Dolly Dialogues by Anthony Hope

This etext was prepared by Theresa Armao of Albany, New York. DOLLY DIALOGUES by Anthony Hope CONTENTS I. A Liberal Education II. Cordial Relations III. Retribution IV. The Perverseness of It V. A Matter of Duty VI. My Last Chance VII. The Little Wretch VIII. An Expensive Privilege IX. A Very Dull Affair X. Strange
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This etext was prepared by Theresa Armao of Albany, New York.

DOLLY DIALOGUES
by Anthony Hope

CONTENTS

I. A Liberal Education
II. Cordial Relations
III. Retribution
IV. The Perverseness of It
V. A Matter of Duty
VI. My Last Chance
VII. The Little Wretch
VIII. An Expensive Privilege
IX. A Very Dull Affair
X. Strange but True
XI. The Very Latest Thing
XII. An Uncounted Hour
XIII. A Reminiscence
XIV. A Fine Day
XV. The House Opposite
XVI. A Quick Change
XVII. A Slight Mistake
XVIII. The Other Lady
XIX. What Might Have Been
XX. One Way In

A LIBERAL EDUCATION

“There’s ingratitude for you!” Miss Dolly Foster exclaimed suddenly.

“Where!” I asked, rousing myself from meditation.

She pointed to a young man who had just passed where we sat. He was dressed very smartly, and was walking with a lady attired in the height of the fashion.

“I made that man,” said Dolly, “and now he cuts me dead before the whole of the Row! It’s atrocious. Why, but for me, do you suppose he’d be at this moment engaged to three thousand a year and–and the plainest girl in London?”

“Not that,” I pleaded; “think of–“

“Well, very plain anyhow. I was quite ready to bow to him. I almost did.”

“In fact you did?”

“I didn’t. I declare I didn’t.”

“Oh, well, you didn’t then. It only looked like it.”

“I met him,” said Miss Dolly, “three years ago. At that time he was–oh, quite unpresentable. He was everything he shouldn’t be. He was a teetotaler, you know, and he didn’t smoke, and he was always going to concerts. Oh, and he wore his hair long, and his trousers short, and his hat on the back of his head. And his umbrella–“

“Where did he wear that?”

“He carried that, Mr. Carter. Don’t be silly! Carried it unrolled, you know, and generally a paper parcel in the other hand; and he had spectacles too.”

“He has certainly changed, outwardly at least.

“Yes, I know; well, I did that. I took him in hand, and I just taught him, and now–!”

“Yes, I know that. But how did you teach him? Give him Saturday evening lectures, or what?”

“Oh, every-evening lectures, and most-morning walks. And I taught him to dance, and broke his wretched fiddle with my own hands!”

“What very arbitrary distinctions you draw!”

“I don’t know that you mean. I do like a man to be smart, anyhow. Don’t you, Mr. Carter? You’re not so smart as you might be. Now, shall I take you in hand?” And she smiled upon me.

“Let’s hear your method. What did you do to him.?”

“To Phil Meadows? Oh, nothing. I just slipped in a remark here and there, whenever he talked nonsense. I used to speak just at the right time, you know.”

“But how had your words such influence, Miss Foster?”

“Oh, well, you know, Mr. Carter, I made it a condition that he should do just what I wanted in little things like that. Did he think I was going to walk about with a man carrying a brown paper parcel–as if we had been to the shop for a pound of tea?”

“Still, I don’t see why he should alter all his–“

“Oh, you are stupid! Of course, he liked me, you know.”

“Oh, did he? I see.”

“You seem to think that very funny.”

“Not that he did–but that, apparently, he doesn’t.”

“Well you got out of that rather neatly–for you. No, he doesn’t now. You see, he misunderstood my motive. He thought–well, I do believe he thought I cared for him, you know. Of course I didn’t.”

“Not a bit?”

“Just as a friend–and a pupil, you know. And when he’d had his hair cut and bought a frock coat (fancy he’d never had one!), he looked quite nice. He has nice eyes. Did you notice them.”

“Lord, no!”

“Well, you’re so unobservant.”

“Oh, not always. I’ve observed that your–“

“Please don’t! It’s no use, is it?”

I looked very unhappy. There is an understanding that I am very unhappy since Miss Foster’s engagement to the Earl of Mickleham was announced.

“What was I saying before–before you–you know–oh, about Phil Meadows, of course. I did like him very much, you know, or I shouldn’t have taken all that trouble. Why, his own mother thanked me!”

“I have no more to say,” said I.

“But she wrote me a horrid letter afterward.”

“You’re so very elliptical.”

“So very what, Mr. Carter?”

“You leave so much out, I mean. After what?”

“Why, after I sent him away. Didn’t I tell you? Oh, we had the most awful scene. He raved, Mr. Carter. He called me the most horrid names, and–“

“Tore his hair?”

“It wasn’t long enough to get hold of,” she tittered. “But don’t laugh. It was really dreadful. And so unjust! And then, next day, when I thought it was comfortably over, you know, he came back, and–and apologized, and called himself the most awful names, and–well, that was really worse.”

“What did the fellow complain of?” I asked in wondering tones.

“Oh, he said I’d destroyed his faith in women, you know, and that I’d led him on, and that I was–well, he was very rude indeed. And he went on writing me letters like that for a whole year? It made me quite uncomfortable.”

“But he didn’t go back to short trousers and a fiddle, did he?” I asked anxiously.

“Oh, no. But he forgot all he owed me, and he told me that his heart was dead, and that he should never love any one again.”

“But he’s going to marry that girl.”

“Oh, he doesn’t care about her,”said Miss Dolly reassuringly. “It’s the money, you know. He hadn’t a farthing of his own. Now he’ll be set up for life.”

“And it’s all due to you!” said I admiringly.

“Well, it is, really.”

“I don’t call her such a bad-looking girl, though.” (I hadn’t seen her face.)

“Mr. Carter! She’s hideous!”

I dropped that subject.

“And now,” said Miss Dolly again, “he cuts me dead!”

“It is the height of ingratitude. Why, to love you was a liberal education!”

“Yes, wasn’t it? How nicely you put that. A liberal education!’ I shall tell Archie.” (Archie is Lord Mickleham.)

“What, about Phil Meadows?”

“Goodness me, no, Mr. Carter. Just what you said, you know.”

“But why not tell Mickleham about Phil Meadows?” I urged. “It’s all to your credit, you know.”

“I know, but men are so foolish. You see, Archie thinks–“

“Of course he does.”

“You might let me finish.”

“Archie thinks you were never in love before.”

“Yes, he does. Well, of course, I wasn’t in love with Phil–“

“Not a little bit?”

“Oh, well–“

“Nor with any one else?”

Miss Dolly looked for an instant in my direction.

“Nor with any one else? said I.

Miss Dolly looked straight in front of her.

“Nor with–” I began.

“Hullo, old chappie, where did you spring from?”

“Why, Archie!” cried Miss Dolly.

“Oh, how are you, Mickleham, old man? Take this seat; I’m just off–just off. Yes, I was, upon my honor–got to meet a man at the club. Goodbye, Miss Foster. Jove! I’m late!”

And as I went I heard Miss Dolly say, “I thought you were never coming, Archie, dear!” Well, she didn’t think he was coming just then. No more did I.

