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'Young scoundrel!' ejaculated the Colonel. Then remembering that a son must never be abused to his mother, added: 'I beg your pardon, Mrs. Verner, but for the moment my indignation got the better of me. Besides, these reports are, perhaps, not true. I do not know the affairs of the junior members of the corps sufficiently well to be able to give an opinion on the subject.'


'Oh, I quite understand that, but do tell me what course I had better take,' she said, glancing appealingly at him. How am I, a helpless woman, to find out whether these dreadful reports are true or not? and yet I feel that I must know the truth or go mad.' After a pause, during which the Colonel was evidently lost in thought, he replied: Mrs. Verner, I promised to do the best I could for you, and I will. I am going down to Aldershot in a few days, and I shall there see Colonel Thompson; from him I will ascertain what reputation for wealth your son has in the regiment. I admit I don't much like the detective part of the business, but I feel that it is a sacred duty to protect a lady in your sad position.'

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'Oh, how kind of you, Colonel Punter!' she exclaimed. 'This is more than I had any right to expect that you would do for me. But, oh, let me beg of you not to expose my son if these rumours should be true, and let me implore you not to seek an interview with him on the subject. If you learn from the Colonel, as you kindly say you will, whether what I have heard is true or not, and would, on your return to town, grant me a few words of advice as to what course I had better take, I should be very grateful.'

'I shall be most happy, Mrs. Verner,' said he briskly, but I feel sure that you will find that there is nothing in it after all. Your son, as far as I know him, is a charming young fellow, and quite incapable of the frauds which these accusations impute to him. So pray keep up your spirits, and, if it is convenient to you, let us arrange to meet here at this time on this day week.'

The time was quite convenient to Mrs. Verner, and, with many apologies for the liberty she had taken in calling to ask his advice, she departed.

On his journey down to Aldershot the next morning Colonel Punter thought a good deal about his fair visitor of the day before and her troubles. He heaped, moreover, many hard words on the head of young Verner (for, of course, he supposed him, at any rate, partially guilty). Selfish young rascals, all the lot of them!' said he to himself; they don't mind a straw how much trouble



they bring on their relations, if only they can indulge themselves; and such a charming woman too!' And then he went off into a reverie, in the midst of which he found himself speculating as to whether a man of his age was absolutely and irrevocably too old to marry without making himself look like a fool; and as the train arrived at Aldershot he had just come to the conclusion that there was a good deal to be said on both sides.

That very evening he saw Colonel Thompson, and in the course of conversation managed to ask his questions about young Verner, and found out that, according to Colonel Thompson, Verner was the son of a rich merchant in Singapore, and that his people had not been in England for many years.

"Yes, thank you,' said Colonel Punter; 'I thought I had heard of his people in England, but I suppose I must be mistaken,' and then he changed the subject. He happened, however, just before mess (he was a guest of the regiment that night), to meet Verner by himself, and he suddenly resolved, in spite of the widow's request, to say a few words to him. So, stepping forward and addressing the young man in a somewhat constrained voice, he said: "Would you mind taking a turn with me, as there are a few things I should like to speak to you about?'

'I shall be most happy, Colonel Punter,' said the young man, wondering what on earth the old boy had to say to him.

No sooner were they well out of earshot than the Colonel turned short on his companion, and said sternly: I saw your mother in town yesterday,' and then paused to watch the crushing effect of his words. But no crushing effect was visible; on the contrary, Verner answered in accents of mild surprise:

'You must be thinking of someone else, sir; my mother is at Singapore.'

'No, I am not thinking of anybody else,' said the Colonel, still more sternly; and then added, 'So you are going to brazen it out, are you?'

• Brazen what out?' said the young man, apparently thoroughly puzzled.

'You know very well,' said the Colonel; and if you don't, you soon will.' Then he turned on his heel and walked off.

Young Verner stood for a moment looking after him, then walked away, laughing heartily.

At mess that night he was heard to say 'You know old Punter, who's here to-night?'

to a brother-officer :

'Yes,' replied the other, 'I know him pretty well. What about him?'

'He was in India a good deal, wasn't he?'

'Yes. Well?'

'Did he ever get a touch of the sun?'

'Dare say he did; most people do out there.'

'Well, if he did, it has affected his brain-poor old boy!' 'What on earth do

you mean?

"Why, I mean that the gallant Colonel may have his lucid intervals, but when he met me, just before mess, he was as mad as a hatter.'

'How mad?'

'Well, he told me that he had met my mother yesterday in London.'

'She's at Singapore, isn't she?'

'Yes, and has been for the last twenty years, and so I told him.' 'What did he say to that?'

'He said he saw I was going to brazen it out. I said, "Brazen out what?" and he retorted, with a scowl that would have frightened an elephant, that I knew very well. Then he turned and walked off. I could not help laughing at the poor old fellow at the time, he was so desperately serious about it all. However, the sun may do the same for me some day, and I really pity him, for he's a very good chap when he's all right.'

