On the third occasion, whilst they were sitting over tea in the drawing-room, the door opened and the man-servant announced—Miss Standish-Roe.
Traill stood up with a jerk and felt for his gloves.
Mrs. Durlacher’s eyes lost no sight of that and she hurried quickly forwards.
“My dear child, how sweet of you!” She kissed her cheek affectionately. “Let me introduce you to my brother.”
Traill turned and his mind was cast back to the night he had dined with his sister at the restaurant. This was the girl he had noticed; her father was the man who sat on boards in the city. He bowed with his eyes on her face.
“Surely you’re not going to go yet, Jack,” said Mrs. Durlacher. Her eyes were feverishly watching his hands as he began slowly to draw on his gloves. He hesitated. Miss Standish-Roe took the seat he had vacated and looked questioningly up into his face as though it were she who had made the request.
“Very well,” he said. “Then I’ll have another cup of tea with you.”
From that moment, and Mrs. Durlacher’s heart had leaped with exultation, she began to play for his humour, baiting the line that she cast with those little turns of phrase, those little feathers of speech which she knew would tempt him to rise to the surface of his mood. In a few moments, he was entertaining them with his tirades against conventional institutions.
“Conventionality,” he exclaimed; “I’d sooner have the honest vice of the man who pleads guilty; I’d a thousand times sooner defend his case, than urge for a woman who just holds on to the virtue of conventionality with the tips of her fingers.”
“You gave that lady a bad time the other day, Mr. Traill,” said Miss Standish-Roe, admiringly.
“I did? Which one?”
“The lady who admitted to kissing the co-respondent.”
“Why, you weren’t in the court, were you?”
“No—but I read it in the paper—your sister told me about it.”
Mrs. Durlacher looked apprehensively to her brother’s eyes. From so small a thing as that he might unearth suspicion. But a pardonable vanity was touched in him. He turned no ground to find the intentions that lay beneath.
“Well, there was a case,” he said. “I’ve no doubt the woman was innocent of the worst; but that was an exact case of the virtue of conventionality. She’d just hung on to it, scraping her nails. She deserved all she got.”
“And you persisted in trying to prove her guilty?” said Miss Standish-Roe, in amazement. “When you thought her innocent?”
“Why not?” he retorted. “Society wants to be purged of that sort of woman, and it’s full of ’em.”
Mrs. Durlacher deftly changed the subject.
“I’ve got a box to-morrow night, Jack, at some theatre or other,” she said casually. “Harold’s going out to dinner, will you dine with us and drag us along there?”