CORDIAL RELATIONS

The other day I paid a call on Miss Dolly Foster for the purpose of presenting to her my small offering on the occasion of her marriage to Lord Mickleham. It was a pretty little bit of jewelry–a pearl heart, broken (rubies played the part of blood) and held together by a gold pin, set with diamonds, the whole surmounted by an earl’s coronet. I had taken some trouble about it, and was grateful when Miss Dolly asked me to explain the symbolism.

“It is my heart,” I observed. “The fracture is your making; the pin–“

Here Miss Dolly interrupted; to tell the truth I was not sorry, for I was fairly graveled for the meaning of the pin.

“What nonsense, Mr. Carter!” she said; “but it’s awfully pretty. Thanks so very very much. Aren’t relations funny people?”

“If you wish to change the subject, pray do,” said I. “I’ll change anything except my affections.”

“Look here,” she pursued, holding out a bundle of letters. “Here are the congratulatory epistles from relations. Shall I read you a few?”

“It will be a most agreeable mode of passing the time,” said I.

“This is from Aunt Georgiana–she’s a widow–lives at Cheltenham. ‘My dearest Dorothea–‘”

“Who?”

“Dorothea’s my name, Mr. Carter. It means the gift of heaven, you know.”

” ‘My dearest Dorothea, I have heard the news of your engagement to Lord Mickleham with deep thankfulness. To obtain the love of an honest man is a great prize. I hope you will prove worthy of it. Marriage is a trial and an opportunity–‘”

“Hear, hear!” said I. “A trial for the husband and–“

“Be quiet, Mr. Carter. ‘A trial and an opportunity. It searches the heart and affords a sphere of usefulness which–‘ So she goes on, you know. I don’t see why I need be lectured just because I’m going to be married, do you, Mr. Carter?”

“Let’s try another,” said I. “Who’s that on pink paper?”

“Oh, that’s Georgy Vane. She’s awful fun. ‘Dear old Dolly,–So you’ve brought it off. Hearty congrats. I thought you were going to be silly and throw away–‘ There’s nothing else there, Mr. Carter. Look here. Listen to this. It’s from Uncle William. He’s a clergyman, you know. ‘My dear Niece,–I have heard with great gratification of your engagement. Your aunt and I unite in all good wishes. I recollect Lord Mickleham’s father when I had a curacy near Worcester. He was a regular attendant at church and a supporter of all good works in the diocese. If only his son takes after him (fancy Archie!) You have secured a prize. I hope you have a proper sense of the responsibilities you are undertaking. Marriage affords no small opportunities, it also entails certain trials–‘”

“Why, you’re reading Aunt Georgiana again.”

“Am I? No, it’s Uncle William.”

“Then let’s try a fresh cast–unless you’ll finish Georgy Vane’s.”

“Well, here’s Cousin Susan’s. She’s an old maid, you know. It’s very long. Here’s a bit: ‘Woman has it in her power to exercise a sacred influence. I have not the pleasure of knowing Lord Mickleham, but I hope, my dear, that you will use your power over him for good. It is useless for me to deny that when you stayed with me, I thought you were addicted to frivolity. Doubtless marriage will sober you. Try to make a good use of its lessons I am sending you a biscuit tin’–and so on.”

“A very proper letter,” said I.

Miss Dolly indulged in a slight grimace, and took up another letter.

“This,” she said, “is from my sister-in-law, Mrs. Algernon Foster.”

“A daughter of Lord Doldrums, wasn’t she?”

“Yes. ‘My dear Dorothea,–I have heard your news. I do hope it will turn out happily. I believe that any woman who conscientiously does her duty can find happiness in married life. Her husband and children occupy all her time and all her thoughts, and if she can look for few of the lighter pleasures of life, she has at least the knowledge that she is of use in the world. Please accept the accompanying volumes (it’s Browning) as a small–‘ I say, Mr. Carter, do you think it’s really like that?”

“There is still time to draw back,” I observed.

“Oh, don’t be silly. Here, this is my brother Tom’s. ‘Dear Dol,–I thought Mickleham rather an ass when I met him, but I dare say you know best. What’s his place like? Does he take a moor? I thought I read that he kept a yacht. Does he? Give him my love and a kiss. Good luck, old girl. Tom. P.S.–I’m glad it’s not me, you know.'”

“A disgusting letter,” I observed.

“Not at all,” said Miss Dolly, dimpling. “It’s just like dear old Tom. Listen to grandpapa’s. ‘My dear Granddaughter,–The alliance’ (I rather like it’s being called an alliance, Mr. Carter. It sounds like the Royal Family, doesn’t it?) ‘you are about to contract is in all respects a suitable one. I send you my blessing and a small check to help towards your trousseau.–Yours affectionately, Jno. Wm. Foster.'”

“That,” said I, “is the best up to now.”

“Yes, it’s 500,” said she, smiling. “Here’s old Lady M.’s.”

“Whose?” I exclaimed.

“Archie’s mother’s, you know. ‘My dear Dorothea (as I suppose I must call you now)–Archibald has informed us of his engagement, and I and the girls (there are five girls, Mr. Carter) hasten to welcome his bride. I am sure Archie will make his wife very happy. He is rather particular (like his dear father), but he has a good heart, and is not fidgety about his meals. Of course we shall be delighted to move out of The Towers at once. I hope we shall see a great deal of you soon. Archie is full of your praises, and we thoroughly trust his taste. Archie–‘ It’s all about Archie, you see.”

“Naturally,” said I.

“Well, I don’t know. I suppose I count a little, too. Oh, look here. Here’s Cousin Fred’s, but he’s always so silly. I shan’t read you his.”

“O, just a bit of it,” I pleaded.

“Well, here’s one bit. ‘I suppose I can’t murder him, so I must wish him joy. All I can say is, Dolly, that he’s the luckiest (something I can’t read–either fellow or–devil) I ever heard of. I wonder if you’ve forgotten that evening–‘”

“Well, go on.” For she stopped.

“Oh, there’s nothing else.”

“In fact, you have forgotten the evening?”

“Entirely,” said Miss Dolly, tossing her head.

“But he sends me a love of a bracelet. He can’t possibly pay for it, poor boy.”

“Young knave!” said I severely. (I had paid for my pearl heart.)

“Then comes a lot from girls. Oh, there’s one from Maud Tottenham–she’s a second cousin, you know–it’s rather amusing. ‘I used to know your FIANCE slightly. He seemed very nice, but it’s a long while ago, and I never saw much of him. I hope he is really fond of you, and that it is not a mere fancy. Since you love him so much, it would be a pity if he did not care deeply for you.'”

“Interpret, Miss Dolly,” said I.

“She tried to catch him herself,” said Miss Dolly.

“Ah, I see. Is that all?”

“The others aren’t very interesting.”

“Then let’s finish Georgy Vane’s.”

“Really?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes. Really.”

“Oh, if you don;’t mind, I don’t,” said she, laughing, and she hunted out the pink note and spread it before her.

“Let me see. Where was I? Oh, here. ‘I thought you were going to be silly and throw away your chances on some of the men who used to flirt with you. Archie Mickleham may not be a genius, but he’s a good fellow and a swell and rich; and he’s not a pauper, like Phil Meadows, or a snob like Charlie Dawson, or–‘ shall I go on, Mr. Carter? No, I won’t. I didn’t see what it was.”

“Yes, you shall go on.”

“O, no, I can’t,” and she folded up the letter. “Then I will,” and I’m ashamed to say I snatched the letter. Miss Dolly jumped to her feet. I fled behind the table. She ran round. I dodged.

