Just – William Page 16

“Aren’t I perfectly disgraceful?” she said with her low laugh. “To tell the truth, I met your little boy in the drive and I’ve been with him some time. He’s a perfect little dear, isn’t he?”

Her brown eyes rested on Robert. Robert moistened his lips and smiled the tortured smile, but was beyond speech.

“Yes, I know Ethel and I met your son—yesterday, wasn’t it?”

Robert murmured unintelligibly, raising one hand to the too tight collar, and then bowed vaguely in her direction.

Then they went in to tea.

William, his hair well brushed, the cork partially washed from his face, and the feathers removed, arrived a few minutes later. Conversation was carried on chiefly by Miss Cannon and Ethel. Robert racked his brain for some striking remark, something that would raise him in her esteem far above the ranks of the ordinary young man, but nothing came. Whenever her brown eyes rested on him, however, he summoned the mirthless smile to his lips and raised a hand to relieve the strain of the imprisoning collar. Desperately he felt the precious moments passing and his passion yet unrevealed, except by his eyes, whose message he was afraid she had not read.

As they rose from tea, William turned to his mother, with an anxious sibilant whisper,

“Ought I to have put on my best suit too?”

The demure lights danced in Miss Cannon’s eyes and the look the perspiring Robert sent him would have crushed a less bold spirit.

William had quite forgotten the orders he had received to retire from the scene directly after tea. He was impervious to all hints. He followed in the train of the all-conquering Miss Cannon to the drawing-room and sat on the sofa with Robert who had taken his seat next his beloved.

“Are you—er—fond of reading, Miss Cannon?” began Robert with a painful effort.

“I—wrote a tale once,” said William boastfully, leaning over Robert before she could answer. “It was a jolly good one. I showed it to some people. I’ll show it to you if you like. It began with a pirate on a raft an’ he’d stole some jewel’ry and the king the jewels belonged to was coming after him on a steamer and jus’ when he was comin’ up to him he jumped into the water and took the jewls with him an’ a fish eat the jewls and the king caught it an’,” he paused for breath.

“I’d love to read it!” said Miss Cannon.

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