it'll bore you."
"It won't at all."
She looked up at that. What peculiar languorous eyes they were!
"Shall I come to-morrow, then?"
"Any day you like, between half-past twelve and one."
He took out a card.
"Mark Lennan--yes--I like your name. I liked it the other day. It's awfully nice!"
What was in a name that she should like him because of it? His fame as a sculptor--such as it was--could have nothing to do with that, for she would certainly not know of it. Ah! but there was a lot in a name--for children. In his childhood what fascination there had been in the words macaroon, and Spaniard, and Carinola, and Aldebaran, and Mr. McCrae. For quite a week the whole world had been Mr. McCrae--a most ordinary friend of Gordy's.
By whatever fascination moved, she talked freely enough now--of her school; of riding and motoring--she seemed to love going very fast; about Newmarket--which was 'perfect'; and theatres--plays of the type that Johnny Dromore might be expected to approve; these together with 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear' were all she had seen. Never was a girl so untouched by thought, or Art--yet not stupid, having, seemingly, a certain natural good taste; only, nothing, evidently, had come her way. How could it--'Johnny Dromore duce, et auspice Johnny Dromore!' She had been taken, indeed, to the National Gallery while at school. And Lennan had a vision of eight or ten young maidens trailing round at the skirts of one old maiden, admiring Landseer's dogs, giggling faintly at Botticelli's angels, gaping, rustling, chattering like young birds in a shrubbery.
But with all her surroundings, this child of Johnny Dromoredom was as yet more innocent than cultured girls of the same age. If those grey, mesmeric eyes of hers followed him about, they did so frankly, unconsciously. There was no minx in her, so far.
An hour went by, and Dromore did not come. And the loneliness of this young creature in her incongruous abode began telling on Lennan's equanimity.
What did she do in the evenings?
"Sometimes I go to the theatre with Dad, generally I stay at home."
"Oh! I just read, or talk French."
"What? To yourself?"
"Yes, or to Oliver sometimes, when he comes in."
So Oliver came in!
"How long have you known Oliver?"
"Oh! ever since I was a child."
He wanted to say: And how long is that? But managed to refrain, and got up to go instead. She caught his sleeve and said:
"You're not to go!" Saying that she looked as a dog will, going to bite in fun, her upper lip shortened above her small white teeth set fast on her lower lip, and her chin thrust a little forward. A glimpse of a wilful spirit! But as soon as he had smiled, and murmured:
"Ah! but I must, you see!" she at once regained her manners, only saying rather mournfully: "You don't call me by my name. Don't you like it?"
"Yes. It's really Eleanor, of course. Don't you like it?"
If he had detested the name, he could only have answered: "Very much."
"I'm awfully glad! Good-bye."
When he got out into the street, he felt terribly like a man who, instead of having had his sleeve touched, has had his heart plucked at. And that warm, bewildered feeling lasted him all the way home.
Changing for dinner, he looked at himself with unwonted attention. Yes, his dark hair was still thick, but going distinctly grey; there were very many lines about his eyes, too, and those eyes, still eager when they smiled, were particularly deepset, as if life had forced them back. His cheekbones were almost 'bopsies' now, and his cheeks very thin and dark, and his jaw looked too set and bony below the almost black moustache. Altogether a face that life had worn a good deal, with nothing for a child to take a fancy to and make friends with, that he could see.
Sylvia came in while he was thus taking stock of himself, bringing a freshly-opened flask of eau-de-Cologne. She was always bringing him something--never was anyone so sweet in those ways. In that grey, low-cut frock, her white, still prettiness and pale-gold hair, so little touched by Time, only just fell short of real beauty for lack of a spice of depth and of incisiveness, just as her spirit lacked he knew not what of poignancy. He would not for the world have let her know that he ever felt that lack. If a man could not hide little rifts in the lute from one so good and humble and affectionate, he was not fit to live.
She sang 'The Castle of Dromore' again that night with its queer haunting lilt. And when she had gone up, and he was smoking over the fire, the girl in her dark-red frock seemed to come, and sit opposite with her eyes fixed on his, just as she had been sitting while they talked. Dark red had suited her! Suited the look on her face when she said:
"You're not to go!" Odd, indeed, if she had not some devil in her, with that parentage!
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