“‘Or'” I began to read.

“Stop!” cried she.

” ‘Or a young spendthrift like that man–I forget his name–who you used to go on with at such a pace at Monte Carlo last winter.'”

“Stop!” she cried. “You must stop, Mr. Carter.”

So then I stopped. I folded the letter and handed it back to her. Her cheeks flushed red as she took it.

“I thought you were a gentleman,” said she, biting her lip.

“I was at Monte Carlo last winter myself,” said I.

“Lord Mickleham,” said the butler, throwing open the door.

RETRIBUTION

In future I am going to be careful what I do. I am also–and this is by no means less important–going to be very careful what Miss Dolly Foster does. Everybody knows (if I may quote her particular friend Nellie Phaeton) that dear Dolly means no harm, but she is “just a little harumscarum.” I thanked Miss Phaeton for the expression.

The fact is that “old lady M.” (Here I quote Miss Dolly) sent for me the other day. I have not the honor of knowing the Countess, and I went in some trepidation. When I was ushered in, Lady Mickleham put up her “starers.” (You know those abominations! Pince-nez with long torture–I mean tortoise–shell handles.)

“Mr.–er–Carter?” said she.

I bowed. I would have denied it if I could.

“My dears!” said Lady Mickleham.

Upon this five young ladies who had been sitting in five straight-backed chairs, doing five pieces of embroidery, rose, bowed, and filed out of the room. I felt very nervous.

A pause followed. Then the Countess observed–and it seemed at first rather irrelevant–

“I’ve been reading an unpleasant story.”

“In these days of French influence,” I began apologetically (not that I write such stories, or any stories, but Lady Mickleham invites an apologetic attitude), and my eye wandered to the table. I saw nothing worse (or better) than the morning paper there.

“Contained in a friend’s letter,” she continued, focusing the “starers” full on my face.

I did not know what to do, so I bowed again.

“It must have been as painful for her to write as for me to read,” Lady Mickleham went on. “And that is saying much. Be seated, pray.”

I bowed, and sat down in one of the straight-back chairs. I also began, in my fright, to play with one of the pieces of embroidery.

“Is Lady Jane’s work in your way?” (Lady Jane is named after Jane, the famous Countess, Lady-in-Waiting to Caroline of Anspach.)

I dropped the embroidery, and put my foot on my hat.

“I believe, Mr. Carter, that you are acquainted with Miss Dorothea Foster?”

“I have that pleasure,” said I.

“Who is about to be married to my son, the Earl of Mickleham?”

“That, I believe, is so,” said I. I was beginning to pull myself together.

“My son, Mr. Carter, is of a simple and trusting disposition. Perhaps I had better come to the point. I am informed by this letter that, in conversation with the writer the other day, Archibald mentioned, quite incidentally, some very startling facts. Those facts concern you, Mr. Carter.”

“May I ask the name of the writer?”

“I do not think that is necessary,” said she. “She is a lady in whom I have the utmost confidence.”

“That is, of course, enough,” said I.

“It appears, Mr. Carter–and you will excuse me if I speak plainly–(I set my teeth) that you have, in the first place, given to my son’s bride a wedding present, which I can only describe as–“

“A pearl ornament,” I interposed; “with a ruby or two, and–“

“A pearl heart,” she corrected; “er–fractured, and that you explained that this absurd article represented your heart.”

“Mere badinage,” said I.

“In execrably bad taste,” said she.

I bowed.

“In fact, most offensive. But that is not the worst. From my son’s further statements it appears that on one occasion, at least, he found you and Miss Foster engaged in what I can only call–“

I raised my hand in protest. The Countess took no notice.

“What I can only call romping.”

“Romping!” I cried.

“A thing not only atrociously vulgar at all times, but under the circumstances–need I say more? Mr. Carter, you were engaged in chasing my son’s future bride round a table!”

“Pardon me, Lady Mickleham. Your son’s future bride was engaged in chasing me round a table.”

“It is the same thing,” said Lady Mickleham.

“I should have thought there was a distinction,” said I.

“None at all.”

I fell back on a second line of defense.

“I didn’t let her catch me, Lady Mickleham,” I pleaded.

Lady Mickleham grew quite red. This made me feel more at my ease.

“No, sir. If you had–“

“Goodness knows!” I murmured, shaking my head.

“As it happened, however, my son entered in the middle of this disgraceful–“

“It was at the beginning,” said I, with a regretful sigh.

Upon this–and I have really never been so pleased at anything in all my life–the Countess, the violence of her emotions penetrating to her very fingers, gripped the handle of her “starers” with such force that she broke it in two! She was a woman of the world, and in a moment she looked as if nothing had happened. With me it was different; and that I am not now on Lady Mickleham’s visiting list is due to (inter alia et enormia) the fact that I laughed! It was out before I could help it. In a second I was as grave as a mute. The mischief was done. The Countess rose. I imitated her example.

“You are amused?” said she, and her tones banished the last of my mirth. I stumbled on my hat and it rolled to her feet.

“It is not probable,” she observed, “that after Miss Foster’s marriage you will meet her often. You will move in–er–somewhat different circles.”

“I may catch a glimpse of her in her carriage from the top of my ‘bus,” said I.

Lady Mickleham rang the bell. I stooped for my hat. To tell the truth, I was rather afraid to expose myself in such a defenseless attitude, but the Countess preserved her self control. The butler opened the door. I bowed, and left the Countess regarding me through the maimed “starers.” Then I found the butler smiling. He probably knew the signs of the weather. I wouldn’t be Lady Mickleham’s butler if you made me a duke.

As I walked home through the Park, I met Miss Dolly and Mickleham. They stopped.

I walked on. Mickleham seized me by the coat tails.

“Do you mean to cut us?” he cried.

“Yes,” said I.

“Why, what the deuce?–” he began.

“I’ve seen your mother,” said I. “I wish, Mickleham, that when you do happen to intrude as you did the other day, you wouldn’t repeat what you see.”

“Lord!” he cried. “She’s not heard of that. I only told Aunt Cynthia.”

I said something about “Aunt Cynthia.”

“Does–does she know it all?” asked Miss Dolly.

“More than all–much more.”

“Didn’t you smooth it over?” said Miss Dolly reproachfully.

“On reflection,” said I, “I don’t know that I did–much.” (I hadn’t, you know.)

Suddenly Mickleham burst out laughing.

“What a game!” he exclaimed.

“That’s all very well for you,” said Dolly. “But do you happen to remember that we dine there tonight?” Archie grew grave.

“I hope you’ll enjoy yourselves,” said I. “I always cling to the belief that the wicked are punished.” And I looked at Miss Dolly.

“Never you mind, little woman,” said Archie, drawing Miss Dolly’s arm through his, “I’ll see you through. After all, everybody knows that old Carter’s an ass.”

That piece of universal knowledge may help matters, but I do not quite see how. I walked on, for Miss Dolly had quite forgotten me, and was looking up at Archie Mickleham like–well, hang it, in the way they do, you know. So I just walked on.

I believe Miss Dolly has got a husband who is (let us say) good enough for her. And, for one reason and another, I am glad of it. And I also believe that she knows it. And I am–I suppose–glad of that, too. Oh, yes, of course, I am. Of course.

THE PERVERSENESS OF IT

“I tell you what, Mr. Carter,” said Miss Nellie Phaeton, touching up Rhino with her whip, “love in a cottage is–“

“Lord forgive us, cinders, ashes, dust,” I quoted.

