Sugaring Off

Who wrote “The Bluewater Prodigal," “In the House of Rimmon,” etc.

A. C. Allenson January 1 1917

Sugaring Off

Who wrote “The Bluewater Prodigal," “In the House of Rimmon,” etc.

A. C. Allenson January 1 1917

SPEAKING in legal phrase, one must regard the proximate cause of it all as Mr. Mactavish. Doubtless the Spring season and Mrs. Slingsby were implicated as accessories before the fact, but Mr. Mactavish, general manager of the chain of country banks that dot one section of the province, in sending Philpott to manage the branch at Bramhope, originated the affair. You would scarcely have suspected him of it either, judging from the outward appearance. Tall, thin, grim, dry, with coldly shrewd, blue eyes, he looked much more like an abstract of banking law, bound in parchment, than an agent of the fat little boy With the deadly arrow. Still, as the sapient Mr. Shaw observes, you never can tell.

Those who had to tackle Mr. Mactavish on a tricky bit of personal finance would scarcely have believed that the gimlet eyes could twinkle, but they could, and sometimes did, for behind the gruff exterior he was quite human. Had he been merely the offspring of an elaborate system of accounting, he would not have attained the position he held. He was a Student, post-graduate, of men and conditions, and nothing akin to human interest was foreign to him. To the ordinary person, unillumined by the spark that makes genius, love and ledgers stand at opposed poles. Mr. Mactavish was not an ordinary person ; he knew that love jeers at geography, as at most serious things, and he had moments of positive inspiration.

Bramhope, for a country town, was a hustling business centre, and had quite a lively social circle. There was the upper ten, and, mind you, extremely upper too. Then came the middle class, the “bourgeoise** as those who had travelled on a Cook’s excursion as far as Paris, called them. Then the proletariat, herd, mob. Unwashed. Radiating from the town were numerous prosperous villages, with quite a number of lively young people in them.

HITHERTO Mr. Mactavish’s managers had been snug married men, who being matrimonially disposed of, were supposed to add gravity to the banking business. They were usually the kind who had evolved from the stage at which their figures were slim and hair wavy, to that in which their hair had become slim and their figures wavy. They pottered found their gardens, pipe in mouth, in the hours of summer leisure, and in winter stuck their feet in warm slippers and slept over a newspaper, adjacent to the radiator, when the toils of day were over.

Business was not increasing and a brisk rival in a near by town was running Mactavish’s men off their legs, and skimming a lot of nice thick banking cream. It was then that the general manager came round on what was called one of his sniffing tours. The result was the arrival of Mr. Archibald Philpott, a dapper, industrious, highly conscientious bachelor. Naturally there are bank clerks and bank clerks — some roystering blades from whose spirits dry finance has not evaporated all the joy of life, and others, who obviously believe that Fate has ordained them to carry forward the pleasing burdens borne by the late Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan. Mr. Philpott took himself quite seriously, as all men of the new efficiency should, was reserved, slightly suspicious that the world might be hyphenating plots against him, correct to modishness in apparel with a distinct taste in ties. Moreover he sang a sweet if mild tenor in Church, played a rather dashing hand at Five Hundred and did not mind being “mothered” by good-natured ladies with marriageable daughters. If there was one flaw in Mr. Philpott—mind I say “if”—it was a shyness with the opposite sex, so far as its unappropriated members were concerned, that amounted almost to priggishness at times.

THIS day there was a delicious, seductive whisper of Spring in the air.  The woods were swaying in decorous gladness at its invitation, the lakes and streams snapping their icy fetters. Customers at the bank seemed to feel the delightful exhilaration. Mr. Philpott felt it too, the subtle, wooing call of the reawakening world. When a sedate young manager, typing chill notices about notes to come due, finds himself at eleven in the morning humming a syrupy thing about 

“Pretty lips, sweeter than cherry or plum,”

with a luscious “Yum! Yum! Yum” chorus to it, one may fairly argue an abnormal condition of mind. Ordinarily, Mr. Philpott. who had a refined taste in literature, would have despised the doggerel. To-day he merely regretted that his familiarity with the song’s sentiment was purely academic and second-hand. There was something, perhaps, to account for this unusual state of his tenderer emotions. A week before he had escorted Miss Emma Carey to a dance, thereby proclaiming his preference to all whom it might concern, for her above other girls. She had responded to this by dancing a quite unnecessary number of times with one Charlie Denison, a mere mine clerk. When she returned, looking deliciously pink and joyous, to the lounge where Mr. Philpott sat moodily ruining a neat little black moustache, he artfully inveigled her into the dim conservatory. So far, so good. One would have supposed, that, having at least the sense of an average tomtit, he would have evened up on Mr. Denison, the mere mine clerk. Instead, he proceeded to chide the spirited lady rather sulkily. There was a curt request that he mind his own business, the flutter of a defiant fan, the swish of indignant skirts, and he was left in pathetic desolation ’neath the sheltering palm.

