Mrs. Van Dorn gained voice enough to gasp that she thought they must go. Captain Carroll stood back, and the two women, pressing closely together, tottered through the hall towards the front door.
Captain Carroll followed, beaming with delighted malice. “I hope you will call again, when the ladies are home,” he said to Mrs. Van Dorn, whom he recognized as the leader.
She made an inarticulate attempt at “Thank you.” She was making for the door, like a scared hare to the entrance of its cover.
“But I have not your names, ladies, that I may inform Mrs. Carroll who has called?” said Captain Carroll, in his stingingly polite voice.
Both women looked over their shrinking shoulders at him at that. Suddenly the hideous consequences of it all, the afterclap, sounded in their ears. That was the end of their fair fame in Banbridge, in their world. Life for them was over. Their faces, good, motherly, elderly village faces, after all, were pitiful; the shame in them was a shame to see, so ignominious was it. They stood convicted of such a mean fault, that the shame was the meaner also.
Suddenly Mr. Carroll’s face changed. It became broadly comprehensive, so generously lenient that it was fairly grand. A certain gentleness also was evident, his voice was kind.
“Never mind, ladies,” said Arthur Carroll. “There is really very little use in your telling me your names, because my memory is so bad. I remember neither names nor faces. If I should meet you on the street, and should fail to recognize you on that account, I trust that you will pardon me. And—” said Captain Carroll, “on that account, I will not say anything about your call to the ladies of my family; I should be sure to get it all wrong. We will wait, and trust that you will find them at home the next time you call. Good-afternoon, ladies.” Captain Carroll had further mercy. He allowed the ladies to leave the house unattended and to dive desperately into the waiting coach.
“Home at once,” Mrs. Van Dorn cried, hoarsely, to Samson Rawdy, waking from his nap in some bewilderment.
Captain Carroll was standing on the porch with a compound look of kindest pity and mirth on his face when the Carroll ladies came strolling round that way from the pond. He kissed them all, as was his wont; then he laughed out inconsequently.
“What are you laughing at, dear?” asked Amy.
“At my thoughts, sweetheart.”
“What are your thoughts, daddy?” asked Charlotte.
“Thoughts I shall never tell anybody, honey,” he replied, with another laugh. And Captain Arthur Carroll never did tell.