“Successful!” he thought, nearly stumbling over a pair of patent-leather boots belonging to a moon-faced, genial-looking member with gold nose-nippers; “oh, it ’s successful!”
Somebody came and picked up from the table the very volume which had originally inspired this train of thought, and Shelton could see his solemn pleasure as he read. In the white of his eye there was a torpid and composed abstraction. There was nothing in that book to startle him or make him think.
The moon-faced member with the patent boots came up and began talking of his recent visit to the south of France. He had a scandalous anecdote or two to tell, and his broad face beamed behind his gold nose-nippers; he was a large man with such a store of easy, worldly humour that it was impossible not to appreciate his gossip, he gave so perfect an impression of enjoying life, and doing himself well. “Well, good-night!” he murmured—“An engagement!”—and the certainty he left behind that his engagement must be charming and illicit was pleasant to the soul.
And, slowly taking up his glass, Shelton drank; the sense of well-being was upon him. His superiority to these his fellow-members soothed him. He saw through all the sham of this club life, the meanness of this worship of success, the sham of kid-gloved novelists, “good form,” and the terrific decency of our education. It was soothing thus to see through things, soothing thus to be superior; and from the soft recesses of his chair he puffed out smoke and stretched his limbs toward the fire; and the fire burned back at him with a discreet and venerable glow.
Puncutal to his word, Bill Dennant called for Shelton at one o’clock.
“I bet old Benjy’s feeling a bit cheap,” said he, as they got out of their cab at the church door and passed between the crowded files of unelect, whose eyes, so curious and pitiful, devoured them from the pavement.
The ashen face of a woman, with a baby in her arms and two more by her side, looked as eager as if she had never experienced the pangs of ragged matrimony. Shelton went in inexplicably uneasy; the price of his tie was their board and lodging for a week. He followed his future brother-in-law to a pew on the bridegroom’s side, for, with intuitive perception of the sexes’ endless warfare, each of the opposing parties to this contract had its serried battalion, the arrows of whose suspicion kept glancing across and across the central aisle.
Bill Dennant’s eyes began to twinkle.
“There’s old Benjy!” he whispered; and Shelton looked at the hero of the day. A subdued pallor was traceable under the weathered uniformity of his shaven face; but the well-bred, artificial smile he bent upon the guests had its wonted steely suavity. About his dress and his neat figure was that studied ease which lifts men from the ruck of common bridegrooms. There were no holes in his armour through which the impertinent might pry.