“For pity’s sake,” cried her brother, “stop asking Hilda and people who are a mine to Hilda! It’s too perceptible, the way she digs in them.”
“You dear old thing, you’re quite clever to-night! What difference does it make? They never know—they never dream! I wish I could dig.” Alicia looked pensively at the olive between her finger and thumb.
“Thank Heaven you can’t,” Duff said warmly. It was a little odd, the personal note. Alicia’s eyes remained upon the olive.
“It’s all she lives for.”
“Well,” Duff declared, “I can imagine higher ends.”
“You’re not abusing Hilda!” Alicia said, addressing the olive.
“Not at all. Only vindicating you.”
It did single them out, this fencing. Herbert and Arnold sat as spectators, pushed, in a manner, aside.
“I suppose she will be off soon,” Livingstone said.
“Oh, dreadfully soon. On the fifteenth. I had a note from her to-day.”
“Did she say she was going?” Stephen asked quickly.
“She mentioned the Company—she is the Company surely.”
“Oh, undoubtedly. May I—might I ask for a little more soda-water, Alicia?” He made the request so formally that she glanced at him with surprise.
“Please do—but isn’t it very odious, by itself, that way? I suppose we shouldn’t leave out Hamilton Bradley—he certainly counts.”
“For how much?” inquired her brother. “He’s going to pieces.”
“Hilda can pull him together again,” Lindsay said incautiously.
“Has she an influence for good—over him?” Stephen inquired, and cleared his throat. He caught a glance exchanged, and frowned.
“Oh yes,” Duff said, “I fancy it is for good. For good, certainly. The odd part of it is that he began by having an influence over her which she declares improved her acting. So that was for good, too, as it turned out. I think she makes too much of him. To my mind he speaks like a bit of consecrated stage tradition and looks like a bit of consecrated stage furniture—he, and his thin nose, and his thin lips, and his thin eyebrows. Personally, I’m sick of his eyebrows.”
“They’ll end by marrying,” said Surgeon-Lieut.-Colonel Livingstone.
“Herbert! How little you know her!”
“It’s possible enough,” Duff said, “especially if she finds him in any way necessary to her production of herself. Hilda has knocked about too much to have many illusions. One is pretty sure she would place that first.”
“You are saying a thing which is monstrous!” cried Alicia.
Unperturbed, her brother supported his conviction. “She’ll have to marry him to get rid of him,” he said. “Fancy the opportunities of worrying her the brute will have in those endless ocean voyages!”
“Oh, if you think Hilda could be worried into anything!” Miss Livingstone exclaimed derisively. “If the man were irritating, do you suppose she wouldn’t arrange—wouldn’t find means?—”