“Dine with us tomorrow night,” said Laura. “Do! and bring Isabel.” Lawrence gave an imperceptible start: for the last hour he had forgotten Isabel’s existence except when her eyes had looked at him out of her brother’s face. “The child will enjoy it, I never knew any one so easily pleased; and you and Lawrence and Bernard can rag one another to your heart’s content. Yes, you will, I know you will, Army men always do when they get together; and you’re all boys, even Bernard, even you with your grey hair, my dear Val; as for Lawrence, he’s only giving himself airs.”
“Yes, do bring your sister,” said Lawrence. “She is the most charming young girl I’ve met for years, if a man of my mature age may say so. She is so natural, a rare thing nowadays: the modern jeune fille is a sophisticated product.”
“Bravo, Lawrence!” cried Mrs. Clowes, clapping her hands. “Now, Val, didn’t I tell you Isabel was going to be very, very pretty? That’s settled, then, you’ll both come: and, to please me,” she looked not much older than Isabel as she took hold of the lapel of Val’s coat, “will you wear your ribbon? I know you hate wearing it in civilian kit! But I do so love to see you in it: and it’s not as if there would be any one here but ourselves.”
Lawrence swung round on his heel and walked away. One may enjoy the pleasures of the chase and yet draw the line at watching an application of the rack, and it sickened him to remember that his own hand had given a turn to the screw. It had needed that brief colloquy to let him see what Stafford’s life was like at Wanhope, and in what slow nerve-by-nerve laceration amends were being made. He admired the gallantry of Stafford’s reply.
“My dear Laura, I would tie myself up in ribbon from head to foot if it would give you pleasure. I’ll wear it if you like, though my superior officer will certainly rag me if I do.”
“No, I shan’t,” said Lawrence shortly.
“And now tell me,” murmured Mrs. Clowes in the mischievously caressing tone that she kept for Isabel, “did mamma’s little girl enjoy her party?”
“Rather!” said Isabel—with a great sigh, the satisfied sigh of a dog curling up after a meal. “They were lovely strawberries. And what do you call that French thing? Oh, that’s what a vol-au-vent is, is it? I wish I knew how to make it, but probably it’s one of those recipes that begin ’Take twelve eggs and a quart of cream.’ I wish nice things to eat weren’t so dear, Jimmy would love it. Captain Hyde took two helps—did you see?—big ones! If he always eats as much as he did tonight he’ll be fat before he’s fifty, which will be a pity. He ate three times what Val did.”
“Is that what you were thinking of all the time? I noticed you didn’t say very much.”
“Well, I was between Captain Hyde and Major Clowes, and they neither of them think I’m grown up,” explained Isabel. “They talked to each other over the top of me. Oh no, not rudely, Major Clowes was as nice as he could be” (Isabel salved her conscience by reflecting that this was verbally true since Major Clowes could never he nice), “and Captain Hyde asked me if I was fond of dolls—”