“I’ll ask Mrs. Lane. She’ll tell me what to do.”
“Good child!” said Sir Roderick. “I am going to stay right away till the birds. And as Lane says I ain’t to have any birds unless I field at long-leg, I am going to field at long-leg.”
“Splendid!” cried Claudia, clapping her hands; “Sir Roderick Ayre at a rustic cricket-match! Mr. Morewood shall sketch you.”
“I’ve had enough of sketching just now,” said Morewood. Ayre and Eugene looked up. Morewood nodded slightly.
“Where’s Stafford?” asked Ayre.
“In his room—at work, I suppose. He put off my sitting.”
“Never mind Father Stafford,” said Claudia decisively. “Who is going to play tennis? I shall play with Sir Roderick.”
“I’d much rather sit still in the shade,” pleaded Sir Roderick.
“You’re a very rude old gentleman! But you must play, all the same—against Bob and Mr. Morewood.”
“Where do I come in?” asked Eugene. “Mayn’t I do anything, Lady Claudia?”
The others were looking after the net and the racquets, and Claudia was left with him for a moment.
“Yes,” she said; “you may go and sit on Kate’s trunks till they lock.”
“Wait a little while; I will be revenged on you. I want, though, to ask you a question.”
“Oh! Is it a question that no one else—say Kate, for instance—could help you with?”
“It’s not about myself.”
“Is it about me?”
“What’s the matter, Mr. Lane? Is it anything serious?”
“Nonsense!” said Claudia. “You really mustn’t do it, Mr. Lane, or I can’t stay for the cricket-match.”
“We shall be desolate. Stafford’s going in a few days.”
But Claudia’s face was entirely guileless as she replied:
“Is he? I’m so sorry! But he’s looking much stronger, isn’t he?”
With which she departed to join Sir Roderick, who had been spending the interval in extracting from Morewood an account of Stafford’s behavior.
“Hard hit, was he?” he concluded.
“He looked it.”
“Wonder what he’ll do! I’ll give you five to four he asks her.”
“Done!” said Morewood; “in fives.”
Father Stafford Keeps Vigil.
Dinner that evening at the Manor was not a very brilliant affair. Stafford did not appear, pleading that it was a Friday, and a strict fast for him. Kate was distinctly out of temper, and treated the company in general, and Eugene in particular, with frigidity. Everybody felt that the situation was somewhat strained, and in consequence the pleasant flow of personal talk that marks parties of friends was dried up at its source. The discussion of general topics was found to be a relief.
“The utter uselessness of such a class as Ayre represents,” said Morewood emphatically, taking up a conversation that had started no one quite knew how, “must strike every sensible man.”