Endymion Westcote meanwhile had picked up a small book which lay face downward on one of the step-ladders.
“So here is the source of your inspiration? said he. An Ovid? How it brings up old school-days At Winchester—old swishings, too, General, hey?” He held the book open and studied the Ariadne on the wall.
“The source of my inspiration indeed, M. le Commissaire! But you will not find Ariadne in that text, which contains only the Tristia.”
“Ah, but, I told you my classics were a bit rusty,” replied the Commissary. He made the round of the walls and commended, in his breezy way, each separate panel. “You must take my criticisms for what they are worth, M. Raoul. But my grandmother was a Frenchwoman, and that gives me a kind of—sympathy, shall we say? Moreover, I know what I like.”
Dorothea, accustomed to regard her brother as a demigod, caught herself blushing for him. She was angry with herself. She caught M. Raoul’s murmur, “Heaven distributes to us our talents, Monsieur,” and was angry with him, understanding and deprecating the raillery beneath his perfectly correct attitude. He kept this attitude to the end. When the time came for parting, he bent over her hand and whispered again:
“But it was kind of Mademoiselle not to report me.”
She heard. It set up a secret understanding between them, which she resented. There was nothing to say, again; yet she had found no way of rebuking him, she was angry with herself all the way home.
A BALL, A SNOWSTORM, AND A SNOWBALL
Axcester’s December Ball was a social event of importance in South Somerset. At once formal and familiar—familiar, since nine-tenths of the company dwelt close enough together to be on visiting terms—it nicely preluded the domestic festivities of Christmas, and the more public ones which began with the New Year and culminated in the great County Balls at Taunton and Bath. Nor were the families around Axcester jaded with dancing, as those in the neighbourhood of Bath, for example; but discussed dresses and the prospects of the Ball for some weeks beforehand, and, when the day came, ordered out the chariot or barouche in defiance of any ordinary weather.
The weather since Dorothea’s visit to the Orange Room had included a frost, a fall of snow with a partial thaw, and a second and much severer frost; and by Wednesday afternoon the hill below Bayfield wore a hard and slippery glaze. Endymion, however, had seen to the roughing of the horses. Thin powdery snow began to fall as the Bayfield barouche rolled past the gates into the high road; and Narcissus, who considered himself a weather-prophet, foretold a thaw before morning. Unless the weather grew worse, the party would drive back to Bayfield; but the old caretaker in the Town House had orders to light fires there and prepare the bedrooms, and on the chance of being detained. Dorothea had brought her maid Polly.