“We were held up in the traffic,” said Lawrence deliberately. Isabel turned scarlet. The truth would have been insupportable, but so was the lie. “Although it was no fault of mine, Laura, I’m more sorry than I can say. Will you let me telephone for my own car and motor you down? I could get you to Chilmark in the small hours—long before the first morning train.”
Laura hesitated: but Selincourt’s brow was dark. The streets that night had not been unusually crowded, ample time had been allowed to cover any ordinary delay, and Isabel was cruelly confused. In his simple code Hyde had committed at least one if not two unpardonable sins—he had neglected one of the ladies in his care if he had not affronted the other.
“That wouldn’t do at all,” he said with decision. “You’ve been either careless or unlucky once, Lawrence. It might happen again.”
It was a direct challenge, and cost him an effort, but it was not resented. “It would not. From my soul I regret this contretemps, Lucian. Do you settle what’s to be done: you’re Laura’s brother, I put myself unreservedly in your hands.”
“My dear fellow!” the gentle Lucian was instantly disarmed. “After all we needn’t make a mountain out of a molehill—they’ll know we’re all right, four of us together!”
“At all events it can’t be helped,” said Mrs. Clowes, smiling at Lawrence with her kind trustful eyes, “so don’t distress yourself. My sweet Isabel too, so tired!” she took Isabel’s cold hand. “Never mind, Val won’t let your father worry, and we shall be home by ten or eleven in the morning. It is only to go to an hotel for a few hours. Come, dear Lawrence, don’t look so subdued! It wasn’t your fault, so you mustn’t trouble even if—”
“Even if what?”
“Even if Bernard locks the door in my face,” she finished laughing. “He’ll be fearfully cross! but I dare say Val will go down and smooth his ruffled plumage.”
“I do not like all this running about to places of amusement,” said Mr. Stafford, rumpling up his curls till they stood on end in a plume. “If you or Rowsley were to visit a theatre I should say nothing. You’re men and must judge for yourselves. But Isabel is different. I have a good mind to put my foot down once and for all. An atmosphere of luxury is not good for a young girl.”
He stretched himself out in his shabby chair; a shabby, slight man, whose delicate foot, the toes poking out of a shabby slipper, looked as if it were too small to make much impression however firmly put down. Val, smoking his temperate pipe on the other side of the diningroom hearth, temperately suggested that the amount of luxury in Isabel’s life wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“One grain of strychnine will destroy a life: and one hour of temptation may destroy a soul for ever.” Val bowed his head in assent. “Why are we all so fond of Isabel? Because she hasn’t a particle of self-consciousness in her. A single evening’s flattery may infect her with that detestable vice.”