The pleasure of their guests was about as keen as would be that of a party of bricklayers invited by a fellow-labourer to spend a Saturday with him laying bricks.
To the insatiable curiosity of Austin Selwyn the party presented an infinite chance for study, as well as an unlooked-for opportunity to meet Elise Durwent under circumstances which should either cement their friendship or else demonstrate its utter impracticability.
He listened to the chat of men who did the same things all the year round with the same people, and he wondered a little at their persistency in conversing at all. They rarely disagreed on anything, partly because they were all of the same political faith, and it seemed an understood thing that, so far as it was humanly possible, no one would introduce any subject which would entail controversy. When Selwyn, who was almost too thorough a believer in the productive powers of fiction, used to drop conversational depth-bombs, they treated him with easy tolerance as one who was entitled to his racial peculiarities. Sometimes they would even put to sea clinging to the raft of one of his ideas, but one by one would grow numb and drop off into the waters of mental indifference. They had a nice sense of satire, and it was a delight for the American to indulge in an easy, inconsequential banter which was full of humour without being labelled funny; but it used to fill him with sorrow to see many of his best controversial subjects punctured by a lazily conceived play of words. He felt that, coming from the New World, he was in a position to give knowledge for knowledge, but his fellow-guests were impervious to his geographical qualifications, and persisted in their pleasant task of rolling vocabulary along the straight grooved channels of their well-bred thoughts.
The women were less of a type, but their little lives were so lacking in horizon that they seemed to live in a perpetual atmosphere of personalities. As pretty much the same topics of conversation did them for a whole season, they were not unlike a travelling theatrical company producing the one show wherever they went. One woman occasioned some mirth to Selwyn by her familiarity with the obscure royalties of Europe, whom she thrust forward on every possible occasion. On dowager-duchesses and retired empresses she was without parallel, and she went through life expressing perpetual regret that she had not known you were going to Ruritania, because she would have insisted upon your calling on her friend the Empress Lizajania.