M. Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.
‘My faith!’ he murmured, as they entered the fernery; ’this comedy is becoming monotonous.’
IN THE FERNERY
The fernery was a huge glass building on one side of the ballroom, filled with Australian and New Zealand ferns, and having a large fountain in the centre sending up a sparkling jet of water, which fell into the shallow stone basin filled with water lilies and their pure white flowers. At the end was a mimic representation of a mountain torrent, with real water tumbling down real rocks, and here and there in the crannies and crevices grew delicate little ferns, while overhead towered the great fronds of the tree ferns. The roof was a dense mass of greenery, and wire baskets filled with sinuous creepers hung down, with their contents straggling over. Electric lights in green globes were skilfully hidden all round, and a faint aquamarine twilight permeated the whole place, and made it look like a mermaid’s grotto in the depths of the sea. Here and there were delightful nooks, with well-cushioned seats, many of which were occupied by pretty girls and their attendant cavaliers. On one side of the fernery a wide door opened on to a low terrace, from whence steps went down to the lawn, and beyond was the dark fringe of trees wherein Pierre was concealed.
Kitty and Vandeloup found a very comfortable nook just opposite the door, and they could see the white gleam of the terrace in the luminous starlight. Every now and then a couple would pass, black silhouettes against the clear sky, and around they could hear the murmur of voices and the musical tinkling of the fountain, while the melancholy music of the valse, with its haunting refrain, sounded through the pale green twilight. Barty Jarper was talking near them, in his mild little way, to a tall young lady in a bilious-looking green dress, and further off Mr Bellthorp was laughing with Mrs Riller behind the friendly shelter of her fan.
‘Well,’ said Vandeloup, amiably, as he sank into a seat beside Kitty, ‘what is this great matter you wish to speak about?’
‘Madame Midas,’ retorted Kitty, looking straight at him.
‘Such a delightful subject,’ murmured Gaston, closing his eyes, as he guessed what was coming; ‘go on, I’m all attention.’
‘You are going to marry her,’ said Miss Marchurst, bending towards him and closing her fan with a snap.
Vandeloup smiled faintly.
‘You don’t say so?’ he murmured, opening his eyes and looking at her lazily; ’who told you this news—for news it is to me, I assure you?’
‘Then it’s not true?’ added Kitty, eagerly, with a kind of gasp.
‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ he replied, indolently fingering his moustache; ‘I haven’t asked her yet.’
‘You are not going to do so?’ she said, rapidly, with a flush on her face.