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OUT OF HARM'S WAY.
"I don't see what business it is of his," said Dick to his brother the next afternoon. "I call it infernal impertinence."
Lord Eynesford differed.
"Well, I don't," he said. "He did it with great tact, and I'm very much obliged to him."
"I wish people would leave my affairs alone," Dick grumbled.
"Has it gone very far?" asked his brother, ignoring the grumble.
"Depends upon what you call far. There's nothing settled, if that's what you mean."
"I don't know that I've any exact right to interfere, but isn't it about time you made up your mind whether you want it to go any farther?"
"What's the hurry?"
"Because," pursued the Governor, "it seems to me that going on as you're doing means either that you want to marry her, or that you're making a fool of her."
This pointed statement of the case awoke Dick's dormant conscience.
"And a cad of myself, you mean?" he asked.
"Same thing, isn't it?" replied his brother curtly.
"I suppose so," Dick admitted ruefully. "Hang it, I am a fool!"
"I don't imagine you want to do anything a gentleman wouldn't do. Only, if you do, you won't do it from my house--that's all."
"All right, old chap. Don't be so precious down on me. I didn't mean any harm. A fellow gets led on, you know--no, I don't mean by her--by circumstances, you know."
"I grant you she's pretty and pleasant, but she won't have a sou, and--well, Medland's a very clever fellow and very distinguished. But----"
"No, I know. They're not our sort."
"Then of course it's no use blinking the fact that there's something wrong. I don't know what, but something."
"Did Kilshaw tell you that?"
"Yes, between ourselves, he did. He wouldn't tell me what, but said he knew what he was talking about, and that I'd better tell you that you and all of us would be very sorry before long if we had anything to do with the Medlands."
"What the deuce does he mean?" asked Dick fretfully.
"Well, you know the sort of gossip that's about. Compare that with what Kilshaw said."
"Nonsense! You know well enough. It's impossible to live here without noticing that everybody thinks there's something wrong. I believe Kilshaw knows what it is, and, what's more, that he means to have it out some day. However that may be, rumours of the sort there are about are by themselves enough to stop any wise man."
"Old wives' scandal, I expect."
"Perhaps: perhaps not. Anyhow, I'd rather have no scandal, old wives' or any other, about my wife's family."
"I'm awfully fond of her," said Dick.
"Well, as I said, it's your look-out. I don't know what Mary'll say, and--you've only got six hundred a year of your own, Dick."
"It seems to me we're in the deuce of a hurry--" began Dick feebly, but his brother interrupted him.
"Come, Dick, do you suppose Kilshaw would have come to me, if he hadn't thought the matter serious? It wasn't a very pleasant interview for him. I expect you've been making the pace pretty warm."
Dick did not venture on a denial. He shifted about uneasily in his seat, and lit a cigarette with elaborate care.
"I don't want to be disagreeable," pursued the Governor, "but both for your sake and mine--not to speak of the girl's--I won't have anything that looks like trifling with her. You must make up your mind; you must go on, or you must drop it."
"How the devil can I drop it? I'm bound to meet her two or three times a week, and I can't cut her."
"You needn't flirt with her."
"Oh, needn't I? That's all you know about it."
The Governor was not offended by this rudeness.
"Then," he said, "if you don't mean to go on----"
"Who said I didn't?"
Dick was driven into a corner. He asked why life was so ill-arranged, why he was poor, why a man might not look at a girl without proposing to her, why everybody was always so down on him, why people chattered so maliciously, why he was such a miserable devil, and many other questions. His brother relentlessly repeated his "Do you?" and at last Dick, red in the face, and with every sign of wholesome shame, blurted out,
"How can I marry her? You know I can't--especially after this story of Kilshaw's."
"Very well. Then if you can't marry her, and yet can't help making love to her----"
"I didn't say I made love to her."
"But you do--making love to her, I say, as often as you see her, why, you mustn't see her."
"I'm bound to see her."
"As long as you stay here, yes. But you needn't stay here. We can govern New Lindsey without you, Dick, for a time, anyhow."
