“Barely sweet enough to keep, then!”
“I think I could have felt to it like poor Flitch, the flyman, who was the finder.”
“If you are conscious of these temptations to appropriate what is not your own, you should quit the neighbourhood.”
“And do it elsewhere? But that’s not virtuous counsel.”
“And I’m not counselling in the interests of your virtue, Colonel De Craye.”
“And I dared for a moment to hope that you were, ma’am,” he said, ruefully drooping.
They were close to the dining-room window, and Mrs Mountstuart preferred the terminating of a dialogue that did not promise to leave her features the austerely iron cast with which she had commenced it. She was under the spell of gratitude for his behaviour yesterday evening at her dinner-table; she could not be very severe.
ANIMATED CONVERSATION AT A LUNCHEON-TABLE
Vernon was crossing the hall to the dining-room as Mrs Mountstuart stepped in. She called to him: “Are the champions reconciled?”
He replied: “Hardly that, but they have consented to meet at an altar to offer up a victim to the gods in the shape of modern poetic imitations of the classical.”
“That seems innocent enough. The Professor has not been anxious about his chest?”
“He recollects his cough now and then.”
“You must help him to forget it.”
“Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer are here,” said Vernon, not supposing it to be a grave announcement until the effect of it on Mrs. Mountstuart admonished him.
She dropped her voice: “Engage my fair friend for one of your walks the moment we rise from table. You may have to rescue her; but do. I mean it.”
“She’s a capital walker.” Vernon remarked in simpleton style.
“There’s no necessity for any of your pedestrian feats,” Mrs Mountstuart said, and let him go, turning to Colonel De Craye to pronounce an encomium on him: “The most open-minded man I know! Warranted to do perpetual service, and no mischief. If you were all . . . instead of catching at every prize you covet! Yes, you would have your reward for unselfishness, I assure you. Yes, and where you seek it! That is what none of you men will believe.”
“When you behold me in your own livery!” cried the colonel.
“Do I?” said she, dallying with a half-formed design to be confidential. “How is it one is always tempted to address you in the language of innuendo? I can’t guess.”
“Except that as a dog doesn’t comprehend good English we naturally talk bad to him.”
The great lady was tickled. Who could help being amused by this man? And after all, if her fair Middleton chose to be a fool there could be no gainsaying her, sorry though poor Sir Willoughby’s friends must feel for him.
She tried not to smile.