“But it didn’t!” cried the girl, delighted. “It looks it, doesn’t it? But it was made by Letellier! Is there anything you don’t like about it, Captain Selwyn? Anything?”
“Nothing,” he said solemnly; “it is as adorable as the girl inside it, who makes it look like a Parisian importation from Paradise!”
She colored enchantingly, and with pretty, frank impulse held out both her hands to him:
“You are a dear, Captain Selwyn! It is my first real dinner gown and I’m quite mad about it; and—somehow I wanted the family to share my madness with me. Nina will—she gave it to me, the darling. Austin admires it, too, of course, but he doesn’t notice such things very closely; and Gerald isn’t here. . . . Thank you for letting me show it to you before I go down.”
She gave both his hands a friendly little shake and, glancing down at her skirt in blissful consciousness of its perfection, stepped backward into her own room.
Later, while he stood at his dresser constructing an immaculate knot in his white tie, Nina knocked.
“Hurry, Phil! Oh, may I come in? . . . You ought to be downstairs with us, you know. . . . And it was very sweet of you to be so nice to Eileen. The child had tears in her eyes when I went in. Oh, just a single diamond drop in each eye; your sympathy and interest did it. . . . I think the child misses her father on an occasion such as this—the beginning of life—the first step out into the world. Men do not understand what it means to us; Gerald doesn’t, I’m sure. I’ve been watching her, and I know the shadow of that dreadful tragedy falls on her more often than Austin and I are aware of. . . . Shall I fix that tie for you, dear? . . . Certainly I can; Austin won’t let a man touch him. . . . There, Phil. . . . Wait! . . . Now if you are decently grateful you’ll tell me I look well. Do I? Really? Nonsense, I don’t look twenty; but—say it, Phil. Ah, that clever maid of mine knows some secrets—never mind!—but Drina thinks I’m a beauty. . . . Come, dear; and thank you for being kind to Eileen. One’s own kin counts so much in this world. And when a girl has none, except a useless brother, little things like that mean a lot to her.” She turned, her hand falling on his sleeve. “You are among your own people, anyhow!”
* * * * *
His own people! The impatient tenderness of his sister’s words had been sounding in his ears all through the evening. They rang out clear and insistent amid the gay tumult of the dinner; he heard them in the laughing confusion of youthful voices; they stole into the delicate undertones of the music to mock him; the rustling of silk and lace repeated them; the high heels of satin slippers echoed them in irony.
His own people!
The scent of overheated flowers, the sudden warm breeze eddying from a capricious fan, the mourning thrill of the violins emphasised the emphasis of the words.