The question now was, Could he forgive her? He decided that perhaps he might.

‘‘HI! THERE, Mr. Philpott!” The voice, exploding in the midst of his pleasant reflections, startled him. looking up, he saw a stout lady, with snub nose flattened against the window, her good-natured face wreathed in smiles. Ordinarily the greeting “Hi! There” would have annoyed him, as impinging upon managerial dignity, but Mrs. Slingsby was a privileged person. Her husband had a substantial balance at the bank, and was, moreover, a stockholder. She herself was a cordial soul of the mothering kind. She had one consigning passion in life, being a philanthropic hunter of the biggest of big game—men. Gun or rod over her shoulder, she ranged the woods or whipped the streams for the amphibious creatures.

She had a wide circle of female relatives, and was always on the lookout for suitable young men upon whom she might bestow, or unload, specimens of her friends. She made no secret of it, but laid her plank, sometimes spreading the net, and not vainly, in sight of the bird— for the wise man of the Old Testament did not know everything — and then went after her quarry with bold, good-humored shrewdness that was a lesson in the refinements of the diplomatic game. Had Mrs. Slingsby been sent to the Balkans she would have had the various royal wobblers roped and hog-tied in less time than Downing Street could turn round in.

Having discovered the unattached young man, she decided to whom he ought to belong and then started after him with dinners, picnics, parties, cosy corners and shrewd throwings together, till she netted him. Then she struck him off her calendar. No need to run after the bus you’ve caught. She made a young man so appreciate the homey comforts of home that he just had to have one of his own. Sometimes, later, the young man-.  But never mind, that’s a different story. And they're fickle anyway.

PHILPOTT was a superior kind of fish,  and, while at times her bluffness distressed his finer sensibilities, he felt she was quite unique, and capable of slapping the President of the Bank on the back, or poking Mr. Mactavish in the ribs. She was that kind of a woman. She now came in, grasped his hand in s wrestler’s grip, and held it while she searched his face eagerly for indications of ill-health that would furnish excuse for more coddling. He was vastly relieved when she let go, a horrible feeling at his heart that she might give way to her feelings and kiss him.

“And how be ye?” she asked, squeezing herself into an armchair. “Kind o’ peeked looking, and no wonder, with all that germ-breeding money round. Ain’t it the darling day? Stock’s all out at grass, and folks busy as bees sugaring. I came to ask you out for Friday. It’s a holiday, so I’ve fixed up a sugaring-off for afternoon, with a dance at night. You’ll come?”

“I’ll be glad to, thank you, Mrs. Slingsby.” he replied. “There’s a sort of spring feeling in the air.”

“Ain’t there now?” she agreed. “Well, I’m glad you can come Friday. But, mind, you’ve got to bring a girl.”

“A girl!” he repeated, his pale face becoming very pink.

“Huh! Huh!” she nodded. “Capital G-i-r-l, Girl,” She leaned over the flat-topped desk, and whispered in a hoarse rumble the most distant clerk could hear. “There’s Emma Carey.” There was a chuckle in the outer office and Mr. Philpott coughed sternly. He thought Mrs. Slingsby unusually indelicate.

“Had a spat, ain’t ye?” she grinned. “That’s nothing at all. Love without spats is like turkey without cranberry.” And the dear old ruffian winked understandingly and departed. Really, thought Archibald, she had odd manners and speech, but her heart was all right.

AFTER she had gone, he made a valiant effort to settle down to work, but in vain. Emma Carey’s face seemed to be framed in the middle of his ledger pages; and such illustrations are not conducive to accurate accounting. He went to lunch, but even boarding house fare could not down the ethereal feeling. He returned, singing snatches he had caught from the warblings of his clerks, about honey girls, and beautiful dolls, and suchlike unmanagerial vanities. He pined for first hand knowledge of these things that seemed so amazingly familiar to the most ordinary youth in the office.

