’But, Mr. Selwyn, any girl knows enough to arrive late when there is no woman within twenty years of her age in the room. The effect is certain.’
There was no humour in her voice, but just a tone of weary, world-wise knowledge. A look of displeasure clouded his face.
‘Surely,’ he said, ’with your qualities and appearance, you don’t need such an elaborate technique.’
’In a world where there is so little that is genuine, why should I debar myself from the pleasure of being a humbug?’
‘Come, come,’ he said, smiling, ’you are not going to join the ranks of England’s detractors?’
She shrugged her shoulders. ’I’m certainly not going to become a professional critic like Stackton Dunckley, who hasn’t even the excuse that he’s an Irishman; or Lucia Carlotti, who hardly ever leaves London because her dinners cost her nothing. But I reserve the right of personal resentment.’
They were interrupted by a waiter, who removed the soup-plates with studied dexterity, and substituted Troncon de turbotin Duglere; pommes vapeur, the dish which had delivered the fatal blow against the Cabinet Minister’s digestive armour.
‘Perhaps I am too personal,’ resumed Selwyn after the completion of this task, ’but last night one of the impressions I took away with me was your critical attitude towards your surroundings. Then this morning you were so completely’——
‘——bewitching,’ he said, smiling, ’that I thought myself an idiot for the previous night’s opinion. But, then, this evening’——
’Mr. Selwyn, you are not going to tell me I’m disappointing, and we just finished with the soup?’
More than her words, the forced rapidity with which she spoke nettled him. With bad taste perhaps, but still with well-meant sincerity, he was trying to elucidate the personality which had gripped him; while she, though seemingly having no objection to serving as a study for analysis, was constantly thrusting her deflecting sentences in his path. To him words were as clay to the sculptor. When he conversed he liked to choose his theme, then, by adroit use of language, bring his artistry to bear on the subject, accentuating a line here, introducing a note of subtlety elsewhere, amplifying, smoothing, finishing with the veneer of words the construction of his mind. Another quality in her that troubled him was the apparent rigidity of her thoughts. Not once did she give the impression that she was nursing an idea in the lap of her mentality, but always that she had arrived at a conclusion by an instantaneous process, which would not permit of retraction or expansion. As though by suggestion he could reduce her phrasing to a tempo less quick, his own voice slowed to a drawl.
‘Miss Durwent,’ he said, ’you are unique among the English girls I have met. I should think that contentment, almost reduced to placidity, is one of their outstanding characteristics.’