“They’re not men,” he said to his sister; “they’re worms of the underworld, waiting for the corpse to be lowered its regulation six feet.”
Mrs. Durlacher shuddered. “You make use of horrible similes sometimes, Jack,” she said.
“I see some horrible things,” said Traill. “Look at that waiter, hovering like a vulture, while the fat old gentleman from Aberdeen goes through the items of the bill. He might just as well shut one eye and stand on one leg to make the picture complete. That’s rather a pretty girl, too, at the same table.”
His sister looked in the direction. “Why, he’s not from Aberdeen,” she said, daintily. “That’s Sir Standish-Roe; he sits on boards in the city.”
“A vigorous exercise like that ought to reduce his bulk,” said Traill. “Do you know them, then?”
“Who’s the girl?”
“That’s his daughter. I’ll introduce you after dinner if they’re not hurrying off to a theatre.”
“No you don’t,” said Traill; “baited traps don’t catch me, however alluring they are.”
So they talked, all through dinner, criticizing in idle good-humour the various people about them. Whenever he was in his sister’s company Traill sharpened his wits. Putting on the social gloss, he called it, whenever she laughed at his remarks and told him he would be a God-send at some of her dinners.
“Is it quite hopeless?” she asked him that evening.
“Quite! As far removed from possibility as I am from a seat in the Cabinet.”
“But you might if you took up politics.”
“Exactly, the point of absolute certainty being that I never shall.”
She waited awhile, letting the conversation drift as it liked; then she dipped her oar again.
“Do you ever hunt or shoot now?”
“Hunt, yes, for jobs. I’ve made that feeble joke before to somebody else. No—neither.”
“We had some rather good days with the pheasants this year down at Apsley.”
“Yes, Harold got sixty-seven birds one day.”
“Lucky dog! Have you finished? Well, look here, we’ll come along to my rooms—I’m on the first floor now; I hate talking in these places. You won’t have to climb up all those stairs this time, and I’ll give you some more of that coffee.”
She needed no second persuasion. In the drift of her mind, she fancied she saw impressions floating by, first one and then another, impressions that he was more tractable this evening, more likely to be won a little to her side; for social though she was—the blood in her veins to the finger tips—she still cared for this Bohemian brother of hers; considered it trouble well spent to bring him to her way of thinking. We are all of us apt to think thus generously of those whom we hold dear.
“There aren’t many women who come up these stairs in evening dress, I can assure you,” he said, as they mounted the flight together.