“A good-bye for me to Mrs. Baske,” was Mallard’s last word.
And his haggard but composed face turned from Villa Sannazaro.
A CORNER OF SOCIETY
In a London drawing-room, where the murmur of urbane colloquy rose and fell, broken occasionally by the voice of the nomenclator announcing new arrivals, two ladies, seated in a recess, were exchanging confidences. One was a novelist of more ability than repute; the other was a weekly authority on musical performances.
“Her head is getting turned, poor girl. I feel sorry for her.”
“Such ridiculous flattery! And really it is difficult to understand. She is pretty, and speaks French; neither the one thing nor the other is uncommon, I believe. Do you see anything remarkable in her?”
“Well, she is rather more than pretty; and there’s a certain cleverness in her talk. But at her age this kind of thing is ruinous. I blame Mrs. Lessingham. She should bid her stay at home and mind her baby.”
“By-the-bye, what truth is there in that story? The Naples affair, you know?”
“N’en sais rien. But I hear odd things about her husband. Mr. Bickerdike knew him a few years ago. He ran through a fortune, and fell into most disreputable ways of life. Somebody was saying that he got his living as ’bus-conductor, or something of the kind.”
“I could imagine that, from the look of him.”
It was Mrs. Lessingham’s Wednesday evening. The house at Craven Hill opened its doors at ten o’clock, and until midnight there was no lack of company. Singular people, more or less; distinguished from society proper by the fact that all had a modicum of brains. Some came from luxurious homes, some from garrets. Visitors from Paris were frequent; their presence made a characteristic of the salon. This evening, for instance, honour was paid by the hostess to M. Amedeee Silvenoire, whose experiment in unromantic drama had not long ago gloriously failed at the Odeon; and Madame Jacquelin, the violinist, was looked for.
Mrs. Lessingham had. not passed a season in London for several years. When, at the end of April, she took this house, there came to live with her the widow and daughter of a man of letters who had died in poverty. She had known the Delphs in Paris, in the days when Cecily was with her and in the winter just past she had come upon Irene Delph copying at the Louvre; the girl showed a good deal of talent but was hard beset by the difficulty of living whilst she worked. In the spirit of her generous brother, Mrs. Lessingham persuaded the two to come and live with her through the season; a room in the house was a studio for Irene, who took to portraits. Mrs. Delph, a timid woman whose nerves had failed under her misfortunes, did not appear on formal occasions like the present, but Irene was becoming an ornament of the drawing-room. To be sure, but for her good looks and her artistic aptitude, she would not have been here-no reason, perhaps, for stinted praise of her friend’s generosity.