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The other day my young cousin George lunched with me. He is a cheery youth, and a member of the University of Oxford. He refreshes me very much, and I believe that I have the pleasure of affording him some matter for thought. On this occasion, however, he was extremely silent and depressed. I said little, but made an extremely good luncheon. Afterwards we proceeded to take a stroll in the Park.
"Sam, old boy," said George suddenly, "I'm the most miserable devil alive."
"I don't know what else you expect at your age," I observed, lighting a cigar. He walked on in silence for a few moments.
"I say, Sam, old boy, when you were young, were you ever--?" he paused, arranged his neckcloth (it was more like a bed-quilt--oh, the fashion, of course, I know that), and blushed a fine crimson.
"Was I ever what, George?" I had the curiosity to ask.
"Oh, well, hard hit, you know--a girl, you know."
"In love, you mean, George? No, I never was."
"No. Are you?"
"Yes. Hang it!" Then he looked at me with a puzzled air and continued:
"I say, though, Sam, it's awfully funny you shouldn't have--don't you know what it's like, then?"
"How should I?" I inquired apologetically. "What is it like, George?"
George took my arm.
"It's just Hades," he informed me confidentially.
"Then," I remarked, "I have no reason to regret--?"
"Still, you know," interrupted George, "it's not half bad."
"That appears to me to be a paradox," I observed.
"It's precious hard to explain it to you if you've never felt it," said George, in rather an injured tone. "But what I say is quite true."
"I shouldn't think of contradicting you, my dear fellow," I hastened to say.
"Let's sit down," said he, "and watch the people driving. We may see somebody--somebody we know, you know, Sam."
"So we may," said I, and we sat down.
"A fellow," pursued George, with knitted brows, "is all turned upside down, don't you know?"
"How very peculiar?" I exclaimed.
"One moment he's the happiest dog in the world, and the next--well, the next, it's the deuce."
"But," I objected, "not surely without good reason for such a change?"
"Reason? Bosh! The least thing does it."
I flicked the ash from my cigar.
"It may," I remarked, "affect you in this extraordinary way, but surely it is not so with most people?"
"Perhaps not," George conceded. "Most people are cold-blooded asses."
"Very likely the explanation lies in that fact," said I.
"I didn't mean you, old chap," said George, with a penitence which showed that he had meant me.
"Oh, all right, all right," said I.
"But when a man's really far gone there's nothing else in the world but it."
"That seems to me not to be a healthy condition," said I.
"Healthy? Oh, you old idiot, Sam! Who's talking of health? Now, only last night I met her at a dance. I had five dances with her--talked to her half the evening, in fact. Well, you'd think that would last some time, wouldn't you?"
"I should certainly have supposed so," I assented.
"So it would with most chaps, I dare say, but with me--confound it, I feel as if I hadn't seen her for six months!"
"But, my dear George, that's surely rather absurd? As you tell me, you spent a long while with the young person--"
"You've not told me her name, you see."
"No, and I shan't. I wonder if she'll be at the Musgraves' tonight!"
"You're sure," said I soothingly, "to meet her somewhere in the course of the next few weeks."
George looked at me. Then he observed with a bitter laugh:
"It's pretty evident you've never had it. You're as bad as those chaps who write books."
"Well, but surely they often describe with sufficient warmth and--er--color--"
"Oh, I dare say; but it's all wrong. At least, it's not what I feel. Then look at the girls in books! All beasts!"
George spoke with much vehemence; so that I was led to say:
"The lady you are preoccupied with is, I suppose, handsome?"
George turned swiftly round on me.
"Look here, can you hold your tongue, Sam?"
"Then I'm hanged if I won't point her out to you?"
"That's uncommon good of you, George," said I.
"Then you'll see," continued George. "But it's not only her looks, you know, she's the most--"
He stopped. Looking round to see why, I observed that his face was red; he clutched his walking stick tightly in his left hand; his right hand was trembling, as if it wanted to jump up to his hat. "Here she comes! Look, look!" he whispered.