When the bank closed he went out for a walk. Feeling like revelry he turned into the Greek’s for an ice-cream soda. There, at the counter, buying chocolates, was Emma Carey, dainty as Spring itself, merry-eyed, pink-cheeked, with delicious little curls about her temples that the wind, whispering Spring messages, had ruffled distractingly. His first impulse was to bolt, a second and worthier one drove him on. She turned and gave him a smiling nod, and a wave of delight engulfed him. He remarked the extraordinary weather, she commented on the unprecedented earliness of Spring. Thus they found themselves at a little corner table, with ice cream sodas before them. She was gathering her packages, preparatory to departure, when he determined to grasp opportunity.

“Miss Carey,” he began. He had only dared to call her “Emma” in the brilliant duologues he sustained in the privacy of his room.

She looked up with a smile of expectancy.

“There is to be a sugaring-off at Mrs. Slingsby’s on Friday. May I-? That is, would you-? Er! I mean would you give me the pleasure of your company?” she stammered.

“I’d really love to, Mr. Philpott.” she replied. His spirits winged the empyrean. “If I hadn’t made another engagement.” There was a momentary sparkle, almost vicious, in the corner of her eyes. He had been an idiot about the dance, sulking, of all detectable things, and making stupid demonstration that’gave publicity to what might have been just a temporary, bittersweet secret for two. “I promised to go to the sugaring-off with Mr. Denison.” The blow caught him full on the point of the jaw. He vaguely hoped that young Mr. Denison might call at the bank one of these early mornings, seeking a little trifling accommodation. He’d accommodate him all right.

Before he could disentangle himself from the astronomical confusion, Miss Wyndham entered the store. Her arrival brought him to, as a spray of icy water may have done. Miss Wyndham was not pretty, according to popular standards. But then it isn’t every man who cares for sugar and candy. There are those, good judges of what they like, too, who fancy an acid dash in their sweets. Prudence Wyndham had disconcertingly direct eyes. Sometimes Mr. Philpott fancied he could see them laughing at him behind their demure grey veil. He thought she lacked the soothing sweetness of true womanliness. His preference was for the clinging type, who rely, or make a bluff at it, on the grand masculinity of the sterner sex, and turn it to account after marriage in making him lug coal hods and wheel baby carriages. He could not fancy Miss Wyndham as a real bit of ivy. Indeed, he suspected her of being quite capable of turning the shafts of ridicule upon the sensitively tender sentimentalities of love. Really, he was afraid she was satirical, which is an unfeminine thing that no truly loving woman should be guilty of.

“Prudence!” said Emma to the new arrival. “Will you come with us to Aunt Slingsby’s on Friday? There is to be a sugaring-off, dance, and moonlight drive home. It will be ripping fun. I’m sorry I can’t stay now, but you and Mr. Philpott can fix things up. Thank you for the soda, Mr. Philpott. It was delicious. I’d have one if I were you, Prue. They are scrumptious.” And so the traitress abandoned him.

MISS WYNDHAM looked after the flying Emma, then surveyed the downcast man. A ghostly smile flickered about her expressive lips.

“I think I will have a soda, lemon, please.” And she took the vacant chair. Mr. Philpott roused and politely gave the order.

“Charming girl, Emma,” she observed. “A trifle impulsive and casual, perhaps, The soda is excellent. Please do not mind disentangling me from your arms, Mr. Philpott.”

He gasped and blushed vividly, the girl regarding him absently.

“I mean, of course, metaphorically,” she explained primly. “Emma fling me into them so very unceremoniously. Horribly embarrassing, and all that kind of thing — but I love sugaring-offs, don’t you?”

He returned to the bank wrathfully.

“Spring!” The man who said was a liar. Philpott descended to the cellar and coaled up the furnace.

III. .

MR. PHILPOTT was not an expert horseman, and the livery people always gave him a horse purged of earthly passion. This day the beat was an unqualified plug. Timid as was the driver, he wished it a snorting, thunderbolt of an equine dragon. Two hours, as we all know, may be a prolonged eternity, or the fraction of an instant. So much depends on the girl. Between Miss Wyndham and himself was a six inch gap. efficient as one of six miles to bar the entente cordiale, fitting, if not proper, on such occasions.

He recollected rides with Emma, and the bumps on the joggly bits of road. It was not at all the same now. Prudence was thinner. Lashed by memory he passed it on to the horse.

But things were all right after their arrival. Emma was there already, and seemed disposed to be nice to him. A sugaring-off has no formality, and Prudence displayed no desire to retain her escort. She knew everybody, was popular, and so promptly dropped him. He bustled about with Emma through the snowy bush, as if he had been an ordinary young man, fetching buckets of sap. He sat with her on the log bench while the boiling was going on, shared the excitement at the critical moment, dashed out with her to cool the “wax” on the snow, and ate out of the same tin. At the dance, too, he monopolized her with an artful boldness that amazed himself. The fun was at its height when Slingsby came in.

