Allen took it easily. He had been too much occupied with his own troubles to have entered into all the complications with the Evelyn family; and though he had never greatly cared for them, and had viewed Cecil chiefly as an obnoxious boy, he was, in his mournful way, gratified by any reminder of his former surroundings. So without malice prepense he stung poor Cecil by observing that it was long since they had met; but no one could be expected to find the way to the other end of nowhere. Cecil blushed and stammered something about Hounslow, but Allen, who prided himself on being the conversational man of the world, carried off the talk into safe channels.
As Cecil was handing Mrs. Brownlow down to the dining-room, wicked Barbara whispered to her cousin John-
“We’ve such a nice vulgar dinner. It couldn’t have been better if I’d known it!”
John, whose wrath had evaporated in his “cut,” shook his head at her, but partook of her diversion at her brother’s resignation at sight of a large dish of boiled beef, with a suet pudding opposite to it, Allen was too well bred to apologise, but he carved in the dainty and delicate style befitting the single slice of meat interspersed between countless entrees.
Barbara began to relent as soon as Cecil, after making four mouthfuls of Allen’s help, sent his plate with a request for something more substantial. And before the meal was over, his evident sense of bien-etre and happiness had won back her kindness; she remembered that he was Sydney’s brother, and took no more trouble to show her indignation.
Thenceforth, Cecil was as much as ever Jock’s friend, and a frequenter of the family, finding that the loss of their wealth and place in the great world made wonderfully little difference to them, and rather enhanced the pleasant freedom and life of their house. The rest of the family were seen once or twice, when passing through London, but only in calls, which, as Babie said, were as good as nothing, except, as she forgot to add, that they broke through the constraint on her correspondence with Sydney.
And we alike must shun regard
>From painter, player, sportsman, bard,
Wasp, blue-bottle, or butterfly,
Insects that swim in fashion’s sky.
“At home? Then take these. There’s a lot more. I’ll run up,” said Cecil Evelyn one October evening nearly two years later, as he thrust into the arms of the parlour-maid a whole bouquet of game, while his servant extracted a hamper from his cab, and he himself dashed up stairs with a great basket of hot-house flowers.
But in the drawing-room he stood aghast, glancing round in the firelit dusk to ascertain that he had not mistaken the number, for though the maid at the door had a well-known face, and though tables, chairs, and pictures were familiar, the two occupants of the room were utter strangers, and at least as much startled as himself.