Directing my eyes towards the lines of carriages which rolled past us, I observed a girl in a victoria; by her side sat a portly lady of middle age. The girl was decidedly like the lady; a description of the lady would not, I imagine, be interesting. The girl blushed slightly and bowed. George and I lifted our hats. The victoria and its occupants were gone. George leant back with a sigh. After a moment, he said:
"Well, that was her."
There was expectancy in his tone.
"She has an extremely prepossessing appearance," I observed.
"There isn't," said George, "a girl in London to touch her. Sam, old boy, I believe--I believe she likes me a bit."
"I'm sure she must, George," said I; and indeed, I thought so.
"The Governor's infernally unreasonable," said George, fretfully.
"Oh, you've mentioned it to him?"
"I sounded him. Oh, you may be sure he didn't see what I was up to. I put it quite generally. He talked rot about getting on in the world. Who wants to get on?"
"Who, indeed?" said I. "It is only changing what you are for something no better."
"And about waiting till I know my own mind. Isn't it enough to look at her?"
"Ample, in my opinion," said I.
George rose to his feet.
"They've gone to a party, they won't come round again," said he. "We may as well go, mayn't we?"
I was very comfortable, so I said timidly:
"We might see somebody else we know."
"Oh, somebody else be hanged! Who wants to see em?"
"I'm sure I don't." said I hastily, as I rose from my armchair, which was at once snapped up.
We were about to return to the club, when I observed Lady Mickleham's barouche standing under the trees. I invited George to come and be introduced.
He displayed great indifference.
"She gives a good many parties," said I; "and perhaps--"
"By Jove! Yes, I may as well," said George. "Glad you had the sense to think of that, old man."
So I took him up to Dolly and presented him. Dolly was very gracious; George is an evidently presentable boy. We fell into conversation.
"My cousin, Lady Mickleham," said I, "has been telling me--"
"Oh, shut up, Sam!" said George, not, however, appearing very angry.
"About a subject on which you can assist him more than I can, inasmuch as you are married. He is in love."
Dolly glanced at George.
"Oh, what fun!" said she.
"Fun!" cried George.
"I mean, how awfully interesting," said Dolly, suddenly transforming her expression.
"And he wanted to be introduced to you because you might ask her and him to--"
George became red, and began to stammer an apology.
"Oh, I don't believe him," said Dolly kindly; "he always makes people uncomfortable if he can. What were you telling him, Mr. George?"
"It's no use telling him anything. He can't understand," said George.
"Is she very--?" asked Dolly, fixing doubtfully grave eyes on my young cousin.
"Sam's seen her," said he, in an excess of shyness.
Dolly turned to me for an opinion, and I gave one:
"She is just," said I, "as charming as he thinks her."
Dolly leant over to my cousin, and whispered, "Tell me her name." And he whispered something back to Dolly.
"It's awfully kind of you, Lady Mickleham," he said.
"I am a kind old thing," said Dolly, all over dimples. "I can easily get to know them."
"Oh, you really are awfully kind, Lady Mickleham."
Dolly smiled upon him, waved her hand to me, and drove off, crying--
"Do try to make Mr. Carter understand!"
We were left along. George wore a meditative smile. Presently he roused himself to say:
"She's really a very kind woman. She's so sympathetic. She's not like you. I expect she felt it once herself, you know."
"One can never tell," said I carelessly. "Perhaps she did--once."
George fell to brooding again. I thought I would try an experiment.
"Not altogether bad-looking, either, is she?" I asked, lighting a cigarette.
"What? Oh, well, I don't know. I suppose some people might think so."
He paused, and added, with a bashful, knowing smile--
"You can hardly expect me to go into raptures about her, can you, old man?"
I turned my head away, but he caught me.
"Oh, you needn't smile in that infernally patronizing way," he cried angrily.
"Upon my word, George," said I, "I don't know that I need."
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