“Isn’t there a hope, Mr. Elgar, that this envy of which you speak will be one of the things that the upward path leaves behind?”
“I should like to believe it, Miss Doran,” he answered, his eyes kindling at hers. “It’s true that I haven’t yet gone very far.”
“I like so much to believe it that I do believe it,” the girl continued impulsively.
“Your progress in that direction exceeds mine.”
“Don’t be troubled by the compliment,” interjected Eleanor, before Cecily could speak. “There is no question of merit.”
Mrs. Lessingham laughed.
The rain still fell, and the grey heavens showed no breaking. Shortly after this, Elgar would have risen to take his leave, but Mrs. Spence begged him to remain and lunch with them. The visitors from the Mergellina declined a similar invitation.
Edward Spence was passing his morning at the Museum. On his return at luncheon-time, Eleanor met him with the intelligence that Reuben Elgar had presented himself, and was now in his sister’s room.
“In forma pauperis, presumably,” said Spence, raising his eyebrows.
“I can’t say, but I fear it isn’t impossible. Cecily and her aunt happened to call this morning, and he had some talk with them.”
“Is he very much of a blackguard?” inquired her husband, disinterestedly.
“Indeed, no. That is to say, externally and in his conversation. It’s a decided improvement on our old impressions of him.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” was the dry response.
“He has formed himself in some degree. Hints that he is going to produce literature.”
“Of course.” Spence laughed merrily. “The last refuge of a scoundrel.”
“I don’t like to judge him so harshly, Ned. He has a fine face.”
“And is Miriam killing the fatted calf?”
“His arrival seems to embarrass rather than delight her.”
“Depend upon it, the fellow has come to propose a convenient division of her personal property.”
When he again appeared, Elgar was in excellent spirits. He met Spence with irresistible frankness and courtesy; his talk made the luncheon cheery, and dismissed thought of sirocco. It appeared that he had as yet no abode; his luggage was at the station. A suggestion that he should seek quarters under the same roof with Mallard recommended itself to him.
“I feel like a giant refreshed,” he declared, in privately taking leave of Miriam. “Coming to Naples was an inspiration.”
She raised her lips to his for the first time, but said nothing.
THE ARTIST ASTRAY