We were spanking round the Park behind Ready and Rhino. Miss Phaeton’s horses are very large; her groom is very small, and her courage is indomitable. I am no great hand at driving myself, and I am not always quite comfortable. Moreover, the stricter part of my acquaintance consider, I believe, that Miss Phaeton’s attentions to me are somewhat pronounced, and that I ought not to drive with her in the Park.

“You’re right,” she went on. “What a girl wants is a good house and lots of cash, and some ridin’ and a little huntin’ and–“

“A few g’s!'” I cried in shuddering entreaty. “If you love me, a g’ or two.”

“Well, I suppose so,” said she. “You can’t go ridin’ without gees, can you?”

Apparently one could go driving without any, but I did not pursue the subject.

“It’s only in stories that people are in love when they marry,” observed Miss Phaeton reflectively.

“Yes, and then it’s generally with somebody else,” said I.

“Oh, if you count that!” said she, hitting Ready rather viciously. We bounded forward, and I heard the little groom bumping on the back seat. I am always glad not to be a groom–it’s a cup-and-ball sort of life, which must be very wearying.

“Were you ever in love?” she asked, just avoiding a brougham which contained the Duchess of Dexminster. (If, by the way, I have to run into anyone, I like it to be a Duchess; you get a much handsomer paragraph.)

“Yes,” said I.

“Often?”

“Oh, not too often, and I always take great care, you know.”

“What of?”

“That it shall be quite out of the question, you know. It’s not at all difficult. I only have to avoid persons of moderate means.”

“But aren’t you a person of–?”

“Exactly. That’s why. So I choose either a pauper–when it’s impossible–or an heiress–when it’s preposterous. See?”

“But don’t you ever want to get–?” began Miss Phaeton.

“Let’s talk about something else,” said I.

“I believe you’re humbuggin’ me,” said Miss Phaeton.

“I am offering a veiled apology,” said I.

“Stuff!” said she. “You know you told Dolly Foster that I should make an excellent wife for a trainer.”

Oh, these women! A man had better talk to a phonograph.

“Or anybody else,” said I politely.

Miss Phaeton whipped up her horses.

“Look out! There’s the mounted policeman,” I cried.

“No, he isn’t. Are you afraid?” she retorted.

“I’m not fit to die,” I pleaded.

“I don’t care a pin for your opinion, you know,” she continued (I had never supposed that she did); “but what did you mean by it?”

“I never said it.”

“Oh!”

“All right–I never did.”

“Then Dolly invented it?”

“Of course,” said I steadily.

“On your honor?”

“Oh, come, Miss Phaeton!”

“Would–would other people think so?” she asked, with a highly surprising touch of timidity.

“Nobody would,” I said. “Only a snarling old wretch would say so, just because he thought it smart.”

There was a long pause. Then Miss Phaeton asked me abruptly:

“You never met him, did you?”

“No.”

A pause ensued. We passed the Duchess again, and scratched the nose of her poodle, which was looking out of the carriage window. Miss Phaeton flicked Rhino, and the groom behind went plop-plop on the seat.

“He lives in town, you know,” remarked Miss Phaeton.

“They mostly do–and write about the country,” said I.

“Why shouldn’t they?” she asked fiercely.

“My dear Miss Phaeton, by all means let them,” said I.

“He’s awfully clever, you know,” she continued; “but he wouldn’t always talk. Sometimes he just sat and said nothin’, or read a book.”

A sudden intuition discovered Mr. Gay’s feelings to me.

“You were talking about the run, or something, I suppose?”

“Yes, or the bag, you know.”

As she spoke she pulled up Ready and Rhino. The little groom jumped down and stood under (not at) their heads. I leant back and surveyed the crowd sitting and walking. Miss Phaeton flicked a fly off Rhino’s ear, put her whip in the socket, and leant back also.

“Then I suppose you didn’t care much about him?” I asked.

“Oh, I liked him pretty well,” she answered very carelessly.

At this moment, looking along the walk, I saw a man coming toward us. He was a handsome fellow, with just a touch of “softness” in his face. He was dressed in correct fashion, save that his hair was a trifle longer, his coat a trifle fuller, his hat a trifle larger, his tie a trifle looser than they were worn by most. He caught my attention, and I went on looking at him for a little while, till a light movement of my companion’s made me turn my head.

Miss Phaeton was sitting bolt upright; she fidgeted with the reins; she took her whip out of the socket and put it back again; and, to my amazement, her cheeks were very red.

Presently the man came opposite the carriage. Miss Phaeton bowed. He lifted his hat, smiled, and made as if to pass on. Miss Phaeton held out her hand. I could see a momentary gleam of surprise in his eyes, as though he thought her cordiality more than he might have looked for–possibly even more than he cared about. But he stopped and shook hands.

“How are you, Mr. Gay?” she said, not introducing me.

“Still with your inseparables!” he said gayly, with a wave of his hand towards the horses. “I hope, Miss Phaeton, that in the next world your faithful steeds will be allowed to bear you company, or what will you do?”

“O, you think I care for nothin’ but horses?” said she petulantly, but she leant towards him, and gave me her shoulder.

“O, no,” he laughed. “Dogs, also, and, I’m afraid, one day it was ferrets, wasn’t it?”

“Have–have you written any poetry lately?” she asked.

“How conscientious of you to inquire!” he exclaimed, his eyes twinkling. “O, yes, a hundred things. Have you–killed–anything lately?”

I could swear she flushed again. Her voice trembled as she answered:

“No, not lately.”

I caught sight of his face behind her back and I thought I saw a trace of puzzle–nothing more. He held out his hand.

“Well, so glad to have seen you, Miss Phaeton,” said he, “but I must run on. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Gay,” said she.

And, lifting his hat again, smiling again gayly, he was gone. For a moment or two I said nothing. Then I remarked:

“So that’s your friend Gay, is it? He’s not a bad-looking fellow.”

“Yes, that’s him,” said she, and, as she spoke, she sank back in her seat for a moment. I did not look at her face. Then she sat up straight again and took the whip.

“Want to stay any longer?” she asked.

“No,” said I.

The little groom sprang away, Rhino and Ready dashed ahead.

“Shall I drop you at the club?” she asked. “I’m goin’ home.”

“I’ll get out here,” said I.

We came to a stand again, and I got down.

“Goodbye,” I said.

She nodded at me, but said nothing. A second later the carriage was tearing down the road, and the little groom hanging on for dear life.

Of course, it’s all nonsense. She’s not the least suited to him; she’d make him miserable, and then be miserable herself. But it seems a little perverse, doesn’t it? In fact, twice at least between the courses at dinner I caught myself being sorry for her. It is, when you think of it, so remarkably perverse.

A MATTER OF DUTY

Lady Mickleham is back from her honeymoon. I mean young Lady Mickleham–Dolly Foster (well, of course I do. Fancy the Dowager on a honeymoon!) She signified the fact to me by ordering me to call on her at teatime; she had, she said, something which she wished to consult me about confidentially. I went.

“I didn’t know you were back,” I observed.

“Oh, we’ve been back a fortnight, but we went down to The Towers. They were all there, Mr. Carter.”

“All who?”

“All Archie’s people. The dowager said we must get really to know one another as soon as possible. I’m not sure I like really knowing people. It means that they say whatever they like to you, and don’t get up out of your favorite chair when you come in.”

“I agree,” said I, “that a soupcon of unfamiliarity is not amiss.”

