His agitation was unmistakably genuine, and his hearers started forward in a thrill of awakened interest.
Collapsing into an armchair he continued breathlessly: I found him dozing in the smoking-room, and called out to him to come for his tea. He blinked at me in his usual way, and I said, Come on, Toby; dont keep us waiting; and, by Gad! he drawled out in a most horribly natural voice that hed come when he dashed well pleased! I nearly jumped out of my skin!
Appin had preached to absolutely incredulous hearers; Sir Wilfrids statement carried instant conviction. A Babel-like chorus of startled exclamation arose, amid which the scientist sat mutely enjoying the first fruit of his stupendous discovery.
In the midst of the clamour Tobermory entered the room and made his way with velvet tread and studied unconcern across to the group seated round the tea-table.
A sudden hush of awkwardness and constraint fell on the company. Somehow there seemed an element of embarrassment in addressing on equal terms a domestic cat of acknowledged dental ability.
Will you have some milk, Tobermory? asked Lady Blemley in a rather strained voice.
I dont mind if I do, was the response, couched in a tone of even indifference. A shiver of suppressed excitement went through the listeners, and Lady Blemley might be excused for pouring out the saucerful of milk rather unsteadily.
Im afraid Ive spilt a good deal of it, she said apologetically.
After all, its not my Axminster, was Tobermorys rejoinder.
Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker, in her best district-visitor manner, asked if the human language had been difficult to learn. Tobermory looked squarely at her for a moment and then fixed his gaze serenely on the middle distance. It was obvious that boring questions lay outside his scheme of life.
What do you think of human intelligence? asked Mavis Pellington lamely.
Of whose intelligence in particular? asked Tobermory coldly.
Oh, well, mine, for instance, said Mavis, with a feeble laugh.
You put me in an embarrassing position, said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain- power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call The Envy of Sisyphus, because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.
Lady Blemleys protestations would have had greater effect if she had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.
Major Barfield plunged in heavily to effect a diversion.
How about your carryings-on with the tortoiseshell puss up at the stables, eh?
The moment he had said it every one realized the blunder.
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