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At the Sign of the Eagle   By: (1862-1932)

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By Gilbert Parker

"Life in her creaking shoes Goes, and more formal grows, A round of calls and cues: Love blows as the wind blows. Blows!..."

"Well, what do you think of them, Molly?" said Sir Duke Lawless to his wife, his eyes resting with some amusement on a big man and a little one talking to Lord Hampstead.

"The little man is affected, gauche, and servile. The big one picturesque and superior in a raw kind of way. He wishes to be rude to some one, and is disappointed because, just at the moment, Lord Hampstead is too polite to give him his cue. A dangerous person in a drawing room, I should think; but interesting. You are a bold man to bring them here, Duke. Is it not awkward for our host?"

"Hampstead did it with his eyes open. Besides, there is business behind it railways, mines, and all that; and Hampstead's nephew is going to the States fortune hunting. Do you see?"

Lady Lawless lifted her eyebrows. "'To what base uses are we come, Horatio!' You invite me to dinner and 'I'll fix things up right.' That is the proper phrase, for I have heard you use it. Status for dollars. Isn't it low? I know you do not mean what you say, Duke."

Sir Duke's eyes were playing on the men with a puzzled expression, as though trying to read the subject of their conversation; and he did not reply immediately. Soon, however, he turned and looked down at his wife genially, and said: "Well, that's about it, I suppose. But really there is nothing unusual in this, so far as Mr. John Vandewaters is concerned, for in his own country he travels 'the parlours of the Four Hundred,' and is considered 'a very elegant gentleman.' We must respect a man according to the place he holds in his own community. Besides, as you suggest, Mr. Vandewaters is interesting. I might go further, and say that he is a very good fellow indeed."

"You will be asking him down to Craigruie next," said Lady Lawless, inquisition in her look.

"That is exactly what I mean to do, with your permission, my dear. I hope to see him laying about among the grouse in due season."

"My dear Duke, you are painfully Bohemian. I can remember when you were perfectly precise and exclusive, and "

"What an awful prig I must have been!"

"Don't interrupt. That was before you went aroving in savage countries, and picked up all sorts of acquaintances, making friends with the most impossible folk. I should never be surprised to see you drive Shon McGann and his wife, of course and Pretty Pierre with some other man's wife up to the door in a dogcart; their clothes in a saddle bag, or something less reputable, to stay a month. Duke, you have lost your decorum; you are a gipsy."

"I fear Shon McGann and Pierre wouldn't enjoy being with us as I should enjoy having them. You can never understand what a life that is out in Pierre's country. If it weren't for you and the bairn, I should be off there now. There is something of primeval man in me. I am never so healthy and happy, when away from you, as in prowling round the outposts of civilisation, and living on beans and bear's meat."

He stretched to his feet, and his wife rose with him. There was a fine colour on his cheek, and his eye had a pleasant fiery energy. His wife tapped him on the arm with her fan. She understood him very well, though pretending otherwise. "Duke, you are incorrigible. I am in daily dread of your starting off in the middle of the night, leaving me "

"Watering your couch with your tears?"

" and hearing nothing more from you till a cable from Quebec or Winnipeg tells me that you are on your way to the Arctic Circle with Pierre or some other heathen. But, seriously, where did you meet Mr. Vandewaters Heavens, what a name! and that other person? And what is the other person's name?"

"The other person carries the contradictory name of Stephen Pride."

"Why does he continually finger his face, and show his emotions so? He assents to everything said to him by an appreciative exercise of his features... Continue reading book >>

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