“Of course it’s nice to be one of the family,” she continued.

“The cat is that,” said I. “I would not give a fig for it.”

“And the Dowager taught me the ways of the house.”

“Ah, she taught me the way out of it.”

“And showed me how to be most disagreeable to the servants.”

“It is the first lesson of a housekeeper.”

“And told me what Archie particularly liked, and how bad it was for him, poor boy.”

“What should we do without our mothers? I do not, however, see how I can help in all this, Lady Mickleham.”

“How funny that sounds!”

“Aren’t you accustomed to your dignity yet?”

“I meant from you, Mr. Carter.”

I smiled. That is Dolly’s way. As Miss Phaeton says, she means no harm, and it is admirably conducive to the pleasure of a tete-a-tete.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to ask you about,” she continued, after she had indulged in a pensive sigh (with a dutifully bright smile and a glance at Archie’s photograph to follow. Her behavior always reminds me of a varied and well assorted menu). “It was about something much more difficult. You won’t tell Archie, will you?”

“This becomes interesting,” I remarked, putting my hat down.

“You know, Mr. Carter, that before I was married–oh, how long ago it seems!”

“Not at all.”

“Don’t interrupt. That before I was married I had several–that is to say, several–well, several–“

“Start quite afresh,” I suggested encouragingly.

“Well, then, several men were silly enough to think themselves–you know.”

“No one better,” I assented cheerfully.

“Oh, if you won’t be sensible!–Well, you see, many of them are Archie’s friends as well as mine; and, of course, they’ve been to call.”

“It is but good manners,” said I.

“One of them waited to be sent for, though.”

“Leave that fellow out,” said I.

“What I want to ask you is this–and I believe you’re not silly, really, you know, except when you choose to be.”

“Walk in the Row any afternoon,” said I, “and you won’t find ten wiser men.”

“It’s this. Ought I to tell Archie?”

“Good gracious! Here’s a problem!”

“Of course,” pursued Lady Mickleham, opening her fan, “it’s in some ways more comfortable that he shouldn’t know.”

“For him?”

“Yes–and for me. But then it doesn’t seem quite fair.”

“To him?”

“Yes–and to me. Because if he came to know from anybody else, he might exaggerate the things, you know.”

“Impossible!”

“Mr. Carter!”

“I–er–mean he knows you too well to do such a thing.”

“Oh, I see. Thank you. Yes. What do you think?”

“What does the Dowager say?”

“I haven’t mentioned it to the Dowager.”

“But surely, on such a point, her experience–“

“She can’t have any,” said Lady Mickleham decisively. “I believe in her husband, because I must. But nobody else! You’re not giving me your opinion.”

I reflected for a moment.

“Haven’t we left out one point to view?” I ventured to suggest.

“I’ve thought it all over very carefully,” said she; “both as it would affect me and as it would affect Archie.”

“Quite so. Now suppose you think how it would affect them?”

“Who?”

“Why, the men.”

Lady Mickleham put down her cup of tea. “What a very curious idea!” she exclaimed.

“Give it time to sink in,” said I, helping myself to another piece of toast. She sat silent for a few moments–presumably to allow of the permeation I suggested. I finished my tea and leant back comfortably. Then I said:

“Let me take my own case. Shouldn’t I feel rather awkward–?”

“Oh, it’s no good taking your case,” she interrupted.

“Why not mine as well as another?”

“Because I told him about you long ago.”

I was not surprised. But I could not permit Lady Mickleham to laugh at me in the unconscionable manner in which she proceeded to laugh. I spread out my hands and observed blandly:

“Why not be guided–as to the others, I mean–by your husband’s example?”

“Archie’s example? What’s that?”

“I don’t know; but you do, I suppose.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Carter?” she asked, sitting upright.

“Well, has he ever told you about Maggie Adeane?”

“I never heard of her.”

“Or Lilly Courtenay?”

“That girl!”

“Or Alice Layton?”

“The red-haired Layton?”

“Or Florence Cunliffe?”

“Who was she?”

“Or Millie Trehearne?”

“She squints, Mr. Carter.”

“Or–“

“Stop, stop! What do you mean? What should he tell me?”

“Oh, I see he hasn’t. Nor, I suppose, about Sylvia Fenton, or that little Delancy girl, or handsome Miss–what was her name?”

“Hold your tongue–and tell me what you mean.”

“Lady Mickleham,” said I gravely, “if your husband has not thought fit to mention these ladies–and others whom I could name–to you, how could I presume–?”

“Do you mean to tell me that Archie–?”

“He’d only known you three years, you see.”

“Then it was before–?”

“Some of them were before,” said I.

Lady Mickleham drew a long breath.

“Archie will be in soon,” said she.

I took my hat.

“It seems to me,” I observed, “that what is sauce–that, I should say, husband and wife ought to stand on an equal footing in these matters. Since he has–no doubt for good reasons–not mentioned to you–“

“Alice Layton was a positive fright.”

“She came last,” said I. “Just before you, you know. However, as I was saying–“

“And that horrible Sylvia Fenton–“

“Oh, he couldn’t have known you long then. As I was saying, I should, if I were you, treat him as he has treated you. In my case it seems to be too late.”

“I’m sorry I told him that.”

“Oh, pray don’t mind, it’s of no consequence. As to the others–“

“I should never have thought it of Archie!”

“One never knows,” said I, with an apologetic smile. “I don’t suppose he thinks it of you.”

“I won’t tell him a single word. He may find out if he likes. Who was the last girl you mentioned?”

“Is it any use trying to remember all their names?” I asked in a soothing tone. “No doubt he’s forgotten them by now–just as you’ve forgotten the others.”

“And the Dowager told me that he had never had an attachment before.”

“Oh, if the Dowager said that! Of course, the Dowager would know!”

“Don’t be so silly, for goodness sake! Are you going?”

“Certainly I am. It might annoy Archie to find me here when he wants to talk to you.”

“Well, I want to talk to him.”

“Of course you won’t repeat what I’ve–“

“I shall find out for myself,” she said.

“Goodbye. I hope I’ve removed all your troubles?”

“O, yes, thank you. I know what to do now, Mr. Carter.”

“Always send for me if you’re in any trouble. I have some exp–“

“Goodbye, Mr. Carter.”

“Goodbye, Lady Mickleham. And remember that Archie, like you–“

“Yes, yes; I know. Must you go?”

I’m afraid I must. I’ve enjoyed our talk so–“

“There’s Archie’s step.”

I left the room. On the stairs I met Archie. I shook hands sympathetically. I was sorry for Archie. But in great causes the individual cannot be considered. I had done my duty to my sex.

MY LAST CHANCE

“Now mind,” said Mrs. Hilary Musgrave, impressively, “this is the last time I shall take any trouble about you. She’s a very nice girl, quite pretty, and she’ll have a lot of money. You can be very pleasant when you like–“

“This unsolicited testimonial–“

“Which isn’t often–and if you don’t do it this time I wash my hands of you. Why, how old are you?”

“Hush, Mrs. Hilary,”

“You must be nearly–“

“It’s false–false–false!”

“Come along,” said Mrs. Hilary, and she added over her shoulder, “she has a slight north-country accent.”

“It might have been Scotch,” said I.

“She plays the piano a good deal.”

“It might have been the fiddle,” said I.

“She’s very fond of Browning.”

“It might have been Ibsen,” said I.

