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'Well--er--good links quite near.'

'You know I don't play golf.'

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'Nor do you. I was forgetting. Still, it's quite a jolly place.'

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'It's a horrible place. I loathe it. I've half a mind not to go.'

'Oh, I don't know.'

'What do you mean?'

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Lord Dawlish was feeling a little sorry for himself. Whatever he said seemed to be the wrong thing. This evidently was one of the days on which Claire was not so sweet-tempered as on some other days. It crossed his mind that of late these irritable moods of hers had grown more frequent. It was not her fault, poor girl! he told himself. She had rather a rotten time.

It was always Lord Dawlish's habit on these occasions to make this excuse for Claire. It was such a satisfactory excuse. It covered everything. But, as a matter of fact, the rather rotten time which she was having was not such a very rotten one. Reducing it to its simplest terms, and forgetting for the moment that she was an extraordinarily beautiful girl--which his lordship found it impossible to do--all that it amounted to was that, her mother having but a small income, and existence in the West Kensington flat being consequently a trifle dull for one with a taste for the luxuries of life, Claire had gone on the stage. By birth she belonged to a class of which the female members are seldom called upon to earn money at all, and that was one count of her grievance against Fate. Another was that she had not done as well on the stage as she had expected to do. When she became engaged to Bill she had reached a point where she could obtain without difficulty good parts in the touring companies of London successes, but beyond that it seemed it was impossible for her to soar. It was not, perhaps, a very exhilarating life, but, except to the eyes of love, there was nothing tragic about it. It was the cumulative effect of having a mother in reduced circumstances and grumbling about it, of being compelled to work and grumbling about that, and of achieving in her work only a semi-success and grumbling about that also, that--backed by her looks--enabled Claire to give quite a number of people, and Bill Dawlish in particular, the impression that she was a modern martyr, only sustained by her indomitable courage.

So Bill, being requested in a peevish voice to explain what he meant by saying, 'Oh, I don't know,' condoned the peevishness. He then bent his mind to the task of trying to ascertain what he had meant.

'Well,' he said, 'what I mean is, if you don't show up won't it be rather a jar for old friend Maginnis? Won't he be apt to foam at the mouth a bit and stop giving you parts in his companies?'

'I'm sick of trying to please Maginnis. What's the good? He never gives me a chance in London. I'm sick of being always on tour. I'm sick of everything.'

'It's the heat,' said Lord Dawlish, most injudiciously.

'It isn't the heat. It's you!'

'Me? What have I done?'

'It's what you've not done. Why can't you exert yourself and make some money?'

Lord Dawlish groaned a silent groan. By a devious route, but with unfailing precision, they had come homing back to the same old subject.