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A Lame Dog's Diary

S. Macnaughtan

  Produced by Al Haines

  [Frontispiece: "But, Hugo dear," she said, "why did you not tell melong ago?"]


  S. Macnaughtan

  Thomas Nelson and Sons,

  London, Edinburgh, and New York




  Perhaps curiosity has never been more keen, nor mystery more baffling,than has been the case during the last few weeks. There have been "afew friends to tea" at almost every house in the village to see if inthis way any reasonable conclusions can be arrived at, and evenPalestrina is satisfied with the number of people who have taken thetrouble to walk up the hill and chat by my sofa in the afternoons. Butalthough each lady who has called has remarked that she is in thesecret, but at present is not at liberty to say anything about it, weare inclined to think that this is vain boasting, or at least selfishreticence.

  The two Miss Traceys have announced to almost every caller at theirlittle cottage during the last two years that they intend to build.

  We have all been naturally a good deal impressed by this statement, andalthough it was never plainly said what the structure was to be, we hadhad for a long time a notion of a detached house on the Common. Andsurely enough the foundation-stone was laid last year by Miss RubyTracey with some ceremony, and the first turf of the garden was cut byMiss Tracey, and only last month the whole of the Fern Cottagefurniture was removed in a van to Fairview, as the new house iscalled--the handsomer pieces placed upon the outside of the van, andthe commoner and least creditable of the bedroom furniture within.Every one was at his or her window on the day that the Miss Traceys'furniture, with the best cabinet and the inlaid card-table dulydisplayed, was driven in state by the driver of the station omnibusthrough the town. A rumour got abroad that even more beautiful thingswere concealed from view inside the van, and the Miss Traceys satisfiedtheir consciences by saying, "We did not spread the rumour, and weshall not contradict it."

  But the mystery concerns the furniture in quite a secondary sort ofway, and it is only important as being the means of giving rise to themuch-discussed rumour in the town. For mark, the drawing-roomfurniture was taken at once and stored in a spare bedroom, and thedrawing-room was left unfurnished. This fact might have remained inobscurity, for in winter time, at least, it is not unusual for ladiesto receive guests in the dining-room with an apology, the drawing-roombeing a cold sitting-room during the frost. But Mrs. Lovekin, the ladywho acts as co-hostess at every entertainment in our neighbourhood,handing about her friends' cakes and tea, and taking, we are inclinedto think, too much upon herself, did, in a moment of expansion, offerto show the Traceys' house to the Blinds, who happened to call there onthe day when she was paying her respects to Miss Tracey. Mrs. Lovekinalways removes her bonnet and cloak in every house, and this helps thesuggestion that she is in some sort a hostess everywhere.

  Palestrina, who was also calling on the Miss Traceys, gave me a full,true, and particular account of the affair the same evening.

  "Mind the wet paint," Mrs. Lovekin called from the dining-room windowto the Miss Blinds as they came in at the gate, "and I'll open thedoor," she remarked, as she sailed out into the passage to greet thesisters. Miss Ruby Tracey would rather have done this politenessherself, in order that she might hear the flattering remarks whichpeople were wont to make about the hall paper. It is so well knownthat she and her sister keep three servants that they never have anyhesitation in going to the door themselves. Whereas the Miss Blinds,who have only one domestic, would seem hardly to know where their frontdoor is situated.

  "What an elegant paper!" exclaimed Miss Lydia Blind, stopping awestruckin the little hall. Miss Lydia would, one knows, have something kindto say if she went to pay a call at a Kaffir hut.

  "Yes," said Mrs. Lovekin in a proprietary sort of way; "it is one ofMoseley's which Smithson got down in his book of patterns. The bluepaint is what they call 'eggshell'--quite a new shade. Come this wayand have a cup of tea."

  "I am sure it is all very simple," said Miss Tracey, in a disparagingmanner that showed her good breeding, as they sat down in thedining-room. "How do you like the new carpet, Miss Belinda?"

  "Glory, glory, glory!" said Miss Belinda; "glory, glory, glory!"

  "Show Miss Lydia the new footstools, Ruby dear," said Miss Tracey; "Iam sure she would like to see them." For we all believe--or like tobelieve--that to praise our property must be Miss Lydia's highestpleasure.

