“You talk as if an affair of thousands of thousands, perhaps millions, were quite a bagatelle,” he said. “My dear boy, don’t you understand, realise, the importance of this business? It’s nothing less than a railway from—”
Stafford nodded. “Oh, yes, you told me about it. It’s a very big thing, I daresay, but what puzzles me is why the governor should care to worry about it. He has money enough—”
“No man has money enough,” said Howard, solemnly. “But no matter. It is a waste of time to discuss philosophy with a man who has no mind above fox-hunting, fishing, pheasant-shooting, and dancing. By the way, how many times do you intend to dance with the Grecian goddess?”
“Meaning—” said Stafford.
“Miss Falconer, of course. Grecian goddesses are not so common, my dear Stafford, as to permit of more than one in a house-party.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Stafford, eyeing him with faint surprise. “What the devil made you ask me that?”
Howard eyed the handsome face with cynical amusement.
“Pardon, if I was impertinent; but I assure you the question is being asked amongst themselves by all the women in the house—”
Stafford stared at him and began to frown with perplexity rather than anger.
“My dear Stafford, I know that you are not possessed of a particularly brilliant intellect, but you surely possess sufficient intelligence to see that your attentions to Miss Falconer are somewhat obvious.”
“What?” said Stafford. “My attentions to Miss Falconer—Are you chaffing, Howard?”
“Not in the least: it’s usually too great a waste of time with you, my dear boy: you don’t listen, and when you do, half the time you don’t understand. No, I’m quite serious; but perhaps I ought to have said her attentions to you; it would have been more correct.”
“Look here, old man,” he said. “If you think—Oh, dash it all, what nonsense it is! Miss Falconer and I are very good friends; and of course I like to talk to her—she’s so sharp, almost as smart and clever as you are, when she likes to take the trouble; and of course I like to hear her sing—Why, my dear Howard, it’s like listening to one of the big operatic swells; but—but to suggest that there is anything—that—there is any reason to warn me—Oh, dash it! come off it, old man, you’re chaffing?”
“Not in the least. But I didn’t intend any warning: in fact, I am in honour bound to refrain from anything of the kind—”
“In honour bound?” said Stafford.
Howard almost blushed.
“Oh, it’s nothing; only a silly wager,” he said. “I can’t tell you, so don’t enquire. But all the same—well, there, I won’t say more if you are sure there is nothing between you.”
“I have the best of reasons for saying so,” said Stafford, carelessly, and with a touch of colour in his face. “But it’s all dashed nonsense! The women always think there’s something serious going on if you dance twice with a girl, or sit and talk to her for half an hour.”