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- Hilda Wade - 6/52 -

"No, do you think so?" the gawky young man jerked out with evident pleasure. "Now, that's awfully kind of you. Do you know, if YOU tell me I ought to stay in England, I've half a mind . . . I'll cable over this very day and refuse the appointment."

Daphne flushed once more. "Oh, please don't!" she exclaimed, looking frightened. "I shall be quite distressed if a stray word of mine should debar you from accepting a good offer of a secretaryship."

"Why, your least wish--" the young man began--then checked himself hastily--"must be always important," he went on, in a different voice, "to everyone of your acquaintance."

Daphne rose hurriedly. "Look here, Hilda," she said, a little tremulously, biting her lip, "I have to go out into Westbourne Grove to get those gloves for to-night, and a spray for my hair; will you excuse me for half an hour?"

Holsworthy rose too. "Mayn't I go with you?" he asked, eagerly.

"Oh, if you like. How very kind of you!" Daphne answered, her cheek a blush rose. "Hubert, will you come too? and you, Hilda?"

It was one of those invitations which are given to be refused. I did not need Hilda's warning glance to tell me that my company would be quite superfluous. I felt those two were best left together.

"It's no use, though, Dr. Cumberledge!" Hilda put in, as soon as they were gone. "He WON'T propose, though he has had every encouragement. I don't know what's the matter; but I've been watching them both for weeks, and somehow things seem never to get any forwarder."

"You think he's in love with her?" I asked.

"In love with her! Well, you have eyes in your head, I know; where could they have been looking? He's madly in love--a very good kind of love, too. He genuinely admires and respects and appreciates all Daphne's sweet and charming qualities."

"Then what do you suppose is the matter?"

"I have an inkling of the truth: I imagine Mr. Cecil must have let himself in for a prior attachment."

"If so, why does he hang about Daphne?"

"Because--he can't help himself. He's a good fellow and a chivalrous fellow. He admires your cousin; but he must have got himself into some foolish entanglement elsewhere which he is too honourable to break off; while at the same time he's far too much impressed by Daphne's fine qualities to be able to keep away from her. It's the ordinary case of love versus duty."

"Is he well off? Could he afford to marry Daphne?"

"Oh, his father's very rich: he has plenty of money; a Canadian millionaire, they say. That makes it all the likelier that some undesirable young woman somewhere may have managed to get hold of him. Just the sort of romantic, impressionable hobbledehoy such women angle for."

I drummed my fingers on the table. Presently Hilda spoke again. "Why don't you try to get to know him, and find out precisely what's the matter?"

"I KNOW what's the matter--now you've told me," I answered. "It's as clear as day. Daphne is very much smitten with him, too. I'm sorry for Daphne! Well, I'll take your advice; I'll try to have some talk with him."

"Do, please; I feel sure I have hit upon it. He has got himself engaged in a hurry to some girl he doesn't really care about, and he is far too much of a gentleman to break it off, though he's in love quite another way with Daphne."

Just at that moment the door opened and my aunt entered.

"Why, where's Daphne?" she cried, looking about her and arranging her black lace shawl.

"She has just run out into Westbourne Grove to get some gloves and a flower for the fete this evening," Hilda answered. Then she added, significantly, "Mr. Holsworthy has gone with her."

"What? That boy's been here again?"

"Yes, Lady Tepping. He called to see Daphne."

My aunt turned to me with an aggrieved tone. It is a peculiarity of my aunt's--I have met it elsewhere--that if she is angry with Jones, and Jones is not present, she assumes a tone of injured asperity on his account towards Brown or Smith, or any other innocent person whom she happens to be addressing. "Now, this is really too bad, Hubert," she burst out, as if _I_ were the culprit. "Disgraceful! Abominable! I'm sure I can't make out what the young fellow means by it. Here he comes dangling after Daphne every day and all day long--and never once says whether he means anything by it or not. In MY young days, such conduct as that would not have been considered respectable."

I nodded and beamed benignly.

"Well, why don't you answer me?" my aunt went on, warming up. "DO you mean to tell me you think his behaviour respectful to a nice girl in Daphne's position?"

"My dear aunt," I answered. "you confound the persons. I am not Mr. Holsworthy. I decline responsibility for him. I meet him here, in YOUR house, for the first time this morning."

"Then that shows how often you come to see your relations, Hubert!" my aunt burst out, obliquely. "The man's been here, to my certain knowledge, every day this six weeks."

"Really, Aunt Fanny," I said; "you must recollect that a professional man--"

"Oh, yes. THAT'S the way! Lay it all down to your profession, do, Hubert! Though I KNOW you were at the Thorntons' on Saturday--saw it in the papers--the Morning Post--'among the guests were Sir Edward and Lady Burnes, Professor Sebastian, Dr. Hubert Cumberledge,' and so forth, and so forth. YOU think you can conceal these things; but you can't. I get to know them!"

"Conceal them! My dearest aunt! Why, I danced twice with Daphne."

"Daphne! Yes, Daphne. They all run after Daphne," my aunt exclaimed, altering the venue once more. "But there's no respect for age left. _I_ expect to be neglected. However, that's neither here nor there. The point is this: you're the one man now living in the family. You ought to behave like a brother to Daphne. Why don't you board this Holsworthy person and ask him his intentions?"

"Goodness gracious!" I cried; "most excellent of aunts, that epoch has gone past. The late lamented Queen Anne is now dead. It's no use asking the young man of to-day to explain his intentions. He will refer you to the works of the Scandinavian dramatists."

My aunt was speechless. She could only gurgle out the words: "Well, I can safely say that of all the monstrous behaviour--" then language failed her and she relapsed into silence.

However, when Daphne and young Holsworthy returned, I had as much talk with him as I could, and when he left the house I left also.

"Which way are you walking?" I asked, as we turned out into the street.

"Towards my rooms in the Temple."

"Oh! I'm going back to St. Nathaniel's," I continued. If you'll allow me, I'll walk part way with you."

"How very kind of you!"

We strode side by side a little distance in silence. Then a thought seemed to strike the lugubrious young man. "What a charming girl your cousin is!" he exclaimed, abruptly.

"You seem to think so," I answered, smiling.

He flushed a little; the lantern jaw grew longer. "I admire her, of course," he answered. "Who doesn't? She is so extraordinarily handsome."

"Well, not exactly handsome," I replied, with more critical and kinsman-like deliberation. "Pretty, if you will; and decidedly pleasing and attractive in manner."

He looked me up and down, as if he found me a person singularly deficient in taste and appreciation. "Ah, but then, you are her cousin," he said at last, with a compassionate tone. "That makes a difference."

"I quite see all Daphne's strong points," I answered, still smiling, for I could perceive he was very far gone. "She is good- looking, and she is clever."

"Clever!" he echoed. "Profound! She has a most unusual intellect. She stands alone."

"Like her mother's silk dresses," I murmured, half under my breath.

He took no notice of my flippant remark, but went on with his rhapsody. "Such depth; such penetration! And then, how sympathetic! Why, even to a mere casual acquaintance like myself, she is so kind, so discerning!"

"ARE you such a casual acquaintance?" I inquired, with a smile. (It might have shocked Aunt Fanny to hear me; but THAT is the way we ask a young man his intentions nowadays.)

He stopped short and hesitated. "Oh, quite casual," he replied, almost stammering. "Most casual, I assure you. . . . I have never ventured to do myself the honour of supposing that . . . that Miss Tepping could possibly care for me."

Hilda Wade - 6/52

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