‘Not going well?’ Smyth straightened his right leg and relaxed the left one. ’In the last three weeks a pair of pyjamas, my other coat, two borrowed umbrellas, and a set of cuff-links have gone. If things go much better I shall have to live in a tub like Diogenes. But—do the honours, Selwyn.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said the American. ‘Mr—Mr. Sherwood,’ he went on, taking the first name that came to his lips, ’allow me to introduce Mr. Johnston Smyth.’
‘How are you?’ said the artist, making an elaborate bow and seizing the other’s hand.
’As you may have gathered from my costume and the ventilated condition of my umbrella, I am not in that state of funds which lends tranquillity to the mind and a glow of contentment to the bosom. Yet you see before you a man—if I may be permitted a sporting expression—who has set the pace to the artists of England. I am glad to know you. Our mutual friend from Old Glory has done himself proud.’
With which flourish Smyth left off shaking hands and closed his umbrella, immediately opening it and putting it up again. Dick Durwent replaced his hands in his pockets, and Selwyn heard his quivering breath as he shivered with cold.
‘However,’ went on the loquacious artist, ’though my art has been heralded as a triumph, though it has filled columns of the press, though my admirers can be found on every page of the directory, I can only say, like our ancient enemy across the Channel after Austerlitz, “Another such victory and I am ruined!” . . . Selwyn, shall we indulge in the erstwhile drop?’
‘Have you a flask?’ broke in Durwent, his dull eyes lighting greedily.
‘I think not,’ said Smyth, handing the umbrella to Selwyn, and carefully searching all his pockets. ’I am afraid my valet has neglected that essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. But what do you say, gentlemen, to a short pilgrimage to Archibald’s?’
‘No, Smyth,’ said the American, putting his hand in Durwent’s arm. ’For certain reasons, Mr. Sherwood’——
‘Ha!’ said Smyth, with a dramatic pose of his legs, ’Archibald is the soul of discretion. Compared to him, an Egyptian mummy is a pithy paragrapher. Mes amis, Archibald’s is just across the bridge, and I can assure you that the Twilight Tinkle, in which I have the honour to have collaborated, is guaranteed to change the most elongated countenance of glum into a globular surface of blithesome joy.’
‘No,’ began Selwyn impatiently.
‘Let us try it,’ said Durwent eagerly. ’I think this chill has got into my blood. I’d give a lot for a shot of rum or brandy.’
‘We can have anything in my rooms,’ protested the American. ’You want to get your wet things off—and, besides, it’s a risk going in there.’
‘No risk—no risk,’ said Durwent, laughing foolishly and rubbing his hands together.—’Where is this hole, Smyth?’
‘Gentlemen,’ said the artist, ’after the custom of these military days, I urge you “fall in."’