  Mrs. Lovekin seized the opportunity to act as tea-maker to the party.She poured cream and sugar into the cups with the remark that there wasno one in Stowel whose tastes in these respects she did not know, andshe handed a plate of cake to Miss Belinda, saying,--

  "There, my dear, you sit comfortable and eat that."

  "Glory, glory, glory!" said Miss Belinda.

  The Miss Traceys had tea dispensed to them by the same hand, andaccepted it with that slight sense of bewilderment which Mrs. Lovekinsometimes makes us feel when she looks after us in our own houses; andMiss Lydia Blind distributed her thanks equally between her and theMiss Traceys.

  Nothing was talked of that afternoon but the new house--its sunnyaspect and its roomy cupboards in particular commanding the heartiestcommendation. Presently the ladies were taken to see all over it, withthe exception of one of the spare bedrooms and the drawing-room. Theyknew these rooms existed, because Miss Tracey paused at the door ofeach, and said lightly, "This is the drawing-room," and "This isanother spare bedroom;" and although, as my sister confided to me, theywould have given much to see the interior of the rooms, they could notdo so, of course, uninvited.

  They paused to admire something at every turn, even saying generously,but playfully, that there were many of Miss Tracey's possessions whichthey positively coveted for themselves. The Miss Traceys smilinglyrepudiated their felicitations, while Mrs. Lovekin accepted them andannounced the price of everything. She became quite breathless,hurrying upstairs, while she exhibited stair-rods and carpets, and withshortened breath apostrophized them as being "real brass" or "the bestBrussels at five-and-threepence." No one is vulgar in Stowel, but Mrs.Lovekin is, we fear, not genteel.

  At the close of the visit, Mrs. Lovekin again ushered the visitors intothe hall, and opening, "by the merest accident," as she afterwardssaid--without, however, gaining any credence for her statement--openingby the merest accident the door of the drawing-room, she peeped in.

  The drawing-room was void of furniture. The wild thought came intoMrs. Lovekin's mind--had the Traceys overbuilt themselves, and had thefurniture, which had been carried so proudly through the town on thetop of the furniture-van, been sold to pay expenses? The suggestionwas immediately put aside. The Miss Traceys' comfortable means were sowell known that such an explanation could not be seriously contemplatedfor a moment. No; putting two and two together, a closed spare bedroomand an empty drawing-room, and bringing a woman's instinct to bear uponthe question, it all pointed to one thing--the Miss Traceys were goingto give a party, probably an evening party, in honour of the new house,and the drawing-room furniture was being stored for safety in the sparebedroom until the rout was over. Doubtless the first rumour of theMiss Traceys' party was meanly come by, but it was none the lessengrossing, all the same. Miss Lydia hoped that no one would believefor a moment that she was in any way connected with the fraudulentintrusion that had been made into Miss Tracey's secret, and Miss Traceysaid,--

  "I have known Mary Anne Lovekin for thirty years"--this wasunderstating the case, but numbers are not exactly stated as we growolder--"but I never would have believed that she could have done such athing."

  "Bad butter," said Miss Belinda, shaking her head in an emphaticfashion; "bad b
utter, bad butter!"

  "I do not want to judge people," said Miss Tracey; "but there was awant of delicacy about opening a closed door which I for one cannotforgive." The Miss Traceys' good-breeding is proverbial in Stowel, andit was felt that her uncompromising attitude could not but be excusedwhen it was a matter of her most honourable sensibilities having beenoutraged.

  "_I_ shall not say what I think," said Miss Ruby.

  We often find that when Miss Ruby cannot transcend what her sister hassaid, she has a way of hinting darkly at a possible brilliance ofutterance which for some reason she refrains from making.

  "Bad butter!" said Miss Belinda; "bad, bad butter!"

  Many years ago Miss Belinda Blind, who was then a beautiful youngwoman, was thrown from a pony carriage. The result of the fall was aninjury to the spine, and she was smitten with a paralytic stroke whichdeprived her of all power of speech. She was dumb for some years, andthen two phrases came back to her stammering tongue, "glory," and "badbutter." She understands perfectly what is said to her, but she has nomeans of replying, save in this very limited vocabulary. And,strangely enough, these words can only be made to correspond with MissBelinda's feelings. However polite her intentions may be, if at heartshe disapproves she can only utter her two words of opprobrium. When asermon displeases her she sits in her pew muttering softly, and herlips show by their movement the words she is repeating; while aparticularly good cup of tea will evoke from her the extravagantphrase, "Glory, glory, glory!"

