“Oh,” cried Janet, “we’re a conventional people, I assure you, Miss Bell, and so are you, for how could you change your spots in a hundred years? The material here is conventional. Daudet couldn’t have written of us. Our wicked women are too inglorious. Now Sapho—”
Miss Cardiff stopped at the ringing of the door-bell. “Oh,” she said, “here is my father. You will let me give you a cup of tea now, won’t you?” The maid was bringing in the tray. “I should like you to meet my father.”
Lawrence Cardiff’s grasp was on the door-handle almost as she spoke. Seeing Elfrida, he involuntarily put up his hand to settle the back of his coat collar—these little middle-aged ways were growing upon him—and shook hands with her as Janet introduced them, with that courtly impenetrable agreeableness that always provoked curiosity about him in strangers, and often led to his being taken for somebody more important than he was, usually somebody in politics. Elfrida saw that he was quite different from her conception of a university professor with a reputation in Persian and a clever daughter of twenty-four. He was straight and slender for one thing; he had gay inquiring eyes, and fair hair just beginning to show gray where the ends were brushed back; and Elfrida immediately became aware that his features were as modern and as mobile as possible. She had a moment of indecision and surprise —indecision as to the most effective way of presenting herself, and surprise that it should be necessary to decide upon a way. It had never occurred to her that a gentleman who had won scientific celebrity by digging about Arabic roots, and who had contributed a daughter like Janet to the popular magazines, could claim anything of her beyond a highly respectful consideration. In moments when she hoped to know the Cardiffs well she had pictured herself doing little graceful acts of politeness toward this paternal person—acts connected with his spectacles, his Athenian, his foot-stool But apparently she had to meet a knight and not a pawn.
She was hardly aware of taking counsel with herself; and the way she abandoned her hesitations, and what Janet was inwardly calling her Burne-Jonesisms, had all the effect of an access of unconsciousness. Janet Cardiff watched it with delight. “But why,” she asked herself in wonder, “should she have been so affected—if it was affectation—with me?” She would decide whether it was or was not afterward, she thought. Meanwhile she was glad her father had thought of saying something nice about the art criticism in the Decade; he was putting it so much better than she could, and it would do for both of them.
“You paint yourself, I fancy?” Mr. Cardiff was saying lightly. There was no answer for an instant, or perhaps three. Elfrida was looking down. Presently she raised her eyes, and they were larger than ever, and wet.
“No,” she said, a little tensely. “I have tried” —“trr-hied,” she pronounced it—“but—but I cannot.”