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CHAPTER X A SPECIALIST IS CONSULTED
The amiable discussion, begun in the interval after lunch, was continued at the Palace Hotel during that pleasant hour when tea is a memory and dinner an expectation.

The girls had gone up to their room by this time, hand in hand, and tremulous with the powers of suppressed narration. For them the supreme issue concerned an amiable lady who was quite in ignorance of the surprise prepared for her, and would certainly shed tears when the amatory bombshell exploded. For the youths it was another matter altogether. Conscience had begun to twit them with melancholy gibes upon their rashness. Or, as Bob put it tersely, a couple of wives and three hundred and ninety pounds a year between the pair of them. That was the bald truth. It had seemed otherwise in the woods when the sun shone, and the great mountains looked down kindly upon the lovers.

"What we want," said Dick resolutely, "is someone to advise us." He was a sentimental person, and given to idealism. "We ought to know how we stand before the thing goes any further. Marjory's a dear little girl, and I shall never marry anybody else. But that doesn't say I have the right to marry her on a hundred and ninety a year—you'll admit that, Bob?"

Bob admitted it, and ordered a "mixed Vermouth." They were sitting in the bar at the time, and could hear Bess Bethune scolding the doctor in the passage outside. Distantly, from the drawing-room came the strains of one of Schubert's nocturnes, played by a "half-back" from Harrow, who had some difficulty with the bass. The charming Swiss girl, who served them, did not understand much English, but they would have consulted her for two pins, so dreadful was the emergency.

"It's my opinion, we were just rushed into it," said Bob, taking up the conversation from an unobservable point, "I like Nellie better than any girl I ever saw, but I confess it's rather a knock to hear she's been engaged three times already. Suppose I were to meet one of the other fellows when we're married! He'd have the laugh of me, anyway."

Dick sighed.

"Marjory's been engaged once—she told me so. I don't think a girl can be expected to know her own mind until she's two or three and twenty. We'd have to take a little flat somewhere, and cut it deuced close; do you think she is the girl to do that, Bob?"

Bob was far from thinking it.

"She proposes to run a motor, Dick, she told me so. You've got fifteen hundred a year and a shooting-box in Scotland, so the hotel says. My place is in Norfolk—I suppose they mean the tent Jack Stevens and I pitched by Horsey Mere last autumn. I didn't say so, though; let's keep it up as long as we can; in for a penny, in for fifteen hundred pound, you know."

Dick drained his glass and appeared to cogitate. Presently he said, almost as though it were an inspiration:

"I tell you what, Bob, let's talk to the 'little widow' about it. I'm sure she's a woman of the world. She'd put us straight, right enough; let's go up and see her."

Bob looked at him scornfully.

"Why, where do you think she is, then?"

"Who, Mrs. Kennaird? Why, in Number 43, of course. It's on the board, isn't it?"

"The board be hanged! She's left the hotel—she left this morning, and went up to the chalet, near Benny's."

"Then let's go to the chalet after her. I'm sure she's one of the nicest little women in the place. And she's been married herself; she'd know what we ought to do. Let's go and see her now."

He stood up, excited by the idea; and, really, when he came to reflect upon it, Bob did not find the notion displeasing. It was true that there had been ugly talk in the hotel concerning this very person; true that she had left under circumstances so mysterious that a hundred versions were already current, both of her past life and the promise of her future. In these the boys had taken little part, except to say that it was a pity people had nothing better to do than to slander so charming a lady; and their abstention made the proposed visit to her chalet seem quite chivalrous. Five minutes later they were climbing up the steps of the skating-rink; whence it was but a little way to the bungalow.

There were lights in the lower windows of the house, and when they knocked, a solemn-looking Swiss maid opened to them and listened as a freckled automaton to their far from coherent explanations. They wished to see Mrs. Kennaird—for they were still in ignorance of her true name—upon a private matter, and one to be explained to no other. To which Dick added the rider, that they would be very grateful to Mrs. Kennaird if she would see them, and would waste as little as possible of her valuable time; a rigmarole at which Bob would have laughed had he not been so very nervous. But, as he was nervous, he stood first upon one foot and then upon the other and never said a word until the maid returned and ushered them into the drawing-room where the "little widow" awaited them. Bob did not know quite why it was, but from that very moment he felt as though his troubles were at an end; while as for Dick, he declared afterwards that all his anxiety vanished like the mists directly he set eyes on that gracious lady.

Lily was surprised to see the boys, for she had been awaiting another—perhaps she welcomed them with a greater cordiality upon that account. Very charming, in a loose gown of black lace, it was not her beauty but her womanhood which cast a spell wherever she went; and to be sure, she was as much out of place in that mediocre medley of Andana as a diamond in a setting of German silver.

"Yes," she said, encouraging Bob to speak, "I remember you perfectly, Mr. Otway; were we not fellow-prisoners at Sierre during the blizzard? And Mr. Fenton: why, you rode in the same sleigh the day we came here."

Fenton said that it was so, and apologised at the same time for certain frivolities upon the journey, particularly for the votive offering of snow hurled at the shrine of one Sir Gordon Snagg. When this had provoked the kindly lady to a smile, Bob took up the running.

"Everyone at ............
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