This suggestion fell as a new light on Dick Derosne. He waited a moment before answering it with a long-drawn "O-oh!"
"Yes," said the Governor, nodding emphatically. "You might just as well run home and give a look to things: most likely they're going to the deuce."
"But what am I to say to people?"
"Why, that you're going to look after some affairs of mine."
"Will she believe that?"
"She? You said 'people!'"
"Hang it, Willie! I don't like bolting. Besides, it's not half bad out here. Do you think I've--I've behaved like a beast, Willie?"
"It looks like it."
"It's no more than what lots of fellows do."
"Not a bit: less than a great many, thank God, Dick. Come, old chap, do the square thing--the squarest thing you can do now."
"Give me till to-morrow," said Dick, and escaped in a jumble of conflicting feelings--smothered pride in his fascinations, honest reprobation of his recklessness, momentary romantic impulses, recurrent prudential recollections, longings to stay, impatience to get rid of the affair, regrets that he had ever met Daisy Medland, pangs at the notion of not meeting her in the future--a very hotch-pot of crossed and jarring inclinations.
So the Governor did the right, the prudent thing, the only thing, the thing which he could not doubt was wise, and which all reasonable men must have seen to be inevitable. Nevertheless when he met Daisy Medland that afternoon in the Park, he felt much more like a pick-pocket than it is comfortable to feel when one is her Majesty's representative: for Dick was with him, and Daisy's eyes, which had lightened in joy at seeing them, clouded with disappointment as they rode past without stopping. Thus, when Dick turned very red and muttered, "I am a beast," the Governor moaned inwardly, "So am I."
It is perhaps creditable to Man--and Man, as opposed to Woman, in these days needs a word slipped in for him when it is reasonably possible--that these touches of tenderness fought against the stern resolve that had been taken. But of course they were only proper fruits of penitence, in Dick for himself, in Lord Eynesford for his kind, and it could not be expected that they would reproduce themselves in persons so entirely innocent of actual or vicarious offence as Lady Eynesford and Eleanor Scaife.
"I think," said Lady Eynesford, "that we may congratulate ourselves on a very happy way of getting out of the results of Dick's folly."
"I can't think that Dick said anything really serious," remarked Eleanor.
"So much depends on how people understand things," observed Lady Eynesford.
It was on the tip of Eleanor's tongue to add, "Or wish to understand them," but she recollected that she had really no basis for this malicious insinuation, and made expiation for entertaining it by saying to Alicia,
"You think she's a nice girl, don't you?"
"Very," said Alicia briefly.
"The question is not what she is, so much as who she is," said Lady Eynesford.
"I expect it was all Dick's fault," said Alicia hastily.
"Or that man's," suggested the Governor's wife.
A month ago Alicia would have protested strongly. Now she held her peace: she could not trust herself to defend the Premier. Yet she was full of sympathy for his daughter, and of indignation at the tone in which her sister-in-law referred to him. Also she was indignant with Dick: this conduct of Dick's struck her as an impertinence, and, on behalf of the Medlands, she resented it. They talked, too, as if it were a flirtation with a milliner--dangerous enough to be troublesome, yet too absurd to be really dangerous--discreditable no doubt to Dick, but--she detected the underlying thought--still more discreditable to Daisy Medland. The injustice angered her: it would have angered her at any time; but her anger was forced to lie deeply hidden and secret, and the suppression made it more intense. Dick's flighty fancy caricatured the feeling with which she was struggling: the family attitude towards it faintly foreshadowed the consternation that the lightest hint of her unbanishable dream would raise. And, worst of all--so it seemed to her--what must Medland think? He must surely scorn them all--this petty pride, their microscopic distinctions of rank, their little devices--all so small, yet all enough to justify the wounding of his daughter's heart. It gave her a sharp, almost unendurable pang to think that he might confound her in his sweeping judgment. Could he after--after what he had seen? He might think she also trifled--that it was in the family--that they all thought it good fun to lead people on and then--draw back in scorn lest the suppliant should so much as touch them.
