Lady Arabella adored lions. Also, notwithstanding her seventy years, she retained as much original Eve in her composition as a girl of seventeen, and she adored young men.
In particular, she decided that she approved of Michael Quarrington. She liked the clean English build of him. She liked his lean, square jaw and the fair hair with the unruly kink in it which reminded her of a certain other young man—who had been young when she was young—and to whom she had bade farewell at her parents’ inflexible decree more than fifty years ago. Above all, she liked the artist’s eyes—those grey, steady eyes with their look of reticence so characteristic of the man himself.
Reticence was an asset in her ladyship’s estimation. It showed good sense—and it offered provocative opportunities for a battle of wits such as her soul loved.
“Have you seen my god-daughter dance, Mr. Quarrington?” she asked him.
“Yes, several times.”
His tone was non-committal and she eyed him sharply.
“Don’t admire dancing, do you?” she threw at him.
Quarrington regarded her with a humorous twinkle.
“And I an artist? How can you ask, Lady Arabella?”
“Well, you sounded supremely detached,” she grumbled.
“I think Mademoiselle Wielitzska’s dancing the loveliest thing I have ever seen,” he returned simply.
The old woman vouchsafed him a smile.
“Thank you,” she answered. “I enjoyed that quite as much as I used to enjoy being told I’d a pretty dimple when I was a girl.”
“You have now,” rejoined Quarrington audaciously.
Lady Arabella’s eyes sparkled. She loved a neatly turned compliment.
“Thank you again. But it’s a pity to waste your pretty speeches on an old woman of seventy.”
“I don’t,” retorted the artist gravely. “I reserve them for the young people I know of that age.”
She laughed delightedly. Then, turning to Davilof, she drew him into the conversation and the talk became general.
Later, as they were all three standing in the hall preparatory to departure, she flashed another of her sudden remarks at Quarrington.
“I understand you came to my god-daughter’s rescue in that bad fog last week?”
The quiet grey eyes revealed nothing.
“I was privileged to be some little use,” he replied lightly.
“I hardly gathered you regarded it as a privilege,” observed her ladyship drily.
The shaft went home. A fleeting light gleamed for a moment in the grey eyes. Davilof was standing a few paces away, being helped into his coat by a man-servant, and Quarrington spoke low and quickly.
“She told you?” he said. There was astonishment—resentment, almost—in his voice.
“No, no.” Lady Arabella, smiling to herself, reassured him hastily. “It was a shot in the dark on my part. Magda never confides details. She hands you out an unadorned slice of fact and leaves you to interpret it as you choose. But if you know her rather well—as I do—and can add two and two together and make five or any unlikely number of them, why, then you can fill in some of the blanks for yourself.”