“I shouldn’t abuse the privilege in Merrivale’s presence if I were you,” remarked the man who had expressed the opinion that Merrivale was not one to stand much trifling.
* * * * *
“Well, but wasn’t it unreasonable?” said Hilary St. Orme, with hands clasped daintily behind her dark head. “Who could stand such tyranny as that? And surely it’s much better to find out before than after. I hate masterful men, Sybil. I am quite sure I could never have been happy with him.”
The girl’s young step-mother looked across at the pretty, mutinous face and sighed.
“It wasn’t a nice way of telling him so, I’m afraid, dear,” she said. “Your father is very vexed.”
“But it was beautifully conclusive, wasn’t it?” laughed Hilary. “As to the poor old pater, he won’t keep it up for ever, bless his simple heart, that did want its daughter to be a viscountess. So while the fit lasts I propose to judiciously absent my erring self. It’s a nuisance to have to miss all the fun this season; but with the pater in the sulks it wouldn’t be worth it. So I’m off to-morrow to join Bertie and the house-boat at Riverton. As Dick has taken a bungalow close by, we shall be quite a happy family party. They will be happy; I shall be happy; and you—positively, darling, you won’t have a care left in the world. If it weren’t for your matrimonial bonds, I should quite envy you.”
“I don’t think you ought to go down to Riverton without someone responsible to look after you,” objected Mrs. St. Orme dubiously.
“My dear little mother, what a notion!” cried her step-daughter with a merry laugh. “Who ever dreamt of the proprieties on the river? Why, I spent a whole fortnight on the house-boat with only Bertie and the Badger that time the poor old pater and I fell out over—what was it? Well, it doesn’t matter. Anyhow, I did. And no one a bit the worse. Bertie is equal to a dozen duennas, as everyone knows.”
“Don’t you really care, I wonder?” said Mrs. St. Orme, with wondering eyes on the animated face.
“Why should I, dear?” laughed the girl, dropping upon a hassock at her side. “I am my own mistress. I have a little money, and—considering I am only twenty-four—quite a lot of wisdom. As to being Viscountess Merrivale, I will say it fascinated me a little—just at first, you know. And the poor old pater was so respectful I couldn’t help enjoying myself. But the gilt soon wore off the gingerbread, and I really couldn’t enjoy what was left. I said to myself, ’My dear, that man has the makings of a hectoring bully. You must cut yourself loose at once if you don’t want to develop into that most miserable of all creatures, a down-trodden wife.’ So after our little tiff of the day before yesterday I sent the notice off forthwith. And—you observe—it has taken effect. The tyrant hasn’t been near.”
“You really mean to say the engagement wasn’t actually broken off before you sent it?” said Mrs. St. Orme, looking shocked.