His ear caught the new song of attainment just as readily as it had received the chorus of ‘Dollars.’ He wrote a novel of New England life, full of faults, but vibrant with promise; and having gathered together quite a nice sum of money, he went to England, at the advice of the before-mentioned publisher, there and elsewhere in Europe to absorb the less oxygenic atmosphere of older civilisations, which still gives birth to the beginnings of things.
Twice he had visited Paris. The first time, with the instinct of the tourist, he had discovered the vileness of the place—a discovery fairly easy of accomplishment. The second time he had ignored the tourist-stimulated aspect of Paris life, and had allowed his senses to absorb the soul of the Capital of all the Latins, the laboratory of civilisation. And he who has done that is never the same man again. Germany had ministered to his reason, and Italy to his emotions; but he found his greatest interest in London, which offered to him an endless inspiration of changing moods, of vagrant smells, and the effect of a stupendous drama of humanity.
Under the spell of Europe’s ageless artistry and the rich-hued meadows of England’s literary past he had grown humble. The song of ‘Dollars’ was less clamorous than the echo of the ocean in the heart of a sea-shell. When he wrote, which was seldom, he approached his paper-littered desk as an artist does his canvas. It was the medium by which he might gain a modest niche in the Hall of the Immortals—or, failing that, his soul at least would be enriched by the sincerity of his endeavour.
In that highly artistic frame of mind he suddenly secured the entree into London Society. For some reason, as unaccountable as the reverse, a wave of popularity for Americans was breaking against the oak doors, and he was carried in on the crest. The result was not ennobling. The dormant instinct of satire leaped to life and the idealist became the jester.
But then he was twenty-six and most agreeably susceptible to hap-hazard influence. Being a Bostonian, he acquitted himself with creditable savoir faire; and being an American, his appreciation of the ridiculous saved him from the quagmire of snobbery, though he made many friends and dined regularly with august people, whose family trees were so rich in growth that they lived in perpetual gloom from the foliage.
Lady Durwent’s dinner-party had been an expedition into the artistic fakery of London, and he would have dismissed the whole affair as a stimulating and amusing diversion from the ultra-aristocratic rut if the personality of Elise Durwent had not remained with him like a haunting melody.
He looked at his watch. ‘By Jove!’ he muttered; ‘it’s nine o’clock;’ and hurriedly completing his ablutions, he dressed and descended to breakfast.
Into the row of splendidly inert houses known as Chelmsford Gardens, Austin Selwyn turned his course. A couple of saddle-horses were standing outside No. 8, held by a groom of expressionless countenance. From No. 3 a butler emerged, looked at the morning, and retired. Elsewhere inaction reigned.