“You don’t have to assure me!” was the elder lady’s unspoken comment. She had been in a state of chronic irritation, ever since that Friday noon when Billy B. Hill’s tall figure had appeared in the hotel dining room. And hurrying Claire away from the conversation he was promptly evoking, she had encountered Arlee Beecher and the Evershams streaming with the other passengers from their boat to see the temple of Luxor, a wonderfully gay and excited Arlee, so radiant in the happiness of her own safe world again that she was bright gladness incarnate.... Instantly Robert had reverted to his alarming infatuation ... and Lady Claire had most shamelessly welcomed the American. It was all unspeakably annoying....
Aloud Miss Falconer observed, “I wonder what brought Mr. Hill back to the Nile.”
“I wonder,” said Lady Claire pleasantly. “But it makes it very nice for us, doesn’t it?” she continued amiably. “He knows quite everything about temples.”
“And particularly nice for Miss Beecher—though I can’t say she is treating him very well. However, that may be their way. ’Romance apart from results,’ was, I believe, his phrase.”
Lady Claire was silent. But not overlong. “You really think——?” she suggested tranquilly.
“He came on the same train.”
“Coincidence. He mentioned he did not see her in the train till Balliana.”
“Umph!” Miss Falconer drew out of her bag the especial knitting which she reserved for the Sabbath, and her fingers flew with expressive spirit. “It’s scandalous,” she said at length. “Girls gadding about the face of the earth—picking up chaperons when they remember them.”
“It’s their way, you know.”
“Oh, yes, it’s their way. And their men seem to like it. Mr. Hill didn’t seem to consider it even unusual.... But as I said, he’s hardly a judge,” Miss Falconer went on unsparingly. “The man’s bewitched. He never takes his eyes off her.”
“I’m sure I don’t blame him.” Lady Claire’s tone was most successfully admiring. “She’s too wonderful, isn’t she, with those great blue eyes and that astonishing hair! I’m sure Robert is bewitched, too!”
“Nonsense!” But Miss Falconer’s tone was too vigorous, betraying the effort to rout a palpable enemy. “What nonsense!” she repeated. “He’s civil—naturally—when you haven’t a moment for him. The boy has pride. Too much.” The knitting needles clicked warningly.
“Civil!” The girl’s low laughter was mocking. “Dear Miss Falconer, you are such an euphuist!”
Miss Falconer looked up, a trifle startled. Her young charge was more than a match for her in irony, but the elder lady did not lack for solid perseverance, and she charged on undeterred.
“Of course the girl’s pretty—too pretty. And Robert’s a man—he has eyes in his head and likes to please them. And she knows who he is and draws him on.”