“Where was he educated?” inquired Mrs. Dennant. “They have no public schools in France, so I ’ve been told; but, of course, he can’t help that, poor young fellow! Oh, and, Dick, there ’s one thing—has he relations? One has always to be so careful about that. It ’s one thing to help a young fellow, but quite another to help his family too. One sees so many cases of that where men marry girls without money, don’t you know.”
“He has told me,” answered Shelton, “his only relations are some cousins, and they are rich.”
Mrs. Dennant took out her handkerchief, and, bending above the rose, removed a tiny insect.
“These green-fly get in everywhere,” she said.
“Very sad story; can’t they do anything for him?” and she made researches in the rose’s heart.
“He’s quarrelled with them, I believe,” said Shelton; “I have n’t liked to press him, about that.”
“No, of course not,” assented Mrs. Dennant absently—she had found another green-fly “I always think it’s painful when a young man seems so friendless.”
Shelton was silent; he was thinking deeply. He had never before felt so distrustful of the youthful foreigner.
“I think,” he said at last, “the best thing would be for you to see him for yourself.”
“Very well,” said Mrs. Dennant. “I should be so glad if you would tell him to come up. I must say I do think that was a most touchin’ story about Paris. I wonder whether this light’s strong enough now for me to photograph this rose.”
Shelton withdrew and went down-stairs. Ferrand was still at breakfast. Antonia stood at the sideboard carving beef for him, and in the window sat Thea with her Persian kitten.
Both girls were following the traveller’s movements with inscrutable blue eyes. A shiver ran down Shelton’s spine. To speak truth, he cursed the young man’s coming, as though it affected his relations with Antonia.
From the interview, which Shelton had the mixed delight of watching, between Ferrand and the Honourable Mrs. Dennant, certain definite results accrued, the chief of which was the permission accorded the young wanderer to occupy the room which had formerly been tenanted by the footman John. Shelton was lost in admiration of Ferrand’s manner in this scene.. Its subtle combination of deference and dignity was almost paralysing; paralysing, too, the subterranean smile upon his lips.
“Charmin’ young man, Dick,” said Mrs. Dennant, when Shelton lingered to say once more that he knew but very little of him; “I shall send a note round to Mrs. Robinson at once. They’re rather common, you know—the Robinsons. I think they’ll take anyone I recommend.”
“I ’m sure they will,” said Shelton; “that’s why I think you ought to know—”
But Mrs. Dennant’s eyes, fervent, hare-like, were fixed on something far away; turning, he saw the rose in a tall vase on a tall and spindly stool. It seemed to nod towards them in the sunshine. Mrs. Dennant dived her nose towards her camera.