‘Madame Midas nervous,’ thought Vandeloup to himself; ’then I can guess the reason; she is afraid of her husband coming back to her.’
Just at this moment the servant announced Mr Calton, and he entered, with his sharp, incisive face, looking clever and keen.
‘I must apologise for being late, Mrs Villiers,’ he said, shaking hands with his hostess; ’but business, you know, the pleasure of business.’
‘Now,’ said Madame, quickly, ’I hope you have come to the business of pleasure.’
‘Very epigrammatic, my dear lady,’ said Calton, in his high, clear voice; ‘pray introduce me.’
Madame did so, and they all went to dinner, Madame with Calton and Kitty following with Vandeloup.
‘This,’ observed Calton, when they were all seated at the dinner table, ’is the perfection of dining; for we are four, and the guests, according to an epicure, should never be less than the Graces nor greater than the Muses.’
And a very merry little dinner it was. All four were clever talkers, and Vandeloup and Calton being pitted against one another, excelled themselves; witty remarks, satirical sayings, and well-told stories were constantly coming from their lips, and they told their stories as their own and did not father them on Sydney Smith.
‘If Sydney Smith was alive,’ said Calton, in reference to this, ’he would be astonished at the number of stories he did not tell.’
‘Yes,’ chimed in Vandeloup, gaily, ’and astounded at their brilliancy.’
‘After all,’ said Madame, smiling, ’he’s a sheet-anchor for some people; for the best original story may fail, a dull one ascribed to Sydney Smith must produce a laugh.’
‘Why?’ asked Kitty, in some wonder.
‘Because,’ explained Calton, gravely, ’society goes mainly by tradition, and our grandmothers having laughed at Sydney Smith’s jokes, they must necessarily be amusing. Depend upon it, jokes can be sanctified by time quite as much as creeds.’
‘They are more amusing, at all events,’ said Madame, satirically. ‘Creeds generally cause quarrels.’
Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.
‘And quarrels generally cause stories,’ he said, smiling; ’it is the law of compensation.’
They then went to the drawing-room and Kitty and Vandeloup both sang, and treated one another in a delightfully polite way. Madame Midas and Calton were both clever, but how much cleverer were the two young people at the piano.
‘Are you going to Meddlechip’s ball?’ said Calton to Madame.
‘Oh, yes,’ she answered, nodding her head, ’I and Miss Marchurst are both going.’
‘Who is Mr Meddlechip?’ asked Kitty, swinging round on the piano-stool.
‘He is the most charitable man in Melbourne,’ said Gaston, with a faint sneer.
‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians,’ said Calton, mockingly. ’Because Mr Meddlechip suffers from too much money, and has to get rid of it to prevent himself being crushed like Tarpeia by the Sabine shields, he is called charitable.’