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awaited the lady, his mood was affected by the cheerfulness of one or two greetings which he received ; and by the time Mrs. Carseleigh arrived he had partially recovered his spirits.
Many eyes were turned in her direction as she effected her somewhat languid and self-conscious entry : one rather large hand grasping the light wrap that had fallen from her too décolleté shoulders, and the other lifting the hem of a sufficiently conspicuous sea-green dress to display a golden shoe.
The first glance attracted, for there was a certain grace in the outline of the tall slight figure ; the wealth of auburn hair framed an oval face of startling pallor, with large light eyes, and the whiteness of the shoulders and arms challenged criticism. But a nearer inspection disappointed; the pallid skin possessed that coarseness of texture which sometimes accompanies red hair, the lipless mouth betrayed the discontent of feeble health and spirits, and the rounded shoulders and hollow chest suggested anæmia.
Michael was not blind however to the attention his companion excited as he conducted her to the little table decked with specimen roses, where several attentive waiters, with energy and deference proportionate to his known wealth, awaited the arrival of the great Alexander Ferrys' only son.
Mrs. Carseleigh was not blind either. She glanced to the right and to the left, made a certain commotion over settling down, taking off her long gloves, placing her enormous ostrich-feather fan, etc., and then leaning her white elbows on the table, and assuming a somewhat dégagé attitude, as she fingered a row of suspiciously large pearls, she began telling him some amusing stories of Cairo, and urged him to return thither the following winter.
'It's not what it was, but still it would be difficult to find a jollier place to loaf in.' Michael laughed and shook his head.
My loafing days are over.'
'You are going to follow in your father's footsteps, make more money and become a multi-millionaire ?' she said, clasping her hands.
I have no ambition that way.'
* Tell me,' she said, leaning a little towards him ; ‘or of course don't tell me if you don't like, is it true that you are going to be married?"
'I am going to be married, but since the date isn't definitely settled, we won't talk about it,' he said, with the unconscious authority born of habit.
Not for the world,' she said, piqued ; only—it is a little difficult to think of you as a married man, Michael.' Her friendship with Mr. Ferrys had not been of long duration, but a few weeks' acquaintance with a man usually sufficed with Mrs. Carseleigh for an interchange of Christian names. “You don't mind my sayingI do hope she's worthy of you, dear old man.'
Michael laughed aloud.
Have some more champagne, Lilah, and don't for heaven's sake talk such nonsense,' he said, gaily.
'Well, I won't ; and I won't ask questions, or at least only one. Is it Marjory Wulsin ? '
'No, it isn't. I scarcely know Lady Marjory; but that remindi: me: I'll call on the Duchess to-morrow. I said I would, and I forgot.'
'She won't forget. I watched her when you were talking to the girl at Ascot. You admired her very much then. Didn't you?'
? * Then, now, and always. She is one of the prettiest girls I ever saw,' said Michael, gallantly. 'Must we talk of her now? I'd so much rather hear some more about Cairo.'
You might let me forget Cairo. If you only knew how thankful I am to be away from the place!' she sighed. “I'm frightfully ill,
You don't look it.' His eyes were wandering. Suddenly his face grew puzzled. “Lilah, don't look round for a moment, and then take a glance to the right, and see if you recognise a lady in a scarlet dress who has been staring hard at us and has just bowed to me. I don't know her from Adam, but her face is somehow familiar.'
• What is she like?'
'A thousand years old, with a nondescript reddish face, and a gown made in the year one.'
After a few more words Mrs. Carseleigh took the required observation with an adroitness born of practice.
Then she laughed.
She 'll take precious good care not to bow to me,' she said, and displayed a row of small even teeth in a merriment not convincing. 'I remember her. She was a fellow-passenger of mine from Cairo, where I met her first. A Mrs. Kitson or Catson, or some such name. I suppose she met you in Cairo too?'
Hast thou found me, O mine enemy !' said Michael, with a laugh. “Mrs. Kelson of Cwmcoel, by Jove ! I seem to be always giving her opportunities.'
What do you mean?'
'Nothing. I've only spoken to the lady once, and should be rather glad to know I was never going to speak to her again. She must have a hawk's eye and the memory of an elephant to have spotted me.'
* That sort of woman never forgets anything or anybody,' said Mrs. Carseleigh, viciously. “One comfort is that she got herself so disliked at Cairo that nobody would dream of believing anything she said out there. She lives in Wales, doesn't she?'
Very likely,' said Michael. 'What! no babas au rhum ? and I ordered them especially for you.'
'I'm not a bit hungry,' said Mrs. Carseleigh, plaintively. 'I told you I was ill, but you weren't listening. It was an awful effort to come at all to-night, if you only knew.'
* Poor little thing !' said Michael.
Sympathy cost him nothing, and Mrs. Carseleigh required a plentiful supply, as he knew of old. She thought that delicacy made her interesting, and detailed the symptoms of fainting, etc., which had assailed her during the afternoon's effort to entertain unwelcome visitors.
