“By the way,” interrupted Carron, tossing the kitten to a soft chair, “where did he get the money? The fiddling chap can’t have much. They say he’s a great spendthrift——”
“No, it isn’t that. I mean Isabel Clough-Hardy left it to him. You remember the moley one who died in Egypt?”
“Did she? He must have been a mere child when she died. You mean Hugh Hislip’s daughter?”
“Yes. Oh, yes, it was years ago. They say she was in love with Victor Joyselle before she married.”
“By Jove! Why didn’t he marry her?”
“Because in this unenlightened land no man is allowed to have more than one wife at a time—Oh, Tommy, what have you been doing?”
Kingsmead, who had come in without knocking, sat down and stretched his thin legs over the arm of the chair. “Ratting.”
“Oh, you nasty child! What a beastly thing!”
“Ratting, my dear mother, is a fine, manly, old-time sport. Most fellows of my age and appearance would be making love to their mothers’ friends, but I bar women. Sport,” he added solemnly, “for Thomas Edward, Earl of Kingsmead.”
Carron, who had always disliked the boy, looked at him. “So you bar women? Many other ‘men of your appearance’ have said the same.”
It was a nasty thrust, but Tommy, though he felt it, grinned cheerfully.
“Stung!” he cried, laying his hand on his heart in an absurd theatrical gesture. “Your bolt has gone home, my dear fellow. But experience may take the place of beauty at fifty.”
Carron started. He loathed being fifty, he loathed Tommy, he loathed everything.
Tommy turned to the kitten and talked artless nonsense to it to fill up the pause that followed, and Lady Kingsmead powdered her nose with a bit of chamois skin that lived in a silver box full of Fuller’s earth under the chaise-longue pillows.
“Glad Brigit’s coming?” asked Tommy, turning with appalling suddenness to Carron, whose hatred for him increased tenfold as he tried to answer carelessly.
As he replied, Brigit came in, without a hat, but covered from head to foot with a rough tweed coat. Her wavy hair was very wet, and her gloves, as she pulled them off, dripped on the floor. In her pearly pale cheeks was a lovely pink tinge.
“What a day!” she cried. “I can’t kiss you, mother—how d’ye do, Gerald? Tommy, you angel, come and be drowned in sister’s fond embrace!”
They all stared at her. “It’s such a jolly rain. I drove myself in the cart that had gone for Mr. Green. Green came in the brougham, poor dear! Well—what are you all staring at, souls?”
“You look so—so young, Bicky,” answered Tommy, with an effort. “What a good time you must have had!”
Having taken off her coat and thrown her ruined gloves into the fire, she sat down by her brother and put her arm round him.
“Dear little boy! I am young, Thomas, and I did have a good time. He is going to play for you, dear—all you want him to. He is a—a—what shall I say?” Her eyes crinkled with amusement as she sought for a word. “He really is a—ripper, Tommy. And he has a human dog named Papillon—But-ter-fly,” she added, still smiling and obviously quoting, “also a parrot.”