‘Oh, I shall never forget you,’ murmured his hostess, whose emotions were so near the surface that almost any remark was sufficient to tap them. ‘You have been the truest of friends, and Elise is so fond of you.’
‘I am very fond of Elise,’ blurted Selwyn, feeling his cheeks grow red. ’Her companionship and inspiration were something’——
‘Ye-es.’ An instinct of caution plugged the emotional channel. Lady Durwent saw that she had been indiscreet. It was not in her plan of things that her daughter should become enamoured of a commoner. Selwyn was all very well for company, and no doubt his books were very good, but Elise Durwent would have to marry in her own station of life.
‘You feel that you must go this afternoon?’ said the Ironmonger’s daughter dismally, but with an inflection that made it more a reminder than a question.
‘Yes, Lady Durwent,’ he answered, with a cynical smile creeping into his lips, which seemed thin and almost cruel. ‘I shall catch the 3.50.’
‘Then you must come again and see us sometime, Mr. Selwyn,’ she said, with that vagueness of date used by polite persons when they don’t mean a thing. Lady Durwent rose with great dignity. ’Will you excuse me, Mr. Selwyn? I always meet my housekeeper at ten to discuss domestic matters. Elise is somewhere around. Is it too damp for tennis?’
She paused at the door. She had to. It is one of the traditions of the stage that a player must stop at the exit and utter one compelling, terrific sentence.
‘WE ARE AT WAR,’ she cried—’TH’——
‘Think of it!’ he said maliciously, bowing and closing the door after her.
Going to his room, Selwyn packed his own bags, dispensing with the services of the valet, and with more than one sigh of regret glanced about at the luxury which he was soon to quit. The great bed with its snowy billows of comfort; the reading-lamp on the little table with the motley collection of books borrowed from the library with the very best intentions—books which had hardly been opened before sleep would obliterate everything from his sight; that merry picture of the two medieval enthusiasts playing chess, and those jolly Dickensian paintings of huntsmen at luncheon with grinning waiters and ubiquitous dogs. What a charm they all had! What a merry little spot England had been in those good old days!
A ray of sunshine stole through the curtains as if it were not quite sure of its welcome, and shyly rested against the farthest wall of the room. With an exclamation of pleasure Selwyn threw open the window and looked out upon the lawns.
The sun had won its battle, and the countryside was cleared of the invading mist, which was ingloriously retreating to its own territory behind the distant hills. There was a sparkle in the air, and the rich colourings of the flowers vied with each other in Beauty’s quarrel. The birds flew from tree to tree, singing their paean of the sun’s victory, and a light summer breeze was scattering perfume over the earth.