“Mrs. Shrubley and I move in very different circles,” said Mrs. Eggelby stiffly.
“No one who knows Hildegarde could possibly accuse her of moving in a circle,” said Clovis; “her view of life seems to be a non-stop run with an inexhaustible supply of petrol. If she can get some one else to pay for the petrol so much the better. I don’t mind confessing to you that she has taught me more than any other woman I can think of.”
“What kind of knowledge?” demanded Mrs. Eggelby, with the air a jury might collectively wear when finding a verdict without leaving the box.
“Well, among other things, she’s introduced me to at least four different ways of cooking lobster,” said Clovis gratefully. “That, of course, wouldn’t appeal to you; people who abstain from the pleasures of the card-table never really appreciate the finer possibilities of the dining-table. I suppose their powers of enlightened enjoyment get atrophied from disuse.”
“An aunt of mine was very ill after eating a lobster,” said Mrs. Eggelby.
“I daresay, if we knew more of her history, we should find out that she’d often been ill before eating the lobster. Aren’t you concealing the fact that she’d had measles and influenza and nervous headache and hysteria, and other things that aunts do have, long before she ate the lobster? Aunts that have never known a day’s illness are very rare; in fact, I don’t personally know of any. Of course if she ate it as a child of two weeks old it might have been her first illness—and her last. But if that was the case I think you should have said so.”
“I must be going,” said Mrs. Eggelby, in a tone which had been thoroughly sterilised of even perfunctory regret.
Clovis rose with an air of graceful reluctance.
“I have so enjoyed our little talk about Eric,” he said; “I quite look forward to meeting him some day.”
“Good-bye,” said Mrs. Eggelby frostily; the supplementary remark which she made at the back of her throat was—
“I’ll take care that you never shall!”
A HOLIDAY TASK
Kenelm Jerton entered the dining-hall of the Golden Galleon Hotel in the full crush of the luncheon hour. Nearly every seat was occupied, and small additional tables had been brought in, where floor space permitted, to accommodate latecomers, with the result that many of the tables were almost touching each other. Jerton was beckoned by a waiter to the only vacant table that was discernible, and took his seat with the uncomfortable and wholly groundless idea that nearly every one in the room was staring at him. He was a youngish man of ordinary appearance, quiet of dress and unobtrusive of manner, and he could never wholly rid himself of the idea that a fierce light of public scrutiny beat on him as though he had been a notability or a super-nut. After he had ordered his lunch there came the unavoidable interval of waiting, with nothing to do but to stare at the flower-vase on his table and to be stared at (in imagination) by several flappers, some maturer beings of the same sex, and a satirical-looking Jew. In order to carry off the situation with some appearance of unconcern he became spuriously interested in the contents of the flower-vase.