“I have seen Wilks, and he says there is very little chance of its clearing for us to shoot to-day, so I think Lady Wakely and I will be starting home before luncheon-time. With your husband ill, I am sure you would be glad to be relieved of visitors.”
Lady Wakely also expressed her regret at leaving, and said a number of kind things with perfect tact.
The good taste of some of the rest of the party was not so apparent. Mrs. Broun gushed open sympathy and had to be snubbed; Miss Springle giggled, while Mrs. Dodd muttered a number of disagreeable things, and the other women remained in shocked silence.
The men were awkward and uncomfortable, too. Altogether it was a morning that is unpleasant to remember. Antony was the only person unmoved and exactly the same as usual. It steadied my nerves to look at him.
I had not seen Augustus, as I had come straight from a room near McGreggor’s, where I had spent the night. As I was leaving the dining-room I went towards the staircase, but Antony stopped me.
“Do not go up,” he said. “Leave him to himself. The doctor is with him, and when he has completely recovered he will probably be penitent. He has only just escaped delirium tremens, and will most likely be in bed for a day or two. Promise me that you will not go near his room or I will stay and look after you myself.”
Oh, the kindness in his voice!
“Yes, I promise,” I said, meekly.
“Then I will say good-bye, Comtesse, until we meet at Dane Mount on the 4th of November.”
“Good-bye,” I faltered, and we shook hands calmly before the rest of the company standing about the hall.
But when the tuff-tuff-tuff of his automobile subsided in the distance, I felt as if all things were dead.
The evening post brought an invitation from the Duke of Myrlshire, asking us to go and stay with him for a small shoot on the 30th of October.
Augustus sent for me.
As I had promised, I had not been near him until this moment.
He was still in bed, and looked ill and unshaven. He was reading his letters, and glanced up at me with heavy, bloodshot eyes.
“Just got a line from Myrlshire,” he said, pompously, without a trace of shame or regret in his voice.
“He says he has written to you, too; he wants me to shoot on the 30th.”
I remained silent. I did not mean to irritate him, but the whole scene made me numb with disgust.
“Why the devil don’t you answer?” Augustus raged, his face flushing darkly. “Write at once and say we shall be delighted to accept.”
“You are engaged to shoot with Mr. Dodd for that date,” I informed him.
Mr. Dodd was sent to perdition, and Mrs. Dodd, too, and then he said, more quietly:
“Sit down now and write to the Duke. I would not miss this for anything.”
I did not stir from where I stood.