By one of those unspoken understandings that are the rules of mobs and dinner-parties, it was felt that the topic was ceasing to be exhaustive and becoming exhausting. Lady Durwent glanced, interrogatively about the table; Madame Carlotti took a hitch in her gown; Norton Pyford emptied his glass and sat pensively staring at it as if it had hardly done what he expected, but on the whole he felt inclined to forgive it; Johnston Smyth made a belated attempt to be sentimental with the Honourable Miss Durwent, whose lips, always at war with each other, merely parted in a smile that utterly failed to bring any sympathy from her eyes; Mrs. Le Roy Jennings took a last sip of coffee, and finding it quite cold, put it down with a gesture of finality.
‘Lady Durwent,’ said Austin Selwyn—and the quality of his voice was lighter and more musical than it had been—’I suppose that a man who deliberately goes to a country to gather impressions lays himself open to the danger of being influenced by external things only. If I were to base my knowledge of England on what her people say of her, I think I should be justified in assuming that the century-old charge of her decadence is terribly true. Yet I claim to have something of an artist’s sensitiveness to undercurrents, and it seems to me that there is a strong instinct of race over here—perhaps I express myself clumsily—but I think there is an England which has far more depth to it than your artists and writers realise. For some reason you all seem to want to deny that; and when, as to-night, it is my privilege to meet some of this country’s expressionists, it appears that none has any intention of trying to reveal what is fine in your life as a people—you seek only to satirise, caricature, or damn altogether. If I believe my ears, there is nothing but stupidity and insularity in England. If I listen to my senses, to my subconscious mind, I feel that a great crisis would reveal that she is still the bed-rock of civilisation.’
Madame Carlotti raised her glass.
‘To America’s next ambassador to England!’ she cried.
The momentous evening was drawing to a close.
Rain, in fitful gusts, had been besieging the windows, driven by an ill-tempered wind that blustered around the streets, darting up dark alleys, startling the sparks emerging from chimney-pots, roaring across the parks, slamming doors, and venting itself, every now and then, in an ill-natured howl.
Inside the refuge of No. 8 Chelmsford Gardens a fire threw its merry warmth over the large music-room, and did its best to offset the tearful misery of the November night.
Conversation had dwindled in energy with the closing hour of the affair, and seizing an auspicious moment, Norton Pyford had reached the piano, and for twenty minutes demonstrated the close relation of the chord of C Minor to the colour brown. Modernist music, acting on unusual souls as classical music on ordinary souls, stimulated the flagging conversational powers of the guests, and he was soon surrounded by a gesticulating group of dissenting or condoning critics.