  "Certainly," I said to Miss Lydia on the day succeeding the famousvisit to the Traceys, "Mrs. Lovekin's information, if so it may becalled, has been wrongly come by, and yet so frail is human nature onecannot help speculating upon it."

  "That is what is so sad," said Miss Lydia; "one almost feels as thoughsharing in Mrs. Lovekin's deceit by dwelling upon her information, andyet one's mind seems incapable of even partially forgetting such anannouncement."

  Perhaps some suggestion of what was forming the topic of conversationin the town may have reached the Miss Traceys, and hastened theirdisclosure of the mystery. For very shortly afterwards, one morningwhen a flood of April sunshine had called us out of doors to wander onthe damp paths of the garden, and watch bursting buds and listen to thesong of birds in a very rural and delightful fashion, we were informedby a servant who tripped out in a white cap and apron, quite dazzlingin the sunshine, that the Miss Traceys were within.

  I appealed to my sister to furnish me with a means of escape. But shereplied: "I am afraid they have seen you. Besides, you know I like youto see people." We went indoors, and Miss Ruby apologized for theuntimely hour at which she and her sister had come, but explained it bysaying, "We wanted to find you alone." And then we knew that themystery was about to be solved.

  "You are the first to hear about it," said Miss Tracey in a mannerwhich was distinctly flattering. The Miss Traceys sit very erect ontheir chairs, and when they come to call I always apologize for havingmy leg up on the sofa.

  "The fact is," Miss Tracey went on, "that we knew that we could relyupon your good sense and judgment in a matter which is exercising usvery seriously at present."

  "It is a delicate subject, of course," said Miss Ruby, "but one whichwe feel certain we may confide to you."

  "We always look upon Mr. Hugo as a man of the world," said Miss Tracey,"although he is such an invalid, and we rely upon the sound judgment ofyou both."

  Well, to state the subject without further preamble--but of course itmust be understood that everything spoken this morning was to be instrict confidence--would we consider that they, the Miss Traceys, weresufficiently chaperoned if their brother the Vicar were present at thedance, and promised not to leave until the last gentleman had quittedthe house?

  I do not like to overstate a lady's age, and it is with the utmostdiffidence that I suggest that Miss Ruby Tracey, the younger of the twosisters, may be on the other side of forty.

  "You see, we have not only our own good name to consider," said MissTracey, "but the memory of our dear and ever-respected father must, wefeel, be our guide in this matter, and we cannot decide how he wouldhave wished us to act. If our brother were married it would simplifymatters very much."

  "You would have had your invitation before now," said Miss Ruby, "if wehad been able to come to a decision, but without advice we felt thatwas impossible. I am sure," she went on, giving her mantle a littlenervous composing touch, and glancing aside as though hardly liking toface any eye directly--"I am sure the things one hears of unmarriedwomen doing nowadays ... but of course one would not like to be classedwith that sort of person."

  Palestrina was the first of us who spoke.

  "I think," she said gravely, "that as you are so well known here,nothing could be said."

  "You really think so?" said Miss Ruby.

  But Miss Tracey still demurred. She said: "But it is the fact of ourbeing so well known here that really constitutes my chief uneasiness.We often feel," she added with a sigh, "that in another place we couldhave more liberty."

  "I assure you," said Miss Ruby, in a tone of playful confession, "thatwhen we go to visit our cousins in London we are really quiteshockingly frivolous. I do not know what it is about London; onealways seems to throw off all restraint."

  "I think you are giving a wrong impression, dear," said Miss Tracey."There was nothing in the whole of our conduct in London which wouldnot bear repetition in Stowel. Only, in a place like this, one feelsone must often explain one's actions, lest they should give rise tomisrepresentations; whereas in London, although behaving, I hope, in amanner just as circumspect, one feels that no apology or explanation isneeded."

  "There is a sort of cheerful privacy about London," said the othersister, "which I find it hard to explain, but which is neverthelessenjoyable."

  To say that there is a dull publicity about the country, was tooobvious a retort.

  "I think we went out every evening when we were in West Kensington,"said Miss Tracey.

