[Illustration: “She nestled against him.”]
A shudder traversed her frame. “Not with that man, Peters!” she murmured.
“Not with that man, Peters!” he echoed sharply. “What is the matter with Peters?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t like him.”
“Clara,” he said, half sternly, half cajolingly, “I thought you were above these feminine weaknesses; you are punctual, strive also to be reasonable. Tom is my best friend. From boyhood we have been always together. There is nothing Tom would not do for me, or I for Tom. You must like him, Clara; you must, if only for my sake.”
“I’ll try,” Clara promised, and then he kissed her in gratitude and broad daylight.
“You’ll be very nice to him at tea, won’t you?” he said anxiously. “I shouldn’t like you two to be bad friends.”
“I don’t want to be bad friends,” Clara protested; “only the moment I saw him a strange repulsion and mistrust came over me.”
“You are quite wrong about him—quite wrong,” he assured her earnestly. “When you know him better, you’ll find him the best of fellows. Oh, I know,” he said suddenly, “I suppose he was very untidy, and you women go so much by appearances!”
“Not at all,” Clara retorted. “’Tis you men who go by appearances.”
“Yes, you do. That’s why you care for me,” he said, smiling.
She assured him it wasn’t, and she didn’t care for him so much as he plumed himself, but he smiled on. His smile died away, however, when he entered his rooms and found Tom nowhere.
“I daresay you’ve made him run about hunting for me,” he grumbled.
“Perhaps he knew I’d come back, and went away to leave us together,” she answered. “He said he would when you came.”
“And yet you say you don’t like him!”
She smiled reassuringly. Inwardly, however, she felt pleased at the man’s absence.
Polly receives A proposal.
[Illustration: “Carrying on with Polly.”]
If Clara Newell could have seen Tom Peters carrying on with Polly in the passage, she might have felt justified in her prejudice against him. It must be confessed, though, that Everard also carried on with Polly. Alas! it is to be feared that men are much of a muchness where women are concerned; shabby men and smart men, bank managers and journalists, bachelors and semi-detached bachelors. Perhaps it was a mistake after all to say the chums had nothing patently in common. Everard, I am afraid, kissed Polly rather more often than Clara, and although it was because he respected her less, the reason would perhaps not have been sufficiently consoling to his affianced wife. For Polly was pretty, especially on alternate Sunday afternoons, and when at ten p.m. she returned from her outings, she was generally met in the passage by one or other of the men. Polly liked to receive the homage of real gentlemen, and set her white cap at all indifferently. Thus, just before Clara knocked on that memorable Sunday afternoon, Polly, being confined to the house by the unwritten code regulating the lives of servants, was amusing herself by flirting with Peters.