“G-g-one out,” stammered poor Clara; all confused. “But he asked me to come to tea.”
“Oh, you’re Miss Newell, I suppose,” said Tom.
“Yes, I am Miss Newell.”
“He has told me a great deal about you, but I wasn’t able honestly to congratulate him on his choice till now.”
Clara blushed uneasily under the compliment, and under the ardour of his admiring gaze. Instinctively she distrusted the man. The very first tones of his deep bass voice gave her a peculiar shudder. And then his impoliteness in smoking that vile clay was so gratuitous.
“Oh, then you must be Mr. Peters,” she said in return. “He has often spoken to me of you.”
“Ah!” said Tom, laughingly, “I suppose he’s told you all my vices. That accounts for your not being surprised at my Sunday attire.”
She smiled a little, showing a row of pearly teeth. “Everard ascribes to you all the virtues,” she said.
“Now that’s what I call a friend!” he cried, ecstatically. “But won’t you come in? He must be back in a moment. He surely would not break an appointment with you.” The admiration latent in the accentuation of the last pronoun was almost offensive.
She shook her head. She had a just grievance against Everard, and would punish him by going away indignantly.
“Do let me give you a cup of tea,” Tom pleaded. “You must be awfully thirsty this sultry weather. There! I will make a bargain with you! If you will come in now, I promise to clear out the moment Everard returns, and not spoil your tete-a-tete.” But Clara was obstinate; she did not at all relish this man’s society, and besides, she was not going to throw away her grievance against Everard. “I know Everard will slang me dreadfully when he comes in if I let you go,” Tom urged. “Tell me at least where he can find you.”
“I am going to take the ’bus at Charing Cross, and I’m going straight home,” Clara announced determinedly. She put up her parasol in a pet, and went up the street into the Strand. A cold shadow seemed to have fallen over all things. But just as she was getting into the ’bus, a hansom dashed down Trafalgar Square, and a well-known voice hailed her. The hansom stopped, and Everard got out and held out his hand.
“I’m so glad you’re a bit late,” he said. “I was called out unexpectedly, and have been trying to rush back in time. You wouldn’t have found me if you had been punctual. But I thought,” he added, laughing, “I could rely on you as a woman.”
“I was punctual,” Clara said angrily. “I was not getting out of this ’bus, as you seem to imagine, but into it, and was going home.”
“My darling!” he cried remorsefully. “A thousand apologies.” The regret on his handsome face soothed her. He took the rose he was wearing in the button-hole of his fashionably-cut coat and gave it to her.
“Why were you so cruel?” he murmured, as she nestled against him in the hansom. “Think of my despair if I had come home to hear you had come and gone. Why didn’t you wait a moment?”