An ominous silence followed this epigrammatic wisdom (which Dunckley had just heard from the lips of a poet who had succeeded in writing both an American and an English publishing house into bankruptcy) while the various members of the group pursued their trains of thought along the devious routes of their different mentalities.
‘Dear me!’ said Lady Durwent anxiously, ’what can have detained’——
‘MR. JOHNSTON SMYTH.’
With a jerky action of the knees, the futurist briskly entered the room with all the easy confidence of a famous comedian following on the heels of a chorus announcing his arrival. He looked particularly long and cadaverous in an abrupt, sporting-artistic, blue jacket, with sleeves so short that when he waved his arms (which he did with almost every sentence) he reminded one of a juggler requesting his audience to notice that he has absolutely nothing up his sleeves.
‘Lady Durwent,’ he exclaimed, striking an attitude and looking over his Cyrano-like nose with his right eye as if he were aligning the sights of a musket, ’don’t tell me I’m late. If you do, I shall never speak to the Duke of Earldub again—never!’
As he refused to move an inch until assured that he was not late, and as Lady Durwent was anxious to proceed with the main business of the evening (to say nothing of maintaining the friendship between Smyth and the Duke of Earldub, whose part in his dilatory arrival was rather vague), she granted the necessary pardon, whereupon he straightened his legs and winked long and solemnly at Norton Pyford.
‘Good gracious!’ cried Lady Durwent just as she was about to suggest an exodus to the dining-room, ‘I had forgotten all about Elise!’ She hurriedly rang the bell, which was answered by the butler. ’Send word to Miss Elise that’——
‘Milady,’ said the servitor, addressing an arc-light just over the door, ‘she is descending the stairs this very minute.’
There are moments when women appear at their best—fleeting moments that cannot be sustained. Sometimes it is a tremor of timidity that lends a fawn-like gentleness to their movements, and a frightened wistfulness to the eye, too subtle a thing of beauty to bear analysis in words. A sudden triumph, noble or ignoble, the conquering of a rival, the sound of a lover’s voice, will flush the cheek and liberate the whole radiancy of a woman’s being. Such moments come in every woman’s life, when the quick impulse of emotion achieves an unconscious beauty that defies the ordinary standards of critical appreciation. It is that little instant that is the torch to light a lover’s worship or a poet’s verses—to send strange yearnings into a young man’s breast and set an old man’s memory philandering with the distant past.
It was such a moment for Elise Durwent as she stood in the doorway, the overhanging arc touching her hair and shoulders with the high lights of some master’s painting. Conversation ceased, and in every face there was the universal homage paid to beauty, even though it be tendered grudgingly.