  "Counting church in the evening," said Miss Ruby.

  "Still, those evening services in London almost count as going out,"said Miss Tracey; "I mean, they are so lively. I often blame myselffor not being able to look upon them more in the light of a religiousexercise. I find it as difficult to worship in a strange pew as tosleep comfortably in a strange bed."

  The Miss Traceys' morning call lasted until one o'clock, and even then,as they themselves said, rising and shaking out their poplin skirts,there was much left undiscussed which they would still have liked totalk over with us. The ball supper, as they called it, was to becooked at home, and to consist of nothing which could not be "eaten inthe hand."

  Claret-cup was, to use Miss Tracey's own figure of speech, to be"flowing" the whole evening, both in the dining-room with thesandwiches and cakes, and on a tray placed in a recess behind the halldoor.

  "Gentlemen always seem so thirsty," said Miss Tracey, making the remarkas though speaking of some animal of strange habits which she hadconsidered with the bars of its cage securely fixed between herself andit at the Zoo.

  "We have bought six bottles of Essence of Claret-cup," said the youngersister, "which we have seen very highly recommended in advertisements;and although it says that three tablespoonfuls will make a quart of thecup, we thought of putting four, and so having it good."

  "As regards the music," went on Miss Tracey, "we have come, I think, toa very happy decision. A friend of ours knows a blind man who playsthe piano for dances, and by employing him we feel that we shall begiving remunerative work to a very deserving person, as well asensuring for ourselves a really choice selection of the mostfashionable waltzes. Ruby pronounces the floor perfect," said MissTracey, glancing admiringly at her younger sister's still neat figureand nimble feet; "she has been practising upon it several times----"

  "With the blinds down, dear," amended Miss Ruby, simpering a little."We understand," she continued, "that some chalk sprinkled over theboards before dancing begins is be
neficial. You should have knownStowel in the old days, when there was a county ball every winter atthe Three Jolly Postboys--such a name!" continued Miss Ruby, who was inthat curiously excited state when smiles and even giggles come easily.

  "Now remember," said Miss Tracey to Palestrina, as she took leave ofher, "you must come and help with the decorations on the morning of thedance. You can rest in the afternoon, so as to look your best androsiest in the evening."

  In Stowel it is ingenuously admitted that a young lady should try andlook her best when gentlemen are to be present, and rosy cheeks arestill in vogue.

  The Miss Traceys' drawing-room is not a very large room, even whenempty of furniture, but it certainly had a most festive appearance whenwe drove up to the famous house-warming. Every curtain was looped withevergreens, and every fireplace was piled with ivy, while two largeflags, which were referred to several times as "a display of bunting,"festooned the little staircase. Several friends in the village hadlent their white-capped maids for the occasion, and these ran againsteach other in the little linoleum passage in a state of greatexcitement, and called each other "dear" in an exuberance of affectionwhich relieved their fluttered feelings.

  A palm had been ordered from London and placed triumphantly in acorner--the palm had been kept as a surprise for us all. In the courseof the evening it was quite a common thing to hear some girl ask herpartner if he had seen The Palm; and if the reply was in the negative,the couple made a journey to the hall to look at it.

  And here I must note a curious trait in the conversation prevalent inour select circle at Stowel. We all speak in capitals. The definitearticle is generally preferred to the "a" or "an" which points out acommon noun; and so infectious is the habit, that when writing, forinstance, of the Jamiesons, I find myself referring to The Family, witha capital, quite in a royal way, so perspicuously are capital letterssuggested by their manner of speech. In the same way, the Taylors'uncle is never referred to by any of us except as The Uncle, and I feelsure that I should be doing the Traceys' plant an injustice if I didnot write it down The Palm.

  This, however, is a digression.

  The calmness of the Miss Traceys was almost overdone. They stood atthe door of their drawing-room, each holding a small bouquet in herhand, and they greeted their guests as though nothing could be morenatural than to give a dance, or to stand beneath a doorway draped withwhite lace curtains, and with a background of dissipated-lookingpolished boards and evergreens. The elder Miss Tracey, who is tall,was statuesque and dignified; the younger lady was conversational andnatural almost to the point of artificiality--so determined was MissRuby to repudiate any hint of arrogance this evening. And it may besaid of both sisters that they were strikingly well-bred andunembarrassed. Those who had seen them in all the flutter ofpreparations during the day--washing china and glass, issuing packetsof candles from their store cupboard below the stairs, and jinglinglarge bunches of keys--could admire these outward symbols of ease, andappreciate the self-restraint that they involved.

