His own intelligent physiog, raised at a slight slant so that he might look the better through his nose-nippers, was the very pattern of approval. “It’s curious how one’s always meeting with intelligence;” it seemed to say. Mrs. Dennant paused in the act of adding cream, and Shelton scrutinised her face; it was hare-like, and superior as ever. Thank goodness she had smelt no rat! He felt strangely disappointed.
“You mean Monsieur Ferrand, teachin’ Toddles French? Dobson, the Professor’s cup.”
“I hope I shall see him again,” cooed the Connoisseur; “he was quite interesting on the subject of young German working men. It seems they tramp from place to place to learn their trades. What nationality was he, may I ask?”
Mr. Dennant, of whom he asked this question, lifted his brows, and said,
“Half Dutch, half French.”
“Very interesting breed; I hope I shall see him again.”
“Well, you won’t,” said Thea suddenly; “he’s gone.”
Shelton saw that their good breeding alone prevented all from adding, “And thank goodness, too!”
“Gone? Dear me, it’s very—”
“Yes,” said Mr. Dennant, “very sudden.”
“Now, Algie,” murmured Mrs. Dennant, “it ‘s quite a charmin’ letter. Must have taken the poor young man an hour to write.”
“Oh, mother!” cried Antonia.
And Shelton felt his face go crimson. He had suddenly remembered that her French was better than her mother’s.
“He seems to have had a singular experience,” said the Connoisseur.
“Yes,” echoed Mr. Dennant; “he ’s had some singular experience. If you want to know the details, ask friend Shelton; it’s quite romantic. In the meantime, my dear; another cup?”
The Connoisseur, never quite devoid of absent-minded malice, spurred his curiosity to a further effort; and, turning his well-defended eyes on Shelton, murmured,
“Well, Mr. Shelton, you are the historian, it seems.”
“There is no history,” said Shelton, without looking up.
“Ah, that’s very dull,” remarked the Connoisseur.
“My dear Dick,” said Mrs. Dennant, “that was really a most touchin’ story about his goin’ without food in Paris.”
Shelton shot another look at Antonia; her face was frigid. “I hate your d—–d superiority!” he thought, staring at the Connoisseur.
“There’s nothing,” said that gentleman, “more enthralling than starvation. Come, Mr Shelton.”
“I can’t tell stories,” said Shelton; “never could.”
He cared not a straw for Ferrand, his coming, going, or his history; for, looking at Antonia, his heart was heavy.
THE LADY FROM BEYOND
The morning was sultry, brooding, steamy. Antonia was at her music, and from the room where Shelton tried to fix attention on a book he could hear her practising her scales with a cold fury that cast an added gloom upon his spirit. He did not see her until lunch, and then she again sat next the Connoisseur. Her cheeks were pale, but there was something feverish in her chatter to her neighbour; she still refused to look at Shelton. He felt very miserable. After lunch, when most of them had left the table, the rest fell to discussing country neighbours.