“I can’t come in by the front door,” he explained, “on account of my boots. And I can’t come in by the back door on account of Extra Help. I intended getting in eventually by the cellarway, but, if you want me, that would take too long. Besides, I wanted to show you how neatly I can shin up a post.”
He smiled at her cheerfully. He was damp and flushed, but much brisker than Desire had thought. He did not look at all raglike. For the first time since their homecoming she seemed to see him with clear eyes. And she found him changed. He was younger. Some of the lines had smoothed out of his forehead. His face showed its cheekbones less sharply and his hair dipped charmingly, like an untidy boy’s. His shirt was open at the throat. He did not look like a professor at all. Desire momentarily experienced what Dr. John had called a “heightening of vibration.”
“Anything that I can do,” offered he helpfully.
“The best thing will be to stop doing,” suggested desire. “Don’t you know that you’re accessory to a reception this afternoon? Of course you are only the host, but it looks better to have the host unwilted.”
“Like the salad? I hadn’t thought of that. In fact I’m afraid I haven’t been giving the matter serious attention. I must consult my secretary. How else should a host look?”
“He should look happy.”
Benis noted this on his cuff.
Desire’s eyes began to sparkle.
“If he is a bridegroom, as well as a host, he should be careful to look often at the bride.”
“No chance,” said Spence gloomily. “Not with the mob that’s coming.”
“Above all, he looks after his least attractive lady guests. And he never on any account slips away for a smoke with a stray gentleman friend.”
The professor’s gloom lightened. “Is there going to be a stray gentleman friend? Did old Bones promise?”
Desire nodded triumphantly.
“First time in captivity,” murmured Spence. “How on earth did you manage it?”
“I simply asked him!”
“As easy as that?”
They both laughed as happy people laugh at merest nonsense.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” shrieked Yorick. “Go to it, give ’em hell!”
“I don’t wonder Aunt Caroline dreads him,” said desire. “His experience seems to have been lurid.”
“Kiss her, you flat-foot, kiss her,” shrieked the ribald Yorick.
“Sorry, old man,” said Spence regretfully. “It’s against the rules to kiss one’s secretary.”
Again they both laughed. But was it fancy, or was this laugh a trifle less spontaneous than the other? “Gracious!” said Desire, suddenly in a hurry, “I’ve hardly left myself time to dress.”
I may be said with fairness that the reception given by Miss Campion for her nephew’s bride left Bainbridge thoughtful. They had expected the bride to be different, and they had found her to be different from what they had expected. They could not place her; and, in Bainbridge, everyone is placed.