It was perhaps an unfortunate circumstance that had brought together a group of women none of whom was artistically accomplished, although they were by no means lacking in social charm. Music for them was not a refreshing stream which ran by the road of everyday life, but something which was to be heard at the Opera, and which enjoyed a close alliance with sables and diamond tiaras. Pictures were of the Academy, and, like all the best people, they invariably said, ’Have you seen this year’s show at Burlington House? My dear, it’s frightful.’ Nor did they neglect literature in their curriculum. Though literature lacks a yearly exhibition, such as is possessed by music and painting, they made it a subject for gossip, and denounced H. G. Wells as a ‘bounder.’ ‘I never read him, Mr. Selwyn,’ said the obscure-royalist person. ’My cousin the Duchess of Atwater met him, and says—well, really, she says he’s quite impossible.’
With a mixture of wonder and amusement Selwyn watched the spectacle of these people of more than average education and intelligence contenting themselves with a perpetual routine of small-talk and genteel insularity, and he wondered how it was that a race so gifted with the blessed quality of humour could evolve a state of society offering such a butt to the shafts of ridicule.
He liked Lord Durwent, whose unfailing gentleness and courtesy would have stamped him as a gentleman in any walk of life. Although his mind was comparatively unimpressionable to new ideas, it was saturated with the qualities of integrity and fairness, and in his attitude towards every one of his guests there was an old-world dignity, born of the respect in which he held both himself and them. The study of this man moving contentedly about his daily tasks, never making any one’s day harder by reason of his passing that way, was the first jolt Selwyn had received in his gathering arraignment against English social life. By way of contrast he pictured certain successful gentlemen of his acquaintance in America, and the vision was not flattering to his national self-esteem.
He also enjoyed the refreshing vitality of Lady Durwent, who never quite lost her optimism no matter how tight was the grip of good form; and he admired without stint the devotion of every one, regardless of sex, to sport. Throughout the day there were constant expeditions that necessitated long, invigorating hours in the open air; and it seemed to the American that they were never so free from affectation, that the comradeship between the men and the women was never so marked, as when they were indulging their wise instinct for out-of-door sports.
He had been at Roselawn a couple of days before he had a chance to do more than observe Elise Durwent as one of the party. She had been his partner at tennis and bridge, and a dozen times he had exchanged light talk with her, but there was always about her the defensive shield of impersonal cordiality. When he spoke to her it was almost in a drawl, but no matter to what a lackadaisical level he reduced his voice, her replies were always punctuated by a retort that had in it the sense of sting, as Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana accompanies his song with the crack of a driving-whip.