  I do not remember before, at any dance, seeing so many old youngladies, or so few and such very juvenile young men. The elderly youngladies smiled the whole time, while their boy partners lookedpreternaturally grave and solemn. They appeared to be shyly consciousof their shirt collars, and these, I fancy, must have been made aftersome exaggerated pattern which I cannot now recall; I only rememberthat they appeared to be uncomfortably high and somewhat conspicuous,and that they gave one the idea of being the wearers' first highcollars.

  The Vicar, who had promised to come at eight o'clock so that thereshould be no mistake about his being in the house from first to last ofthe dance, and who had been sent for in a panic at a quarter pasteight, acted conscientiously throughout the entire entertainment. Hebegan by inviting Mrs. Fielden to dance, and afterwards he asked everylady in turn according to her rank, and I do not think that during theentire evening his feet can have failed to respond to a single bar ofthe music. The blind musician was a little late in arriving, and weall sat round the drawing-room with our backs to the new blue wallpaperand longed for home. No one dared to offer to play a waltz, in case itshould be considered an affront at a party where etiquette was soconspicuous, and where the peculiar Stowel air of mystery pervadedeverything.

  The Jamiesons arrived, a party of nine, in the station omnibus, andchatted in the hearty, unaffected manner peculiar to themselves, wavinglittle fans to and fro in the chilly air of the new drawing-room, andputting an end to the solemn silence which had distinguished the firsthalf-hour of the party. Each of the sisters wore a black dressrelieved by a touch of colour, and carried a fan. Their bright eyesshone benignly behind their several pairs of pince-nez; and as theyshook hands with an air of delight with every single person in the roomwhen they entered, their arrival caused quite a pleasant stir.

  Mrs. Lovekin had already, in her character of co-hostess, begun todistribute the Essence of Claret-cup that, diluted with water, formedthe staple beverage of the evening and was placed on a small tablebehind the hall-door. There was rather a curious sediment left at thebottom of the glasses, and the flavour of cucumber suggested vaguely toone that the refreshment might be claret-cup. Very young men in splitwhite kid gloves drank a good deal of it.

  At last the blind musician was led solemnly across the room, and tookup his position at the piano. He always left off playing before afigure of a quadrille or lancers was finished, and then the dancersclapped their hands to make him continue, and the elderly young ladiessmiled more than ever. At the second or third waltz my sister was inthe proud position of being claimed in turn by the Vicar as hispartner; and the position, besides being prominent, was such anenviable one that Palestrina, who is not more given to humility thanother good-looking young women of her age, was carried away by popularfeeling so far as to remark in a tone of gratitude that this was verykind of him.

  He replied, "I have made up my mind to sacrifice myself for the night;"and one realized that a lofty position and a prominent place in theworld may carry with them sufficient humiliations to keep one meek.

  The conscientious Vicar did not allow his partner to sit down oncethroughout the entire waltz, and I think the blind musician played atgreater length than usual. I began to wonder if her partner regardedmy excellent Palestrina as a sort of Sandow exerciser, and whether hewas trying to get some healthy gymnastics, if not amusement, out oftheir dance together.

  "There!" he said at last, placing her on a chair beside me as afulfilled duty; and feeling that she was expected to say "Thank you,"Palestrina meekly said it.

  "I have only danced once in the last twenty years," said the Vicar,"and that was with some choir boys." And the next moment the blind manbegan to play again, and he was footing it with conscientious energywith Miss Lydia Blind.

  Young ladies who had sat long with their empty programmes in theirhands now began to dance with each other with an air of overdonemerriment, protesting that they did not know how to act gentleman, butdeclaring with emphasis that it was just as amusing to dance with agirl-friend as with a man.

  The music, as usual, failed before the end of each figure of the dance,and the curate, who wore a pair of very smart shoe-buckles, remarked tome that the lancers was a dance that created much diversion, and Ireplied that they were too amusing for anything.

