Ringing the bell, Selwyn was admitted into the music-room of the previous night’s scene. The portrait of a famous Elizabethan beauty looked at him with plump and saucy arrogance. In place of the crackling fire a new one was laid, all orderly and proper, like a set of new resolutions. The genial disorder of the chairs, moved at the whim of the Olympians, had all been put straight, and the whole room possessed an air of studied correctness, as though it were anxious to forget the previous evening’s laxity with the least possible delay.
Elise Durwent swept into the room with an impression of boundless vitality. She was dressed in a black riding-habit with a divided skirt, from beneath which a pair of glistening riding-boots shone with a Cossack touch. Her copper hair, which was arranged to lie rather low at the back, was guarded by a sailor-hat that enhanced to the full the finely formed features and arched eyebrows. There was an extraordinary sense of youthfulness about her—not the youthfulness of immaturity, but the stimulating quality of the spirit.
‘I came here this morning,’ began Selwyn vaguely, ’expecting’——
’Expecting a frumpy, red-haired girl with a black derby hat down to her nose.’
He bowed solemnly. ‘Instead of which, I find—a Russian princess.’
’You are a dear. You can’t imagine how much thought I expended on this hat.’
’It was worth it. You look absolutely’——
’Just a minute, Mr. Selwyn. You are not going to tell me I look charming?’
‘That was my intention.’
She sighed, with a pretty pretence at disappointment. ’That will cost me half-a-crown,’ she said.
’I beg your’——
’Yes; I wagered myself two-and-six to a “bob” that you wouldn’t use that word.’
‘It is really your fault that I did,’ he said seriously.
She curtsied daintily. ’I make money on Englishmen and lose it on Americans,’ she said. ’I have a regular scale of bets. I give ten to one that an Englishman will say in the first ten minutes that I look “topping,” five to one on “absolutely ripping” in the first thirty, and even money on “stunning” in the first hour.’
His face, which had been portraying an amusing mixture of perplexity and admiration, broke into a smile which encompassed all his features. ‘Do all bets cease at the end of the first hour?’ he asked.
’Yes, ra-ther. An Englishman never pays compliments then, because he is used to you. Isn’t it awful seeing people getting used to you?’
‘Do they ever?’
’Umph’m. The only chance of bagging one of the nobility as a husband is to limit interviews to half-an-hour and never wear the same clothes twice. Startle him! Keep him startled! Save your most daring gown for the night you’re going to make him propose, then wear white until the wedding. An Englishman will fall in love with a woman in scarlet, but he likes to think he’s marrying one who wears white. Costume, my dear Americano—costume does it. Hence the close alliance between the nobility and the chorus. But come along; we’re snubbing the sunlight.’