THE BLISSFUL HOUR
It was the hour between tea and dinner, when the spirit of the country house was resting, conscious of its virtue, half asleep.
Having bathed and changed, George Pendyce took his betting-book into the smoking-room. In a nook devoted to literature, protected from draught and intrusion by a high leather screen, he sat down in an armchair and fell into a doze.
With legs crossed, his chin resting on one hand, his comely figure relaxed, he exhaled a fragrance of soap, as though in this perfect peace his soul were giving off its natural odour. His spirit, on the borderland of dreams, trembled with those faint stirrings of chivalry and aspiration, the outcome of physical well-being after a long day in the open air, the outcome of security from all that is unpleasant and fraught with danger. He was awakened by voices.
“George is not a bad shot!”
“Gave a shocking exhibition at the last stand; Mrs. Bellew was with him. They were going over him like smoke; he couldn’t touch a feather.”
It was Winlow’s voice. A silence, then Thomas Brandwhite’s:
“A mistake, the ladies coming out. I never will have them myself. What do you say, Sir James?”
“Bad principle—very bad!”
A laugh—Thomas Brandwhite’s laugh, the laugh of a man never quite sure of himself.
“That fellow Bellew is a cracked chap. They call him the ’desperate character’ about here. Drinks like a fish, and rides like the devil. She used to go pretty hard, too. I’ve noticed there’s always a couple like that in a hunting country. Did you ever see him? Thin, high-shouldered, white-faced chap, with little dark eyes and a red moustache.”
“She’s still a young woman?”
“Thirty or thirty-two.”
“How was it they didn’t get on?”
The sound of a match being struck.
“Case of the kettle and the pot.”
“It’s easy to see she’s fond of admiration. Love of admiration plays old Harry with women!”
Winlow’s leisurely tones again
“There was a child, I believe, and it died. And after that—I know there was some story; you never could get to the bottom of it. Bellew chucked his regiment in consequence. She’s subject to moods, they say, when nothing’s exciting enough; must skate on thin ice, must have a man skating after her. If the poor devil weighs more than she does, in he goes.”