Selwyn noticed that Elise Durwent had not left her seat by the fire, and absenting himself from the harmonic debate, he took a chair by hers.
‘You are pensive, Miss Durwent,’ he said.
She smiled, with a slight suggestion of weariness, though her eyes had a softness he had not seen in them before.
‘I am very dull company to-night,’ she said, ’but ever since I was a child, rain beating against the windows has always made me dreamy. I suppose I am old-fashioned, but it is sweeter music to me than Mr. Pyford’s new harmonies.’
He laughed, and leaning towards the fire, rubbed his hands meditatively. ‘You must have found our talk wearisome at dinner,’ he said.
‘No,’ she answered, ’it was not so bad as usual. You introduced a note of sincerity that had all the effect of a novelty.’
Her mannerism of swift and disjointed speech, which broke all her sentences into rapidly uttered phrases, again annoyed him. Though her voice was refined, it seemed to be acting at the behest of a whip-like brain, and she spoke as if desirous rather of provoking a retort than of establishing any sense of compatibility. Yet she was feminine—gloriously, delicately feminine. The finely moulded arms and the gracefulness of body, indicated rather than revealed beneath her blue gown, intrigued the eye and the senses, just as the swiftly spoken words challenged the brain and infused exasperation in the very midst of admiration. The complicated elements of the girl offered a peculiar fascination to the eternal instinct of study possessed by the young American author.
‘Miss Durwent,’ he said, ’if I was sincere to-night, it was because you encouraged me to be so.’
‘But I said nothing.’
‘Nevertheless, you were the inspiration.’
‘I never knew a girl could accomplish so much by holding her tongue.’
A crash of ‘Bravos’ broke from the group around the piano; Pyford had just scored a point.
‘You know,’ resumed Selwyn thoughtfully, ’a man doesn’t go to a dinner-party conscious of what he is going to say. It is the people he meets that produce ideas in him, many of which he had never thought of before.’
She tapped the ground with her foot, and looked smilingly at his serious face. ‘It is the reverse with me,’ she said. ’I go out to dinner full of ideas, and the people I meet inspire a silence in me of unsuspected depth.’
‘May I smoke?’ asked Selwyn, calling a halt in the verbal duel.
’Certainly; I’ll join you. Don’t smoke your own cigarettes—there are some right in front of you.’
He reached for a silver box, offered her a cigarette, and struck a match. As he leaned over her she raised her face to the light, and the blood mounted angrily to his head.
Though a man accustomed to dissect rather than obey his passions, he possessed that universal quality of man which demands the weakness of the feminine nature in the woman who interests him. He will satirise that failing; if he be a writer, it will serve as an endless theme for light cynicism. He will deplore that a woman’s brains are so submerged by her emotions; but let him meet one reversely constituted, and he steers his course in another direction with all possible speed.