He spoke disjointedly, vaguely, but the girl nodded. “I think I understand, Olaf. Only, it is a two-edged rivet—to mix metaphors—and keeps us stiffnecked against all sorts of calls. No, I am not sure that the thing one cannot do because one is what one is, proves to be always a cause for international jubilations and fireworks on the lawn.”
Thus Lichfield, as to its staid trousered citizenry, fell prostrate at Miss Stapylton’s feet, and as to the remainder of its adults, vociferously failed to see anything in the least remarkable in her appearance, and avidly took and compared notes as to her personal apparel.
“You have brought Asmodeus into Lichfield,” Colonel Musgrave one day rebuked Miss Stapylton, as they sat in the garden. “The demon of pride and dress is rampant everywhere—er—Patricia. Even Agatha does her hair differently now; and in church last Sunday I counted no less than seven duplicates of that blue hat of yours.”
Miss Stapylton was moved to mirth. “Fancy your noticing a thing like that!” said she. “I didn’t know you were even aware I had a blue hat.”
“I am no judge,” he conceded, gravely, “of such fripperies. I don’t pretend to be. But, on the other hand, I must plead guilty to deriving considerable harmless amusement from your efforts to dress as an example and an irritant to all Lichfield.”
“You wouldn’t have me a dowd, Olaf?” said she, demurely. “I have to be neat and tidy, you know. You wouldn’t have me going about in a continuous state of unbuttonedness and black bombazine like Mrs. Rabbet, would you?”
Rudolph Musgrave debated as to this. “I dare say,” he at last conceded, cautiously, “that to the casual eye your appearance is somewhat —er—more pleasing than that of our rector’s wife. But, on the other hand——”
“Olaf, I am embarrassed by such fulsome eulogy. Mrs. Rabbet isn’t a day under forty-nine. And you consider me somewhat better-looking than she is!”
He inspected her critically, and was confirmed in his opinion.
“Olaf”—coaxingly—“do you really think I am as ugly as that?”
“Pouf!” said the colonel airily; “I dare say you are well enough.”
“Olaf”—and this was even more cajoling—“do you know you’ve never told me what sort of a woman you most admire?”
“I don’t admire any of them,” said Colonel Musgrave, stoutly. “They are too vain and frivolous—especially the pink-and-white ones,” he added, unkindlily.
“Cousin Agatha has told me all about your multifarious affairs of course. She depicts you as a sort of cardiacal buccaneer and visibly gloats over the tale of your enormities. She is perfectly dear about it. But have you never—cared—for any woman, Olaf?”
Precarious ground, this! His eyes were fixed upon her now. And hers, for doubtless sufficient reasons, were curiously intent upon anything in the universe rather than Rudolph Musgrave.