“Tell us about Uncle Soames, Granny. Why is he so keen on mother’s getting a divorce?”
“Your Uncle Soames,” said Emily, and her voice had in it an exaggerated assurance, “is a lawyer, my dear boy. He’s sure to know best.”
“Is he?” muttered Val. “But what did become of Aunt Irene? I remember she was jolly good-looking.”
“She—er....” said Emily, “behaved very badly. We don’t talk about it.”
“Well, I don’t want everybody at Oxford to know about our affairs,” ejaculated Val; “it’s a brutal idea. Why couldn’t father be prevented without its being made public?”
Emily sighed. She had always lived rather in an atmosphere of divorce, owing to her fashionable proclivities—so many of those whose legs had been under her table having gained a certain notoriety. When, however, it touched her own family, she liked it no better than other people. But she was eminently practical, and a woman of courage, who never pursued a shadow in preference to its substance.
“Your mother,” she said, “will be happier if she’s quite free, Val. Good-night, my dear boy; and don’t wear loud waistcoats up at Oxford, they’re not the thing just now. Here’s a little present.”
With another five pounds in his hand, and a little warmth in his heart, for he was fond of his grandmother, he went out into Park Lane. A wind had cleared the mist, the autumn leaves were rustling, and the stars were shining. With all that money in his pocket an impulse to ‘see life’ beset him; but he had not gone forty yards in the direction of Piccadilly when Holly’s shy face, and her eyes with an imp dancing in their gravity, came up before him, and his hand seemed to be tingling again from the pressure of her warm gloved hand. ‘No, dash it!’ he thought, ’I’m going home!’
SOAMES ENTERTAINS THE FUTURE
It was full late for the river, but the weather was lovely, and summer lingered below the yellowing leaves. Soames took many looks at the day from his riverside garden near Mapledurham that Sunday morning.
With his own hands he put flowers about his little house-boat, and equipped the punt, in which, after lunch, he proposed to take them on the river. Placing those Chinese-looking cushions, he could not tell whether or no he wished to take Annette alone. She was so very pretty—could he trust himself not to say irrevocable words, passing beyond the limits of discretion? Roses on the veranda were still in bloom, and the hedges ever-green, so that there was almost nothing of middle-aged autumn to chill the mood; yet was he nervous, fidgety, strangely distrustful of his powers to steer just the right course. This visit had been planned to produce in Annette and her mother a due sense of his possessions, so that they should be ready to receive with respect any overture he might later be disposed to make.