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XIV.

A FINE DAY.

'I see nothing whatever to laugh at,' said Mrs. Hilary coldly, when I had finished.

'I did not ask you to laugh,' I observed mildly. 'I mentioned it merely as a typical case.'

'It's not typical,' she said, and took up her embroidery. But a moment later she added—

'Poor boy! I'm not surprised!'

'I'm not surprised either,' I remarked. 'It is, however, extremely deplorable.'

'It's your own fault. Why did you introduce him?'

'A book,' I observed, 'might be written on the Injustice of the Just. How could I suppose that he would——?'

By the way, I may as well state what he—that is, my young cousin George—had done. Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible.

Well, he was in love; and with a view of providing him with another house at which he might be likely to meet the adored object, I presented him to my friend Lady Mickleham. That was on a Tuesday. A fortnight later, as I was sitting in Hyde Park (as I sometimes do) George came up and took the chair next to me. I gave him a cigarette, but he made no remark. George beat his cane restlessly against the leg of his trousers.

'I've got to go up to-morrow,' he remarked.

'Ah, well, Oxford is a delightful town,' said I.

'D——d hole!' observed George.

I was about to contest this opinion when a victoria drove by.

A girl sat in it, side by side with a portly lady.

'George, George!' I cried. 'There she is—Look!'

George looked, raised his hat with sufficient politeness, and remarked to me,—

'Hang it, one sees those people everywhere.'

I am not easily surprised, but I confess I turned to George with an expression of wonder.

'A fortnight ago——' I began.

'Don't be an ass, Sam,' said George, rather sharply. 'She's not a bad girl, but——' He broke off and began to whistle.

There was a long pause. I lit a cigar, and looked at the people.

'I lunched at the Micklehams' to-day,' said George, drawing a figure on the gravel with his cane. 'Mirkleham's not a bad fellow.'

'One of the best fellows alive,' I agreed.

'I wonder why she married him, though,' mused George; and he added, with apparent irrelevance, 'It's a dashed bore, going up.' And then a smile spread over his face; a blush accompanied it, and proclaimed George's sense of delicious wickedness. I turned on him.

'Out with it!' said I.

'It's nothing. Don't be a fool!' said George.

'Where did you get that rose?' I asked.

'This rose?' he repeated, fondling the blossom. 'It was given to me.'

Upon this I groaned—and I still consider that I had good reason for my action. It was the groan of a moralist.

'They've asked me to stay at The Towers next vac.,' said George, glancing at me out of the corner of an immoral eye. Perhaps he thought it too immoral, for he added, 'It's all right, Sam.'

I believe that I have as much self-control as most people, but at this point I chuckled.

'What the deuce are you laughing at?' asked George.

I made no answer, and he went on,—

'You never told me what a—what she was like, Sam. Wanted to keep it to yourself, you old dog!'

'George—George—George!' said I. 'You go up to-morrow?'

'Yes, confound it!'

'And term lasts two months?'

'Yes—hang it!'

'All is well,' said I, crossing my legs. 'There is more virtue in two months than in Ten Commandments.'

George regarded me with a dispassionate air.

'You're an awful ass sometimes,' he observed critically, and he rose from his seat.

'Must you go?' said I.

'Yes—got a lot of things to do. Look here, Sam, don't go and talk about——'

'Talk about what?'

'Anything, you old idiot,' said George, with a pleased smile, and he dug me in the ribs with his cane, and departed.

I sat on, admiring the simple elements which constitute the happiness of the young. Alas! with advancing years, Wrong loses half its flavour! To be improper ceases, by itself, to satisfy.

Immersed in these reflections, I failed to notice that a barouche had stopped opposite to me; and suddenly I found a footman addressing me.

'Beg your pardon, sir,' he said. 'Her ladyship wishes to speak to you.'

'It is a blessed thing to be young, Martin,' I observed.

'Yes, sir,' said Martin. 'It's a fine day, sir.'

'But very short,' said I. Martin is respectful, and said nothing—to me at least. What he said to the coachman I don't know.

And then I went up to Dolly.

'Get in and drive round,' suggested Dolly.

'I can't,' said I. 'I have a bad nose.'

'What's the matter with your nose?' asked Dolly, smiling.

'The joint is injured,' said I, getting into the barouche. And I added severely, 'I suppose I'd better sit with my back to the horses?'

'Oh, no, you're not my husband,' said Dolly. 'Sit here'; and she made room by her as she continued, 'I rather like Mr. George.'

'I'm ashamed of you,' I observed. 'Considering your age——'

'Mr. Carter!'

'Considering, I say, his age, your conduct is scandalous. I shall never introduce any nice boys to you again.'

'Oh, please do,' said Dolly, clasping her hands.

'You give them roses,' said I, accusingly. 'You make them false to their earliest loves——'

'She was a pudding-faced thing,' observed Dolly.

I frowned. Dolly, by an accident, allowed the tip of her finger to touch my arm for an instant.

'He's a nice boy,' said she. 'How like he is to you, Mr. Carter!'

'I am a long way past that,' said I. 'I am thirty-six.'

'If you mean to be disagreeable!' said she, turning away. 'I beg your pardon for touching you, Mr. Carter.'

'I did not notice it, Lady Mickleham.'

'Would you like to get out?'

'It's miles from my club,' said I discontentedly.

'He's such fun,' said Dolly, with a sudden smile. 'He told Archie that I was the most charming woman in London. You've never done that!'

'He said the same about the pudding-faced girl,' I observed.

There was a pause. Then Dolly asked,—

'How is your nose?'

'The carriage-exercise is doing it good,' said I.

'If,' observed Dolly, 'he is so silly now, what will he be at your age?'

'A wise man,' said I.

'He suggested that I might write to him,' bubbled Dolly.

Now when Dolly bubbles—an operation which includes a sudden turn towards me, a dancing of eyes, a dart of a small hand, a hurried rush of words, checked and confused by a speedier gust of gurgling sound—I am in the habit of ceasing to argue the question. Bubbling is not to be met by arguing. I could only say,—

'He'll have forgotten by the end of the term.'

'He'll remember two days later,' retorted Dolly.

'Stop the carriage,' said I. 'I shall tell Mrs. Hilary all about it.'

'I won't stop the carriage,' said Dolly. 'I'm going to take you home with me.'

'I am at a premium to-day,' I said sardonically.

'One must have something,' said Dolly. 'How is your nose now, Mr. Carter?'

I looked at Dolly. I had better not have done that.

'Would afternoon tea hurt it?' she inquired, anxiously.

'It would do it good,' said I decisively.

And that is absolutely the whole story. And what in the world Mrs. Hilary found to disapprove of I don't know—especially as I didn't tell her half of it! But she did disapprove. However, she looks very well when she disapproves.