Mrs. Hilary, seeing that I was determined to look on the bright side, smiled graciously on me and introduced me to the young lady. She was decidedly good-looking, fresh and sincere of aspect, with large inquiring eyes–eyes which I felt would demand a little too much of me at breakfast–but then a large tea-urn puts that all right.

“Miss Sophia Milton–Mr. Carter,” said Mrs. Hilary, and left us.

Well, we tried the theaters first; but as she had only been to the Lyceum and I had only been to the Gaioety, we soon got to the end of that. Then we tried Art: she asked me what I thought of Degas: I evaded the question by criticizing a drawing of a horse in last week’s Punch–which she hadn’t seen. Upon this she started literature. She said “Some Qualms and a Shiver” was the book of the season. I put my money on “The Queen of the Quorn.” Dead stop again! And I saw Mrs. Hilary’s eye upon me; there was wrath in her face. Something must be done. A brilliant idea seized me. I had read that four-fifths of the culture of England were Conservative. I also was a Conservative. It was four to one on! I started politics. I could have whooped for joy when I elicited something particularly incisive about the ignorance of the masses.

“I do hope you agree with me,” said Miss Milton. “The more one reads and thinks, the more one sees how fatally false a theory it is that the ignorant masses–people such as I have described–can ever rule a great Empire.”

“The Empire wants gentlemen; that’s what it wants,” said I, nodding my head and glancing triumphantly at Mrs. Hilary.

“Men and women,” said she, “who are acquainted with the best that has been said and thought on all important subjects.”

At the time I believed this observation to be original, but I have since been told that it was borrowed. I was delighted with it.

“Yes,” said I, “and have got a stake in the country, you know, and know how to behave emselves in the House, don’t you know?”

“What we have to do,” pursued Miss Milton, “is to guide the voters. These poor rustics need to be informed–“

“Just so,” I broke in. “They have to be told–“

“Of the real nature of the questions–“

“And which candidate to support.”

“Or they must infallibly”–she exclaimed.

“Get their marching orders,” I cried, in rapture. It was exactly what I always did on my small property.

“Oh, I didn’t quite mean that,” she said reproachfully.

“Oh, well, neither did I–quite,” I responded adroitly. What was wrong with the girl now?

“But with the help of the League–” she went on.

“Do you belong?” I cried, more delighted than ever.

“O, yes,” said she. “I think it’s a duty. I worked very hard at the last election. I spent days distributing packages of–“

Then I made, I’m sorry to say, a false step. I observed, interrupting:

“But it’s ticklish work now, eh? Six months’ ‘hard’ wouldn’t be pleasant, would it?”

“What do you mean, Mr.–er Carter?” she asked.

I was still blind. I believe I winked, and I’m sure I whispered, “Tea.”

Miss Milton drew herself up very straight.

“I do not bribe,” she said. “What I distribute is pamphlets.”

Now I suppose that “pamphlets” and “blankets don’t really sound much alike, but I was agitated.

“Quite right,” said I. “Poor old things! They can’t afford proper fuel.”

She rose to her feet.

“I was not joking,” she said with horrible severity.

“Neither was I,” I declared in humble apology. “Didn’t you say blankets?'”

“Pamphlets.”

“Oh!”

There was a long pause. I glanced at Mrs. Hilary. Things had not fallen out as happily as they might, but I did not mean to give up yet.

“I see you’re right,” I said, still humbly. “To descend to such means as I had in my mind is–“

“To throw away our true weapons,” said she earnestly. (She sat down again–good sign.)

“What we really need–” I began.

“Is a reform of the upper classes,” said she.

“Let them give an example of duty, of self-denial, of frugality.”

I was not to be caught out again.

“Just what I always say,” I observed, impressively.

“Let them put away their horse racing, their betting, their luxurious living, their–“

“You’re right, Miss Milton,” said I.

“Let them set an example of morality.”

“They should,” I assented.

Miss Milton smiled.

“I thought we agreed really,” said she.

“I’m sure we do,” cried I; and I winked with my “off” eye at Mrs. Hilary as I sat down beside Miss Milton.

“Now I heard of a man the other day,” said she, “who’s nearly 40. He’s got an estate in the country. He never goes there, except for a few days’ shooting. He lives in town. He spends too much. He passes an absolutely vacant existence in a round of empty gaiety. He has by no means a good reputation. He dangles about, wasting his time and his money. Is that the sort of example–?”

“He’s a traitor to his class,” said I warmly.

“If you want him, you must look on a race course, or at a tailor’s, or in some fashionable woman’s boudoir. And his estate looks after itself. He’s too selfish to marry, too idle to work, too silly to think.”

I began to be sorry for this man, in spite of his peccadilloes.

“I wonder if I’ve met him,” said I. “I’m occasionally in town, when I can get time to run up. What’s his name?”

“I don’t think I heard–or I’ve forgotten. But he’s got the place next to a friend of mine in the country, and she told me all about him. She’s exactly the opposite sort of person–or she wouldn’t be my friend.”

“I should think not, Miss Milton,” said I admiringly.

“Oh, I should like to meet that man, and tell him what I think of him!” said she. “Such men as he do more harm than a dozen agitators. So contemptible, too!”

“It’s revolting to think of,” said I.

“I’m so glad you–” began Miss Milton, quite confidentially; I pulled my chair a trifle closer, and cast an apparently careless glance towards Mrs. Hilary. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me.

“Eh, what? Upon my honor it is! Why, Carter, my boy, how are you? Eh, what? Miss Milton, too, I declare! Well, now, what a pity Annie didn’t come!”

I disagreed. I hate Annie. But I was very glad to see my friend and neighbor, Robert Dinnerly. He’s a sensible man–his wife’s a little prig.

“Oh, Mr. Dinnerly,” cried Miss Milton, “how funny that you should come just now? I was just trying to remember the name of a man Mrs. Dinnerly told me about. I was telling Mr. Carter about him. You know him.”

“Well, Miss Milton, perhaps I do. Describe him.”

“I don’t believe Annie ever told me his name, but she was talking about him at our house yesterday.”

“But I wasn’t there, Miss Milton.”

“No,” said Miss Milton, “but he’s got the next place to yours in the country.”

I positively leaped from my seat.

“Why, good gracious, Carter himself, you mean?” cried Dinnerly, laughing. “Well, that is a good un–ha-ha-ha!”

She turned a stony glare on me.

“Do you live next to Mr. Dinnerly in the country?” she asked.

I would have denied it if Dinnerly had not been there. As it was, I blew my nose.

“I wonder,” said Miss Milton, “what has become of Aunt Emily.”

“Miss Milton,” said I, “by a happy chance you have enjoyed a luxury. You have told the man what you think of him.”

“Yes,” said she; “and I have only to add that he is also a hypocrite.”

Pleasant, wasn’t it? Yet Mrs. Hilary says it was my fault. That’s a woman all over!

THE LITTLE WRETCH

Seeing that little Johnny Tompkins was safely out of the country, under injunctions to make a new man of himself, and to keep that new man, when made, at the Antipodes, I could not see anything indiscreet in touching on the matter in the course of conversation with Mrs. Hilary Musgrave. In point of fact, I was curious to find out what she knew, and supposing she knew, what she thought. So I mentioned little Johnny Tompkins.

“Oh, the little wretch!” cried Mrs. Hilary. “You know he came here two or three times? Anybody can impose on Hilary.”

“Happy woman I–I mean unhappy man, Mrs. Hilary.”

“And how much was it he stole?”