“Guess you folks will have to stay the night. The river’s full and rising fast. It may go out any time, and the snow on the road is rotten,” he said.

FOR a week the sun had been melting the snow crust and, after the sugaring-off, rain had come in warm torrential showers. Emma said she must get home, if at all possible, so Denison started with her at once.

Mr. Philpott slept over the bank, though what he would have done had an enterprising burglar appeared, was matter for speculation among his acquaintance. Off he went with Miss Wyndham, the horse, homeward bound, putting on a speedier shuffle. The rain was not so heavy now, but they could hear the river, ordinarily a rivulet, thundering down in spate to the lake.

Twice it had to be crossed, and the bridges were ricketty, wooden makeshifts, built to go out at Spring flood, and furnish neat little jobs for near-by farmers to top off the hard winter with. The first bridge they crossed safely, though the waters were running bank high, with logs and trees smashing against the crazy supports. Halfway across the flat to the second they met the flooding waters, and the horse began to flounder badly.

“I'm afraid we can’t make it,” said Mr. Philpott gloomily.

“Mr. Denison got through,” replied Miss Wyndham, pointing to a swiftly moving light on the hill beyond. “Still, if we can’t, we can’t,”

He turned the horse, and back they splashed dismally. They had not gone far when, with a rending of timbers, the bridge went out.

“Whoa !” groaned Mr. Philpott, the full horror of the situation coming upon him! They couldn’t get back, and they couldn’t get home. The same thought seemed to occur to Miss Wyndham at the same moment, and she laughed a hard, irritating laugh. There was silence for some moments, except for the roaring of the river, and the splashing of waters about the sleigh. Then she began to hum. He recognized the tune, “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring.” The Tra-la-la-la-a part annoyed him excessively.

HE TURNED to look at the strange girl who could be frivolous at such a moment. There was a pensive look, negativing the thought of frivolity, on her pale face, as he viewed it in the wan moonlight. The thought then flashed across his mind that she was probably in love with him. and regarded drowning in his company as next door but one to perfect bliss.

“It occurred to me that it is so springlike and balmy,” she explained, waving her hand at the watery wastes. “The flood will dry up, probably, in about two weeks, if that’s what you are waiting for.” Thereupon he concluded she did not love him. Her tones assured him on this point; there was frost in them.

“I am considering,” he replied, a trifle petulantly.

“Oh, very well. Don’t let me disturb you,” she said, pulling the rug more closely about her. “The water is up to my ankles now. and when I arrange to drown, I’d like to do it pleasantly with warm water.”

“There’s Dampier’s Camp on the hill,” he. suggested desperately. “It is furnished, though unfortunately unoccupied at this early season. They have a telephone, though, and we might call up Slingsby.”

“I’m not pining for either company or conversation,” she observed. “I’m afraid that that sounds rude. I mean I don't want company or conversation other than yours. Gracious me! Whatever is the matter with my tongue? What I am trying to say is that I want a roof over my head, and to be dry. Bother the company and the telephone. There’s nothing to wait for here that I can see, but a better land by a cold and wet route. Please shake up the thunderbolt.”

THEY made the Camp safely. He stabled the horse, climbed through a window and let the lady in. There was oil in the lamps, so he lighted the place up and went out to give the horse hay, so he said, really to ponder the situation calmly. When he got back she was crimping her hair before the kitchen mirror, her mouth full of hairpins. The familiar domesticity of it fascinated Philpott.

“There!” she said, giving her hair a final pat, and straightening her waist. “I feel so homelike and comfortable. For goodness sake, Archibald, get that wet coat off. Look how you’re messing up the floor.”

There was an air of finality about her, the “as long as you both shall live” doom of the marriage service in her tone. Moreover, the suggestive use of his name “Archibald.” Likewise the manner of her rebuke. That was exactly the way, he felt, she would talk to a husband when she got one. More thorny than ivy.

She gazed at his bewilderment, and then began to laugh, and laughed, and laughed. What pretty teeth she had, Philpott reflected. He looked, she said, like a dripping musk rat she once saw. He shifted his feet uneasily, hoping for the paroxysm to cease. Then he recalled the most dreadful things he had heard and read of feminine hysteria.

