She had smooth, jet-black hair, done close to her pretty head, a clear white-and-vermilion complexion, and a good figure, not too tall. She said little, but everything she did say, she most poignantly meant. If, while you were talking to her, she suddenly cried out: “Ah, that’s really good!” there was no doubt you had had the good fortune to amuse her; while if she yawned and left you in the midst of a sentence there was no question that she was bored.
She hated her husband—not for the conventional reason that she had married him. She hated him because he was a hypocrite, because he was always placating and temporizing.
For instance, he had said to her as she was about to start for the Usshers’:
“I hope you’ll explain to them why I could not come.”
There had never been the least question of Mr. Almar’s coming, and she turned slowly and looked at him as she asked:
“You mean that I would not have gone if you had?”
He did not seem annoyed.
“No,” he said, “that I’m called South on business.”
“I shan’t tell them that,” she said, slowly wrapping her furs about her throat; and then foreseeing a comic moment, she added, “but I’ll tell them you say so, if you like.”
She was as good as her word—she usually was.
When the party was at tea about the drawing-room fire, she asked without the slightest change of expression:
“Would any one like to hear Roland’s explanation of why he is not with us?”
“Had it anything to do with his not being asked?” said a pale young man; and as soon as he had spoken, he glanced hastily round the circle to ascertain how his remark had succeeded.
So far as Mrs. Almar was concerned it had not succeeded at all, in fact, though he did not know it, nothing he said would ever succeed with her again, although a week before she had hung upon his every word. He had been a new discovery, something unknown and Bohemian, but alas, a day or two before, she had observed that underlying his socialistic theories was an aching desire for social recognition. He liked to tell his bejeweled hostesses about his friends the car-drivers; but, oh, twenty times more, he would have liked to tell the car-drivers about his friends the bejeweled hostesses. For this reason Mrs. Almar despised him, and where she despised she made no secret of the fact.
“Not asked, Mr. Wickham!” she said. “I assume my husband is asked wherever I am,” and then turning to Laura Ussher she added with a faint smile: “One’s husband is always asked, isn’t he?”
“Certainly, as long as you never allow him to come,” said another speaker.
This was the other great beauty of the hour—or, since she was blond and some years younger than Mrs. Almar, perhaps it would be right to say that she was the beauty of the hour.