In the haste of an unreasoning impulse, she went to Medland's house, full of the idea of dissociating herself from what had been done, only dimly conscious of difficulties which, if they existed, she was yet resolute to sweep away. Convention should not stand between, nor cost her a single unkind thought from him.
She asked for Daisy Medland, and was shown into Daisy's little room. She had not long to wait before Daisy came in. Alicia ran to meet her, but dared not open the subject near her heart, for the young girl's bearing was calm and distant. Yet her eyes were red, for it was but two hours since Dick Derosne had flung himself out of that room, and she had been left alone, able at last to cast off the armour of wounded pride and girlish reticence. She had assumed it again to meet her new visitor, and Alicia's impetuous sympathy was frozen by the fear of seeming impertinence.
At last, in despair of finding words, yet set not to go with her errand undone, she stretched out her arms, crying--
"Daisy! Not with me, dear!"
Daisy was not proof against an assault like that. Her wounded pride--for Dick had not been enough of a diplomatist to hide the meaning of his sudden flight--had borne her through her interview with him, and he had gone away doubting if she had really cared for him; it broke down now. She sprang to Alicia's arms, and her comforter seemed to hear her own confession in the young girl's broken and half-stifled words.
"Do come again," said Daisy, and Alicia, who after a long talk had risen to go, promised with a kiss.
The door opened and Medland came in. Alicia started, almost in fright.
"I came--I came--" she began in her agitation, for she assumed that his daughter had told him her story.
"It's very kind of you," he answered, and she, still misunderstanding, went on eagerly--
"It's such a shame! Oh, you don't think I had anything to do with it?"
He looked curiously from one to the other, but said nothing.
Alicia kissed Daisy again and passed by him towards the door: he followed her, and, closing the door, said abruptly,
"What's a shame, Miss Derosne? What's the matter with Daisy?"
"You don't know? Oh, I've no right----"
"No; but tell me, please. Come in here," and he beckoned her into his own study.
"Is she in any trouble?" he asked again. "She won't tell me, you know, for fear of worrying me, so you must."
Somehow Alicia, unable to resist his request, stammered out the gist of the story; she blamed Dick as severely as he deserved, and shielded Daisy from all suspicion of haste in giving her affection; but the story stood out plain.
"And--and I was so afraid," she ended as she had begun, "that you would think that I had anything to do with it."
"Poor little Daisy!" he said softly. "No; I'm sure you hadn't. Ah, well, I dare say they're right."
He was so calm that she was almost indignant with him.
"Can't you feel for her--you, her father?" she exclaimed. But a moment later she added, "I didn't mean that. Forgive me! I can't bear to think of the way she has been treated!"
He looked up suddenly and asked,
"Was it only--general objections--or--or anything in particular?"
"What do you mean? I don't know of anything in particular."
"I'm glad. I shouldn't have liked--but you won't understand. Well, you've been very kind."
She would not leave her doubt unsettled. His manner puzzled her.
"Do you know of anything?" she found courage to add.
"'The fathers eat sour grapes,'" he answered, with a bitter smile. "Poor little Daisy!"
"I believe you're hinting at something against yourself."
He held out his hand to bid her good-bye, adding,
"You'd better let us alone, Miss Derosne."
"Why should I let you alone? Why mayn't I be her friend?"
He made no direct answer, but said,
"Your news of what has happened--I mean of your friends' attitude--hardly surprises me. You won't suppose I feel it less, because it's my fault--and my poor girl has to suffer for it."
"I don't understand," she murmured.
"I hope you never need," he answered earnestly, holding out his hand again.
This time she took it, but, as she did, she looked full in his face and said,
"I will believe nothing against you, not even your own words. Good-bye."
Her voice faltered in the last syllable, and she ran hastily down the stairs.
Medland stood still for some minutes. Then he went in to his daughter and kissed her.
But even that night, in spite of his remorse and sorrow for her grief, his daughter was not alone in his thoughts.
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