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A LESSON IN TACT
Mr. Brewster's butler was surprised and annoyed. For the first time in his official career he had unbent so far as to manifest a personal interest in the welfare of his master. He was on the verge of assuming a responsibility which makes any servant intolerable. But after his interview he resolved that he would never again overstep his position. He made sure that it should be the last offense. The day following the dinner Rawles appeared before young Mr. Brewster and indicated by his manner that the call was an important one. Brewster was seated at his writing-table, deep in thought. The exclamation that followed Rawles' cough of announcement was so sharp and so unmistakably fierce that all other evidence paled into insignificance. The butler's interruption came at a moment when Monty's mental arithmetic was pulling itself out of a very bad rut, and, the cough drove it back into chaos.
"What is it?" he demanded, irritably.
Rawles had upset his calculations to the extent of seven or eight hundred dollars.
"I came to report h'an h'unfortunate condition h'among the servants, sir," said Rawles, stiffening as his responsibility became more and more weighty. He had relaxed temporarily upon entering the room.
"What's the trouble?"
"The trouble's h'ended, sir."
"Then why bother me about it?"
"I thought it would be well for you to know, sir. The servants was going to ask for 'igher wiges to-day, sir."
"You say they were going to ask? Aren't they?" And Monty's eyes lighted up at the thought of new possibilities.
"I convinced them, sir, as how they were getting good pay as it is, sir, and that they ought to be satisfied. They'd be a long time finding a better place and as good wiges. They 'aven't been with you a week, and here they are strikin' for more pay. Really, sir, these American servants—"
"Rawles, that'll do!" exploded Monty. The butler's chin went up and his cheeks grew redder than ever.
"I beg pardon, sir," he gasped, with a respectful but injured air.
"Rawles, you will kindly not interfere in such matters again. It is not only the privilege, but the duty of every American to strike for higher pay whenever he feels like it, and I want it distinctly understood that I am heartily in favor of their attitude. You will kindly go back and tell them that after a reasonable length of service their wiges — I mean wages — shall be increased. And don't meddle again, Rawles."
Late that afternoon Brewster dropped in at Mrs. DeMille's to talk over plans for the next dinner. He realized that in no other way could he squander his money with a better chance of getting its worth than by throwing himself bodily into society. It went easily, and there could be only one asset arising from it in the end — his own sense of disgust.
"So glad to see you, Monty," greeted Mrs. Dan, glowingly, coming in with a rush. "Come upstairs and I'll give you some tea and a cigarette. I'm not at home to anybody."
"That's very good of you, Mrs. Dan," said he, as they mounted the stairs. "I don't know what I'd do without your help." He was thinking how pretty she was.
"You'd be richer, at any rate," turning to smile upon him from the upper landing. "I was in tears half the night, Monty, over that glass screen," she said, after finding a comfortable place among the cushions of a divan. Brewster dropped into a roomy, lazy chair in front of her and handed her a cigarette, as he responded carelessly:
"It amounted to nothing. Of course, it was very annoying that it should happen while the guests were still there." Then he added, gravely, "In strict confidence, I had planned to have it fall just as we were pushing back our chairs, but the confounded thing disappointed me. That's the trouble with these automatic climaxes; they usually hang fire. It was to have been a sort of Fall of Babylon effect, you know."
"Splendid! But like Babylon, it fell at the wrong time."
For a lively quarter of an hour they discussed people about town, liberally approving the slandered and denouncing the slanderers. A still busier quarter of an hour ensued when together they made up the list of dinner guests. He moved a little writing-table up to the divan, and she looked on eagerly while he wrote down the names she suggested after many puckerings of her fair, aristocratic brow, and then drew lines through them when she changed her mind. Mrs. Dan DeMille handled her people without gloves in making up Monty's lists. The dinners were not hers, and she could afford to do as she pleased with his; he was broad and tall and she was not slow to see that he was indifferent. He did not care who the guests were, or how they came; he merely wished to make sure of their presence. His only blunder was the rather diffident recommendation that Barbara Drew be asked again. If he observed that Mrs. Dan's head sank a little closer to the paper, he attached no importance to the movement; he could not see that her eyes grew narrow, and he paid no attention to the little catch in her breath.
"Wouldn't that be a little — just a little pronounced?" she asked, lightly enough.
"You mean — that people might talk?" "She might feel conspicuously present."
"Do you think so? We are such good friends, you know."
"Of course, if you'd like to have her," slowly and doubtfully, "why, put her name down. But you evidently haven't seen that." Mrs. Dan pointed to a copy of the Trumpet which lay on the table.
When he had handed her the paper she said, "'The Censor' is growing facetious at your expense."
"I am getting on in society with a vengeance if that ass starts in to write about me. Listen to this" — she had pointed out to him the obnoxious paragraph — " 'If Brewster Drew a diamond flush, do you suppose he'd catch the queen? And if he caught her, how long do you think she'd remain Drew? Or, if she Drew Brewster, would she be willing to learn such a game as Monte?' "
The next morning a writer who signed himself "The Censor" got a thrashing and one Montgomery Brewster had his name in the papers, surrounded by fulsome words of praise.