“She would have him put in irons, no doubt,” Herbert retorted, “or locked up with the other sad dogs, in charge of the ship’s butcher.”
The three laughed immoderately, and Stephen, looking up, came in at the end with a smile. Alicia pronounced her brother too absurd, and unfitted by nature to know anything about creatures like Hilda Howe. “A mere man to begin with,” she said. “You haven’t the ghost of a temperament, Herbert, you know you haven’t.”
“He’s got a lovely bedside manner,” Lindsay remarked, “and that’s the next thing to it.”
“Rubbish! I don’t want to hurry you,” Alicia glanced at the watch on her wrist, “but unless you and Herbert want to miss half the first act you had better be off. Stephen and I will have our coffee comfortably in the drawing-room and find what excuses we can for you.”
But Stephen put out his hand with a movement of slightly rigid deprecation.
“If it is not too vacillating of me,” he said, “and I may be forgiven, I think I will change my mind and go. I have no business to break up your party, and besides, I shall probably not have another opportunity—I should rather like to go. To the theatre, of course, that is. Not to Bonsard’s, thanks very much.”
“Oh, do come on to Bonsard’s,” Lindsay said, and Alicia protested that he would miss the best of Lady Dolly, but Stephen was firm. Bonsard’s was beyond the limit of his indulgence.
Only the Sphinx confronted them, after all, when they arrived at the theatre, the Sphinx and Lady Dolly. The older feminine presentment sent her belittling gaze over their heads and beyond them from the curtain; Lady Dolly turned a modish head to greet them from the front of the box. Lady Dolly raised her eyes but not her elbows, which were assisting her a good deal with the house in exploring and being explored, enabling Colonel John Cummins, who sat by her side, to observe how very perfect and adorable the cut of her bodice was. Since Colonel Cummins was accustomed to say in moments when his humour escaped his discretion, that there was more in a good fit than meets the eye, the role of Lady Dolly’s elbows could hardly be dismissed as unimportant. Moreover, the husband attached to the elbows belonged to the Department of which Colonel John was the head, so that they rested, one may say, upon a very special plane.
Alicia disturbed it with the necessity of taking Colonel Cummins’ place, which Lady Dolly accepted with admirable spirit, assuring the usurper, with the most engaging candour, that she simply ought never to be seen without turquoises. “Believe it or not as you like, but I like you better every time I see you in that necklace.” Lady Dolly clasped her hands, with her fan in them, in the abandonment of her affection, and “love you better” floated back and dispersed itself among the men. Alicia smiled the necessary acknowledgment. All