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- The Holiday Round - 50/53 -


NOTICE. But anything up to half a dozen, distributed at such intervals that one's guardians will think it's the same dance, you are heartily welcome to. And if you care to take me in to supper, there is--I have the information straight from the stable--a line in unbreakable meringues which would well be worth our attention.' That's what you said."

"But what a memory!"

"I can remember more than that. I can rememher the actual struggle. I got my meringue down on the mat, both shoulders touching, in one minute, forty-three seconds."

The band died slowly down until no sound could be heard above the rustle of frocks ... and suddenly everybody realized that it had stopped.

"Bother," said Miss Middleton.

"That's just like a band," I said bitterly.

"I'll tell it to go on again; it's MY band."

"It will be your devoted band if you ask it prettily enough."

Miss Middleton went away, and came back to the sound of music, looking rather pleased with herself.

"Did you give him the famous smile?" I asked. "Yes, that one."

"I said, 'WOULD you mind playing that one again, PLEASE?' And then--"

"And then you looked as if you were just going to cry, and at the last moment you smiled and said, 'Hooray.' And he said, 'Certainly, madam.' Isn't that right?"

"I believe you're cleverer than some of us think," said Miss Middleton, a trifle anxiously.

"I sometimes think so too. However, to get back to what we were saying--I came here to recover my usual calm, and I shan't be at all calm if I'm only going to get this one dance from you. As an old friend of the family, who has broken most of the windows, I beg for another."

"To get back to what I was saying--I've simply GOT to do a lot of duty dances. Can't you take me to the Zoo or the Post-Impressionists instead?"

"I'd rather do both. I mean all three. No, I mean both."

"Well, perhaps I would, too."

"You know, I think you'd be doing good. I've had a horrible week--canvassing, and standing in the streets, and shouting, and reading leaders, and arguing, and saying, 'My point is perfectly simple,' and--and--swearing, and all sorts of things. It's awfully jolly to--to feel that there's always--well, all THIS," and I looked round the room, "to come back to."

"Isn't that beautiful Miss Ellison I introduced you to just now part of 'all this'?"

"Oh yes, it's all part; but--"

Miss Middleton sighed.

"Then that nice young man with the bald head will have to go without. But I only said I'd SEE if I could give him one. And I have seen, haven't I?"

The band really stopped this time, and we found a comfortable corner.

"That's very jolly of you," I said, as I leant back lazily and happily. "Now let's talk about Christmas."

III.--ANOTHER MILESTONE

"You're very thoughtful," said Miss Middleton. "What's the matter?"

"I am extremely unhappy," I confessed.

"Oh, but think of Foster and Hobbs and Woolley."

I thought of Foster; I let my mind dwell upon Hobbs. It was no good.

"I am still rather sad," I said.

"Why? Doesn't anybody love you?"

"Millions adore me fiercely. It isn't that at all. The fact is I've just had a birthday."

"Oh, I AM sorry. Many happy--"

"Thank you."

"I thought it was to-morrow," Miss Middleton went on eagerly. "And I'd bought a cricketing set for you, but I had to send it back to have the bails sawn in two. Or would you rather have had a bicycle?"

"I'd rather have had nothing. I want to forget about my birthday altogether."

"Oh, are you as old as that?"

"Yes," I said sadly, "I am as old as that. I have passed another landmark. I'm what they call getting on."

We gazed into the fire in silence for some minutes.

"If it's any comfort to you," said Miss Middleton timidly, "to know that you don't LOOK any older than you did last week--"

"I'm not sure that I feel any older."

"Then, except for birthdays, how do you know you ARE older?"

I looked at her and saw that I could trust her.

"May I confess to you?" I asked.

"But of course!" she cried eagerly. "I love confessions." She settled herself comfortably in her chair. "Make it as horrible as you can," she begged.

I picked a coal out of the fire with the tongs and lit my cigarette.

"I know that I'm getting old," I said; "I know that my innocent youth is leaving me, because of the strange and terrible things which I find myself doing."

"Oo-o-o-oh," said Miss Middleton happily to herself.

"Last Monday, about three o'clock in the afternoon, I--No, I can't tell you this. It's too awful."

"Is it very bad?" said Miss Middleton wistfully.

"Very. I don't think you--Oh, well, if you must have it, here it is. Last Monday I suddenly found myself reading carefully and with every sign of interest a little pamphlet on--LIFE INSURANCE!"

Miss Middleton looked at me quickly, smiled suddenly, and then became very grave.

"I appeared," I went on impressively, "to be thinking of insuring my life."

"Have you done it?"

"No, certainly not. I drew back in time. But it was a warning--it was the writing on the wall."

"Tell me some more," said Miss Middleton, after she had allowed this to sink in.

"Well, that was Monday afternoon. I told myself that in the afternoon one wasn't quite responsible, that sometimes one was only half awake. But on Tuesday morning I was horrified to discover myself--before breakfast--DOING DUMB-BELLS!"

"The smelling-salts--quick!" said Miss Middleton, as she closed her eyes.

"Doing dumb-bells. Ten lunges to the east, ten lunges to the west, ten lunges--"

"Were you reducing your figure?"

"I don't know what I was doing. But there I found myself on the cold oil-cloth, lunging away--lunging and lunging and--" I stopped and gazed into the fire again.

"Is that all you have to tell me?" said Miss Middleton.

"That's the worst. But there have been other little symptoms--little warning notes which all mean the same thing. Yesterday I went into the bank, to get some money. As I began to fill in the cheque Conscience whispered to me, 'That's the third five pounds you've had out this week.'"

"Well, of all the impertinence--What did you do?"

"Made it ten pounds, of course. But there you are; you see what's happening. This morning I answered a letter by return of post. And did you notice what occurred only just now at tea?"

"Of course I did," said Miss Middleton indignantly. "You ate all the


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