‘SHALL WE HAVE SOME PORT?’ said Lady Durwent, opening the sluice-gates of her vocal production.
‘Speaking of America,’ said Mrs. Le Roy Jennings a few minutes later, Johnston Smyth having sat down in order to do justice to the wine of Portugal, ’she is in the very vanguard of progress. Women have achieved an independence there unknown elsewhere in the world.’
‘That is true,’ said Lady Durwent, who knew nothing whatever about it.
‘You are right,’ said Madame Carlotti.
’The other day in Paris I heard an American woman whistling. “Have you lost your dog?” I asked. “No,” she says; “my husband."’
A chorus of approval greeted this malicious sally, followed by the retailing of various anti-American anecdotes that made up in sting what they lacked in delicacy. These showed no signs of abatement until, slightly nettled, Selwyn put in an oar.
‘I had hoped,’ he said, ’to find some illuminating points in the conversation to-night. But it seems as if you treat not only your own country in a spirit of caricature, but mine as well. We are a very young race, and we have the faults of youth; but, then, youth always has a future. It was a sort of post-graduate course to come to England and Europe to absorb some of the lore—or isn’t it one of your poets who speaks of “The Spoils of Time”? Your past is so rich that naturally we look to you and Europe for the fundamental things of civilisation.’
‘And what have you found?’ asked Elise Durwent.
‘Well,’ said the American, ‘much to admire—and much to deplore.’
‘In other words,’ said Johnston Smyth, ’he has been to Edinburgh and to London.’
‘That is so,’ smiled Selwyn; ’but I don’t’——
‘All people,’ said Smyth serenely, ’admire Edinburgh, but abuse London. Over here a man will jest about his religion or even his grandfather, but never about Edinburgh. On the other hand, as every one damns London, and as an Englishman is never so happy as when he has something on hand to grouse about, London’s population has grown to some eight millions.’
‘I think, Mr. Smyth,’ said Lady Durwent, ’that you are as much a philosopher as a painter.’
‘Lady Durwent,’ said the futurist, ’all art is philosophy—even old Pyford’s here, though his amounts almost to theology.’
For a few minutes the conversation drifted in inconsequential channels until H. Stackton Dunckley becalmed everything with a laborious dissertation on the lack of literary taste in both England and America. Selwyn took the opportunity of studying the elusive beauty of Elise Durwent, which seemed to provoke the eye to admiration, yet fade into imperfection under a prolonged searching. Pyford grew sleepy, and even Smyth appeared a little melancholy, when, on a signal from Lady Durwent, brandy and liqueurs were served, checking Mr. Dunckley’s oratory and reviving every one’s spirits noticeably.