“Hard on a thousand,” said I. “For a time, you know, he was quite a man of fashion.”

“Oh, I know. He came here in his own hansom, perfectly dressed, and–“

“Behaved all right, didn’t he?”

“Yes. Of course there was a something.”

“Or you wouldn’t have been deceived!” said I, with a smile.

“I wasn’t deceived,” said Mrs. Hilary, an admirable flush appearing on her cheeks.

“That is to say, Hilary wouldn’t.”

“Oh, Hilary! Why didn’t his employers prosecute him, Mr. Carter?”

“In the first place, he had that inestimable advantage in a career of dishonesty–respectable relations.”

“Well, but still–“

“His widowed mother was a trump, you know.”

“Do you mean a good woman.”

“Doubtless she was; but I mean a good card. However, there was another reason.”

“I can’t see any,” declared Mrs. Hilary.

“I’m going to surprise you,” said I. “Hilary interceded for him.”

“Hilary?”

“You didn’t know it? I thought not. Well, he did.”

“Why, he always pretended to want him to be convicted.”

“Cunning Hilary!” said I.

“He used to speak most strongly against him.”

“That was his guile,” said I.

“Oh, but why in the world–?” she began; then she paused, and went on again: “It was nothing to do with Hilary.”

“Hilary went with me to see him, you know, while they had him under lock and key at the firm’s offices.”

“Did he? I never heard that.”

“And he was much impressed with his bearing.”

“Well, I suppose, Mr. Carter, that if he was really penitent–“

“Never saw a man less penitent,” I interrupted. “He gloried in his crime; if I remember his exact expression, it was that the jam was jolly well worth the powder, and if they liked to send him to chokee they could and be–and suffer accordingly, you know.”

“And after that, Hilary–!”

“Oh, anybody can impose on Hilary, you know. Hilary only asked what the jam was.”

“It’s a horrid expression, but I suppose it meant acting the part of a gentleman, didn’t it?”

“Not entirely. According to what he told Hilary, Johnny was in love.”

“Oh, and he stole for some wretched–?”

“Now do be careful. What do you know about the lady?”

“The lady! I can imagine Johnny Tompkin’s’s ideal?”

“So can I, if you come to that.”

“And she must have known his money wasn’t his own.”

“Why must she?” I asked. “According to what he told Hilary, she didn’t.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Mrs. Hilary, with decision.

“Hilary believed it!”

“Oh, Hilary!”

“But, then Hilary knew the girl.”

“Hilary knew–! You mean to say Hilary knew–?

“No one better,” said I composedly.

Mrs. Hilary rose to her feet. “Who was the creature?” she asked sharply.

“Come,” I expostulated, “how would you like it if your young man had taken to theft and–“

“Oh, nonsense. Tell me her name, please, Mr. Carter.”

“Johnny told Hilary that just to see her and talk to her and sit by her side was ‘worth all the money’–but then, to be sure, it was somebody else’s money–and that he’d do it again to get what he had got over again. Then, I’m sorry to say, he swore.”

“And Hilary believed that stuff?”

“Hilary agreed with him,” said I. “Hilary, you see, knows the lady.”

“What’s her name, Mr. Carter?”

“Didn’t you notice his attentions to any one?”

“I notice! You don’t mean that I’ve seen her?”

“Certainly you have.”

“Was she ever here?’

“Yes, Mrs. Hilary. Hilary takes care of that.”

“I shall be angry in a minute, Mr. Carter. Oh, I’ll have this out of Hilary!”

“I should.”

“Who was she?”

“According to what he told Hilary, she was the most fascinating woman in the world, Hilary thought so, too.”

Mrs. Hilary began to walk up and down.

“Oh, so Hilary helped to let him go, because they both–?”

“Precisely,” said I.

“And you dare to come and tell me?”

“Well, I thought you ought to know,” said I. “Hilary’s just as mad about her as Johnny–in fact, he said he’d be hanged if he wouldn’t have done the same himself.”

I have once seen Madame Ristori play Lady Macbeth. Her performance was recalled to me by the tones in which Mrs. Hilary asked:

“Who is this woman, if you please, Mr. Carter?”

“So Hilary got him off–gave him fifty pounds too.”

“Glad to get him away, perhaps,” she burst out, in angry scorn.

“Who knows?” said I. “Perhaps.”

“Her name?” demanded Lady Macbeth–I mean Mrs. Hilary–again.

“I shan’t tell you, unless you promise to say nothing to Hilary.”

“To say nothing! Well, really–“

“Oh, all right!” and I took up my hat.

“But I can watch them, can’t I?”

“As much as you like.”

“Won’t you tell me?”

“If you promise.”

“Well, then, I promise.”

“Look in the glass.”

“What for?”

“To see your face, to be sure.”

She started, blushed red, and moved a step towards me.

“You don’t mean–?” she cried.

“Thou art the woman,” said I.

“Oh, but he never said a word–“

“Johnny had his code,” said I. “And in some ways it was better than some people’s–in some, alas! worse.”

“And Hilary?”

“Really you know better than I do whether I’ve told the truth about Hilary.”

A pause ensued. Then Mrs. Hilary made three short remarks, which I give in their order:

(1) “The little wretch!” (2) “Dear old Hilary!” (3) “Poor little man!”

I took my hat. I knew that Hilary was due from the city in a few minutes. Mrs. Hilary sat down by the fire.

“How dare you torment me so?” she asked, but not in the least like Lady Macbeth.

“I must have my little amusements,” said I.

“What an audacious little creature!” said Mrs. Hilary. “Fancy his daring!–Aren’t you astounded?”

“Oh, yes, I am. But Hilary, you see–“

“It’s nearly his time,” said Mrs. Hilary.

I buttoned my left glove and held out my right hand.

“I’ve a good mind not to shake hands with you,” said she. “Wasn’t it absurd of Hilary?”

“Horribly.”

“He ought to have been all the more angry.”

“Of course he ought.”

“The presumption of it!” And Mrs. Hilary smiled. I also smiled.

“That poor old mother of his,” reflected Mrs. Hilary. “Where did you say she lived?”

“Hilary knows the address,” said I.

“Silly little wretch!” mused Mrs. Hilary, still smiling.

“Goodbye,” said I.

“Goodbye,” said Mrs. Hilary.

I turned toward the door and had laid my hand on the knob, when Mrs. Hilary called softly:

“Mr. Carter.”

“Yes,” said I, turning.

“Do you know where the little wretch has gone?”

“Oh, yes,” said I.

“I–I suppose you don’t ever write to him?”

“Dear me, no,” said I.

“But you–could?” suggested Mrs. Hilary.

“Of course,” said I.

She jumped up and ran towards me. Her purse was in one hand, and a bit of paper fluttered in the other.

“Send him that–don’t tell him,” she whispered, and her voice had a little catch in it. “Poor little wretch!” said she.

As for me, I smiled cynically–quite cynically, you know; for it was very absurd.

“Please do,” said Mrs. Hilary.

And I went.

Supposing it had been another woman? Well, I wonder!

AN EXPENSIVE PRIVILEGE

A rather uncomfortable thing happened the other day which threatened a schism in my acquaintance and put me in a decidedly awkward position. It was no other than this: Mrs. Hilary Musgrave had definitely informed me that she did not approve of Lady Mickleham. The attitude is, no doubt, a conceivable one, but I was surprised that a woman of Mrs. Hilary’s large sympathies should adopt it. Besides, Mrs. Hilary is quite good-looking herself.

