‘I do not think,’ went on the American, ’that the English girls I have met are as bright or as clever as the cultured young women of the continent of America. In other words, with all her natural charm, the English girl does not edit herself well.’
‘In that,’ said H. Stackton Dunckley, ’she reflects the breed. The Anglo-Saxon has an instinctive indifference to thought.’
‘As soon as an Englishman thinks,’ minced Madame Carlotti, ’he leaves England with its cattivo climate and goes to the Colonies. C’est pourquoi the Empire ees so powerful—its brains are in the legs.’
‘Come, come,’ laughed Selwyn, ’is there no one here but me who can discover any merit in Old England?’
‘Yes,’ said Pyford gloomily; ‘London is only seven hours from Paris.’
‘Ah—Parigi!’ ejaculated Madame Carlotti with the fervour born of the feeling in all Latin women that Paris is their spiritual capital.
‘And yet,’ said Selwyn, after a pause to see if Madame Carlotti’s exuberance was going to develop any further, ’in literature, which I suppose is the natural art of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, we still look to you for the outstanding figures. With all our ability for writing short stories—and I think we are second only to the French in that—England still produces the foremost novelists. In the sustained effort required in the formation of a novel, England is yet first. Of course, musically, I think England is very near the bottom.’
‘And yet,’ said Johnston Smyth, ’we are the only people in the world candid enough to have a monument to our lack of taste.’
Every one looked at the artist, who stroked his left arm with the back of his right hand, like a barber sharpening a razor.
‘In that part of London known as Kingsway,’ he said, ’there is a beautiful building called “The London Opera House"!’ He thrust both hands out, palms upwards, as if the building itself rested on them. ’It stands in a commanding position, with statues of the great composers gazing from the roof at the passing proletariat emanating from the Strand. Inside it is luxuriously equipped, as bents the home of Opera.’
‘Yes,’ said the American, as the speaker paused.
Smyth produced a watch from nowhere in particular. ’It is just past ten,’ he said. ’I am not sure whether it is Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford showing on the screen at this hour, at the London Opera House.’
A murmur of applause acknowledged the artist’s well-planned climax. He looked about with a satisfied smile, then replaced the watch with the air of pocketing both it and the subject.
‘But—you have opera?’ said Selwyn wonderingly.
‘Of course,’ said Smyth; ’and where? In a vegetable-market. In Covent Garden. Yet England has been accused of hypocrisy! What other nation is so candid?’