It is after breakfast, and most of the gentlemen of the house have dispersed; that is to say, Mr. Miller has gone off to survey his new pigsties, and his sons and a Mr. Nethercliff, who arrived last night, have ridden to a meet some fifteen miles distant, which the ladies had voted to be too far off to attend.
Mr. Pryme, however, is evidently not a keen sports-man; he has declined the offer of a mount which Guy Miller has hospitably pressed upon him, and he has also declined to avail himself of his host’s offer of the services of the gamekeeper. Curiously enough, another guest at Shadonake, whose zeal for hunting has never yet been impeached, has followed his example.
“What on earth do they meet at Fretly for!” Maurice Kynaston had exclaimed last night to young Guy, as the morrow’s plans had been discussed in the smoking-room; “it’s the worst country I ever was in, all plough and woodlands, and never a fox to be found. Your uncle ought to know better than to go there. I certainly shan’t take the trouble to get up early to go to that place.”
“Not go?” repeated Guy, aghast; “you don’t mean to say you won’t go, Kynaston?”
“That’s just what I do mean, though.”
“What the deuce will you do with yourself all day?”
“Lie in bed,” answered Maurice, between the puffs of his pipe; “we’ve had a precious hard day’s shooting to-day, and I mean to take it easy to-morrow.”
And Captain Kynaston was as good as his word. He did not appear in the breakfast-room the next morning until the men who were bound for Fretly had all ridden off and were well out of sight of the house. What he had stayed for he would have been somewhat puzzled to explain. He was not the kind of man who, as a rule, cared to dawdle about all day with women when there was any kind of sport to be had from hunting down to ratting; more especially was he disinclined for any such dawdling when Helen Romer was amongst the number of the ladies so left to be danced attendance upon. And yet he distinctly told himself that he meant to be devoted for this one day to the fair sex. All yesterday he had been crossed and put out; the men had been out shooting from breakfast till dinner; some of the ladies had joined them with the Irish-stew at lunch time; Helen had been amongst them, but not Miss Nevill. Maurice, in spite of the pheasants having been plentiful and the sport satisfactory, had been in a decidedly bad temper all the afternoon in consequence. In the evening the party at dinner had been enlarged by an influx of country neighbours; Vera had been hopelessly divided from him and absorbed by other people the whole evening; he had not exchanged a single word with her all day.