Read CHAPTER LVI - A LITTLE GOSSIP. of The Master of the Ceremonies , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

That hat which the Master of the Ceremonies raised so frequently to the various visitors looked in its solidity as if it might very well become an heirloom, and descend to his son, should he in more mature life take to his father’s duties.

Stuart Denville had just replaced it for about the twentieth time that morning, when he encountered Lady Drelincourt in her chair.

Her ladyship had been very cold since her visit to the Denvilles, but this particular morning she was all smiles and good humour.

“Now, here you are, Denville, and you’ll tell me all about it.  You were there?”

“Yes, dear Lady Drelincourt,” said Denville, with his best smile, as he thought of Morton and his possible future.  “I was there.  At ­er ­”

“Pontardent’s, yes.  Now, tell me, there’s a good man, all about it.  Is the Major much hurt?  Now, how tiresome!  What do you want, Bray?  You are always hunting me about with that wicked boy.”

“No, no,” said Sir Matthew, in his ponderous fashion.  “Drawn, Lady Drelincourt, drawn.  Attracted, eh, Payne?”

Sir Harry Payne ­“that wicked boy,” as he was termed by her ladyship ­ declared upon his reputation that Sir Matthew Bray was quite right.  It was attraction.

“I felt it myself, demme, that I did, horribly, madam; but I said I would be true to my friend Bray, here, and I fled from temptation like a man.”

“I’m afraid I can’t believe you ­either of you,” said her ladyship, simpering.  “But, now, do tell me ­no, no, don’t go, Denville; I want to talk to you.  Sir Harry, now was Major Rockley, that dreadful Méphistophélès, half killed?”

Sir Harry Payne screwed up his face, shook his head, took snuff loudly, and, raising his hat, walked away.

“How tantalising!” cried Lady Drelincourt.  “Now, Bray, do tell me.  Is it true that he was carrying off that Miss Dean, and her mother sent Colonel Mellersh and Mr Linnell to fetch them back?”

“Mustn’t tell.  Can’t say a word, dear Lady Drelincourt.  Brother-officer, you see.  But ­”

Sir Matthew Bray blew out his cheeks, frowned, rolled his eyes, pursed up his lips, and looked as if he were fully charged with important information which honour forbade him to part with, ending by shaking his head at her ladyship, and then giving it a solemn nod.

“I knew I was right,” said her ladyship triumphantly.  “Now, didn’t you hear the same version, Denville?”

“Well, I ­must confess, your ladyship ­that I ­er ­did.”

“Of course.  That’s it.  Well, Rockley’s a very, very wicked man, and I don’t think I shall ever speak to him again.  I’ve quite done with him.  Yes, you may stay a little while, Bray, but not long.  People are so scandalous.  Good-bye, Denville.  Is your little girl quite well?”

Denville declared that she was in the best of health; and, as Lady Drelincourt was wheeled away in one direction, so much fashionable lumber, the Master of the Ceremonies went mincing in the other.

Saltinville boasted of about a dozen versions of the scandal, one of the most popular being that which was picked up at Miss Clode’s.  In this version Cora Dean had no part, but Claire Denville had.

For a whole week these various accounts were bandied about and garbled and told, till the result of the mixture was very singular, and it would have puzzled an expert to work out the simple truth.  Then something fresh sprang up, and the elopement or abduction ­nobody at last knew which, or who were the principals ­was forgotten, especially as Rockley was seen about as usual, and the proprietor of the chaise and the killed horse was fully recompensed by the Major.  How he obtained the money, he and Josiah Barclay best knew.

But Stuart Denville was disappointed with respect to his daughter’s prospects.  It was sheer pleasure to her to be able to stay quietly at home; but her father bitterly regretted the absence of invitation cards, while he, for one, remained strangely in ignorance that it was his own child who was nearly carried off that night.