“Wiser for their experience at Port Mallett?”
“Perhaps. But not sadder, I think.”
“A woman adrift has no regrets,” she said with contempt.
“Wrong. A woman who is in love has none.”
“That is what I mean. The hospitality of Port Mallett ought to leave them with no regrets.”
He laughed. “But they are not loved,” he said. “They know it. That’s why they drift on.”
She turned on him white and tremulous.
“Haven’t you even the excuse of caring for her?”
“A neighbour’s wife—who comes drifting into your hospitable haven!”
“I don’t pretend to love her, if that is what you mean,” he said pleasantly.
“Then you make her believe it—and that’s dastardly!”
“Oh, no. Women don’t love unless made love to. You’ve only read that in books.”
She said a little breathlessly: “You are right. I know men and women only through books. It’s time I learned for myself.”
The end of June and of the house party at Roya-Neh was now near at hand, and both were to close with a moonlight fete and dance in the forest, invitations having been sent to distant neighbours who had been entertaining similar gatherings at Iron Hill and Cloudy Mountain—the Grays, Beekmans, Ellises, and Grandcourts.
Silks and satins, shoe buckles and powdered hair usually mark the high tide of imaginative originality among this sort of people. So it was to be the inevitable Louis XVI fete—or as near to it as attenuated, artistic intelligence could manage, and they altered Duane’s very clever and correct sketches to suit themselves, careless of anachronism, and sent the dainty water-colour drawings to town in order that those who sweat and sew in the perfumed ateliers of Fifth Avenue might use them as models.
“The fun—if there’s any in dressing up—ought to lie in making your own costumes,” observed Duane. But nobody displayed any inclination to do so. And now, on hurry orders, the sewers in the hot Fifth Avenue ateliers sewed faster. Silken and satin costumes, paste jewelry and property small-swords were arriving by express; maids flew about the house at Roya-Neh, trying on, fussing with lace and ribbon, bodice and flowered pannier, altering, retrimming, adjusting. Their mistresses met in one another’s bedrooms for mysterious confabs over head-dress and coiffure, lace scarf, and petticoat.
As for the men, they surreptitiously tried on their embroidered coats and breeches, admired themselves in secrecy, and let it go at that, returning with embarrassed relief to cards, tennis, and the various forms of amiable idleness to which they were accustomed. Only Englishmen can masquerade seriously.
Later, however, the men were compelled to pay some semblance of attention to the general preparations, assemble their foot-gear, head-gear, stars, orders, sashes, swords, and try them on for Duane Mallett—to that young man’s unconcealed dissatisfaction.