  The Jamiesons' youngest brother, who is in a shipping-office in London,had come down to Stowel especially for this occasion. Once, some yearsago, Kennie, as he is called, made a voyage in one of the shippingcompany's large steamers to South America. He landed at Buenos Ayresarmed to the teeth, and walked about the pavement of thathighly-civilized town, with its wooden pavements and plate-glass shopwindows, in a sombrero and poncho, and with terrible weapons stuck inhis belt. At the end of a week he returned in the same ship in whichhe had made the outward voyage, and since then he has had tales to tellof those wild regions with which any of the stories in the _Boys' OwnPaper_ are tame in comparison. In his dress and general
appearance heeven now suggests a pirate king. His tales of adventure are alwaysaccompanied by explanatory gestures and demonstrations, and it is notunusual to see Kennie stand up in the midst of an admiring circle offriends and make some fierce sabre-cuts in the air. He was dressedwith a red cummerbund round his waist, and he drew attention to it byan apology to every one of his partners for having it on. "One getsinto the habit of dressing like this out there," he said in a tone ofexcuse. The Pirate Boy was in great demand at the dance.

  Pretty Mrs. Fielden, who had driven over from Stanby, beautifullydressed as usual, and slightly amused, ordered her carriage early, andhad merely come to oblige those quaint old dears, the Miss Traceys.

  Even at the house-warming Mrs. Fielden would have considered it quiteimpossible to sit out a dance. She brought an elderly Colonel withher, and she conducted him into a corner behind The Palm, and talked tohim there till it was her turn to dance with the Vicar. Had it notbeen Mrs. Fielden, whose position placed her above criticism, thebreath of envy might have whispered that it was hardly fair that onecouple should occupy the favourite sitting-out place--two drawing-roomchairs beneath The Palm--to the exclusion of others. But Mrs. Fieldenbeing whom she was, the young ladies of Stowel were content to pass andrepass the coveted chairs and to whisper admiringly, "How exquisite sheis looking to-night!"

  "Is there anything of me left?" she said to me, looking cool andunruffled when her dance with the Vicar was over. She had only madeone short turn of the room with him, and her beautiful dress and herhair were quite undisturbed.

  "You haven't danced half so conscientiously as his other partnershave," I said.

  "I wanted to talk about the parish," said Mrs. Fielden, "so I stopped.I think I should like to go and get cool somewhere."

  "I will take you to sit under The Palm again, as Colonel Jardine did,"I replied, "and you shall laugh at all the broad backs and flat feet ofour country neighbours, and hear everybody say as they pass howbeautiful you are."

  Mrs. Fielden turned her head towards me as if to speak, and I had asudden vivid conviction that she would have told me I was rude had Inot been a cripple with one leg.

  We sat under The Palm. Mrs. Fielden never rushes into a conversation.Presently she said,--

  "Why do you come to this sort of thing? It can't amuse you."

  "You told me the other day," I said, "that I ought to cultivate a smallmind and small interests."

  "Did I?" said Mrs. Fielden lightly. "If I think one thing one day, Igenerally think quite differently a day or two after. To-night, forinstance, I think it is a mistake for you to lean against the MissTraceys' new blue walls and watch us dance."

  "I'm not sure that it isn't better than sitting at home and reading howwell my old regiment is doing in South Africa. Besides, you know, I amwriting a diary."

  "Are you?" said Mrs. Fielden.

  "You advised it," I said.

  "Did I?"

  When Mrs. Fielden is provoking she always looks ten times prettier thanshe does at other times.

  "A good many people in this little place," I said, "have made up theirminds to 'do the work that's nearest' and to help 'a lame dog overstiles.' I think I should be rather a brute if I didn't respond totheir good intentions."

  "I don't think they need invent stiles, though!" said Mrs. Fieldenquickly; "wood-carving, and beating brass, and playing the zither----"

  "I do not play the zither," I said.

  "--are not stiles. They are making a sort of obstacle race of yourlife."

  "Since I have begun to write the diary," I said, "I've been able toexcuse myself attempting these things, even when tools are kindlybrought to me. And, so far, no one has so absolutely forgotten thatthere is a lingering spark of manhood in me as to suggest that I shouldcrochet or do cross-stitch."

  "You know I am going to help to write the diary," said Mrs. Fielden,"only I'm afraid I shall have to go to all their tea-parties, shan't I,to get copy?"

