“Really!” Elfrida exclaimed, jumping to her feet “Oh, thank you! The most consummate artist in human nature that the time has given!” she added, with intensity. “There can be no question. Oh, I am so happy to have seen him!”
“I’m not altogether sure,” Kendal began, and then he stopped, looking at Janet in astonished question. Elfrida had taken half a dozen steps into the middle of the room, steps so instinct with effect that already as many heads were turned to look at her. Her eyes were large with excitement, her cheeks flushed, and she bent her head a little, almost as if to see nothing that might dissuade her from her purpose. The author of “The Alien,” “A Moral Catastrophe,” “Her Disciple,” and a number of other volumes which cause envy and heart-burnings among publishers, in the course of his somewhat short-sighted progress across the room, paused with a confused effort to remember who this pretty girl might be who wanted to speak to him.
Elfrida said, “Pardon me!” and Mr. Jasper instantly perceived that there could be no question of that, with her face. She was holding out her hand, and he took it with absolute mystification. Elfrida had turned very pale, and a dozen people were listening. “Give me the right to say I have done this!” she said, looking at him with shy bravery in her beautiful eyes. She half sank on one knee and lifted the hand that wrote “A Moral Catastrophe” to her lips.
Mr. Jasper repossessed himself of it rather too hastily for dignity, and inwardly he expressed his, feelings by a puzzled oath. Outwardly he looked somewhat ashamed of having inspired this unknown young lady’s enthusiasm, but he did his confused best, on the spur of the moment, to carry off the situation as one of the contingencies ’to which the semi-public life of a popular novelist is always subject.
“Really, you are—much too good. I can’t imagine—if the case had been reversed—”
Mr. Jasper found himself, accustomed as he was to the exigencies of London drawing-rooms, horribly in want of words. And in the bow with which he further defined his discomfort he added to it by dropping the bit of stephanotis which he wore in his buttonhole.
Elfrida sprang to pick it up. “Oh,” she cried, “broken at the stem; see, you cannot wear it anymore. May I keep it?”
A deadly silence had been widening around them, and now the daughter of the historian of the Semitic races broke it by twittering into a laugh behind her fan. Janet met Kendal’s eyes instinctively; he was burning red, and his manner was eloquent of his helplessness. Angry with herself for having waited, so long, Janet joined Elfrida just as the twitter made itself heard, and Mr. Jasper’s face began to stiffen with indignation.
“Ah, Miss Cardiff,” he said with relief, “how do you do! The rooms are rather warm, don’t you think?”
“I want to introduce you to my Am—my very great friend, Miss Bell, Mr. Jasper,” Janet said quickly, as the buzz of conversation began again about them.