“Not quite the best luncheon I’ve enjoyed in your house,” said Eleanor at last, when her final hope had flickered out with the savoury.
“My dear, it’s the worst meal I’ve sat down to for years,” said her hostess; “that last dish tasted principally of red pepper and wet toast. I’m awfully sorry. Is anything the matter in the kitchen, Pellin?” she asked of the attendant maid.
“Well, ma’am, the new cook hadn’t hardly time to see to things properly, coming in so sudden—” commenced Pellin by way of explanation.
“The new cook!” screamed Mrs. Attray.
“Colonel Norridrum’s cook, ma’am,” said Pellin.
“What on earth do you mean? What is Colonel Norridrum’s cook doing in my kitchen—and where is my cook?”
“Perhaps I can explain better than Pellin can,” said Ronald hurriedly; “the fact is, I was dining at the Norridrums’ yesterday, and they were wishing they had a swell cook like yours, just for to-day and to-morrow, while they’ve got some gourmet staying with them: their own cook is no earthly good—well, you’ve seen what she turns out when she’s at all flurried. So I thought it would be rather sporting to play them at baccarat for the loan of our cook against a money stake, and I lost, that’s all. I have had rotten luck at baccarat all this year.”
The remainder of his explanation, of how he had assured the cooks that the temporary transfer had his mother’s sanction, and had smuggled the one out and the other in during the maternal absence, was drowned in the outcry of scandalised upbraiding.
“If I had sold the woman into slavery there couldn’t have been a bigger fuss about it,” he confided afterwards to Bertie Norridrum, “and Eleanor Saxelby raged and ramped the louder of the two. I tell you what, I’ll bet you two of the Amherst pheasants to five shillings that she refuses to have me as a partner at the croquet tournament. We’re drawn together, you know.”
This time he won his bet.
Marion Eggelby sat talking to Clovis on the only subject that she ever willingly talked about—her offspring and their varied perfections and accomplishments. Clovis was not in what could be called a receptive mood; the younger generation of Eggelby, depicted in the glowing improbable colours of parent impressionism, aroused in him no enthusiasm. Mrs. Eggelby, on the other hand, was furnished with enthusiasm enough for two.
“You would like Eric,” she said, argumentatively rather than hopefully. Clovis had intimated very unmistakably that he was unlikely to care extravagantly for either Amy or Willie. “Yes, I feel sure you would like Eric. Every one takes to him at once. You know, he always reminds me of that famous picture of the youthful David—I forget who it’s by, but it’s very well known.”