“Lady Halifax,” he said, seeing nothing else for it, “this is Miss Bell, from America, a fellow-student in Paris. Miss Bell has deserted art for literature, though,” he went on bravely, noting an immediate change in his visitor’s expression, and the fact that her acknowledgment was quite as polite as was necessary. “She has done me the honor to look me up this afternoon in the formidable character of a representative of the press.”
Lady Halifax looked as if the explanation was quite acceptable, though she reserved the right of criticism.
Elfrida took the first word, smiling prettily straight into Lady Halifax’s face.
“Mr. Kendal pretends to be very much frightened,” she said, with pleasant, modest coolness, and looked at Kendal.
“From America,” Lady Halifax repeated, as if for the comfort of the assurance. “I am sure it is a great advantage nowadays to have been brought up in America.” This was quite as delicately as Lady Halifax could possibly manage to inform Kendal that she understood the situation. Miss Halifax was looking absorbedly at Elfrida. “Are you really a journalist?” Miss Halifax asked. “How nice! I didn’t know there were any ladies on the London press, except, of course, the fashion-papers, but that isn’t quite the same, is it?”
When Miss Halifax said “How nice!” it indicated a strong degree of interest. The threads of Miss Halifax’s imagination were perpetually twisting themselves about incidents that had the least unusualness, and here was a most unusual incident, with beauty and genius thrown in! Whether she could approve it or not in connection with Kendal, Miss Halifax would decide afterward. She told herself that she ought to be sufficiently devoted to Kendal to be magnanimous about his friends. Her six years of seniority gave her the candor to confess that she was devoted to Kendal—to his artistic personality, that is, and to his pictures. While Kendal turned a still uncomfortable back upon them, showing Lady Halifax what he had done since she had been there last—she was always pitiless in her demands for results—Elfrida talked a little about “the press” to Miss Halifax. Very lightly and gracefully she talked about it, so lightly and gracefully that Miss Halifax obtained an impression which she has never lost, that journalism for a woman had ideal attractions, and privately resolved if ever she were thrown upon the bleak world to take it up. As the others turned toward them again Elfrida noticed the conscience-stricken glance which Kendal gave to the tea-tray.
“Oh,” she said, with a slight enhancement of her pretty Parisian gurgle, “I am very guilty—you must allow me to say that I am very guilty indeed! Mr. Kendal did not expect to see me to-day, and in his surprise he permitted me to eat up all the cakes! I am so sorry! Are there no more—anywhere?” she asked Kendal, with such a gay pretence of tragic grief that they all laughed together. She went away then, and while they waited for a fresh supply of tea, Kendal did his best to satisfy the curiosity of the Halifaxes about her. He was so more than thankful she had convinced them that she was a person about whom it was proper to be curious.