Lady Durwent had decided to give a dinner.
An ordinary hostess merely writes a carelessly formal note stating that she hopes the recipient will be able to dine with her on a certain evening. The form of her invitations varies as little as the conversation at her table. But Lady Durwent was unusual. For years she had endeavoured to impress the fact on London, and by careful attention to detail had at last succeeded in gaining that reputation. She was that rara avis among the women of to-day—the hostess who knows her guests. She never asked any one to dine at her house without some definite purpose in mind—and, for that matter, her guests never dined with her except on the same terms.
Therefore it came about that Lady Durwent’s dinners were among the pleasantest things in town, and, true to her character of the unusual, she always worded her invitations with a nice discrimination dictated by the exact motive that prompted the sending.
H. Stackton Dunckley looked up from his pillow as the man-servant who valeted for the gentlemen of the Jermyn Street Chambers drew aside a gray curtain and displayed the gray blanket of the atmosphere outside.
‘Good-morning, Watson,’ said Mr. Dunckley in a voice which gave the impression that he had smoked too many cigars the previous evening—an impression considerably strengthened by the bilious appearance of his face.
’Good-morning, sir. Will you have the Times or the Morning Post? And here are your letters, sir.’
The recumbent gentleman took the letters and waved them philosophically at the valet. ‘Leave me to my thoughts,’ he said thickly, but with considerable dignity. ’I am not interested in the squeaky jarring of the world revolving on its rusty axis.’
Being an author, he almost invariably tried out his command of language in the morning, as a tenor essays two or three notes on rising, to make sure that his voice has not left him during his slumber.
Mr. Watson bowed and withdrew. H. Stackton Dunckley lit a cigarette, opened the first letter, and read it.
’8 Chelmsford gardens.
’My dear STACKY,—Next Friday I am giving a little dinner-party—just a few unusual people—to meet an American author who has recently come to England. Do come; but, you brilliant man, don’t be too caustic, will you?
’Isn’t it dreadful the way gossip is connecting our names? Supposing Lord Durwent should hear about it!—Until Friday,
‘P.S.—How is the play coming on? Dinner will be at 8.30.’