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thin gray hair. He was all gray, it seemed, for the light suit he wore was gray, and his shirt and tie were gray. Even his face was rather gray. In a particularly gentle fashion he was very genial. He was extremely tall, and he stooped, so that his arms hung loose. And he too, as Mrs. Howard had done, took an instant liking to Maurice, and in shaking hands with him raised his other hand to the Gargoyle's shoulder.
"Well, my boy, you were unlucky yesterday. Or rather, I was unlucky. My poor sister-in-law-Aunt Doris as we call her-fell downstairs; and as I could be of no possible use they telegraphed for me. They thought she'd die. But of course when I arrived she was quite well again, and the whole thing looked a fraud. You had tea here, I heard. You saw Millicent. She's my prop. But she's in some trouble, it appears, and has gone for a bicycle ride to let off steam. She'll be back for tea. Sit down, my boy, sit down. These young people have their troubles that we never dream of. Though I suppose .. Now that I look at you, I suppose you'd regard yourself as young enough to have troubles. Eh? Eh?”
"Almost," agreed the Gargoyle. "Or at least to sympathize with the troubles of others."
The old man shot a sharp glance from under tufted gray brows.
"I'm young enough for that myself," he observed dryly. "Did you see a young man here yesterday? Yes, of course you did. Yes, of course you did." There was a great twinkle in Mr. Pearson's eyes. "What did you think of him?"
Maurice was taken aback. Swiftly
he recalled the conversation he had overheard on the previous evening. The grin on his ugly face wavered for an instant.
"That's dangerous ground," he ventured. "Is it a fair question?”
The old man looked about him, over his shoulder, and at the open French window of the sitting-room. Following the glance, Maurice could see a corner of the green lawn, and a profusion of beech-leaves, rich and tender.
"To tell you the truth," said Mr. Pearson in an undertone. "Mind, I'm indiscreet . . . I'd rather it was anybody else. Eh?"
The Gargoyle's eyes gleamed. He was amazed at such indiscretion. But he had the sense to know that it was not vulgar indiscretion. It came direct from an appreciation of his own trustworthiness.
"But your daughter, sir?" he asked, in the same low tone.
"Pooh! A pretty boy. No mother. It happened a year ago. She's older now. She's waking up to him, I think. They do, you know. They see through us—ch? Well, then it's a question of fancy, whether they stick to us or not.”
"You think she'll throw him over?" The Gargoyle was aware of strange excitement.
"As soon as she sees a real man," answered Millicent's father, with his wide grin. "Don't you?"
It was at this juncture that Everard's mother arrived. She walked straight in by the French window, as though she had a right there. Maurice saw an elderly dame in a flannel frock which hung about her like a sack. He saw ugly arms. an eagly nose, and piercing e
under a broad-brimmed youthful straw hat. Mrs. Manners was warm, as a result of her errand and her physical exertion. She came into the room abruptly, stared at both Mr. Pearson and the Gargoyle, and looked beyond them for Millicent. "Oh, I wanted to see Millicent," she said rather rudely.
"Out," answered Mr. Pearson, straightening himself and gazing ironically down at her. Maurice saw that Mrs. Manners would look more impressive seated. Here, on her feet, she was dwarfed by the tall old man, and her massiveness took a great deal from her own height. "May I introduce my friend Mr. Domayne? Mrs. Manners, our vicar's wife. The mother of the young man you met yesterday, Maurice."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Manners, again, staring at Maurice for the second time. "So you're the young man. my son saw yesterday."
Maurice bowed. Mr. Pearson drew forward a comfortable chair. "Sit down," he said. "You've come to tea, I dare say."
"I have not," said Mrs. Manners. "I've come to have a few words with Millicent."
"A few words! Tut tut!" rallied Millicent's father. "Say them to me, Mrs. Manners. Say them to me. As a matter of fact, I'm glad to see you. I'd rather have seen your boy."
"My poor Everard!" exclaimed Mrs. Manners.
"Poor?" Maurice could not restrain the inquiry.
The effect upon Mrs. Manners of this simple ejaculation was electrical. "Yes, sir, poor," she repeated.
"As well you know." Her head twitched as she glared at him.
"Is he in trouble, then?" questioned Maurice.
