She was dressed in a gown of deep blue, that colour which renders its ageless tribute to the fair women of the world, and from her shoulders there hung a black net that subdued the colour of the gown and left the graceful suggestion of a cape.
‘I am so sorry, mother,’ she said. ’I was reading, and quite forgot the time.’
Austin Selwyn stroked the back of his head, then thrust both hands into his pockets. There was something in the girl’s appearance and the contralto timbre of her voice that left him with the odd sensation that she was out of place in the room—that her real sphere was in the expanse of unbridled nature. He could see her wealth of copper-hued hair blown by the western wind; he could picture her joining in Spring’s minuet of swaying rose-bushes.
‘My daughter Elise—Mr. Austin Selwyn.’
He bowed as the words penetrated his thoughts; then, glancing up, he felt a sudden contraction of disappointment.
The girl’s eyes had narrowed, and were no longer sparkling, but steady—almost to the point of dullness; her lower lip was full, and too scarlet for the upper one, which chided its sister for the wanton admission of slumbering passion; and her voice was abrupt. He almost cried out ‘Legato, legato,’ to coax back the lilt which had caressed his ear a moment before.
He was dimly conscious that dinner was announced, and that amidst a babel of tongues he was being led by, or was leading, Lady Durwent into the dining-room. He heard the resolutionist and Dunckley both talking at once, and felt the melancholy languor of Pyford floating like incense through the air. He had an obscure recollection of sitting down next to his hostess; that the table, like Arthur’s, was a round one; that Johnston Smyth was seated beside Miss Durwent and was ogling one of Lady Durwent’s maids. Then he remembered that he had heard some voice in his ear for several minutes past, and, growing curious, took a surreptitious glance, to find that it belonged to Madame Carlotti.
‘Meester Selwyn,’ she said indignantly, ’you have not been listening to me.’
‘That is true, signora,’ he said; ‘but I have been thinking of you.’
‘Yes?’ she purred, leaning towards him. ‘What did you thought?’
He turned squarely to her in an impassioned counterfeit of frankness. ‘Are all Italian women beautiful?’ he murmured.
‘Hush-sh!’ Her hand touched his beneath the table, reprovingly and tenderly.
‘Mr. Selwyn,’ said Lady Durwent, ‘you have not tasted your soup.’
THE OLYMPIANS THUNDER.
Lady Durwent was blessed in the possession of a cook whose artistry was beyond question, if the same could not be said of the guests to whom she so frequently ministered. She was a descendant of the French, that race which makes everything tend towards development of the soul, and consequently looks upon a meal as something of a sacrament. She prepared a dinner with a balance of contrast and climax that a composer might show in writing a tone poem.