Thus rid of his disagreeable spur, the general settled down before the parlour fire to a game of piquet with Clowes, not a little to the scandalising of card-hating Mrs. Meredith. Worse still to the mother, nothing would do Sir William but for Janice to come and score for him, and it is to be confessed that his attention was more devoted to the black of her eyes and the red of her cheeks than it was to the same colours on the cards. Three times he unguarded a king in the minor hand, and twice he was capoted unnecessarily. As a result, the baron won easily; but the gain in purse did not seem to cheer him, for he looked discontented even as he pocketed his winnings. And as every gallant speech his commander made the girl had deepened this look, the cause for the feeling was not far to seek.
Dinner eaten, the general, without leaving the table, lapsed into gentle, if somewhat noisy, slumber; and his superior thus disposed of for the moment, Clowes sought Janice, only to find that two young fellows of the staff, having abandoned the bottle before him, had the longer been enjoying her society. He joined the group, but, as on the preceding evening, Janice chose to ignore his presence. What he did not know was something said before his entrance, which had much to do with the girl’s determination to punish him.
“Who is this person who is so intimate with Sir William?” she had asked the staff secretary.
McKenzie gave his fellow-staffsman a quick glance which, manlike, he thought the girl would not perceive. “He ’s commissary-general of the forces,” he then replied.
Janice shrugged her shoulders. “Thank you for enlightening my ignorance,” she said ironically. “Let me add in payment for the information that this is a spinet.”
Again McKenzie exchanged a look with Balfour. The latter, however, after a glance at the door, said, in a low voice: “He ’s no favourite with us; that you may be sure.”
“He—Is he—Is Baron Clowes his true name?” Janice questioned.
“More true than most things about him,” muttered McKenzie.
“Then he has another name?” persisted the girl.
“A half-dozen, no doubt,” assented Balfour. “There are dirty things to be done in every kind of work, Miss Meredith, and there are always dirty men ready to do them. I’d not waste thought on him. Knaves go to make up a complete pack as much as kings, you know,” he finished, as Lord Clowes entered the room.
Cornwallis returned at nightfall, with word of the junction of reinforcements; but, despite the news, it required all the urgence of himself and Clowes to induce the commander-in-chief to give the marching order for the next morning. Nor, when the hour of departure came, was Howe less reluctant, lingering over his adieux with his host and hostess, and especially with their daughter, to an extent which set the earl stamping with impatience and put a scowl on Clowes’ face. Even when the general was in the saddle, nothing would do him but he must have a stirrup cup; and when this had been secured, he demanded another toast of the girl.