“How lovely! Do they let you——?”
“They don’t let me,” he broke in hastily, “but there’s heaps in the larder and they don’t notice one every now an’ then. Go on!” encouragingly, “I don’t mind you having it! Honest, I don’t! I’ll get some more soon.”
Bravely she raised the tin to her lips and took a sip.
“Gorgeous!” she said, shutting her eyes. Then she drained the tin.
William’s face shone with pride and happiness. But it clouded over as the sound of a bell rang out from the house.
“Crumbs! That’s tea!”
Hastily Miss Cannon took the feathers from her hair and put on her hat.
“You don’t keep a looking-glass in your wigwam I suppose?” she said.
“N-no,” admitted William. “But I’ll get one for next time you come. I’ll get one from Ethel’s room.”
“Won’t she mind?”
“She won’t know,” said William simply.
Miss Cannon smoothed down her dress.
“I’m horribly late. What will they think of me? It was awful of me to come with you. I’m always doing awful things. That’s a secret between you and me.” She gave William a smile that dazzled him. “Now come in and we’ll confess.”
“I can’t,” said William. “I’ve got to wash an’ come down tidy. I promised I would. It’s a special day. Because of Robert, you know. Well you know. Because of—Robert!”
He looked up at her mystified face with a significant nod.
Robert was frantic. He had run his hands through his hair so often that it stood around his head like a spiked halo.
“We can’t begin without her,” he said. “She’ll think we’re awful. It will—put her off me for ever. She’s not used to being treated like that. She’s the sort of girl people don’t begin without. She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met in all my life and you—my own mother—treat her like this. You may be ruining my life. You’ve no idea what this means to me. If you’d seen her you’d feel more sympathy. I simply can’t describe her—I——”
“I said four o’clock, Robert,” said Mrs. Brown firmly, “and it’s after half-past. Ethel, tell Emma she can ring the bell and bring in tea.”
The perspiration stood out on Robert’s brow.
“It’s—the downfall of all my hopes,” he said hoarsely.
Then, a few minutes after the echoes of the tea-bell died away, the front door bell rang sharply. Robert stroked his hair down with wild, unrestrained movements of his hands, and summoned a tortured smile to his lips.
Miss Cannon appeared upon the threshold, bewitching and demure.