Read Hue and Cry Online

Authors: Patricia Wentworth

Hue and Cry





Hue and Cry

Patricia Wentworth


Mally Lee stamped her foot and drew back from Roger Mooring's encircling arm.

“For goodness
sake, Roger, do try to remember that you're supposed to be in love with me!” she exclaimed.

The ballroom at Curston wore an air of depression. Emptiness and the falling dusk brooded over the rows and rows of chairs which had been marshalled for to-night's performance. Only the little stage, on which the dress rehearsal was in progress, was brightly lighted.

Miss Mally Lee and Mr. Roger Mooring held the stage.

“If you're in love with me,
love to me!”

Elaine Maudsley giggled. She had volunteered to prompt, but she divided her time at rehearsals between giggling and dropping the prompt-book. She dropped it now, grabbed at it, and heard the injured Roger say:

“How can I act when you keep interrupting?”

“You weren't acting—that's just what I'm complaining about. We're supposed to be in the middle of a most frantically impassioned love scene, and you hold me as if I were a wet umbrella.”

“How do you want me to hold you?” said Roger crossly.

“Jimmy'll show you. Come along, Jimmy, and put your arm round my waist.”

“No, I'm hanged if he does!”

Jimmy Lake came out of the wings and hovered. Elaine tittered again. Roger, red with annoyance, put his own arm about the slim waist of his betrothed, and said, in his character of dashing Cavalier, “I love you. I adore you. Let us fly together.”

Mally was merciless.

“You get worse instead of better,” she declared. “And I won't fly with any one who looks at me as if I were cold underdone mutton. Come along, Jimmy, and show him how to do it.”

“Not much!” said Jimmy. “Roger'll break my head if I do, and then where'll you be for a villain to-night?”

“Don't talk about to-night, or I shall scream. We want at least a dozen more rehearsals. Roger gets worse—and worse—and worse.”

“Look here, Mally——”

“But you do, Roger—you really do. You make love worse than any one I've ever come across. Now don't you think you could make a really terrific effort and look as if you did like me a little?”

Roger's handsome features remained impassive; the set of his mouth betrayed temper.

“Miss Lee——” This was Colonel Fairbanks speaking from the other side of the footlights with a certain deliberate weariness——“Miss Lee, are you stage-managing this piece, or am I? I don't mind, you know; I only ask, because——”

“You are—and you do it too beautifully,” said Mally. “I'm frightfully sorry. I won't do it again.”

She turned back to Roger with a swish of her full Stuart skirt, tossed her ringlets, and dropped him a curtsey. Voice and manner changed suddenly and became sweetness itself.

“Ah, my dear love,” she breathed, taking up her cue and wickedly pleased to observe that this sudden address brought the embarrassed blood to Mr. Mooring's manly cheek.

The love scene proceeded on its unequal way. Roger could look handsome and hold himself well, but there his capacity as an actor ended. He was further handicapped by the fact of his engagement to Miss Mally Lee. In the circumstances, he hardly knew which was worse—to make stage love to her himself, or to allow Jimmy Lake to do so. In either case Elaine would giggle and the county be amused. He cursed all private theatricals, and continued to walk steadily through his part and to hold Mally, in rose brocade, as if she were a wet umbrella.

“I'm glad I'm not engaged to you,” said Jimmy Lake as they stood together in the wings, waiting for the abduction scene.

“So am I,” said Mally Lee very heartily.

“Love all! You
a little devil, you know. Why do you do it?”

“Dunno. You might as well ask why I breathe, or sleep.”

“You'll go too far one of these days—honest, you will, Mally.”

Mally dropped to the floor in a curtsey, and made a beautiful recover. She was a slim slip of an insignificant creature, with a provoking something in her greenish-hazel eyes.

“Thank you, Jimmy dear. But you'd better be careful too. You're the villain of the piece, and don't you forget it and start preaching, or—Gracious! There's my cue!”

An hour later an exhausted company trooped in to tea. Lady Mooring, plump and comfortable, detached herself from her novel with an effort and inquired vaguely:

“Well, my dears, and how did it go this time?”

Six people speaking at once said, “Awful!” Colonel Fairbanks made a silent gesture of despair, and Jimmy groaned.

