“Well, you seemed—perhaps you didn’t mean it—to imply that only that ‘wretched thing’ kept us apart. That’s rather taking me for granted, isn’t it?”
“Ah! you know I didn’t mean it. But if things were different, could you—”
“A conditional proposal is a new fashion. Is that one of Sir Roderick’s ideas?”
Eugene was at last angry. He was silent for a moment. Then he said:
“I see. I must congratulate you.”
“On having bagged a brace—without accident to yourself. But I have had enough of it.”
And without waiting for a reply to this very rude speech, he rose and flung himself across the lawn into the house.
Claudia seemed less angry than she ought to have been. She sat with a little smile for a moment, then she threw her hat in the air and caught it, then lay back, sighed gently, and murmured:
“Heigho! a brace means two, doesn’t it? Who’s the other? Oh! Mr. Haddington, I suppose. I didn’t think he knew. Poor Eugene! He’s very angry, or he’d never have been so rude. ‘Bagged a brace!’”
And she actually laughed again, and then said “Heigho!” again.
Just at this moment Ayre came up the drive, looking very hot and very disgusted. Seeing Claudia, he came and sat down.
“Bob’s rat-hunting’s a mere fraud,” he said. “I was there half an hour, and we only bagged a brace.”
“What a curious coincidence!” exclaimed Claudia.
“How a coincidence!”
“Oh, nothing. Bagging a brace means killing two, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, I wanted to know.”
Ayre looked at her.
“He was here just now, but he’s gone into the house.”
Ayre stroked his mustache meditatively.
“Did you want him?”
“No, not particularly. I thought I should find him here.”
“You would if you’d come a little sooner.”
“Ah! I’ll go and find him.”
“Yes, I should.”
And off he went.
“It is really very pleasant,” said Claudia, “to prevent Sir Roderick finding out things that he wants to find out. I think it does me credit—and it annoys him so very much. I will go and have a nice drive with Mrs. Lane, and see some old women. I feel as if I ought to do something proper.”
And perhaps it was about time.
Stafford in Retreat, and Sir Roderick in Action.