"I decline to discuss him with you," said Mrs. Manners haughtily. She turned away and swept Mr. Pearson with her eyes. "I don't know if you have heard, Mr. Pearson, of the shock my poor boy has had?"
Before replying, Millicent's father interrogated Maurice with a mute glance. Maurice's face had taken on an amused expression, but he was not at all perturbed. Mr. Pearson's eyes gleamed.
"Dear, dear," he murmured sympathetically.
"A shock," pursued Mrs. Manners, "which has been as great to myself." "And the cause?" questioned Mr. Pearson.
"This young man knows perfectly well what the cause is." Again her head twitched with excitement. Her face reddened.
"Greater to you, I'm sure," suggested Maurice. "After all, your son has only himself to blame."
Mrs. Manners appeared astounded. "Blame?" she stammered. "You're very impudent, Mr. . . ."
"What is it? What is it?" demanded Mr. Pearson testily.
"Mrs. Manners is naturally distressed," said the Gargoyle pleasantly. "She has a very difficult task to perform. She has come to apologize to Miss Pearson.'
"Apologize!" cried Mrs. Manners. "Certainly not!"
"Her son, she finds, has been carrying on an intrigue with another young woman, while he is engaged to your daughter."
"Ridiculous!" interrupted Mrs.
Manners. "Ridiculous! It's the contrary of the truth. Mr. Pear
"And so Mrs. Manners has come up to make what apology she can-" "Be silent, sir! Mr. Pearson, poor Everard came here yesterday to see his fiancée his fiancée-and upon entering the room discovered her in this... this young man's arms, kissing and being kissed by him. I have called for an explanation. Such a thing has—”
The Gargoyle interrupted her. "Do you want the explanation?" he demanded.
"Come along, Domayne." "Miss Pearson was choking-" Mrs. Manners could not restrain her laughter.
"As you or any other lady might choke," persisted the Gargoyle.
"Really, Mr... cried Mrs. Manners scornfully. "I should have thought you could have thought of a better explanation than that!" She pretended to laugh again.
"I wonder," said the Gargoyle with great deliberation, "whether your son could give quite as good an explanation of the way he is deceiving a poor young village girl here." Mrs. Manners became furiously angry. She grew crimson. She trembled violently.
"What young village girl?" she almost shouted. "I don't believe it!" "I'll give him a chance to tell you her name," said the Gargoyle.
rage. She could not complete her sentence. Instead, she caught her breath, took another, tried once more to speak, took a third breath, and at last, as if suffocating with all the emotions which this young man's coolness could arouse in a lifelong tyrant, she most vehemently choked.
To one choke was added another— and another. Gasping frantically, and almost weeping with fright, Mrs. Manners put out a hand and clasped the first arm that was proffered. Her chokes grew deeper and deeper, like whooping-cough. They racked her. She stood choking and choking, at the same time holding tightly to Maurice's stout arm, gripping him with unconscious ferocity. The blood rushed to her cheeks, which grew darker and darker. Tears filled her eyes, which started from her head. It seemed as though she would never stop choking. As though she would die of choking. The horrors of suffocation were upon her. Never in the experience of any of these three had there been so overwhelming a fit of choking. It was voluptuous, regal, terrifying. Anxiously, both men gathered to her side, patting her shoulders and supporting her, looking at her and looking away, full of concern and helplessness.
And at that moment Everard himself appeared in the open French windows, as he had done upon the previous day. He stood transfixed with astonishment at the sight of
"Pooh!" cried Mrs. Manners vio- Mrs. Manners in the embrace of two
place, Millicent was pouring out afternoon tea. She was wearing a pale blue dress which revealed deliciously the clear pink and white of her complexion. She held the tea-pot aloft in her right hand, while her left hand, ringless, rested on the edge of the tray. Near her, in the chair which he had occupied on the occasion of his first visit, sat the Gargoyle. But he did not seem to Millicent any longer to resemble a gargoyle. She felt that his very fine, dark, humorous eyes dominated every other feature. They were full of laughter and full of nonsense. And laughter and nonsense, she now saw, were the most charming—and indeed the most valuable-qualities in the world. It was impossible to overestimate their charm or their value.
"Daddy isn't coming down to tea to-day," said Millicent. "He's not very well. He's resting."