“Miss Wyndham! Pray calm yourself,” he begged in his chillest manner, for there must be no weakness. “The situation is regrettable, but we must make the best of it.”

“That is exactly what I’m going to do,” she replied. “The lightning never strikes twice in the same place, and luck like this comes just once in a lifetime. Don’t ask me,to be calm, though. If you’d lived the oily calm life I’ve had all these years, you’d never want to hear the word again. I’ve ached all my life to be mixed up in a society scandal, but never, even in that crow’s rookery of a Bramhope, where tongues flourish instead of wit, could I do anything to make folks whisper in corners about me.

“ ‘It’s only Prue Wyndham.’ they’d say, which meant safety first, Westinghouse brakes, and sprinkler service. Won’t they say the loveliest, meanest things about us. They’ve just got to this time. Think of it, Archie, you, the model young man of the community, and me, the champion feminine uplifter! Abduction in high society. Mercy me! This is the life.”

“The telephone! I’d forgotten.” And Mr. Philpott rushed to the instrument and began to crank as if his eternal safety depended on it.

“Never mind the old telephone!” snapped Prue, dropping into a chair. “I’ll shoot that old Slingsby if he dares to rescue me. Glory! It’s broken. Cheer up. Archie, and put a fire in the stove, while I rustle around for provisions.”

“I was thinking about the bank. It’s the first time it has been left alone at night,” he lamented.

“Anybody might think it was a sick baby,” she jeered. “Forget that blue moldy old bank. You have me to think about now. Now get to work and look like the man of the house.”

HE FELT the menace in her words but obeyed. She unearthed canned food and biscuits and dished up quite a pleasant emergency meal.

"Now sit by the fire and smoke your pipe,” she said, when the last dish was cleared away. “I’ve often dreamed a romantic scene like this. Me on one side of the stove, paralyzed with terror, and my bold captor on the other. There’s whiskey and soda in the cupboard, and I won’t tell, even if you are President of the Band of Hope, and I the secretary of the W.C.T.U. Desperate situations call for desperate remedies, and I guess you’ve seen enough water for a while.”

Whether it was the agreeable warmth of the fire, or the cosy domesticity of the situation, or the supper, or the fact that he saw in Prue an attractiveness he had never suspected, Mr. Philpott’s established conclusions began to be shaken. It sometimes happens that an altogether unsuspected charm is revealed in a familiar landscape when viewed from a new position. Sometimes, in an instant, the scales that have impaired judgment fall away, and vision and wisdom come. Mr. Philpott now and again stole a glance at Prue and discovered, to his utter amaze, a delicious piquant charm. Where had his eyes been? He mentally decided that some women find their most advantageous setting outside the home, but Prue was one whose charm is not for the public eye, or the common delectation, but for one man in the little kingdom of home. Angular! He stoutly resented the statement. She was delightfully and gracefully slight. He hated big Juno women. Eyes! What an ass he had been to suppose them hard and cold. They were warm with mirth and good fellowship. Half the girls he knew would have been in fits of self-consciousness in such a situation. She was just a good chap in an amusing experience. Mouth! Yes, a delicious mouth. It could be sharp and tart, on occasion; but he felt it in his bones, the analytical creature, that it could be very tender and sweet.

PERHAPS she discerned something of his reflections in his glances and silence, a new, strange, aggressive boldness in the heretofore timid young man, and she ceased to banter, and fenced a little. Presently she rose, and with the pleasantest little yawn imaginable prepared to go.

“Guess it is getting late,” she said. "I’ll find a corner somewhere upstairs. I’ll throw you down a blanket or two for the sofa there. I wonder if it’s raining still?”

She walked to the window to look out. He followed her stealthily, as the captors in romances do, urged by some sportive demon to avenge the slights she had put on him. His arm went around her neck and he drew her head back. There was a sparkle in the surprised eyes, and he kissed her full on the lips that had teased him so. She gave a tiny, beatified sigh.

“Mr. Philpott!” she whispered, her face pink. Then she began to laugh again, and so vanished upstairs.

He stood, back to the stove, and surveyed the room with the air of a conqueror. Such victory was sweet, doubly sweet. The kiss as’a kiss, and as such a token of triumph. He need no longer envy any mortal bank boy who over-muddled an addition column. Yes, despite the rain and floods, it was Spring.


IT WAS eleven next morning when he walked into the bank. Slingsby had rescued them. The young adventurer, with a new boldness on him, was taken aback when he saw Mr. Mactavish fussing round the office, a grim frown on his face.

