“Is not Cora sweet?” she said, smoothing the brocade beneath her hand. Her sitting-room had been arranged by the artist who had done the house, as a perfect bower of Italian Sixteenth Century art. Mr. Jephson, the artist, had assured her that this period would make a perfect background for her fresh and rather voluptuous coloring; it had not become so banal as any of the French Louis’. And so Arabella had been instructed to drum into her head the names of the geniuses of that time, and their works, and she could now babble sweetly all about Giorgione, Paolo Veronese and Titian’s later works without making a single mistake. And while the pictures bored her unspeakably, she took a deep pleasure in her own cleverness about them, and delighted in tracing the influence Paolo Veronese must have had upon Boucher, a hint from Arabella which she had announced as an inspiration of her own.
She had tea-gowns made to suit this period, and adopted the stately movements which were evidently the attribute of that time.
John Derringham thought her superb. If he had been really in love with her, he might have seen through her—and not cared—just as if she had not attracted him at all, he would certainly have taken her measure and enjoyed laying pitfalls for her. But as it was, his will was always trying to augment his inclination. He was too busy to analyze the real meaning of any woman, and until the Professor’s words about the divorce and the Misses La Sarthe’s view of the affair, it had never even struck him that there could be one single aspect of Mrs. Cricklander’s case which he might have to blink at. He had told himself he had better marry a rich woman, since his old maternal uncle, Joseph Scroope, had just taken unto himself a young wife and might any day have an heir. And this was his only other possible source of fortune.
Mrs. Cricklander seemed the most advantageous bargain looming upon the horizon. She was of proved entertaining capabilities. She had passed her examination in the power of being a perfect hostess. She had undoubted and expanding social talents. Women did not dislike her; she was very vivid, very handsome, very rich. What more could a man who in his innermost being had a supreme contempt for women, and a supreme belief in himself, desire?
He had even balanced the advantages of marrying a rich American girl, one like Miss Lutworth, for example. But such beings were unproven, and might develop nerves and fads, which were of no consequence in the delightful creatures with whom he passed occasional leisure hours of recreation, but which in a wife would be a singular disadvantage. Since he must marry—and soon—before the present Parliament broke up and his Government went out, and there came some years of fighting from the Opposition benches, when especially brilliant entertaining might be of advantage to him—he knew he had better make up his mind speedily, and take this ripe and luscious peach, which appeared more than willing to drop into his mouth.