Shelton lit a cigarette and frowned. It seemed to him queer that she should set more store by an “ideal” than by the fact that they had met for the first and only time in many weeks.
“I suppose she ’s right,” he thought—“I suppose she ’s right. I ought not to have tried to speak to her!” As a matter of fact, he did not at all feel that she was right.
An “At home”
On Tuesday morning he wandered off to Paddington, hoping for a chance view of her on her way down to Holm Oaks; but the sense of the ridiculous, on which he had been nurtured, was strong enough to keep him from actually entering the station and lurking about until she came. With a pang of disappointment he retraced his steps from Praed Street to the Park, and once there tried no further to waylay her. He paid a round of calls in the afternoon, mostly on her relations; and, seeking out Aunt Charlotte, he dolorously related his encounter in the Row. But she found it “rather nice,” and on his pressing her with his views, she murmured that it was “quite romantic, don’t you know.”
“Still, it’s very hard,” said Shelton; and he went away disconsolate.
As he was dressing for dinner his eye fell on a card announcing the “at home” of one of his own cousins. Her husband was a composer, and he had a vague idea that he would find at the house of a composer some quite unusually free kind of atmosphere. After dining at the club, therefore, he set out for Chelsea. The party was held in a large room on the ground-floor, which was already crowded with people when Shelton entered. They stood or sat about in groups with smiles fixed on their lips, and the light from balloon-like lamps fell in patches on their heads and hands and shoulders. Someone had just finished rendering on the piano a composition of his own. An expert could at once have picked out from amongst the applauding company those who were musicians by profession, for their eyes sparkled, and a certain acidity pervaded their enthusiasm. This freemasonry of professional intolerance flew from one to the other like a breath of unanimity, and the faint shrugging of shoulders was as harmonious as though one of the high windows had been opened suddenly, admitting a draught of chill May air.
Shelton made his way up to his cousin—a fragile, grey-haired woman in black velvet and Venetian lace, whose starry eyes beamed at him, until her duties, after the custom of these social gatherings, obliged her to break off conversation just as it began to interest him. He was passed on to another lady who was already talking to two gentlemen, and, their volubility being greater than his own, he fell into the position of observer. Instead of the profound questions he had somehow expected to hear raised, everybody seemed gossiping, or searching the heart of such topics as where to go this summer, or how to get new servants. Trifling with coffee-cups, they dissected their fellow artists in the same way as his society friends of the other night had dissected the fellow—“smart”; and the varnish on the floor, the pictures, and the piano were reflected on all the faces around. Shelton moved from group to group disconsolate.