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      This, though the last of Mrs Fysons misdeeds, was not the first, and Mrs Keeling almost forgot the duty of thankfulness for blessings when she remembered that dreadful occasion. Shortly after Norahs final appearance in the evening, Mrs Fyson had called, and under the pretext of a digestion-visit after her dinner had hissed out a series of impertinent questions as to how it had all ended. Fool though she might be, Mrs Keeling was not of that peculiarly hopeless sort that confides domestic difficulties to the ears of gossips, and had with some appearance of astonishment merely said that she and Miss Propert had had a very pleasant chat while Mr Keeling was telephoning for a cab to take Miss Propert home. On which Mrs Fyson had looked exactly like a ferret and said, Did he bring her into your drawing-room? That was very clever!{179}


      CHAPTER XVI.


      I rallied all my wits. Here was an open window. Through it the moonlight poured in upon the lower half of the bed. If I should lie with my eyes in the shadow of the headboard no one entering by the door opposite could see that I was looking. Good! but what to do when the time should come--ah me!--and "Oh, God!" and "Oh, God!" again. Ought I, now, to let the enemy get the despatch, or must I not rather keep it from him at whatever risk of death or disgrace? Ah! if I might only fight, and let the outcome decide for me! And why not? Yes, I would fight! And oh! how I would fight! If by fighting too well I should keep the despatch, why, that, as matters now stood, was likely to be the very best for my country's cause. On the other hand, should I fight till I fell dead or senseless and only then lose it, surely then it would be counted genuine and retain all its value to mislead. Oh, yes,--I could contrive nothing better--I would fight!

      I understand, he said. No telling tales out of school."Poor boy!" said the aunt. "It's the first line you've had for months. Your sweet mother wrote, but her letters were all intercepted, and the last time she was warned that next time she'd be dealt with according to military usage! I'm glad we could give you this one at once. We can't give you the uniform, for we--why, girls, what--why, what nonsense!"

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      Keeling seldom wasted thought or energy on{271} irremediable mischances: if a business proposition turned out badly he cut his loss on it, and dismissed it from his mind. But it was equally characteristic of him to strike, and strike hard, if opportunity offered at any firm which had let him in for his loss, and, in this case, since the Club had hit at him, he felt it was but fair that he should return the blow with precise and instantaneous vigour. That was right and proper, and his rejoinder to Norah that the Club who did not consider him sufficient of a gentleman to enter their doors should have the pleasure of knowing how right they were, had at least as much sober truth as irony about it. The opportunity to hit back was ready to hand; it would have been singular indeed, and in flat contradiction to his habits, if he had not taken it. But when once he had done that, he was satisfied; they did not want him as a member, and he did not want them as tenants, and there was the end of it. Yet, like some fermenting focus in his brain, minute as yet, but with the potentiality of leaven in it, was the fact that Norah had implored him not to send his answer to Lord Inverbroom. He still considered her interference an impertinence, but what stuck in his mind and began faintly to suggest other trains of thought was the equally undeniable fact that she had not meant it as an impertinence. In intention it had been a friendly speech inspired by the good-will of a friend. But he shrugged{272} his shoulders at it: she did not understand business, or, possibly, he did not understand clubs. So be it then: he did not want to understand them.

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      Till we look on the world from above."

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      He was aware that she was intending to exercise the dead-weight somewhere. It was not many weeks ago that she had brought it into play regarding Mr Silverdale and his Romish practices, when she had refused to leave his church for the simpler rites of the Cathedral. He had yielded there, because he did not really care whether she and Alice chose to attend a milliner-church or not. They might if they liked: it did not seriously matter. But the dead-weight, if she was{143} intending to exercise it over the question of Norah, mattered very much."What, a leather-curtained spring-wagon?"


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