His interest thus fixed, he awaited confidently what could hardly fail to come, a moment of self-betrayal.
That fell more quickly than he had hoped. Of a sudden the decent quiet of King Street, thus far accentuated rather than disturbed by the routine grind of hansoms and four-wheelers, was enlivened by spirited hoofs whose clatter stilled abruptly in front of the auction room.
Turning a speciously languid eye toward the weeping window, Lanyard had a partial view of a handsomely appointed private equipage, a pair of spanking bays, a liveried coachman on the box.
The carriage door slammed with a hollow clap; a footman furled an umbrella and climbed to his place beside the driver. As the vehicle drew away, one caught a glimpse of a crest upon the panel.
Two women entered the auction room.
THE PRINCESS SOFIA
These ladies were young, neither much older than Lanyard, both were very much alive, openly betraying an infatuation with existence very like his own, and both were lovely enough to excuse the exquisite insolence of their young vitality.
As is frequently the case in such associations, since a pretty woman seldom courts comparison with another of her own colouring, one was dark, the other fair.
With the first, Lanyard was, like all London, on terms of visual acquaintance. The reigning beauty of the hour, her portrait was enjoying a vogue of its own in the public prints. Furthermore, Lady Diantha Mainwaring was moderately the talk of the town, in those prim, remotely ante-bellum days—thanks to high spirits and a whimsical tendency to flout the late Victorian proprieties; something which, however, had yet to lead her into any prank perilous to her good repute.
The other, a girl whose hair of golden bronze was well set off by Russian sables, Lanyard did not know at all; but he knew at sight that she was far too charming a creature to be neglected if ever opportunity offered to be presented to her. And though the first article of his creed proscribed women of such disastrous attractions as deadly dangerous to his kind, he chose without hesitation to forget all that, and at once began to cudgel his wits for a way to scrape acquaintance with the companion of Lady Diantha.
Their arrival created an interesting bustle, a buzz of comment, a craning of necks—flattery accepted by the young women with ostensible unconcern, a cliche of their caste. As they had entered in a humour keyed to the highest pitch of gaiety consistent with good breeding, so with more half-stifled laughter they settled into chairs well apart from all others but, as it happened, in a direct line between Lanyard and the man whose repellent cast of countenance had first taken his interest.
Thus it was that Lanyard, after eyeing the young women unobserved as long as he liked, lifted his glance to discover upon that face a look that amazed him.