Then he stood immovable as granite and waited.
There came the sound of Tommy’s footsteps, and in a moment the door was flung open. Tommy advanced with all a host’s solicitude.
“Oh, I say, I’m awfully sorry to have kept you waiting so long. That silly ass of a khit had cleared off and left us nothing to drink. Stella, we shall miss all the fun if we don’t hurry up. Come on, Monck, old chap, say when!”
He stopped at the table, and Stella turned from the window and moved forward. Her face was pale, but she was smiling.
“Captain Monck is coming with us, Tommy,” she said.
“What?” Tommy looked up sharply. “Really? I say, Monck, I’m pleased. It’ll do you good.”
Monck was smiling also, faintly, grimly. “Don’t mix any strong waters for me, Tommy!” he said. “And you had better not be too generous to yourself! Remember, you will have to dance with Lady Harriet!”
Tommy grimaced above the glasses. “All right. Have some lime-juice! You will have to dance with her too. That’s some consolation!”
“I?” said Monck. He took the glass and handed it to Stella, then as she shook her head he put it to his own lips and drank as a man drinks to a memory. “No,” he said then. “I am dancing only one dance to-night, and that will not be with Lady Harriet Mansfield.”
“Who then?” questioned Tommy.
It was Stella who answered him, in her voice a note that sounded half-reckless, half-defiant. “It isn’t given to every woman to dance at her own funeral,” she said: “Captain Monck has kindly consented to assist at the orgy of mine.”
“Stella!” protested Tommy, flushing. “I hate to hear you talking like that!”
Stella laughed a little, softly, as though at the vagaries of a child. “Poor Tommy!” she said. “What it is to be so young!”
“I’d sooner be a babe in arms than a cynic,” said Tommy bluntly.
Lady Harriet’s lorgnettes were brought piercingly to bear upon the bride-elect that night, and her thin, refined features never relaxed during the operation. She was looking upon such youth and loveliness as seldom came her way; but the sight gave her no pleasure. She deemed it extremely unsuitable that Stella should dance at all on the eve of her wedding, and when she realized that nearly every man in the room was having his turn, her disapproval by no means diminished. She wondered audibly to one after another of her followers what Captain Dacre was about to permit such a thing. And when Monck—Everard Monck of all people who usually avoided all gatherings at the Club and had never been known to dance if he could find any legitimate means of excusing himself—waltzed Stella through the throng, her indignation amounted almost to anger. The mess had yielded to the last man.
“I call it almost brazen,” she said to Mrs. Burton, the Major’s wife. “She flaunts her unconventionality in our faces.”