“I’ll risk that,” she said, with a tremulous laugh.
There was a silence for a moment, then she said, calmly:
“You will play your part carefully, father? You will let Sir Stephen think that Stafford desires it: you will be careful?”
He turned upon her with an oath.
“You’d best leave it to me,” he said, savagely. “I’ll try and save you from shame all I can. For God’s sake go and leave me alone!”
While Stafford was dressing for dinner that night, and wondering whether even if he should get an opportunity of speaking to his father, it would be wise to tell him of Ida, Howard knocked at the door. Stafford told him to come in, and sent Measom away, and Howard, who was already dressed, sank into an easy-chair and surveyed his friend with bland approval.
“A white tie to-night, Staff? Anything on?”
“Yes; there is a dance,” replied Stafford, rather absently. What would his father say and do? Would he go over to Heron Hall the next morning? Yes, that is what he would do!
“A dance? Is that all? From the undercurrent of suppressed excitement animating most of the guests I should think it was something more important. Have you noticed the air of suspense, of fluctuating hope and doubt, triumph and despair which has characterized our noble band of financiers during the last few days?”
Stafford shook his head.
“No; I haven’t noticed ’em particularly. In fact, I scarcely see them, or do more than exchange the usual greetings. They seem to me to move and look and speak just about as usual.” Howard smiled.
“To be young and happy and free from care is to be blind: puppies, for instance, are blind!”
“That’s complimentary, anyhow. What do you think is up?”
“I think Sir Stephen is going to pull off his great event, to make his grand coup,” said Howard. “So you find a black-and-tan terrier improves a dress-coat by lying on it?”
Tiny had coiled himself up on that garment, which Measom had laid ready on the chair, and was lying apparently asleep, but with his large eyes fixed on his beloved master.
“Oh, he’s a peculiar little beast, and is always getting where he shouldn’t be. Hi! young man, get off my coat!”
He picked the terrier up and threw him softly on the bed, but Tiny got down at once and curled himself up on the fur mat by Stafford’s feet.
“Seems to be fond of you: strange dog!” said Howard. “Yes, I think Sir Stephen’s ’little scheme’—as if any scheme of his could be ’little’!—has worked out successfully, and I shouldn’t be surprised if the financiers had a meeting to-night and the floating of the company was announced.”
“Oh,” said Stafford, as he got into his coat. “Yes, I daresay it’s all right. The governor seems always to pull it off.”