'Oh, a capital fellow,' replied the other, and can tell a very good story. It's really very sad. I suppose it must have been a touch of the sun, though I never heard of his being odd before.'

'He seems all right now, anyway,' said Verner, looking up the table to where Colonel Punter was sitting.

'Oh yes, he's all right now. I'll tell you what, Verner; I have an explanation. The old boy came down from town by a midday train, and I dare say missed his lunch, and what you took for a madman was only a fellow very much in want of his dinner.' And the two young men laughingly changed the subject.

A few days after this the Colonel was back in town, and found himself dreading considerably the coming interview with the widow. He would have to confirm her worst fears, he was afraid ; also, that there would be a scene, and he did not like the idea of it at all. He felt, moreover, that he must appear in the light of a bearer of bad news-a melancholy character which he did not by any means wish to assume in Mrs. Verner's eyes. However,' thought


he, 'I shall at any rate have an opportunity afterwards of playing the part of comforter and adviser.' And this reflection seemed to cause him a good deal of satisfaction. It will be seen, therefore, that the Colonel had been somewhat taken (to use the word which he employed in confessing it to himself), or smitten, with Mrs. Verner on the one occasion on which he had seen her, and during the few days that intervened between his return to town and the day on which they had appointed to have their second meeting he found himself constantly regarding that future date with the mixed feelings which have been described above.

The appointed day and hour found Colonel Punter seated in his room trying to read the paper, but in reality waiting a little nervously for Mrs. Verner. She did not keep him long. On entering the room she looked keenly at the Colonel, and, advancing quickly, said in rapid, anxious accents:

'Oh, Colonel Punter, don't keep me in suspense; is it true?' Then seeing his blank look, she cried out: 'It is, and he is dishonoured.' Then she sank into a chair and burst into tears. This the Colonel had prepared himself for, so in his most winning accents he implored her to compose herself. This in a few minutes she partially succeeded in doing, and immediately proceeded to cross-examine him as to what he had found out and done at Aldershot: how there was no doubt in the regiment as to young Verner's being the son of rich people at Singapore, how the Colonel himself had told him so, and how he (Colonel Punter) had in a fit of indignation spoken to the young man himself. For this she mildly upbraided him, reminding him of her request, and the Colonel deprecated her wrath and pleaded sudden impulse. When the story was finished she rose, and, smiling sadly through her tears, said:

'I don't know how I can sufficiently thank you for your kindness to me, Colonel Punter. You have indeed been a true friend, and I should like above all things, if you will allow me, to ask your advice as to what I had better do in this sad matter; but, indeed, I feel quite incapable of doing so on this occasion. Hearing that these terrible reports are true has, as you have seen, upset me very much, and I think I had better go home now; but if you will allow me to fix a future interview by note, when I feel less unequal to the effort, you will add one more to your many kindnesses.'

The Colonel very readily consented, and in another moment

she was gone, and with her, so it seemed to our gallant friend, all light and beauty departed from the room. From that moment, too, though he would hardly have confessed it to himself, he began looking forward to the day when he should see that note upon his table.

A fortnight had elapsed since the interview above detailed, but Colonel Punter had not yet received the expected note. He had not given up hope, but still he was undoubtedly depressed, and, whether it was an effort to throw off this dejection which had induced him to accompany his friend Captain Jones to the Variety Theatre, or whether impelled by fate, or for whatever reason, we will not stop to inquire, but at any rate in that theatre, and comfortably ensconced in two stalls, sat Colonel Punter and Captain Jones on this evening, some of the events of which are about to be related.

The curtain had just fallen on the first act, and the house, till that moment wrapped in gloom, sprang suddenly into light. Then, as if by common consent, every man, woman, and child in that great audience, with a want of manners that would be permissible nowhere else, but which is quite conventional between the acts of a play, commenced, with or without opera-glasses, to scrutinise his or her neighbour. For a few seconds the Colonel had a discussion with his friend as to whether there was time for a cigarette between the acts. This was promptly decided in the negative, and both officers, grasping their glasses, proceeded to join in the 'general inspection.'

With a calmness born of long habit, Colonel Punter was sweeping the house, when suddenly his arm dropped and his gaze became intently fixed on the occupants of a box on the right of the stage; these consisted of two gentlemen and a lady, and the lady was Mrs. Verner. On this point he had no doubt whatever, though he looked at her with ever-increasing surprise, for she was in very full evening dress, and was extensively bejewelled. She was, moreover, at this moment, talking and laughing loudly, not to say boisterously, with her companions, both of whom the Colonel mentally and unhesitatingly pronounced to be cads. At this juncture Mrs. Verner, turning her head suddenly, caught sight of Colonel Punter staring at her from the stalls; the moment their eyes met he bowed, and she also bowed slightly and smiled; then, turning to her companions, she seemed, from their uproarious laughter, to be telling them a more than usually good

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