And now here he was, and he almost wished himself away—wished almost that he was back again at the Front, carrying on under Chev. There, at least, you knew what you were up against. The job might be hard enough, but it wasn’t baffling and queer, with hidden undercurrents that you couldn’t chart. It seemed to him that this baffling feeling of constraint had rushed to meet him on the very threshold of the drawing-room, when he made his first appearance.
As he entered, he had a sudden sensation that they had been awaiting him in a strained expectancy, and that, as he appeared, they adjusted unseen masks and began to play-act at something. “But English people don’t play-act very well,” he commented to himself, reviewing the scene afterward.
Lady Sherwood had come forward and greeted him in a manner which would have been pleasant enough, if he had not, with quick sensitiveness, felt it to be forced. But perhaps that was English stiffness.
Then she had turned to her husband, who was standing staring into the fireplace, although, as it was June, there was no fire there to stare at.
“Charles,” she said, “here is Lieutenant Cary”; and her voice had a certain note in it which at home Cary and his sister Nancy were in the habit of designating “mother-making-dad-mind-his-manners.”
At her words the old man—and Cary was startled to see how old and broken he was—turned round and held out his hand, “How d’you do?” he said jerkily, “how d’you do?” and then turned abruptly back again to the fireplace.
“Hello! What’s up! The old boy doesn’t like me!” was Cary’s quick, startled comment to himself.
He was so surprised by the look the other bent upon him that he involuntarily glanced across to a long mirror to see if there was anything wrong with his uniform. But no, that appeared to be all right. It was himself, then—or his country; perhaps the old sport didn’t fall for Americans.
“And here is Gerald,” Lady Sherwood went on in her low remote voice, which somehow made the Virginian feel very far away.
It was with genuine pleasure, though with some surprise, that he turned to greet Gerald Sherwood, Chev’s younger brother, who had been, tradition in the corps said, as gallant and daring a flyer as Chev himself, until he got his in the face five months ago.