Dressed as she was, looking as she did, in comparison with Sally, she held all the weapons. She could play them, wield them, just as she wished. Well-frocked, looking her best, a woman is a dangerous animal; but throw her in contact with another of her sex who is but poorly clad, socially beneath her, and in training her inferior, and you may behold all the grace, all the symmetry of the cobra as it unwinds its beautiful, sinuous body before the eyes of its panic-stricken prey.
The fact that her brother had admitted Sally to the room, made Mrs. Durlacher realize that he held her in special regard. Notwithstanding that Miss Bishop called upon him at his own rooms at half-past nine at night, when all young ladies who valued their reputations would be either playing incompetent bridge in the suburban home, or going respectably with relations to a harmless piece at the theatre, she took the other fact well into consideration—gave it full weight—and all in that brief moment of a pause, realized that as yet there was no intimacy between these two.
She did not look upon women as a class—the class he mixed with—as dangerous to her brother’s ultimate salvation; but coming across the individual in Sally, quiet, unobtrusive—the type that valued its own possessions, and would certainly expect substantial settlement, if not marriage itself—she felt called into action and answered the call, as only such women with her training know how.
When she had shaken hands, she leant back again with one graceful elbow, bared, upon the mantelpiece—the pose of absolute ease. Sally, who, except for the students’ balls, to which Janet had sometimes taken her, had not been in the presence of people in evening dress since she left home, stood, hiding her nervousness, but not hiding the fact that it was concealed. Traill’s heart warmed to her. He knew his sister through and through—guessed every thought that was taking shape in her mind. But Sally—even her presence there alone—was more or less of an enigma and, seeing her almost pathetic perturbation of manner, he paid all the attentions he roughly knew to her.
“Here—you must sit down,” he said easily. “We’re not going to let you rush away before you’ve come.”
For that plural of the pronoun, Sally thanked him generously in her heart; for that also, Mrs. Durlacher smiled inwardly and saw visions of the power by which Jack would eventually win his way.
“Will you have some coffee?” he added, when she had accepted the chair he proffered. “We’ve just had some. Good—wasn’t it, Dolly?”
“Will you have some?” he repeated.
“No, thank you—well—yes,—yes, I think I will.”
Even to take coffee is action—action that it is an aid to conceal.
“No, thank you—black, please.”
She trusted that he would not remember that she had taken it with milk before. She always did take it with milk, but the eyes of that woman by the mantelpiece were on her, and she knew well enough how coffee ought to be taken.