“Coming to dine! What on earth for?” Everard looked his astonishment.
“My doing,” said Bernard. “It’s a surprise-party. Stella very kindly fell in with the plan, but it originated with me. You see, Princess Bluebell is ten years old to-day, and quite grown up. Mrs. Ralston had a children’s party for her this afternoon which I was privileged to attend. I must say Tessa made a charming hostess, but she confided to me at parting that the desire of her life was to play Cinderella and go out to dinner in a ’rickshaw all by herself. So I undertook then and there that a ’rickshaw should be waiting for her at the gate at eight o’clock, and she should have a stodgy grown-up entertainment to follow. She was delighted with the idea, poor little soul. The Ralstons are going to the Club dance, and of course Mrs. Ermsted also, but Tommy is giving up the first half to come and amuse Cinderella. Mrs. Ralston thinks the child will be ill with so much excitement, but a tenth birthday is something of an occasion, as I pointed out. And she certainly behaved wonderfully well this afternoon, though she was about the only child who did. I nearly throttled the Burton youngster for kicking the ayah, little brute. He seemed to think it was a very ordinary thing to do.” Bernard stopped himself with a laugh. “You’ll be bored with all this, and I must go and make ready. There are to be Chinese lanterns to light the way and a strip of red cloth on the steps. Peter is helping as usual, Peter the invaluable. We shan’t keep it up very late. Will you join us? Or are you also bound for the Club?”
“I will join you with pleasure,” Everard said. “I haven’t seen the imp for some days. There has been too much on hand. How is the boy, Stella? Shall we go and say good-night to him?”
Stella had risen. She put her hand through his arm. “Bernard and Tommy are to do all the entertaining, and you and I can amuse each other for once. We don’t often have such a chance.”
She smiled as she spoke, but her lips were quivering. Bernard sauntered away, and as he went, Everard stooped and kissed her upturned face.
He did not speak, and she clung to him for a moment passionately close. Wherefore she could not have said, but there was in her embrace something to restrain her tears. She forced them back with her utmost resolution as they went together to see their child.
THE SURPRISE PARTY
Punctually at eight o’clock Tessa arrived, slightly awed but supremely happy, seated in a ’rickshaw, escorted by Bernard, and hugging the beloved Scooter to her eager little breast.
Her eyes were shining with mysterious expectation. As her cavalier handed her from her chariot up the red-carpeted steps she moved as one who treads enchanted ground. The little creature in her arms wore an air of deep suspicion. His pointed head turned to and fro with ferret-like movements. His sharp red eyes darted hither and thither almost apprehensively. He was like a toy on wires.