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"As busy as ever--outside,"--at which gentle thrust the others smiled.
"It's all very well to laugh," remonstrated Margaret, "but truly, you know, philanthropy, like charity, would be none the less commendable to its relations if it sometimes remembered that it had a home. I sometimes think that if ever there was a deserving case it is poor Aunt Susan."
"And young Mr. Pixley? Doesn't he liven you up?" asked Lady Elspeth.
"He is very good company, I am told."
"Oh, Charles is excellent company. If we didn't see him now and again the house would be like a tomb. But he's not there all the time, and we have relapses. He has his own rooms elsewhere, you know. And I'm really not surprised. It taxes even him to lighten the deadly dulness of Melgrave Square."
"It must be a great comfort to Mrs. Pixley to have you with her, my dear."
"I can't make up for all she lacks in other directions," said Margaret, with a shake of the head. "I get quite angry with Uncle Jeremiah sometimes. He is so--so absorbed in benefiting other people that he--Well, you can understand how delightful it is to be able to run in here and find the sun always shining."
"Thank you, my dear," said Lady Elspeth, with a twinkle in the brown eyes. "Some people carry their own sunshine with them wherever they go."
"And some people decidedly don't," said Margaret, who was evidently suffering from some unusual exhibition of Pixleyism.
"It is generally possible to find a ray or so somewhere about, if you know where to look for it," suggested Graeme.
"I was just accusing Jock of coming here as regularly as the milkman,"
twinkled Lady Elspeth.
"We have a community of tastes, you see," he said, looking across at Margaret. "I also have a craving for sunshine, and I naturally come where I know it is to be found," and Lady Elspeth's eyes twinkled knowingly again.
"It's a good conceit of myself I'll be getting, if you two go on like this."
"I'm quite sure you will never think half as well of yourself as your friends do," said Graeme.
"Besides, you might even pa.s.s some of the credit on to us for the excellent taste we display."
"Ay, ay! Well, it's good to be young," said Lady Elspeth.
"And it's very good to have delightful old sunbeams for friends."
"To say nothing of the young ones," laughed the old lady.
"They speak for themselves."
"We are becoming quite a mutual admiration society," said Margaret.
"Have you been dining with your fellow Friars lately, Mr. Graeme?"
"I'm sorry to say I've been neglecting my privileges in that respect.
I haven't been there for an age--not since that last Ladies' Dinner, in fact. You see, I'm an infant there yet, and I scarcely know anybody, and I've been very busy--"
"Chasing sunbeams," suggested Lady Elspeth.
"And other things."
"You are busy on another book?" asked Margaret.
"Just getting one under way. It takes a little time to get things into proper shape, but once it is going, the work is very absorbing and sheer delight. You were talking of going abroad again. Are you still thinking of it?"
"I was hoping to get away. I wanted Aunt Susan to come with me to the Riviera, but she flatly refuses to leave home at present, so I'm afraid that's off."
"Well, now, that's curious. I've been feeling something of an inclination that way myself," said Lady Elspeth. "I wonder if you'd feel like coming with me, Margaret. I don't believe we would quarrel."
"Oh, I would be delighted, dear Lady Elspeth, and I'll promise not to quarrel whatever you do to me."
"Who ever heard of sunbeams quarrelling?" said Graeme gaily, with Lady Elspeth's earlier suggestion to himself dancing in his brain. "But think of London left utterly sunless."
"London will never miss us," said Margaret. "It still has bridge, and we are neither of us players."
And then, having an appointment from which he could not escape, and knowing that they always enjoyed a little personal chat, he reluctantly took his leave, and left them to the discussion of their new plans.
He had met Margaret Brandt for the first time at a Ladies' Banquet of the Whitefriars Club.
Providence,--I insist upon this. No mere chance set them next to one another at that hospitable board,--Providence, forecasting the future, placed them side by side, and he was introduced to her by his good friend Adam Black, who had the privilege of her acquaintance and sat opposite enjoying them greatly.
For they were both eminently good to look upon;--Margaret, tall and slender, and of a most gracious figure and bearing, with thoughtful, dark-blue eyes, a very charming face accentuated by the characteristics of her northern descent, and a wealth of shining brown hair coiled about her shapely head;--Graeme, tall, clean-built, of an outdoor complexion, with nothing of the student about him save his deep, reflective eyes, and the little lines in the corners which wrinkled up so readily at the overflowing humours of life.
It was Charles Pixley--Charles Svendt Pixley, to accord him fullest justice, which I am most anxious to do--who brought her, and to that extent we are his debtors.
Though why Pixley should be a Whitefriar pa.s.ses one's comprehension.
His pretensions to literature were, I should say, bounded by his Stock Exchange notebook and his betting-book. He had not even read Graeme's latest, though it was genuinely in its second--somewhat limited--edition, and he did not even smile affably when Adam Black introduced them. Graeme, however, had no fault to find with him for that. There were others in like dismal case.
Pixley nodded cursorily at the introduction, with a "How-d'ye-do-who-the-deuce-are-you?" expression on his face. He struck Graeme as not bad-looking, in a somewhat over-fed and self-indulgent fashion, and inclined to superciliousness and self-complacency, if not to actual superiority and condescension. It occurred to him afterwards that this might arise from his absorption in his companion, for he turned again at once to Miss Brandt and began chattering like a lively and intelligent parrot.
Graeme was one of the silent and observant ones, and he could not but think how beneficent Nature is in casting us in many moulds. If we were all built alike, he thought, and all dribbled smart inanities, and nothing but inanities, with the glibness of a Charles Pixley, what a world it would be!
However, it was Charles Pixley who brought Margaret Brandt to that dinner, and Graeme sat on the other side of her there. And so, Charles Svendt--blessings on thee, unworthy friar though thou be!
And presently, Miss Brandt, wearying no doubt of _perdrix, perdrix, toujours perdrix_,--that is to say of Charles's sprightly chatter, of which she doubtless got more than enough at home,--essayed conversation with the silent one at her other side, and, one may suppose, found it more to her taste, or more of a novelty, than the Pixley outflow.
For, once started, she and Graeme talked together most of the evening--breaking off reluctantly to drink various toasts to people in whom they had, at the moment, no remotest interest whatever, and recovering the thread of their conversation before they resumed their seats.
Only one toast really interested Graeme, and that was "The Ladies--the Guests of the Evening"; and that he drank right heartily, with his eyes on Miss Brandt's sparkling face, and if it had been left to himself he would have converted it from plural to singular and drunk to her alone.
Adam Black, excellent fellow, and gifted beyond most with wisdom and insight, and the condensed milk of human kindness, took upon himself the burden of Pixley, and engaged that eminent financier so deeply in talk concerning matters of import, that Miss Brandt and Graeme found themselves at liberty to enjoy one another to their hearts' content.
They talked on many subjects--tentatively, and as sounding novel depths--in a way that occasioned one of them, at all events, very great surprise. Indeed, it seemed to him afterwards that, for a silent and observant man, he had been led into quite unwonted, but none the less very enjoyable, ways. He went home that night feeling very much as Columbus must have done when his New World swam before his eyes in misted glory. He too had sighted a new world. He had discovered Margaret Brandt.
She had travelled widely over Europe, he learned, and was looking forward with eagerness to another tour in the near future. They discovered a common liking for many of the places she had visited.
She was a wide and intelligent reader. To him it was a rare pleasure to meet one.
"New places, and new books, and new people are always a joy to me,"
she said, in a glow of nave enthusiasm. And then she blushed slightly lest he should discover a personal application in the last-named, or even in the last two.