Somehow, I don't know how it is, everything seems to fall on me,' she said, piteously opening her eyes like a child—a thirty-yearold child, with a powdered face and painted lips, and with some odd memories lurking perhaps in the brain-cells beneath the wonderful auburn hair. “Mamma is over sixty and half an invalid, and thinks of nothing on earth but my brother Harry's girls who live with her, and who are just at the tiresome age : girls of fifteen and sixteen, who can't do a thing to help her.'
Michael thought in the circumstances it was not wonderful that the visiting married daughter should be expected to take her share of the responsibility, but he did not betray his thoughts; only smiled and said:
'Rough luck; but I hope you manage to squeeze a little fun out of life on the whole.'
'I should if Jim wasn't for ever wiring for me to go back to Egypt. It 's funny he never realises how delicate I am, but it 's not his fault, poor boy. He never understands. No, Michael, no more champagne. I never do take anything of that sort, and I've had two glasses already.'
Let's start, then,' said Michael.
They had to pass Mrs. Kelson, and she was not the woman to let her prey escape. Though Michael averted his eyes, her voice obliged him to see her.
' How-d'ye-do, Mr. Ferrys? You remember me? Cairo. The hermit's glen, as they call it, and that poor mad Mr. Edyvean. Have you been down there lately? and how is our dear little Winefride?'
'I came up to-day,' said Michael, civilly.
Come and see me-150 Grosvenor Gardens,' said Mrs. Kelson, with an encouraging smile. “Stay-can you dine to-morrow night? Some great friends of the Gryffydds coming.'
Michael thanked her and declined.
The meeting had quenched his newly-recovered cheerfulness, and he wished anew that he had not come. He eyed Mrs. Carseleigh rather discontentedly, as her drooping form, with its falling wrap gathered about her too voyante dress, emerged from the doorway of the ladies' dressing-room.
'She's underbred-bad form,' he thought, and she doesn't improve in manner, or appearance, or anything else. And under pretext of kindness I encourage her to gad about like this when she'd better by far be nursing her sick mother, or toddling back to that ass of a Carseleigh, who believes in her. He 'll drink himself to death if nobody looks after him. However, I suppose his habits
I form her best excuse for coming away-poor soul!'
It was not in Michael's nature to be cross, but he found it a little difficult to conceal his depression, and was obliged to plead fatigue when she reproached him for being out of spirits on their arrival at the Gaiety.
In the glare of the brilliantly-lighted stage, and the noise of the orchestra--for they had seats in the front row of stalls—he found himself thinking of Edith Roath's grave beautiful eyes, and recalling
, the low tones of her calm voice and the restfulness of her quiet presence. Not the quiet of dulness, never that; but the quiet of controlled force and depth. More than ever he grew impatient of Mrs. Carseleigh's fatiguing affectations, and manner alternating between the hysterical giggle of forced merriment and the pout of reproachful sentimentality. Her attitudinising annoyed him profoundly; whether she leaned forward with bare hands clasped about crossed knees, gazing with simulated intensity of interest at the singer ; or whether, relaxing into languor, she leaned back with half-closed eyes and a be-ringed forefinger supporting her drooping head.
'It doesn't suit me to be made to think,' reflected Michael, gloomily; but her piteous comments on his absentmindedness
filled him presently with remorse, and he exerted himself to throw off his melancholy, aided by the efforts of the comedian who principally held the stage; so that he was better company during the drive to her mother's house in Kensington than he had been in the early part of the evening.
Nevertheless, having deposited his companion at her own door, and refused to come in for the whisky-and-soda she offered, he drove off alone in the hansom with a great sense of relief.
It seemed to him, in his new-born fastidiousness, extraordinary that Lilah Carseleigh should ever have amused or interested him even at his idlest; and this was hard upon the poor lady in question, for it was Michael, and not she, who had changed.
The next morning Michael was not very much surprised to receive a summons to Eaton Place.
Mrs. Roath wanted to see him for a few moments in the morning, when she was at her best, if it suited him.
It suited him very well, since he was not leaving for Scotland until the night train.
He was taken upstairs this time, and in the drawing-room found Edith and her mother, and the fiery Colonel Bertwald, all awaiting him.
‘My uncle wanted to see you,' said Mrs. Roath, holding out her hand from the couch whereon, as usual, she was resting.
'I knew your father,” said Colonel Bertwald, darting a glance of keen inquiry at the young man from his dark eyes, and looking as though he had just walked out of the picture Michael had seen downstairs. “I had a very great respect for him.'
Michael made a suitable response. His nonchalance was always tempered in the presence of his elders by a certain deference, which won their favour.
'When did you leave South Africa ? 'asked the old gentleman.
"I haven't been out there since my father died, nor for some time earlier.'
'Why not?' This was disconcerting. 'Surely he had immense interests in the country?'
He had at one time.'