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A COMMON SPECTACLE.
After some anxious consideration, Eleanor Scaife decided to keep silence for the present about Mrs. Puttock's strange remark. That lady had deluged her with such a flood of gossip, that Eleanor felt that a thing was not likely to be true merely because Mrs. Puttock asserted it, while, if the suggested scandal had a basis in fact, it was probable that some of the men of the Governor's household, or indeed the Governor himself, would be well informed on the matter. If so, Lord Eynesford would use his discretion in telling his wife. Eleanor was afraid that, if she interfered, she might run the risk of appearing officious, and of receiving the polite snub which Lady Eynesford was somewhat of an adept in administering. After all, the woman, whoever she was, was dead and gone, and Eleanor, in the absence of fuller knowledge, declined to be shocked. A woman, she reflected, who studies the problems of society, must be prepared for everything. Still, she felt that intimacy with the Medlands was not to be encouraged, and began to range herself by Lady Eynesford's side so far as the Premier was concerned.
"We had a delightful trip," said Lady Eynesford, on the afternoon of the day following the dance. "I hope everything has been going on well here, Eleanor. What was it like at Sir John's?"
"They missed you and the Governor very much."
"Oh, I don't matter, and I hope Dick represented Willie, and danced with everybody's wife in turn. That's poor Willie's duty."
This programme was so very different from that which Dick had planned and carried out on his own account, that Eleanor shrank from the deceit involved in acquiescence.
"I'm afraid not," she said. "You see, Dick's young and hasn't got a wife of his own."
"Tant mieux, he'd feel the contrast less," replied Lady Eynesford, with airy assurance. "Who did he dance with?"
Eleanor racked her memory and produced the names of four ladies with each of whom Dick had danced one hasty waltz.
"That's only four dances," objected Lady Eynesford.
"Oh, I didn't notice. I was talking to Sir John and to Mrs. Puttock."
"Well then, he danced once or twice with little Daisy Medland. It was her first ball, you know."
"He needn't have done it twice; I suppose he was bound to once. Dear me! We shall have to consider what we're to do about her now."
"She's a pretty girl, Mary."
"Did Dick think so?" asked Lady Eynesford quickly.
Eleanor distinguished between Mrs. Puttock's remark and Dick's conduct. "Well, it looked like it," she answered.
"What do you mean?"
"To tell the truth, Mary, he danced with her half the evening, and, I think, would have gone on all night if Lady Perry hadn't stopped it."
"The wretched boy!"
At this moment the wretched boy happened to enter Lady Eynesford's boudoir. Dick was dressed for riding, was humming a tune, and appeared generally well pleased with himself and the world.
"You wretched boy!" said his sister-in-law.
Dick gave her one glance. Then, assuming an air of trepidation, he murmured reproachfully,
"Nous sommes trahis."
"What have you to say for yourself? No, I'm not joking. I particularly wanted to avoid being mixed up with these Medlands one bit more than we could help, and, directly my back is turned, you go and----"
"Have you seen Alicia yet?" asked Dick.
"Seen Alicia? No, not to talk to."
"Well then, keep some of it. Don't spend it all on me. You'll want it, Mary."
"Dick, you're very impertinent. What do you mean?"
Dick was about to answer, when he saw Eleanor frowning at him. He raised his brows. Eleanor rapidly returned the signal.
"She flirted disgracefully with Sir John," he said.
"How dare you make fun of me like that? It was most foolish and--and wrong of you. I shall speak to Willie about it."
"I thought it was the constitutional thing to do," pleaded Dick, but Lady Eynesford was already on her way to the door, and vanished through it with a scornful toss of her head.
"You gave me away," said Dick to Eleanor. "Never trust a woman! And, Eleanor, what were you nodding like an old mandarin for?"
"I thought it just as well we shouldn't vex Mary just now by telling her how--how friendly Alicia was with Mr. Medland."
"Oh, I see. I wish you'd thought it just as well not to vex Mary by telling her how--how friendly I was with Miss Medland."
"It's quite different," said Miss Scaife coldly. "In Alicia, it was merely strange. Mr. Medland might be her father. Now, Miss Medland----"
"I never let on about you and Coxon," said Dick, who wished to change the subject, and made his escape under shelter of Miss Scaife's indignant repudiation.
Still humming his tune, he mounted his horse and rode to the Public Park. At a particular turn of the avenue he pulled up and waited under a tree. Presently a pony-carriage appeared in the distance.
"Good!" said Dick, throwing away his cigarette and feeling if his neck-cloth were in its place. The pony-cart drew near. Dick saw with pleasure the figure of the driver, but he also perceived, to his great disgust, that a man was sitting by her side.
"That's the way they"--he meant women--"let you in!" he remarked. "Anybody would have supposed she meant she drove alone. Who the deuce has she got there?"
