“Yes! I could get—what am I talking about? Of course I shan’t do anything of the kind. How can you ask me to? Oh, Benis—a heathen!”
“Not a bit of it, Aunt. Church of England. But I can see what has happened. You have been allowing old Bones to cloud your judgment. I never knew a fellow so prone to jump to idiotic conclusions. No doubt he heard that I had come in search of Indians and, without a single inquiry, decided that I had married one.”
“It was hasty of him. I admit that,” said Aunt Caroline wiping her eyes.
“But with your knowledge of my personal character you will understand that my interest in, and admiration for, our aborigines in their darker and wilder state—”
“John said they were only fairly wild.”
“Well, even in a fairly wild state. Or indeed in a wholly tame one. My interest at any time is purely scientific and would never lead me to marry into their family circle. My wife’s father, as a matter of fact, is English. A professional man, retired, and living upon a small—er—estate near Vancouver. Her mother, who died when Desire was a child, was English also.”
“Who took care of the child?”
“A Chinaman.” The professor was listening to Desire’s distant laugh and answered absently with more truth than wisdom.
“What!” The tone of horror brought him back.
“Oh, you mean who brought her up? Her father, of course.”
“You said a Chinaman.”
“They had a Chinese cook.”
“Scandalous! Had the child no Aunt?”
The professor sighed. “Poor girl,” he said. “One of the first things she told me about herself was, ‘I have no Aunt.’”
Aunt Caroline polished her nose thoughtfully.
“That would account for a great deal,” she admitted. “And her being English on both sides is something. Now that you speak of it, I did notice a slight accent. I never met an English person yet who could say “a” properly. But she is young and may learn. In the meantime—”
“The sandwiches are ready,” called Desire from the tent.
“And do you mean to tell me that she really believes that lie?”
Benis Spence had taken his medical adviser up the slope to the Indian burying-ground. It was the one place within reasonable radius where they were not likely to be interrupted by periodic appearances of Aunt Caroline. Aunt Caroline never took liberties with burying-grounds. “A graveyard is a graveyard,” said Aunt Caroline, “and not a place for casual conversation.” There-fore, amid the graves and the crosses, the friends felt fairly safe.
“Why shouldn’t she believe it?” countered Spence. “Don’t you suppose I can tell a lie properly?”
“To be honest—I don’t.”