“When is Hyde coming?” asked Val, going on with his salad.
“Tomorrow, didn’t you hear me say Laura is going to bring him here to tea? He’s staying at his own place, Farringay—I think from the way Laura spoke it is what one calls a place—and they expect him by the morning train. Laura’s to meet him in the car.”
“Did you ask her to bring him in to tea,” said Rowsley, frowning over the marmalade jar, “when Val is safe to be out and you didn’t know I should be here?”
“Yes: oughtn’t I to have?”
“Is there anything else you would like to speak to me about?” said Isabel after a pregnant silence. “Dear Rowsley, you seem determined to look after my manners and morals! I asked him to please Laura. She’s nervous of Major Clowes. Jack and Yvonne are coming too.”
“Oh I don’t see that it signifies,” said Val. Mrs. Clowes wouldn’t have accepted if it weren’t all right. I don’t see that you or I need worry if she doesn’t. Isabel is old enough to pour out tea for herself. In any case, as it happens, you’ll be here if I’m not, and I dare say Jimmy will look in for ten minutes.”
“You are sweet, Val,” said Isabel gratefully.
“Oh I don’t say Rowsley’s not right! Prigs generally are: and besides now I come to think of it, Laura did look faintly amused when I asked her. But these stupid things never occur to me till afterwards! After all, what am I to do? I can’t manufacture a chaperon, and it would be very bad for the parish if the vicar never entertained. And it’s not as if Captain Hyde were a young man; he’s thirty-six if he’s a day.”
When the sea retreats after a storm one finds on the beach all sorts of strange flotsam. Bernard Clowes was a bit of human wreckage left on the sands of society by the storm of the war. When it broke out he was a second lieutenant in the Winchester Regiment, a keen polo player and first class batsman who rarely opened a book. He was sent out with the First Division and carried himself with his usual phlegmatic good humour through almost four years of fighting from Mons to Cambrai.
In the March break-through he had his wrist broken by a rifle-bullet and was invalided home, where he took advantage of his leave to get married, partly because most of the men he knew were already married, and partly to please his sister. There were no other brothers, and Mrs. Morrison, a practical lady, but always a little regretful of her own marriage with Morrison’s Boot and Shoe Company, recommended him with the family bluntness to arrange for an olive branch before the Huns got him.
Laura, a penniless woman two years his senior and handicapped by her disreputable belongings, was not the wife Gertrude Morrison would have chosen for him: still it might have been worse, for Laura was well-born and personally irreproachable, while Clowes, hot-blooded and casual, was as likely as not to have married a chorus-girl. If any disappointment lingered, Gertrude soothed it by trying over in her own mind the irritation that she would be able to produce in Morrison circles: “Where he met her? Oh, when she was staying with her married sister at Castle Wharton . . . .Yvonne, the elder Selincourt girl, married into the Bendish family.”