“The sweet cherub!”
Then their conversation turned to this absorbing topic, the perfections of Girolamo! and as it is hardly one which could interest you or me, my friend, let us go back to the smoking-room and listen to a conversation going on between Cranley Beaton and Lord Fordyce. The latter, with great skill, had begun to elicit certain information he desired from this society register!
“Yes, indeed,” Mr. Beaton was saying. “She is a peach—The husband”—and he looked extremely wise. “Oh! she made some frightful mesalliance out West, and they say he’s shut in a madhouse or home for inebriates. Her entrance among us dates from when she first appeared in Paris, about three years ago, with Princess Torniloni. She is awfully rich and awfully good, and it is a real pity she does not divorce the ruffian and begin again!”
“She is not free, then?” and Lord Fordyce felt his heart sink. “I thought, probably, she had got rid of any encumbrance, as it is fairly easy over with you.”
“Why, she could in a moment if she wanted to, I expect,” Mr. Beaton assured his listener. “She hasn’t fancied anyone else yet; when she does, she will, no doubt.”
“Her husband is an American, then?”
“Why, of course—didn’t I tell you she came from the West? Why, I remember crossing with her. She was in deep mourning—in the summer of 1908. She never spoke to anyone on board, and it was about eighteen months after that I was presented to her in Paris. She gets prettier every day.”
Lord Fordyce felt this was true.
“So she could be free if she fancied anyone, you think?” he hazarded casually, as though his interest in the subject had waned—and when Mr. Beaton had answered, “Yes—rather,” Lord Fordyce got up and sauntered off toward bed.
“One has to be up so early in the morning, here,” he remarked agreeably. “See you to-morrow at the Schlossbrunn?—Good-night!”
After this, for several days Mrs. Howard made it rather difficult for Lord Fordyce to speak to her alone, although he saw her every day, and at every meal, and each hour grew more enamored. She, for her part, was certainly growing to like him. He soothed her; his intelligence was highly trained, and he was courteous and gentle and sympathetic—but for some reason which she could not explain, she had no wish to precipitate matters. Her mind was quite without any definite desire or determination, but, being a woman, she was perfectly aware that Henry was falling in love with her. A number of other men had done so before, and had then at once begun to be uninteresting in her eyes. It was as if she were numb to the attraction of men—but this one had qualities which appealed to her. Her own countrymen were never cultivated enough in literature, and were too absorbed in stocks and shares to be able to take flights of sentiment and imagination with her. Lord Fordyce understood in a second—and they could discuss any subject with a refined subtlety which enchanted her.