"He's getting idle," said Maurice. "Is it as nice tea as you get at the Crown?"
good!" There was no bitterness and no pretense in Millicent's exclamation. But in a moment it might have been observed that she gave the smallest of sighs. Maurice was unaware of the sigh. He was busy with his own thoughts.
"It's an extraordinary thing," he said at last. "Wherever I go, I seem to have an effect of some sort."
"You're very conceited," criticized Millicent, looking at him disapprovingly. "Very. And don't we all have some effect?"
"Perhaps." He nodded his head. "When I came here first Mrs. Howard-"
"Oh, bother Mrs. Howard!" cried Millicent laughing. "And you.. "What about me?"
“Well, you were engaged." "Was I?" The hand resting on the edge of the tray moved slightly. "To Everard. Don't you remember?"
"I've forgotten," said Millicent.
"Almost as nice," he teased. "Of Rich." course, Mrs. Howard-"
"Yes, I know she's perfect." A pretended frown crossed Millicent's face.
"This afternoon," proceeded Maurice, "as I was strolling up here, I ran into young Everard. That was what made me late. You know, although he's a puppy, he's not an absolute fool."
"No, I suppose not. he going?"
"He didn't say. Out to Parrott's Farm, I suppose. He tells me that Mrs. Manners has given in over that."
"They're engaged? Oh, how
"That leaves only you me... Millicent . . ."
She made no reply; and the Gargoyle, as if discouraged, fell suddenly silent. With a quick glance, Millicent saw that he had become very grave. His expression was serious; his eyes were lowered. That grin, which she was beginning to find so subtly reassuring, was absent from his face.
A terrible constraint seized them both. It lasted-oh, endlessly, until Millicent seemed to feel a little cold spot, which was her heart, sinking gradually lower and lower, and becoming heavier, heavier . . . Tears
gathered behind her eyes; her smile was forced. She raised her tea-cup very calmly to her lips, to show that she was entirely mistress of herself; and she set the cup down again untasted, with her lips and her fingers trembling.
But just as she was beginning to feel like a little girl who is in disgrace, Millicent received an inspiration. It darted through her mind like quicksilver. It was an inspiration that came straight from Mother Nature, who must have been hovering there in protection of her children. Millicent, in fact, reached out her hand and took a piece of cake. Nothing in that, you will say. It is done every afternoon. But listen! It was not the same cake as that one which had produced the earlier catastrophe, but the twin sister of that cake. It contained currants, and it crumbled. And Millicent, putting into her mouth a first piece of this providential cake, and very archly glancing during the process at the Gargoyle, unseen by him allowed herself shamelessly and deliberately to choke. It was not a very serious choke-not a choke such as Mrs. Manners had suffered, or even a choke such as Millicent herself ... It was merely a little cough or two, or at most three or four. And having choked once, she must needs choke again. In choking, she laughed
It was nothing. Neither in point of time nor danger was it anything at all. And yet the choke and her laughter brought warm blood into
the Gargoyle's cheeks. It brought a light to his eyes. Slowly, slowly, from between her eyelashes, Millicent saw the grin return to the Gargoyle's face, and expand, and at last envelop him entirely. At this point Millicent closed her eyes fast. Her little handkerchief was held close to her lips. She seemed almost to lose consciousness, even to fall into a dream. And in dreams, as all know, the strangest things happen—the strangest, most incredible, and at the same time (often enough) the most agreeable things. When next Millicent opened her eyes it was to find that she was no longer mistress of herself. Maurice's arm was drawn closely about her. She was pressed to his side. His ugly gargoyle-like face, decorated and suffused with a grin of delight such as would have melted a heart of stone, was irresistibly near to hers. His eyes were so deep and so near that she could see herself drowning in them.
"Thank you," Millicent murmured gratefully. "I... Oh, Maurice!"
Mr. Pearson, who had changed his mind about coming down to tea, looked in at that moment through the French windows; but as he was a wise old man he withdrew quite hastily and in silence. It was a sacrifice for him to go without his tea; but he would have sacrificed. more than his tea just then. Indeed, as he sauntered about the garden, Mr. Pearson was smiling to himself as though a secret wish of his own. had just been fulfilled.