“Difficult to say. But the good men are always in request,” said General M’Gill, smiling.
“By-the-way, I heard somebody mention his name last night for this Mokembe mission,” said Sir Wilfrid, helping himself to tea-cake.
“Oh, that’s quite undecided,” said the General, sharply. “There is no immediate hurry for a week or two, and the government must send the best man possible.”
“No doubt,” said Sir Wilfrid.
It interested him to observe that Mademoiselle Le Breton was no longer pale. As the General spoke, a bright color had rushed into her cheeks. It seemed to Sir Wilfrid that she turned away and busied herself with the photographs in order to hide it.
The General rose, a thin, soldierly figure, with gray hair that drooped forward, and two bright spots of red on the cheek-bones. In contrast with the expansiveness of his previous manner to Mademoiselle Le Breton, he was now a trifle frowning and stiff—the high official once more, and great man.
“Good-night, Sir Wilfrid. I must be off.”
“How are your sons?” said Sir Wilfrid, as he rose.
“The eldest is in Canada with his regiment.”
“And the second?”
“The second is in orders.”
“Overworking himself in the East End, as all the young parsons seem to be doing?”
“That is precisely what he has been doing. But now, I am thankful to say, a country living has been offered him, and his mother and I have persuaded him to take it.”
“A country living? Where?”
“One of the Duke of Crowborough’s Shropshire livings,” said the General, after what seemed to be an instant’s hesitation. Mademoiselle Le Breton had moved away, and was replacing the photographs in the drawer of a distant bureau.
“Ah, one of Crowborough’s? Well, I hope it is a living with something to live on.”
“Not so bad, as times go,” said the General, smiling. “It has been a great relief to our minds. There were some chest symptoms; his mother was alarmed. The Duchess has been most kind; she took quite a fancy to the lad, and—”
“What a woman wants she gets. Well, I hope he’ll like it. Good-night, General. Shall I look you up at the War Office some morning?”
“By all means.”
The old soldier, whose tanned face had shown a singular softness while he was speaking of his son, took his leave.
Sir Wilfrid was left meditating, his eyes absently fixed on the graceful figure of Mademoiselle Le Breton, who shut the drawer she had been arranging and returned to him.
“Do you know the General’s sons?” he asked her, while she was preparing him a second cup of tea.
“I have seen the younger.”
She turned her beautiful eyes upon him. It seemed to Sir Wilfrid that he perceived in them a passing tremor of nervous defiance, as though she were in some way bracing herself against him. But her self-possession was complete.