“In the season of the year!”
“Will you please to take some tea, gentlemen?” said the voice of Phoebe in the doorway.
“No, thank you, Phoebe. That girl ought to get married,” went on Mr. Dennant, as Phoebe blushingly withdrew. A flush showed queerly on his sallow cheeks. “A shame to keep her tied like this to her father’s apron-strings—selfish fellow, that!” He looked up sharply, as if he had made a dangerous remark.
keeper he was watching us,
For him we did n’t care!
Shelton suddenly felt certain that Antonia’s father was just as anxious to say something expressive of his feelings, and as unable as himself. And this was comforting.
“You know, sir—” he began.
But Mr. Dennant’s eyebrows rose, his crow’s-feet twinkled; his personality seemed to shrink together.
“By Jove!” he said, “it’s stopped! Now’s our chance! Come along, my dear fellow; delays are dangerous!” and with his bantering courtesy he held the door for Shelton to pass out. “I think we’ll part here,” he said—“I almost think so. Good luck to you!”
He held out his dry, yellow hand. Shelton seized it, wrung it hard, and muttered the word:
Again Mr. Dennant’s eyebrows quivered as if they had been tweaked; he had been found out, and he disliked it. The colour in his face had died away; it was calm, wrinkled, dead-looking under the flattened, narrow brim of his black hat; his grey moustache drooped thinly; the crow’s-feet hardened round his eyes; his nostrils were distended by the queerest smile.
“Gratitude!” he said; “almost a vice, is n’t it? Good-night!”
Shelton’s face quivered; he raised his hat, and, turning as abruptly as his senior, proceeded on his way. He had been playing in a comedy that could only have been played in England. He could afford to smile now at his past discomfort, having no longer the sense of duty unfulfilled. Everything had been said that was right and proper to be said, in the way that we such things should say. No violence had been done; he could afford to smile—smile at himself, at Mr. Dennant, at to-morrow; smile at the sweet aroma of the earth, the shy, unwilling sweetness that only rain brings forth.
THE COUNTRY HOUSE
The luncheon hour at Holm Oaks, was, as in many well-bred country houses—out of the shooting season, be it understood—the soulful hour. The ferment of the daily doings was then at its full height, and the clamour of its conversation on the weather, and the dogs, the horses, neighbours, cricket, golf, was mingled with a literary murmur; for the Dennants were superior, and it was quite usual to hear remarks like these “Have you read that charmin’ thing of Poser’s?” or, “Yes, I’ve got the new edition of old Bablington: delightfully