  "You will certainly have to go," I said.

  "I'm dreadfully bored to-night; aren't you?" she said confidentially,and in a certain radiant fashion as distant as the Poles from boredom."No one can really enjoy this sort of thing, do you think? It's likebeing poor, or anything disagreeable of that sort. People think theyought to pretend to like it, but they don't."

  "I wish I could entertain you better," I said sulkily; "but I'm afraidI never was the least bit amusing."

  Mrs. Fielden relapsed into one of her odd little silences, and Idetermined I would not ask her what she was thinking about.

  Presently Colonel Jardine joined us, and she said to him: "Please seeif you can get my carriage; it must be five o'clock in the morning atleast." And the next moment I was made to feel the egotism ofimagining I had been punished, when she bade me a charming"good-night." She smiled congratulations on her hostesses on thesuccess of the party, and pleaded the long drive to Stanby as an excusefor leaving early. The Colonel wrapped her in a long, beautiful cloakof some pale coloured velvet and fur--a sumptuous garment at whichyoung ladies in shawls looked admiringly--and Mrs. Fielden slipped iton negligently, and got into her brougham.

  "Oh, how tired I am!" she said.

  "It was pretty deadly," said the Colonel. "Did you taste theclaret-cup?" he added, making a grimace in the dark.

  "Oh, I found it excellent," said Mrs. Fielden quickly.

  Margaret Jamieson now took her place at the piano, to enable the blindman to go and have some supper; but, having had it, he slept sopeacefully that no one could bear to disturb him, so between them theyoung ladies shared his duties till the close of the evening.

  Palestrina had suggested, as a little occupation for me, that I shouldwrite out programmes for the dance, and I had done so. Surelyprogrammes were never so little needed before! Every grown man hadleft the assembly long before twelve o'clock struck, the feebleness ofthe excuses for departing thus early being only equalled by the gravitywith which they were made. Even the lawyer, who we thought would haveremained faithful to the end, pleaded that since he ricked his knee heis obliged to have plenty of rest. The Pirate Boy had had some bitterwords with the lawyer at a previous stage in the evening about the wayin which the lancers should be danced, and had muttered darkly, "Iwon't make a disturbance in a lady's house, but I have seen a fellowcalled out for less." He considered that the lawyer was running away,unable to bear his cold, keen eye upon him during the next lancers, andhe watched him depart, standing at the head of the tiny staircase,beneath the display of bunting, with his arms folded in a Napoleonicattitude.

  All good things come to an end, and even the Vicar of Stowel must havefelt that there are limits to the most conscientious energy. Andgirls, dancing with each other, learn perhaps that the merriment causedby acting as a man is not altogether lasting; while elderly youngladies, although agreed in smiling to the very end, must be aware howfixed in expression such a smile may become towards the end of a longevening.

  Good-nights were said, and carriages were called up with a good deal ofunnecessary shouting, while the Pirate Boy insisted upon going to theheads of the least restive horses and soothing them in a way which hesaid he had learned from those Gaucho fellows out there.

  I have never been able to tell what the Miss Traceys thought abouttheir dance. If they were disappointed, the world was not allowed toprobe that tender spot. Possibly they were satisfied with its success;the proprietary instinct of admiration applies to entertainments aswell as to tangible possessions. But that satisfaction, if it existed,was modestly veiled--the house-warming was less discussed by them thanby any one else. Miss Ruby spoke rather wistfully one day about simplepleasures being the best and safest after all, and she alluded with asigh to the time which must come some day when she would be no longeryoung. Miss Tracey drew herself up and said: "A woman is only as oldas she looks, my dear," and glanced admiringly at her sister.

  The diluted Essence of Claret-cup was bottled, and formed a nice lightluncheon wine at the Miss Tracey'
s for many weeks afterwards. Thefurniture was brought down from the spare bedroom by the maids, whowalked the heavier pieces in front of them with a curious tip-toeingmovement of the castors of the several easy-chairs. The art tiles inthe grate were cleared of their faded burden of evergreens, and ThePalm was carried into the bay-window, where it could be seen from theroad.

  I drove over to see Mrs. Fielden and to ask her if she thought I hadbeen a sulky brute at the dance.

  "Were you?" said Mrs. Fielden, lifting her pretty dark eyebrows; "Iforget."