‘MR. AUSTIN SELWYN.’
Every one turned to see the guest of the evening, as the hostess rose to meet him. He was a young man on the right side of thirty, with dark, closely brushed hair that thinned slightly at the temples. He was clean-shaven, and his light-brown eyes lay in a smiling setting of quizzical good-humour. He was of rather more than medium height, with well-poised shoulders; and though a firmness of lips and jaw gave a suggestion of hardness, the engaging youthfulness of his eyes and a hearty smile that crinkled the bridge of his nose left a pleasant impression of frankness, mingled with a certain naivete.
‘Mr. Selwyn,’ said Lady Durwent, ’I knew you would want to meet some of London’s—I should say some of England’s—accomplished people.’
‘Oime! I am afraid that obleeterates me,’ smiled Madame Carlotti, whose social charm was rising fast at the sight of a good-looking stranger.
‘No, indeed, Lucia,’ effused the hostess. ’To be the personification of Italy in dreary London is more than an accomplishment; it—it’——
‘It is a boon,’ said Dunckley, coming to the aid of his floundering loved one.
‘Exactly,’ said Lady Durwent with a sigh of relief. ’Madame Lucia Carlotti—Mr. Selwyn of New York.’
‘Buona sera, signora.’
‘Buona sera, signore.’
He stooped low and pressed a light kiss on the Neapolitan’s hand, thus taking the most direct route obtainable by an Anglo-Saxon to the good graces of a woman of Italy.
‘How well you speak Italian!’ cooed Madame Carlotti; ’so—like one of us.’
The American bowed. It was rarely he achieved a reputation with so little effort.
The remaining introductions were effected; the clock struck eight-thirty; and there followed an awkward silence, born of an absolute unanimity of thought.
‘Of course, you two authors,’ said Lady Durwent, forcing a smile, ’knew of each other, anyway. It’s like asking H. G. Wells if he ever heard of Mark Twain.’
The smile in the American’s eyes widened. ‘Lady Durwent flatters me,’ he said. ’I am not widely known in my own country, and can hardly expect that you should know of me on this side of the Atlantic.’
‘What,’ said Mr. Dunckley—’what does New York think of “Precipitate Thoughts"?’
The American considered quickly. He wished that in conversation, as well as in writing, people would use inverted commas.
‘Whose precipitate thoughts?’ he ventured.
‘Mine,’ said H. S. D., with ill-concealed importance.
‘Oh yes, of course,’ said Selwyn, wondering how any one so stationary as the other could project anything precipitate. ’New York was keenly interested.’
‘Ah,’ said the English author benignly, ’it is satisfactory to hear that. Of course, the great difference between there and here is that in New York one impresses: in London one is impressed.’