The house, like its owner, had a certain personality of its own, although it lacked his simplicity; its square mass being so richly carved that it seemed as if the faintest stroke of the architect’s soft pencil had made a dollar mark. So vast, too, was its baronial hall and sweeping stairway in pale rose marble, that its owner might have entered it unnoticed, had not Blakeman, the butler, busying himself with the final touches to a dinner table of twenty covers, heard his master’s alert step in the hall and hurried to relieve him of his coat and hat. Before, however, the man could reach him, Thayor had thrown both aside, and had stepped to a carved oak table on which were carefully arranged ten miniature envelopes. He bent over them for a moment and then turning to the butler asked in an impatient tone:
“How many people are coming to dinner, Blakeman?”
“Twenty, sir,” answered Blakeman, his face preserving its habitual Sphinx-like immobility.
“Um!” muttered Thayor.
“Can, I get you anything, sir?”
“No, thank you, Blakeman. I have just left the Club.”
“A dinner of twenty, eh?” continued Thayor, as Blakeman disappeared with his coat and hat—“our fourth dinner party this week, and Alice never said a word to me about it.” Again he glanced at the names of the men upon the ten diminutive envelopes, written in an angular feminine hand; most of them those of men he rarely saw save at his own dinners. Suddenly his eye caught the name upon the third envelope from the end of the orderly row.
“Dr. Sperry again!” he exclaimed, half aloud. He opened it and his lips closed tight. The crested card bore the name of his wife. As he dropped it back in its place his ear caught the sound of a familiar figure descending the stairway—the figure of a woman of perhaps thirty-five, thoroughly conscious of her beauty, whose white arms flashed as she moved from beneath the flowing sleeves of a silk tea-gown that reached to her tiny satin slippers.
She had gained the hall now, and noticing her husband came slowly toward him.
“Where’s Margaret?” Thayor asked, after a short pause during which neither had spoken.
The shoulders beneath the rose tea-gown shrugged with a gesture of impatience.
“In the library, I suppose,” she returned. Then, with a woman’s intuition, she noticed that the third envelope had been touched. Her lips tightened. “Get dressed, Sam, or you will be late, as usual.”
Thayor raised his head and looked at her.
“You never told me, Alice, that you were giving a dinner to-night—I never knew, in fact, until I found these.”
“And having found them you pawed them over.” There was a subtle, almost malicious defiance in her tone. “Go on—what else? Come—be quick! I must look at my table.” One of her hands, glittering with the rings he had given her, was now on the portiere, screening the dining room from out which came faintly the clink of silver. She stopped, her slippered foot tapping the marble floor impatiently. “Well!” she demanded, her impatience increasing, “what is it?”