After that it was refreshing to find unromantic Mr. Phinuit lounging beside the captain’s desk with crossed feet overhanging one corner of it and mind intent on the prosaic business of paring his fingernails. Lanyard nodded to him with great good temper and—while Phinuit lowered his feet and put away his penknife—considerately placed a chair for Liane in the position in which she preferred to sit, with her face turned a little from the light. Nor would his appreciation of the formality which seemed demanded by Monk’s solemn manner, permit him to sit before the captain had taken his own chair behind the desk.
Then, however, he discovered the engaging spontaneity of a schoolboy at a pantomime, and drawing up a chair sat on the edge of it and addressed himself with unaffected eagerness to the most portentous eyebrows in captivity.
“Now,” he announced with a little bow, “for what, one imagines, Mr. Phinuit would term the Elaborate Idea!”
Phinuit grinned, then smothered a little yawn. Liane Delorme gave a small, disdainful movement of shoulders, and posed herself becomingly, resting an elbow on the arm of her chair and inclining her cheek upon two fingers of a jewelled hand. Thus she sat somewhat turned from Monk and Phinuit, but facing Lanyard, to whom her grave but friendly eyes gave undivided heed, for all the world as if there were no others present: she seemed to wait to hear him speak again rather than to care in the least what Monk would find to say.
Captain Monk filled in that pause with an impressive arrangement of eyebrows. Then, fixing his gaze, not upon Lanyard, but upon the point of a pencil with which his incredibly thin fingers traced elaborate but empty designs upon the blotter, he opened his lips, hemmed in warning that he was about to speak, and seemed tremendously upset to find that Liane was inconsiderately forestalling him.
Her voice was at its most musical pitch, rather low for her, fluting, infinitely disarming and seductive.
“Let me say to you, mon ami, that—naturally I know what is coming—I disapprove absolutely of this method of treating with you.”
“But it is such an honour to be considered important enough to be treated with at all!”
“You have the true gift for sarcasm: a pity to waste it on an audience two-thirds incapable of appreciation.”
“Oh, you’re wrong!” Phinuit declared earnestly. “I’m appreciative, I think the dear man’s immense.”
“Might I suggest”—the unctuous tones of Captain Monk issued from under mildly wounded eyebrows—“if any one of us were unappreciative of Monsieur Lanyard’s undoubted talents, he would not be with us tonight.”
“You might suggest it,” Phinuit assented, “but that wouldn’t make it so, it is to mademoiselle’s appreciation that you and I owe this treat, and you know it. Now quit cocking those automatic eyebrows at me; you’ve been doing that ever since we met, and they haven’t gone off yet, not once.”