Therewith the ironmaster takes his departure, Sir Leicester ringing the bell and my Lady rising as he leaves the room.
When my Lady goes to her boudoir, she sits down thoughtfully by the fire, and inattentive to the Ghost's Walk, looks at Rosa, writing in an inner room. Presently my Lady calls her.
"Come to me, child. Tell me the truth. Are you in love?"
"Oh! My Lady!"
My Lady, looking at the downcast and blushing face, says smiling, "Who is it? Is it Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson?"
"Yes, if you please, my Lady. But I don't know that I am in love with him — yet."
"Yet, you silly little thing! Do you know that he loves YOU, yet?"
"I think he likes me a little, my Lady." And Rosa bursts into tears.
Is this Lady Dedlock standing beside the village beauty, smoothing her dark hair with that motherly touch, and watching her with eyes so full of musing interest? Aye, indeed it is!
"Listen to me, child. You are young and true, and I believe you are attached to me."
"Indeed I am, my Lady. Indeed there is nothing in the world I wouldn't do to show how much."
"And I don't think you would wish to leave me just yet, Rosa, even for a lover?"
"No, my Lady! Oh, no!" Rosa looks up for the first time, quite frightened at the thought.
"Confide in me, my child. Don't fear me. I wish you to be happy, and will make you so — if I can make anybody happy on this earth."
Rosa, with fresh tears, kneels at her feet and kisses her hand. My Lady takes the hand with which she has caught it, and standing with her eyes fixed on the fire, puts it about and about between her own two hands, and gradually lets it fall. Seeing her so absorbed, Rosa softly withdraws; but still my Lady's eyes are on the fire.
In search of what? Of any hand that is no more, of any hand that never was, of any touch that might have magically changed her life? Or does she listen to the Ghost's Walk and think what step does it most resemble? A man's? A woman's? The pattering of a little child's feet, ever coming on — on — on? Some melancholy influence is upon her, or why should so proud a lady close the doors and sit alone upon the hearth so desolate?
Volumnia is away next day, and all the cousins are scattered before dinner. Not a cousin of the batch but is amazed to hear from Sir Leicester at breakfast-time of the obliteration of landmarks, and opening of floodgates, and cracking of the framework of society, manifested through Mrs. Rouncewell's son. Not a cousin of the batch but is really indignant, and connects it with the feebleness of William Buffy when in office, and really does feel deprived of a stake in the country — or the pension list — or something — by fraud and wrong. As to Volumnia, she is handed down the great staircase by Sir Leicester, as eloquent upon the theme as if there were a general rising in the north of England to obtain her rouge-pot and pearl necklace. And thus, with a clatter of maids and valets — for it is one appurtenance of their cousinship that however difficult they may find it to keep themselves, they MUST keep maids and valets — the cousins disperse to the four winds of heaven; and the one wintry wind that blows to-day shakes a shower from the trees near the deserted house, as if all the cousins had been changed into leaves.