Miss Medland had Norburn with her, and Norburn was just explaining to her--for he did not imitate her father's forbearance--the methods by which he proposed to banish the evil monster, competition, from the world. There is, however, one sort of competition, at least, which Norburn's methods will hardly banish, and it was into the clutches of this particular form of the evil monster that Mr. Norburn was, little as he thought it, about to be pushed. A long period of intimacy and favour excluded from his mind the suspicion that he might have to fight for his position with Daisy Medland; and, if he could have brought himself to entertain the thought of a successful rival--of some one who, coming suddenly between, should break the strong bonds of affection well tried by time--he certainly would not have expected to find such a competitor in Dick Derosne. In fact, neither of the young men was capable of appreciating the attractions of the other: Dick considering Norburn very doubtfully a gentleman, and very certainly what in his University days he dubbed a "smug"; Norburn regarding him with the rather impatient contempt that such a man is apt to bestow on those for whom dressing themselves and amusing themselves are the chief labours of a day. Moreover, Norburn did not frequent dances, and young men who do not frequent dances often go wrong by forgetting how much may happen between the afternoon of a Tuesday and the morning of a Wednesday.
No doubt those of us who are men, having been more or less pretty fellows in our time, have had our triumphs, concerning which we are, as a rule, becomingly mute, but occasionally, in the confidences of the smoking-room, undesirably loquacious. For this fault there is no excuse, unless such a one as justifies the practice of inflicting reprisals in international quarrels; it being quite certain that our failures are no secret--indeed there must be covertly (but extensively) circulating somewhere a Gazette wherein such occurrences are registered--there is a kind of "wild justice" even in smoking-room disclosures. But whatever our bad or good fortune may have been, it is not to be supposed for a moment that any of us enjoy such an enchanting revelation as comes to a young girl who, by nature's kind freak, has been made beautiful. Daisy Medland was radiant as she turned from Norburn's pale thoughtful face and careless garb to Dick Derosne, the outward perfection of a well-born, well-made, well-dressed Englishman, bowing, smiling, and debonair. Daisy liked Norburn very much--how much she never quite knew--but there was no doubt that two young men were a pleasant change from one, and the contrast between them increased the charm--a novel charm to her--of the situation, for she was well aware that, different as they were from one another, strong as the contrast was, they were both at this moment thinking precisely the same thought, namely, "Who's this fellow, and what does he want?"--a coincidence which again shows that Norburn's theories had much to do before they conquered the world.
It is not a very uncommon sight to see a clever man sit mum, abashed by the chatter of a cheery shallow-pate, who is happily unconscious of the oppressive triviality of his own conversation. Norburn's eager flow of words froze at the contact of Dick's small-talk, and he was a discontented auditor of ball-room and club gossip. It amazed him that a man should know, or care, or talk about more than half the things on which Dick descanted so merrily; it astounded him that they should win interest as keen and looks as bright as had ever rewarded the deepest truth or the highest aspiration. All of which, however, was not really at all odd, if only Mr. Norburn would have considered the matter a little more closely. But then an old favourite threatened by a new rival is not in a mood for cool analysis.
"And they say," pursued Dick, "that Puttock's coming back to your father because Sir Robert trod on Mrs. P.'s new black silk and tore it half off her--tore it awfully, you know."
Daisy laughed gaily.
"You weren't there, were you, Mr. Norburn? Well, it was worth all the money only to see old Mrs. Grim eat ices--you remember, Miss Medland? She bolted three while Sir John was proposing the Queen's health, and two more in the first verse of 'God save--'" and so Dick ran on.
Mr. Norburn consulted his watch.
"I'm afraid I must go," he said. "I'm due at the office."
"Oh," exclaimed Daisy penitently, "I forgot. But can't I drive you back?"
"I couldn't trouble you to do that. You're not going back so soon?"
"But of course I can, Mr. Norburn; it's so far to walk."
"I don't mind the walk."
"Are you really quite sure? It is a beautiful morning to be out, isn't it?"
Norburn took his leave, thinking, no doubt, of his official duties and nothing else, and Daisy touched her pony.
"I must go on," she said.
"So must I," said Dick, "mustn't keep my horse standing any longer."
"Why not? He can't catch cold to-day."
"Oh, he'd take root and never go away--just as I do, when I stand near you, you know."
It is not proposed to set out the rest of their conversation. Daisy forgot Norburn's gloomy face, Dick forgot every face but Daisy's, and the usual things were said and done. An appeal to the memory of any reader will probably give a result accurate enough. Imagine yourself on a pretty morning, in a pretty place, by a pretty girl, and let her be kind and you not a numskull, and there's half-a-dozen pages saved.
It was, however, a little unfortunate that, at the last moment, when the third good-bye was being said, Lady Eynesford should come whirling by in her barouche.
"The deuce!" said Dick under his breath.
Lady Eynesford's features did not relax. She bowed to her brother-in-law gravely and stiffly; her gaze appeared to travel far over the top of the low pony-carriage which contained Daisy Medland. Dick flushed with vexation. True, the Governor's wife did not yet know the Premier's daughter, but she need not have insisted on the fact so ostentatiously. Dick turned to his companion. She was laughing.
"Why are you laughing?" he asked, rather offended. A man seldom likes to be thought to value the opinion of the women of his family, valuable as it always is.
"You know very well," she answered. "Oh, I dare say I've got into trouble too."
"I don't care," said Dick valiantly.
"Neither do I--at least, not much."
"I don't see how you can have got into trouble."
"Ah, perhaps you don't see everything, Mr. Derosne."
"I say, you don't mean that Mr.----?"
"Good-bye," said Daisy, whipping up her pony.
Dick was left wondering what she had meant, and whether anything so preposterous and revolting as the idea of Norburn having any business to control her doings or her likings could possibly have any truth in it. And, as a natural result of this disturbing notion, he determined to see her again as soon as he could.
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