‘Mr. Duncalf—Mr. Duncalf!’ She raised a finger at him. ’You are the most shameless flatterer in the town.’
The flatterer was flattered. Having delivered the weighty news, he had leisure to savour his own importance as the bearer of it. He drank a cup of tea. Josiah was thoughtful, but Clara brimmed over with a fascinating loquacity. Then Mr. Duncalf said that he must really be going, and, having arranged with the Mayor-elect to call a special meeting of the Council at once, he did go, all the while wishing he had the enterprise to stay.
Josiah accompanied him to the front-door. The sky had now cleared.
‘Thank ye for calling,’ said the host.
’Oh, that’s all right. Good-night, Curtenty. Got that goose out of the canal?’
So the story was all abroad!
Josiah returned to the dining-room, imperceptibly smiling. At the door the sight of his wife halted him. The face of that precious and adorable woman flamed out lightning and all menace and offence. Her louring eyes showed what a triumph of dissimulation she must have achieved in the presence of Mr. Duncalf, but now she could speak her mind.
‘Yes, Topham!’ she exploded, as though finishing an harangue. ’And on this day of all days you choose to drive geese in the public road behind my carriage!’
Jos was stupefied, annihilated.
‘Did you see me, then, Clarry?’
He vainly tried to carry it off.
‘Did I see you? Of course I saw you!’
She withered him up with the hot wind of scorn.
‘Well,’ he said foolishly, ’how was I to know that the Earl would resign just to-day?’
‘How were you to——?’
Harry came in for his tea. He glanced from one to the other, discreet, silent. On the way home he had heard the tale of the geese in seven different forms. The Deputy-Mayor, so soon to be Mayor, walked out of the room.
‘Pond has just come back, father,’ said Harry; ’I drove up the hill with him.’
And as Josiah hesitated a moment in the hall, he heard Clara exclaim, ‘Oh, Harry!’
‘Damn!’ he murmured.
The Signal of the following day contained the announcement which Mr. Duncalf had forecast; it also stated, on authority, that Mr. Josiah Curtenty would wear the mayoral chain of Bursley immediately, and added as its own private opinion that, in default of the Right Honourable the Earl of Chell and his Countess, no better ‘civic heads’ could have been found than Mr. Curtenty and his charming wife. So far the tone of the Signal was unimpeachable. But underneath all this was a sub-title, ‘Amusing Exploit of the Mayor-elect,’ followed by an amusing description of the procession of the geese, a description which concluded by referring to Mr. Curtenty as His Worship the Goosedriver.