The history of the affair is much as follows: I called on Mrs. Hilary to see whether I could do anything, and she told me all about it. It appears that Mrs. Hilary had a bad cold and a cousin up from the country about the same time (she was justly aggrieved at the double event), and being unable to go to the Duchess of Dexminster’s “squash,” she asked Dolly Mickleham to chaperon little Miss Phyllis. Little Miss Phyllis, of course, knew no one there–the Duchess least of all–(but then very few of us–yes, I was there–knew the Duchess, and the Duchess didn’t know any of us; I saw her shake hands with a waiter myself, just to be on the safe side), and an hour after the party began she was discovered wandering about in a most desolate condition. Dolly had told her that she would be in a certain place; and when Miss Phyllis came, Dolly was not there. The poor little lady wandered about for another hour, looking so lost that one was inclined to send for a policeman; and then she sat down on a seat by the wall, and, in desperation, asked her next-door neighbor if he knew Lady Mickleham by sight, and had he seen her lately? The next-door neighbor, by way of reply, called out to a quiet elderly gentleman who was sidling unobtrusively about, “Duke, are there any particularly snug corners in your house?” The Duke stopped, searched his memory, and said that at the end of the Red Corridor there was a passage, and that a few yards down the passage, if you turned very suddenly to the right, you would come on a little nook under the stairs. The little nook just held a settee, and the settee (the Duke thought) might just hold two people. The next-door neighbor thanked the Duke, and observed to Miss Phyllis–

“It will give me great pleasure to take you to Lady Mickleham.” So they went, it being then, according to Miss Phyllis’ sworn statement precisely two hours and five minutes since Dolly had disappeared; and, pursuing the route indicated by the Duke, they found Lady Mickleham. And Lady Mickleham exclaimed, “Good gracious, my dear, I’d quite forgotten you! Have you had an ice? Do take her to have an ice, Sir John.” (Sir John Berry was the next-door neighbor.) And with that Lady Mickleham is said to have resumed her conversation.

“Did you ever hear anything more atrocious?” concluded Mrs. Hilary. “I really cannot think what Lord Mickleham is doing.”

“You surely mean, what Lady Mickleham–?”

“No, I don’t,” said Mrs. Hilary, with extraordinary decision. “Anything might have happened to that poor child!”

“Oh, there were not many of the aristocracy present,” said I soothingly.

“But it’s not that so much as the thing itself. She’s the most disgraceful flirt in London.”

“How do you know she was flirting?” I inquired with a smile.

“How do I know?” echoed Mrs. Hilary.

“It is a very hasty conclusion,” I persisted. “Sometimes I stay talking with you for an hour or more. Are you, therefore, flirting with me?”

“With you!” exclaimed Mrs. Hilary, with a little laugh.

“Absurd as the supposition is,” I remarked, “it yet serves to point the argument. Lady Mickleham might have been talking with a friend, just in the quiet rational way in which we are talking now.”

“I don’t think that’s likely,” said Mrs. Hilary; and–well, I do not like to say that she sniffed–it would convey too strong an idea, but she did make an odd little sound something like a much etherealized sniff.

I smiled again, and more broadly. I was enjoying beforehand the little victory which I was to enjoy over Mrs. Hilary. “Yet it happens to be true,” said I.

Mrs. Hilary was magnificently contemptuous.

“Lord Mickleham told you so, I suppose?” she asked. “And I suppose Lady Mickleham told him–poor man!”

“Why do you call him ‘poor man’?”

“Oh, never mind. Did he tell you?”

“Certainly not. The fact is, Mrs. Hilary–and really, you must excuse me for having kept you in the dark a little–it amused me so much to hear your suspicions.”

Mrs. Hilary rose to her feet.

“Well, what are you going to say?” she asked.

I laughed, as I answered: “Why, I was the man with Lady Mickleham when your friend and Berry inter–when they arrived, you know.”

Well, I should have thought–I should still think–that she would have been pleased–relieved, you know, to find her uncharitable opinion erroneous, and pleased to have it altered on the best authority. I’m sure that is how I should have felt. It was not, however, how Mrs. Hilary felt.

“I am deeply pained,” she observed after a long pause; and then she held out her hand.

“I was sure you’d forgive my little deception,” said I, grasping it. I thought still that she meant to bury all unkindness.

“I should never have thought it of you,” she went on.

“I didn’t know your friend was there at all,” I pleaded; for by now I was alarmed.

“Oh, please don’t shuffle like that,” said Mrs. Hilary.

She continued to stand, and I rose to my feet. Mrs. Hilary held out her hand again.

“Do you mean that I’m to go?” said I.

“I hope we shall see you again some day,” said Mrs. Hilary; the tone suggested that she was looking forward to some future existence, when my earthly sins should have been sufficiently purged. It reminded me for the moment of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

“But I protest,” I began, “that my only object in telling you was to show you how absurd–“

“Is it any good talking about it now?” asked Mrs. Hilary. A discussion might possibly be fruitful in the dim futurity before mentioned–but not now–that was what she seemed to say.

“Lady Mickleham and I, on the occasion in question–” I began with dignity.

“Pray, spare me,” quote Mrs. Hilary, with much greater dignity.

I took my hat.

“Shall you be at home as usual on Thursday?” I asked.

“I have a great many people coming already,” she remarked.

“I can take a hint,” said I.

“I wish you’d take warning,” said Mrs. Hilary.

“I will take my leave,” said I–and I did, leaving Mrs. Hilary in a tragic attitude in the middle of the room. Never again shall I go out of my way to lull Mrs. Hilary’s suspicions.

A day or two after this very trying interview, Lady Mickleham’s victoria happened to stop opposite where I was seated in the park. I went to pay my respects.

“Do you mean to leave me nothing in the world,” I asked, just by way of introducing the subject of Mrs. Hilary. “One of my best friends has turned me out of her house on your account.”

“Oh, do tell me,” said Dolly, dimpling all over her face.

So I told her; I made the story as long as I could for reasons connected with the dimples.

“What fun!” exclaimed Dolly. “I told you at the time that a young unmarried person like you ought to be more careful.”

“I am just debating,” I observed, “whether to sacrifice you.”

“To sacrifice me, Mr. Carter?”

“Of course,” I explained; “if I dropped you, Mrs. Hilary would let me come again.”

“How charming that would be!” cried Dolly. “You would enjoy her nice serious conversation–all about Hilary!”

“She is apt, I conceded, “to touch on Hilary. But she is very picturesque.”

“Oh, yes, she’s handsome,” said Dolly.

There was a pause. Then Dolly said, “Well?”

“Well?” said I in return.

“It is goodbye?” asked Dolly, drawing down the corners of her mouth.

“It comes to this,” I remarked. “Supposing I forgive you–“

“As if it was my fault?”

“And risk Mrs. Hilary’s wrath–did you speak?”

“No; I laughed, Mr. Carter.”

“What shall I get out of it?”

The sun was shining brightly; it shone on Dolly; she had raised her parasol, but she blinked a little beneath it. She was smiling slightly still, and the dimple stuck to its post–like a sentinel, ready to rouse the rest from their brief repose. Dolly lay back in the victoria, nestling luxuriously against the soft cushions. She turned her eyes for a moment on me.

“Why are you looking at me?” she asked.

“Because,” said I, “there is nothing better to look at.”

“Do you like doing it?” asked Dolly.

“It is a privilege,” said I politely.