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Lady Betty’s Indiscretion
by [?]

“Horry! I am sick to death of it!”

There was a servant in the room gathering the tea-cups; but Lady Betty Stafford, having been brought up in the purple, was not to be deterred from speaking her mind by a servant. Her cousin was either more prudent or less vivacious; he did not answer on the instant, but stood looking through one of the windows at the leafless trees and slow-dropping rain in the Mall, and only turned when Lady Betty pettishly repeated her statement.

“Had a bad time?” he then vouchsafed, dropping into a chair near her, and looking first at her, in a good-natured way, and then at his boots, which he seemed to approve.

“Horrid!” she replied.

“Many people here?”

“Hordes of them! Whole tribes!” she exclaimed. She was a little lady, plump and pretty, with a pale, clear complexion, and bright eyes. “I am bored beyond belief. And–and I have not seen Stafford since morning,” she added.

“Cabinet council?”

“Yes!” she answered viciously. “A cabinet council, and a privy council, and a board of trade, and a board of green cloth, and all the other boards! Horry, I am sick to death of it! What is the use of it all?”

“Country go to the dogs!” he said oracularly, still admiring his boots.

“Let it!” she retorted, not relenting a whit. ” I wish it would; I wish the dogs joy of it!”

He made an extraordinary effort at diffuseness. “I thought,” he said, “that you were becoming political, Betty. Going to write something, and all that.”

“Rubbish! But here is Mr. Atley. Mr. Atley, will you have a cup of tea,” she continued, speaking to the newcomer. “There will be some here presently. Where is Mr. Stafford?”

“Mr. Stafford will take a cup of tea in the library, Lady Betty,” replied the secretary. “He asked me to bring it to him. He is copying an important paper.”

Sir Horace forsook his boots, and in a fit of momentary interest asked, “They have come to terms?”

The secretary nodded. Lady Betty said “Pshaw!” A man brought in the fresh teapot. The next moment Mr. Stafford himself came quickly into the room, an open telegram in his hand.

He nodded pleasantly to his wife and her cousin. But his thin, dark face wore–it generally did–a preoccupied look. Country people to whom he was pointed out in the streets called him, according to their political leanings, either insignificant, or a prig, or a “dry sort;” or sometimes said, “How young he is!” But those whose fate it was to face the Minister in the House knew that there was something in him more to be feared even than his imperturability, his honesty, or his precision–and that was a certain sudden warmth, which was apt to carry away the House at unexpected times. On one of these occasions, it was rumored, Lady Betty Champion had seen him, and fallen in love with him. Why he had thrown the handkerchief to her–well that was another matter; and whether the apparently incongruous match would answer–that, too, remained to be seen.

“More telegrams?” she cried now. “It rains telegrams! how I hate them!”

“Why?” he said. “Why should you?” He really wondered.

She made a face at him. “Here is your tea,” she said abruptly.

“Thank you; you are very good,” he replied. He took the cup and set it down absently. “Atley,” he continued, speaking to the secretary, “you have not corrected the report of my speech at the Club, have you? No, I know you have had no time. Will you run your eye over it presently, and see if it is all right, and send it to the Times–I do not think I need see it–by eleven o’clock at latest. The editor,” he added, tapping the pink paper in his hand, “seemed to doubt us. I have to go to Fitzgerald’s now, so you must copy Lord Pilgrimstone’s terms, too, please. I had meant to do it myself, but I shall be with you before you have finished.”