All that Traill had told her of his sister, was racing wildly through her thoughts. She knew she was being criticized, knew that her position there was being looked upon in the least charitable light of all. She should never have come into the room. The fact that her voice had been heard, would have made no difference. But who thinks of such things when the moment is a goad, pricking mercilessly? Now she was there, her position could scarcely be worse. She would have given her life almost, in those first few moments, to sink into obscurity, no matter what peals of ironical laughter might ring in her ears as she vanished. But the thing was done now, and for every little attention he paid her, she thanked Traill with a full heart.
“What on earth have you got in that parcel?” he asked her, as he crushed down the saucepan of coffee to heat upon the fire.
Her cheeks reddened—flamed. It felt to her as if the eyes of his sister were lenses concentrating a burning sun upon her face.
“Oh it’s nothing,” she said, mastering confusion; “only something that I was taking home.”
His eyes questioned her, noting the flaming cheeks while his sister studied the muscular development and forbidding features of James Brownrigg—heavy-weight champion in the fifties, whose portrait hung over the mantelpiece.
“Isn’t this the type of man you’d call a bruiser?” she asked, with a pretty trace of doubtful confidence in her technical knowledge on the last word.
“That chap—Brownrigg? No. I should call him a gentleman. I’d have given a good deal to see him fight. He always allowed his man to have his chance, though there wasn’t one in England he couldn’t have knocked out in the first round. He used to keep that glorious left of his tucked up, as quiet as a pet spaniel under a lady’s arm, till he’d given his man time to show what he was worth. Then he’d shake his shoulders, grin a bit with that ugly mouth—never with his eyes—and plant his blow, the kick of a mule, and his man curled up like a caterpillar on a hot brick. That stroke got to be known as James Brownrigg’s Waiting Left. I’ve met him. He kept a public house up in Islington. Died about four years ago, with both fists clenched, and his left still waiting. It’s quite possible he kept it waiting till he got to the gates of heaven.”
Mrs. Durlacher looked up at the portrait again and then half-shuddered her graceful shoulders.
“I suppose a man can be a gentleman and look like that,” she said. “But some one ought to have told him to grow his hair a little longer. As it is, it has a fatal suggestion of three years’ imprisonment for assault and battery.”
“Or the army,” suggested Traill, with a laugh.
She took that well and laughed with him. “Yes, quite so; or the army; but they don’t look so much like convicts as they used to. What do you think, Miss Bishop? Would you say, to look at him, that James Brownrigg was a gentleman?”