But during the day or two that followed this settlement, Ella came upon several of her friends who she found were looking a trifle fagged through the pressure of the season, and she promptly invited them to The Mooring, so that she had a party of close upon a dozen persons coming to her house--some for a day, some for as long as three days, commencing with the Tuesday when she and Phyllis went off together. Mr. Linton had promised to join the party toward the end of the week.
And that was how it came about that Herbert Courtland found himself daily admiring the cleverness of Phyllis Ayrton when she had the punt pole in her hands. He also admired the gradual tinting of her fair face, through the becoming exertion of taking the punt up the lovely backwater or on to the placid reaches beyond. Sometimes the punt contained three or four of the party in addition to Herbert, but twice he was alone with her, and shared his admiration of her with no one.
Mrs. Linton was greatly amused--she certainly was surprised. The surprises were natural, but the amusement was not quite logical. It was, however, quite natural that her guests--two of them excepted-- should be amused when they observed her surprise.
Could anything be funnier, one of these guests asked another in a whisper, than Mrs. Linton's chagrin on finding that her own particular Sir Lancelot had discovered an Elaine for himself?
Of course the guest who was so questioned agreed that nothing could possibly be funnier; and they both laughed in unison. If people cannot derive innocent fun from watching the disappointment of their hostess, in what direction may the elements of mirth be found?
It was agreed that Mrs. Linton had invited Herbert Courtland up the river for her own special entertainment--that she had expected him to punt her up the river highways and the backwater by-ways, while Phyllis Ayrton and the rest of her guests looked after themselves, or looked after Mrs. Linton's husband; but it appeared that Herbert Courtland had not been consulted on this subject, the result being that Mrs. Linton's arrangements had been thrown into confusion.
The consensus of opinion among the guests was to the effect that Mrs. Linton's arrangements had been thrown very much awry indeed. But then the guests were amused, and as it is getting more and more difficult every year to amuse one's guests, especially those forming a house- party at a season when nothing lends itself to laughter, Mrs. Linton would have had every reason to congratulate herself upon the success of her party, had she been made aware of the innocent mirth which prevailed for some days among her guests.
She would possibly have been greatly diverted also at the overshrewdness of her guests, who were, of course, quite ignorant of the conversation regarding Phyllis Ayrton which had immediately preceded her invitation to Herbert to spend a few days on the river.