Selingman had the air of a man who returns after a long absence to some familiar spot where he expects to find friends and where his welcome is assured. Mrs. Paston Benedek slipped from her place upon the cushioned fender and held out both her hands.
“Ah, it is really you!” she exclaimed. “Welcome, dear friend! For days I have wondered what it was in this place which one missed all the time. Now I know.”
Selingman took the little outstretched hands and raised them to his lips.
“Dear lady,” he assured her, “you repay me in one moment for all the weariness of my exile.”
She turned towards her companion.
“Captain Baring,” she begged, “please ring the bell. Mr. Selingman and I always drink a toast together the moment he first arrives to pay us one of his too rare visits. Thank you! You know Captain Baring, don’t you, Mr. Selingman? This is another friend of mine whom I think that you have not met—Mr. Francis Norgate, Mr. Selingman. Mr. Norgate has just arrived from Berlin, too.”
For a single moment the newcomer seemed to lose his Cheeryble-like expression. The glance which he flashed upon Norgate contained other elements besides those of polite pleasure. He was himself again, however, almost instantly. He grasped his new acquaintance by the hand.
“Mr. Norgate and I are already old friends,” he insisted. “We occupied the same coupe coming from Berlin and drank a bottle of wine together in the buffet.”
Mrs. Benedek threw back her head and laughed, a familiar gesture which her enemies declared was in some way associated with the dazzling whiteness of her teeth.
“And now,” she exclaimed, “you find that you belong to the same bridge club. What a coincidence!”
“It is rather surprising, I must admit,” Norgate assented. “Mr. Selingman and I discussed many things last night, but we did not speak of bridge. In fact, from the tone of our conversation, I should have imagined that cards were an amusement which scarcely entered into Mr. Selingman’s scheme of life.”
“One must have one’s distractions,” Selingman protested. “I confess that auction bridge, as it is played over here, is the one game in the world which attracts me.”
“But how about the crockery?” Norgate asked. “Doesn’t that come first?”
“First, beyond a doubt,” Selingman agreed heartily. “Always, though, my plan of campaign is the same. On the day of my arrival here, I take things easily. I spend an hour or so at the office in the morning, and the afternoon I take holiday. After that I settle down for one week’s hard work. London—your great London—takes always first place with me. In the mornings I see my agents and my customers. Perhaps I lunch with one of them. At four o’clock I close my desk, and crockery does not exist for me any longer. I get into a taxi, and I come here. My first game of bridge is a treat to which I look forward eagerly. See, there are three of us and several sitting out. Let us make another table. So!”