She asked him to come up when they arrived, with a frank cordiality which he probably thought of as the American way. He went up, at all events, and for the twentieth time admired the dainty chic of the little apartment, telling himself, also for the twentieth time, that it was extraordinary how agreeable it was to be there —agreeable with a distinctly local agreeableness whether its owner happened to be also there or not. In this he was altogether sincere, and only properly discriminating. He spent fifteen minutes wondering at her whimsical interest, and when she suddenly asked him if he really thought the race had outgrown its physical conditions, he got up to go, declaring it was too bad, she must have been working up back numbers of the Nineteenth Century. At which she consented to turn their talk into its usual personal channel, and he sat down again content.
“Doesn’t the Princess Bobaloff write a charming hand!” Elfrida said presently, tossing him a square white envelope.
“It isn’t hers if it’s an invitation. She has a wretched relation of a Frenchwoman living with her who does all that. May I light a cigarette?”
“You know you may. It is an invitation, but I didn’t accept.”
“Her soiree last night? If I’d known you had been asked I should have missed you.”
“I ought to tell you,” Elfrida went on, coloring a little, “that I was invited through Leila Van Camp—that ridiculously rich girl, you know, they say Lucien is in love with. The Van Camp has been affecting me a good deal lately. She says my manners are so pleasing, and besides, Lucien once told her she painted better than I did. The princess is a great friend of hers.”
“Why didn’t you go?” Kendal asked, without any appreciable show of curiosity. If he had been looking closely enough he would have seen that she was waiting for his question.
“Oh, it lies somehow, that sort of thing, outside my idea of life. I have nothing to say to it, and it has nothing to say to me.”
Kendal smiled introspectively. He saw why he had been shown the letter. “And yet,” he said, “I venture to hope that if we had met there we might have had some little conversation.”
Elfrida leaned back in her chair and threw up her head, locking her slender fingers over her knee. “Of coarse,” she said indifferently. “I understand why you should go. You must. You have arrived at a point where the public claims a share of your personality. That’s different.”
Kendal’s face straightened out. He was too much of an Englishman to understand that a personally agreeable truth might not be flattery, and Elfrida never knew how far he resented her candor when it took the liberty of being gracious.
“I went in the humble hope of getting a good supper and seeing some interesting people,” he told her. “Loti was there, and Madame Rives-Chanler, and Sargent.”
“And the supper?” Miss Bell inquired, with a touch of sarcasm.