Hapless speech and bootless boast! They had scarcely seated themselves to work again, the lieutenant puffing vigorously, before they heard footsteps in the corridor, with a rustle of silks, and a hand tapped on the door.
It opened as Dicky jumped to his feet, calling “Come in!”—and on the threshold appeared Mrs. Vyell, in walking dress. Dicky liked “Mrs. Harry,” as he called her; but he stared in dismay at two magnificent ladies in the doorway behind her, and more especially at the elder of the twain, who, attired in puce-coloured silk, stiff as a board, walked in lifting a high patrician nose and exclaiming,—
“Fah! What a detestable odour!”
Mr. Hanmer hurriedly hid his pipe and scrambled up, stammering an apology. Dicky showed more self-possession. He gave a little bow to the two strangers and turned to Mrs. Harry.
“I am sorry, Aunt Sarah. But I didn’t know, of course, that you were coming and bringing visitors.”
“To be sure you did not, child,” said Mrs. Harry with a good-natured smile. She was a cheerful, commonsensical person, pleasant of face rather than pretty, by no means wanting in wit, and radiant of happiness, just now, as a young woman should be who has married the man of her heart. “But let me present you—to Lady Caroline Vyell and Miss Diana.”
Dicky bowed again. “I am sorry, ma’am,” he repeated, addressing Lady Caroline. “Mr. Hanmer has put out his pipe, you see, and the window is open.”
Lady Caroline carried an eyeglass with a long handle of tortoise-shell. Through it she treated Dicky to a deliberate and disconcerting scrutiny, and lowered it to turn and ask Mrs. Harry,—
“You permit him to call you ’Aunt Sarah’?”
Mrs. Harry laughed. “It sounds better, you will admit, than ‘Aunt Sally,’ and don’t necessitate my carrying a pipe in my mouth. Oh yes,” she added, with a glance at the boy’s flushed face, “Dicky and I are great friends. In any one’s presence but Mr. Hanmer’s I would say ‘the best of friends.’”
Lady Caroline turned her eyeglass upon Mr. Hanmer. “Is this—er— gentleman his tutor?” she asked.
The question, and the sight of the lieutenant’s mental distress, set Mrs. Harry laughing again. “In seamanship only. Mr. Hanmer is my husband’s second-in-command and one of the best officers in the Navy.”
“I consider smoking a filthy habit,” said Lady Caroline.
“Yes, ma’am,” murmured Mr. Hanmer.
The odious eyeglass was turned upon Dicky again. He, to avoid it, glanced aside at Miss Diana. He found Miss Diana less unpleasant than her mother, but attractive only by contrast. She was a tall woman, handsome but somewhat haggard, with a face saved indeed from peevishness by its air of distinction, but scornful and discontented. She had been riding, and her long, close habit became her well, as did her wide-brimmed hat, severely trimmed with a bow of black ribbon and a single ostrich feather.