Lady Kingsmead was one of those piteous beings, a middle-aged young woman. She was forty-six, but across a considerably-lighted room looked thirty-six. The shock, when one approached her, was so much the greater. Her plentiful, grey-streaked hair dwelt in disgrace behind a glossy transformation, and her face had, from constant massage and make-up, a curious air of not belonging to her any more than did the wavy hair above it.
The lines that the mercifully deliberate on-coming of age draws on all of us were, it is true, nearly obliterated, but in their place was a certain blankness that was very unbeautiful indeed.
However, she liked herself as she made herself, and most people thought her wonderfully young-looking.
The question of age, real and apparent, is a curious one that gives furiously to think, as the French say. No one on earth could consider it an advantage for a child of twelve to wear the facial aspect of a baby of two, nor for a girl of twenty to look like a child of ten, but later on this equation apparently fails to hold good, and Lady Kingsmead in appearing (at a little distance) nearly ten years her own junior, was as vastly pleased with herself as, considering the time and the care she devoted to the subject, she deserved to be.
As she came downstairs the evening of the day of her daughter’s unusually confidential conversation with her son, Brigit joined her.
“Ugh, mother, you have too much scent,” observed the girl, curling her upper lip rather unpleasantly. “It’s horrid.”
“Never mind, ducky, I’ve only just put it on; it will go off after a bit. It’s the very newest thing in Paris. Gerald brought it to me—Souvenir de Jeunesse.”
Brigit looked at her for a moment, but said nothing.
Lady Kingsmead’s unconsciousness was, as it always was when she was in a good humour, both amusing and disarming. So the two women descended the dark, panelled staircase in silence, crossed the hall and went into the drawing-room. A man sat over the fire, his long, white hands held up to the blaze.
“H’are you, Brigit?”
“How d’you do, Gerald?”
Carron turned without rising, and stared thoughtfully at the girl. He was a big, bony man who had once been very handsome, and the conquering air had remained true to him long after the desertion of his beauty. This, too, “gives to think,” and is a warning to all people who have made their worldly successes solely by force of looks, and these are many. Carron pulled his moustache and narrowed his tired-looking blue eyes in a way that had been very fetching fifteen years before.
“You look pretty fit,” he observed after a pause, as she gazed absently over his head at the carvings of the mantelpiece.
“I’m—ripping, thanks,” she answered with a bored air.
“You’ll have to look out, Tony,” he went on, frowning as he caught the expression in Lady Kingsmead’s eyes, “she is confoundly good-looking. Beauties’ daughters ought always to be plain.”