“It’s that little brute of a best man—drunk as a lord. He’s some sort of cousin of Guyes’, just home from Australia; and the sooner he goes back the better for the community at large, I should say.”
“Piers knows him!” broke almost involuntarily from Avery.
And with that swiftly she turned her head to listen, for the man outside had evidently gathered to himself an audience at the entrance of a tent that had been erected for refreshments, and was declaiming at the top of his voice.
“Eric Denys was the name of the man. He was a chum of mine. Samson we used to call him. This Evesham fellow killed him in the first round. I’ve never forgotten it. I recognized him the minute I set eyes on him, though it’s years ago now. And he recognized me! I wish you’d seen his face.” Again came the uncontrolled, ribald laughter. “A bully sort of squire, eh? I suppose he’s a justice of the peace now, a law-giver, eh? Damn funny, I call it!”
Tudor was on his feet. He looked at Avery, but she sat like a statue, making no sign.
Another man was speaking in a lower tone, as though he were trying to restrain the first; but his efforts were plainly useless, for the best man had more to say.
“Oh, I can tell you a Queensland crowd is no joke. He’d have been manhandled if he hadn’t bolted. Mistaken? Not I! Could anyone mistake a face like that? Go and ask the man himself, if you don’t believe me! You’ll find he won’t deny it!”
“Shall we go?” suggested Tudor brusquely.
Avery made a slight movement, wholly mechanical; but she did not turn her head. Her whole attitude was one of tense listening.
“I think I’ll go in any case,” said Tudor, after a moment. “That fellow will make an exhibition of himself if someone doesn’t interfere.”
He went to the door, but before he reached it Avery turned in her chair and spoke.
“He has gone inside for another drink. You had better let him have it.”
There was that in her voice that he had never heard before. He stopped short, looking back at her.
“Let him have it!” she reiterated. “Let him soak himself with it! You won’t quiet him any other way.”
Even as she spoke, that horrible, half-intoxicated laugh came to them, insulting the beauty of the summer afternoon. Avery shivered from head to foot.
“Don’t go!” she said. “Please!”
She rose as Tudor came back, rose and faced him, her face like death.
“I think I must go home,” she said. “Will you find the car? No, I am not ill. I—” She paused, seemed to grope for words, stopped, and suddenly a bewildered look came into her face. Her eyes dilated. She gave a sharp gasp. Tudor caught her as she fell.
The bride and bridegroom departed amid a storm of rice and good wishes, Ina’s face still wearing that slightly contemptuous smile to the last. Piers, in the foremost of the crowd, threw a handful straight into her lap as the car started, but only he and Dick Guyes saw her gather it up with sudden energy and fling it back in his face.