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CHAPTER XV. THE CORTèGE
The siesta at Andana is an event of the day and differs from other siestas chiefly in the fact that no one goes to sleep.

Visiting the plateau before the Palace Hotel upon an afternoon of February a stranger will discover the arts, the professions and the industries of Great Britain in some disorder and not a little comfort. Accrediting the best chairs to generals and colonels, whom a gracious King employs no longer upon active service, mere lawyers and persons who write will be found in accommodating attitudes which a diversity of luges, camp-stools and even rugs make possible; while commerce, stiff-backed and upright, flirts amiably in amatory markets and appears to think little of Protection.

Everyone has done something during the morning, and this make-believe of a siesta is the due reward. Here upon the brink of the valley topographers yawn and discover mountains; matrons remember their complexions; mere youth its volatility.

All bask in a wonderful sunshine and are tolerant of evil. There is no protest upon the projectile aimed erringly and discovering unsought targets. The prettiest girls do not always show the prettiest ankles, nor the middle-aged ladies the least desirable qualities. There is flippancy of talk and act, a craving for ease not always gratified, and a worship of the glories of Switzerland as honest as any article in the social creed. If a subject be chosen and pursued, it is haltingly and at intervals. Men yawn upon other men's bons-mots—they have quick ears chiefly for the whispers.

They were discussing Lily Delayne upon the afternoon of this particular day, and not without that charity which remembered her as a baronet's wife. Led by Bess Bethune—whose father had known Sir Frederick Kennaird—and kept in order by Dr. Orange, who was a man of the world with good perceptions, it was unanimously resolved by the meeting that her ladyship had been foolish to go to the chalet and would be more foolish if she remained there. Had she not been a baronet's wife, the assembly might have arrived with justice at another conclusion; but the daughter of Burnham Priory was a desirable acquisition, and as Lady Coral-Smith remarked: "Not in any way responsible for the vices of an irresponsible man." So the meeting carried the resolution nem. con., and having carried it, settled down to remember all the "good things" about Sir Luton which ready tongues and readier newspapers had recorded these ten years.

Dr. Orange said very little, except to admit that Lady Delayne was a very charming person, and to express his surprise that she had not divorced the baronet long ago. This remark escaped him at a moment when Bess Bethune had deserted the study of social jurisprudence for that of the velocity of snow when obstructed by the bald head of a choleric sleeper. When the young lady returned from her occupation, Lady Coral-Smith took up the running with the observation that the measure of a woman's endurance is often the measure of her intellect, and that bad men should certainly marry fools. This remark, directed to the dull understanding of Major Boodle, pleased that worthy mightily, and he echoed it with a succession of "Eh, what's," which trilled like the warblings of an asthmatic bird.

Thereafter silence fell and endured until the major thought that he remembered a good story concerning the Delaynes, and was about to tell it, when what should happen but that her ladyship appeared suddenly among the company, and brought the men to their feet as though a bombshell had fallen amongst them.

Social credulity is a curious thing, and is apt to become incredulity on next to no provocation at all. The man or woman, whom all discuss, remains just the man, or the woman, when introduced to the company. All the stories concerning him or her seem to be forgotten in a moment; nothing is remembered but the personality of the intruder, and should that be satisfying, the recording finger ceases to write. So, at Andana, this little company would now have been prepared to swear in any court that none but the most flattering observations concerning her ladyship had fallen from its lips, and that it was ready to welcome this charming lady with the cordiality her position (and her father's money) demanded.

To this happy state of things Lily's own charm contributed not a little. She was, for some of these good middle-class folk, as an ambassador from another kingdom, and one which they might not hope to enter. Her unaffected manner, her gentleness, conquered the men, and did not provoke the women. Had she been of their own sphere, they would have envied her beauty and complained of it. But being of a race apart, even the mayor's relict could grant her some natural "advantages." As for homely Mrs. Rider, particularly honoured by her ladyship's attentions, she, good soul, was in the seventh heaven. This would make a fine story in Bayswater when she got back. "My friend, Lady Delayne, travelling incognito"—how well it sounded. Her lips were already prepared for that delicacy.

Lily drew a chair close to the prospective mother of "the boys," and began to talk to her in low tones. Sir Gordon, after a vain attempt to join in, had the wit to perceive that he was making no impression, and turned his attention to "the little savage," as he called Mistress Bess. When he was gone, Lily approached the dangerous topic of Messrs. Robert Otway and Richard Fenton. She thought that they were pleasant young men and would start in life with some pecuniary advantages.

Had Mrs. Rider known them long—were they very old friends? To which that good lady replied with warmth that this was her third season at Andana, and that the boys had been there on each occasion. Then, with an aside of some moment, she hastened to confess that it was embarrassing to be the mother of two grown-up daughters at her age: "For I am but nine-and-thirty, Mrs. Kennaird, and my poor husband has been dead these five years."

Lily expressed her sympathy in a kindly way and led the good soul insensibly to other confessions. Each of the girls had three hundred a year in her own right, and, naturally, their mother would like to see them happily married. She, herself, was not too old to resign "all the pleasures of life," as she put it na?vely; but what could she do with these great grown-up girls and their perpetual activities? Men naturally thought a woman as old as her children believed her to be; and young people nowadays have such strange notions about years.

As to the young men, she liked them well enough. They were noisy, to be sure; but, then, might not others say the same with justice of Nell and Marjory?

"I'm ashamed of their boisterousness sometimes," the good lady admitted. "I'm sure I was never like that when I was a girl, and what happiness they can find in it, I don't know. Believe me, Mrs. Kennaird, they never are at rest. When it's not skating and sliding, it's golf and hockey. If you ask them to read a book, they think you want to do them an injury. I gave Marjory the 'Pilgrim's Progress' on her last birthday, and all she said was that 'Christian won on the last green.' There's levity for you—there's improper behaviour. Oh, I shall be sorry to lose them, but sorrier still for the man who marries them—indeed I shall. You couldn't understand it yourself, for you have no daughters of your own, they tell me; but I've a mother's heart, and they wound it every day that I live. Oh, yes, I shall be sorry for the man who marries them."

Lily smiled, but did not comment upon the grammar of the observation, or its suggestions. The situation was now quite plain to her. Here was a good woman who would enter the holy bonds for the second time, one who found a serious obstacle in the presence of these hoydens who proclaimed their mother's age urbi et orbi. Little it mattered to her whether the worldly prospects of likely suitors were good or ill. Lily perceived that the boys were already married, so far as Mrs. Rider was concerned, and she determined to push the suggestion no further. So she led the conversation to more general topics, and finally turned to Dr. Orange, who had been waiting for an opportunity to speak to her.

Lily confessed to the doctor that she had come out with the intention of doing a little shopping in the village of Andana, and he, with ready gallantry, offered to accompany her thither. His art in mundane affairs was considerable, and no one who overheard their talk would have guessed that he knew this lady's story to the last line. Not until the narrow path carried them to the heart of the wood by the Sanatorium did h............
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