‘Those two inseparables have just come in from a bicycle ride,’ she would announce; ‘quite a picture they make, so fresh and glowing after their spin.’

‘A picture needing words,’ would be Teresa’s private comment, and as far as Bertie was concerned she was determined that the words should remain unspoken.

On the afternoon after Christmas Day Mrs Yonelet dashed into the drawing-room, where her hostess was sitting amid a circle of guests and tea-cups and muffin-dishes. Fate had placed what seemed like a trumpcard in the hands of the patiently manœuvring mother. With eyes blazing with excitement and a voice heavily escorted with exclamation marks she made a dramatic announcement.

‘Bertie has saved Dora from the elk!’

In swift, excited sentences, broken with maternal emotion, she gave supplementary information as to how the treacherous animal had ambushed Dora as she was hunting for a strayed golf ball, and how Bertie had dashed to her rescue with a stable fork and driven the beast off in the nick of time.

‘It was touch and go! She threw her niblick at it, but that didn’t stop it. In another moment she would have been crushed beneath its hoofs,’ panted Mrs Yonelet.

‘The animal is not safe,’ said Teresa, handing her agitated guest a cup of tea. ‘I forget if you take sugar. I suppose the solitary life it leads has soured its temper. There are muffins in the grate. It’s not my fault; I’ve tried to get it a mate for ever so long. You don’t know of any one with a lady elk for sale or exchange, do you?’ she asked the company generally.

But Mrs Yonelet was in no humour to listen to talk of elk marriages. The mating of two human beings was the subject uppermost in her mind, and the opportunity for advancing her pet project was too valuable to be neglected.

‘Teresa,’ she exclaimed impressively, ‘after those two young people have been thrown together so dramatically, nothing can be quite the same again between them. Bertie has done more than save Dora’s life; he has earned her affection. One cannot help feeling that Fate has consecrated them for one another.’

‘Exactly what the vicar’s wife said when Bertie saved Sybil from the elk a year or two ago,’ observed Teresa placidly; ‘I pointed out to her that he had rescued Mirabel Hicks from the same predicament a few months previously, and that priority really belonged to the gardener’s boy, who had been rescued in the January of that year. There is a good deal of sameness in country life, you know.’

‘It seems to be a very dangerous animal,’ said one of the guests.

‘That’s what the mother of the gardener’s boy said,’ remarked Teresa; ‘she wanted me to have it destroyed, but I pointed out to her that she had eleven children and I had only one elk. I also gave her a black silk skirt; she said that though there hadn’t been a funeral in her family, she felt as if there had been. Anyhow, we parted friends. I can’t offer you a silk skirt, Emily, but you may have another cup of tea. As I have already remarked, there are muffins in the grate.’

Teresa closed the discussion, having deftly conveyed the impression that she considered the mother of the gardener’s boy had shown a far more reasonable spirit than the parents of other elk-assaulted victims.

‘Teresa is devoid of feeling,’ said Mrs Yonelet afterwards to the vicar’s wife; ‘to sit there, talking of muffins, with an appalling tragedy only narrowly averted—’

‘Of course you know whom she really intends Bertie to marry?’ asked the vicar’s wife; ‘I’ve noticed it for some time. The Bickelbys’ German governess.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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