“Well, the worse it goes now, the better it will go to-night. That's always the way, isn't it? At least I'm sure I've been told so, or else I read it somewhere—I really don't know which. Elaine, my dear, will you pour tea? Jimmy, don't you think another log on the fire—? Yes—thank you. And now let's be comfortable and think that it's all going to be a splendid success.”

Lady Mooring was invariably described as “such a kind woman.” Her reputation for extreme goodnature was really founded upon the fact that she found it too much trouble to disagree with any one. As long as she could eat four meals a day and read innumerable novels, she asked no more of life. She addressed most of her acquaintances as “my dear”; but if some cataclysm had suddenly removed them all, she would, to be sure, have murmured, “How sad!” But her enjoyment of the entrée and the after-dinner novel would have been unimpaired. Roger alone had the power to penetrate this comfortable indifference; and where Roger was concerned, she could be as jealous and exacting as any other mother of an idolized only son. Roger was of course the handsomest, cleverest, and altogether most desirable young man in England. If she did not go beyond England, it was because England was to her the universe, and Curston was her world.

“Where's Roger? Jimmy, where's Roger?”

“Roger? I don't know.” Jimmy's mouth was full of cake.

“But he was with you, surely. Marion, my dear——”

Miss Mally Lee disclaimed all knowledge of Roger's whereabouts.

“If he's as hungry as I am, he'll be here in no time. Jimmy, cut me some cake—there's a love. Rehearsing gives me the most frightful appetite, especially when Roger and I have been quarrelling all the time.”

Lady Mooring, who disliked Mally, as she would certainly have disliked any girl who aspired to Roger's hand, began to dislike her a little more and to wonder vaguely but resentfully what Roger or any one else could possibly see in her. Just now, of course, dressed up and rouged, with those absurd ringlets, she was looking her very best; but as a rule, with her short hair and her short skirts, she was more like a little schoolgirl than the future mistress of Curston—not pretty, and not smart; and goodness alone knew who her people were. Not a penny, and working for her living, too. Under Lady Mooring's placid exterior such thoughts as these took shape.

Roger came into the room with an air so gloomy and abstracted as to give some food for thought. He plumped into a chair as far as possible from Mally, and took a cup of tea after the manner of a man who commits some desperate act. When he refused cake, Lady Mooring's spirits rose. After all, an engagement was not a marriage.

A little later Mally herself had the same thought. She and Roger were for the moment alone in the big ballroom, now brightly lighted from end to end. Under the lights Roger's air of gloom seemed suddenly oppressive. She slipped a hand inside his arm, only to have it shaken off again.

“As bad as all that?” she said, and blew him a kiss. “Poor old Roger!”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“Don't you?” She looked at him wickedly out of the corners of her eyes and assumed a cooing voice: “Was'ums, did'ums then?”

Roger glared at her.

“That's right. Go on. Laugh at me. You're always laughing at me.”

“It's so frightfully good for you to be laughed at.”

“Well, look here, Mally, I'll tell you one thing—I won't be laughed at in public. You'll go a little too far one of these days.”

Mally made a graceful pirouette.

“I do love the way these long skirts swish. There's no satisfaction in twirling round in a skirt that only comes down to your knee—is there? What did you say, Roger?”

“I said you'd go too far one day.” His voice was low and furious.

Mally stuck her chin in the air.

“And what would happen then? How fearfully exciting!”

“You'll be sorry—that's all.”

“I wonder.” She twirled again. “Roger, you don't know what you miss in not having a skirt. It does feel lovely.”

“Look here, Mally——” He paused. His face was full of angry color.

“I'm looking,” said Miss Lee in a small, cool voice. “You're awfully red, Roger. Are you feeling hot? That sort of clo' is a bit stuffy—isn't it?”

“Look here, Mally——”

“I am looking. What is it?”

“I want to know why you got engaged to me, if I'm such a laughing-stock.”

“Of course I'd never seen you
.” This was in a very small, whispering voice. Then quickly:” Oh, Roger, don't be so awfully cross. I haven't the slightest idea why I got engaged to you—I haven't really—and I don't suppose I ever shall have. Cheer up, and think what a splendid bit of luck it was for you.” As Roger showed no signs of cheering up, she added, “Of course, when you say engaged—well, what do you mean by engaged?”

“What everybody else means. You said you'd marry me.”

Mally gave a little shriek.

“Never! Good gracious, Roger, what a horrible fib!”

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