His wife had broken the news with semi-humorous apologies. “I couldn’t resist him, Will. You know what that boy is. Really I didn’t ask him. He asked himself.”
“Oh, all right,” Will had replied, with resignation. “You’ll have to look after him, and see he doesn’t try to flirt too outrageously at first sight.”
“I’ll try,” she had assented somewhat dubiously.
For Noel always flirted with every woman he met, herself included, and it was really quite impossible to stop him, or even to discourage him. He only laughed at snubs, and pursued his airy flights with keener zest.
She was not in the drawing-room when the self-invited guest arrived, and it fell to her husband to receive and entertain him. Noel, however, was extremely easy to entertain at all times. He was never bored.
“It was so awfully good of Mrs. Musgrave to let me come,” he observed to his host, on shaking hands. “I had to beg jolly hard, I can tell you. She thought your other visitors might consider me one too many. But I’m sure they won’t, and I’m immensely keen on meeting them. Have they arrived?”
“Two hours ago,” said Will Musgrave.
“That’s all right. My brother-in-law knows Ratcliffe, but I’ve never had the good luck to meet him. Something of a fire-eater, isn’t he?”
Will laughed. “Oh, quite a giant in his own line.”
Noel nodded. “Just as well. They are wanting a giant pretty badly up at the city if report says true. That young Akbar needs a firm hand. He passed us on parade yesterday, went by like the devil, kicking up a dust fit to choke the lot of us. Beastly young cad!”
“Ah! He isn’t over fond of the Indian Army,” said Will.
“The Indian Army would give him a damn good hiding if it got the chance,” returned Noel, in righteous indignation. “I hope Ratcliffe will rub that into him well. The place is simply swarming with malcontents, and he encourages them. I believe they even flatter themselves we are afraid of ’em.”
“I shouldn’t say anything of that kind before Miss Ratcliffe,” said Will. “She has just got over a severe illness, and may be nervous.”
“Great Scotland! This isn’t the place for anyone with nerves!” ejaculated Noel. “I heard this morning that there’s a most ferocious man-eater in the Khantali district. I’m longing to have a shot at him, but they say he’s as cunning as Beelzebub, and never shows unless he has some game on. And the jungle’s so beastly thick all round there. It doesn’t give anyone a chance. Why can’t His Objectionable Excellency turn his hand to something useful, and clear some of it away? By the way, I tried to catch a karait this morning. I am going to start a menagerie for Peggy’s edification. But our khit, who is a very officious person when he isn’t wrapt in contemplation of nothing in particular, interfered and killed the little beast before I had time to explain. I told him he was a silly ass, but he seemed to think he had done something praiseworthy. What’s the best remedy for a karait’s bite?”