“Huh! Fine goings on, Philpott, fine goings on,” he snorted. “Eleven o’clock on a short day, and the manager gallivanting about the country on all-night sprees. Bank unprotected too. I didn’t think it of you, Philpott, by Gad! I didn’t think it was in you.” And he gazed with a new curiosity on the young man. He sensed some subtle change, and didn’t know that he entirely disapproved of it. The man seemed to have absorbed ginger.

Mr. Philpott, a strange impenitence on him, sat down and related the story of adventure. He did not regard it at all as misadventure. The old man listened, sourly at first, then the sternness vanished and he roared with the Scotsman’s belated, but hearty appreciation of the situation.

“Prudence Wynham!” he said. “You lucky, lucky dee-vil! Smartest girl in these townships. None of your pink and white dolls, but a woman too good for the likes of you, Philpott. It’s a pity, a pity, too. I did hear that a young man, a meenister, the Reverend Mr. Wiggins, who is a missionary out in India somewhere, has come with the mind to take her back with him. By Jupiter! Philpott, if I was a single man of your age. the kind of mission she’d run would be a home mission with me as the particular field. There’s a lassie for ye, brains, smart as a whip, and nice looking in the thoroughbred way. I tell ye, boy, a woman like that makes a man as good an imitation of Paradise as he’ll get or want this side Jordan flood. If I couldn’t get her any other way, by Crimmins! I’d —I’d abduct her, and ye’ve practically done that already,”

IT WASN’T Mr. Mactavish’s urging, so it must be that Philpott was fickle, but a consuming indignation began to well up within him as he thought of Prue being carried away to India by the reverend Wiggins man. India, no doubt, was all very good in its way, and he had nothing against Mr. Wiggins, except his utterly absurd and inordinate covetousness. He thought tolerantly of missions at large, but the idea was simply preposterous. Let India and the Reverend Mr. Wiggins cast their avaricious eyes elsewhere.

By George! he’d see about it.

As soon as the bank closed, he picked up his hat and sallied forth. Prue was at home, but her mother and Mr. Wiggins had gone out but would return in half an hour. Would he wait?

He looked at her hungrily. Pretty? As a picture. Not a gaudy oleograph for the home of the unenlightened, but a face and figure to gladden the eye and heart of an artist such as Philpott felt himself to be. Slim grace, sparkling vivacity. Both had gone to Archibald’s head, putting it in a deliriously delightful whirl. There was a tiny glint of a smile lurking in the corners of her mouth. She was rather subdued, he thought, but he also was changed. He found within himself a determination, boldness, almost recklessness, that were gloriously new, and not to be withstood by several Indias and armies of Wigginses.

“I don't want to see your mother, and I have no desire to see the Reverend Mr. Wiggins,” he said, with a strange impoliteness. “What’s this I hear about this Wiggins person and you going to India? It’s an outrage, and I won’t stand for it." He thumped the table, and glared at her with devouring affection.

“What on earth do you mean, Mr. Philpott?” she asked.

“Archie!” he corrected her.

“Mr. Philpott!” she insisted, her eyes dancing.

He took one step forward, and she retreated one step.

“Very well—‘Archie’,” she amended.

“I mean that I am not going to let you go away. What’s India, and what is Mr. Wiggins?” he demanded*. “Prue! I’ve been a mole, and a bat, and a silly ass, and several things of the kind, but I’m none of them now. You don’t mean to tell me you have promised to marry him?”

She kept him waiting, looking irresistibly provoking, her hands behind her back.

“I suppose you say that because you feel you have to,” she mocked his earnestness.

“Answer my question, Prudence Wyndham. I can’t wait more than about ten seconds longer,” he replied.

She shot a little smile at him, then shook her head slowly.

"I don’t think I’d care much for India,” she said.

He made a furious grab at her. and she didn’t seem to mind his roughness one little bit. The masterful Mr. Philpott was a revelation to her. She hated milksops.

“Oh. we forgot all about Emma.” she whispered when she got her breath.

“Emma! Oh, you mean Miss Carey?” replied the weathercock. “She will, I think, make Denison a capital wife. Prue! You are the finest sport, the most perfectly glorious girl in this or any other universe. One more, yes, and just another. If there’s one thing more than another I like, in the way of superlative pleasure, it is a sugaring-off. Don’t you just love ’em, Prue?”

She lifted her head, and winked at him bewitchingly.

“Didn’t I tell you so that afternoon in the Greek’s?” she replied. “Now let me go, unless you mean to keep mother and Mr. Wiggins on the front steps the rest of the afternoon.”