The stout, sallow gentleman jocosely pushed his tall flaxen-haired companion forward. “Oh, I knew the Major was out of it,” he grinned.
“Not at all, Major,” said Nelly. “I only wanted to know which I had to thank for these lovely flowers.”
“You have yourself to thank,” said the Colonel, smartly. “By Jove! You gave us a treat. London was worth coming back to.”
“Ah, you’ve been away from London?”
“Just back this very day from India—”
“And of course the first thing after a good dinner is the good old Friv—” put in the Major.
“Thank you, Major,” said Fossy. “That’s handsome of you. And now I’ll leave you to Miss O’Neill.”
“That’s handsomer still,” said the Colonel. And the three men guffawed. Eileen felt sick.
The Major began to talk of the music-halls of India; the Colonel chimed in. They treated her as a comrade, told her anecdotes of the coulisses of Calcutta. The Colonel retailed a jest of the bazaars.
“I permit smoke, not smoking-room stories,” she said severely. At which the twain poked each other shriekingly in the ribs. After that Eileen let the Colonel have rope enough to hang himself with, though she felt it cutting cruelly into her own flesh. It was an orgie of the eternal masculine, spiced with the aroma of costly cigars.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, when she had let them have a quarter of an hour’s run. “I really must fly.” And she seized the bouquet, and carefully adjusted his card in the glowing mass. “Won’t you come and have tea with me to-morrow? About four.”
The Colonel winced. “I fear I have another appointment.”
“Oh, rot! I’ll bring him,” said the Major. “Where do you hang out?”
“22 Oxbridge,”—her hesitation was barely perceptible—“Crescent.”
The Colonel started. “Do you know it, Colonel?” She looked at him ingenuously.
“No, but how odd! My other appointment is at 22 Oxbridge Terrace.”
“How funny!” laughed Eileen. “Just round the corner. Then you’ll be able to kill two ladies with one cab.” And she fled from the Major’s cachinnation.
She had missed her turn at the third Hall, but she did not care. She went on and gave a spiritless performance. It fell dead, but she cared less. Her head throbbed with a dozen possibilities. She was still undiscovered. As she sat resting on her couch ere resuming her work-a-day gown, her nerves stretched to snapping point, and old Irish songs crooning themselves irrelevantly in her brain, a telegram was handed her.
“He has found out,” she thought, going hot and cold. She tore open the pink envelope... and burst into a shriek of laughter. The dresser rushed in, wondering. Nelly O’Neill merely held her sides, jollity embodied. “Oh, the Show, the Show!” she gasped, the tears streaking her painted cheeks.