No, that was nonsense, of course. And yet she played with the thought amusedly, enjoying the vision of the old lady’s anger and confusion, and of the world’s amazement at the masterly move of the quiet secretary. Richard would be generous, thought Harriet idly, Isabelle philosophical and indifferent, but how old Madame Carter would writhe!
“It’s the Bellamys and their crowd,” said Ward, watching the approach of newcomers. “Look at that man with them, that fellow with the hair—that’s Blondin! That’s the man I was telling you about the other night, the man whose name I couldn’t remember!”
Harriet did not know whether she said it or screamed it. She lost all consciousness of her surroundings and her neighbours for a few terrible seconds; her mouth was dry, her throat constricted, and a hideous weakness ran like nausea through her entire body. The brilliant terrace swam in a mass of mingled colours before her eyes; the casual, happy chatter about her was brassy and unintelligible. The hand with which she touched the sugar tongs was icy cold, a pain split her forehead, and she felt suddenly tired and broken. She sat perfectly still, like a trembling little mouse in a trap, the colour drained from her face, her breast rising and falling as if she had been running.
Ward had gone across to greet the Bellamys; Harriet fixed her eyes with a sort of fascination upon the man to whom she presently saw him talking. Almost everyone else in the group was looking at him, too; Royal Blondin was used to it; one of his favourite affectations was an apparent unconsciousness of being observed.
He talked to everyone, to children, to great persons and small, with the same air of intense concentration with which he was now honouring Ward. Well over six feet in height, he had dropped his leonine head, with its thick locks of dark hair, a little on one side; his mobile, thin lips were set, and his piercing eyes searched the boy’s face with a sort of passionate attention.
His figure was one to challenge attention anywhere. He wore a loosely cut suit of pongee silk, the collar of the shirt flowing open, and a blue scarf knotted at the throat. On one of his long dark hands there was a blazing sapphire ring, and about his wide-brimmed Panama hat the folded silk was of the same colour. Harriet could catch the intonations of his voice, a deep and musical voice, which turned the trifles they were discussing into matters of sudden import and beauty.
Introductions were in order, everyone wanted to meet the Bellamys’ friend, and Harriet saw that it pleased him, for some inscrutable reason, to continue his ridiculous conversation with the flattered Ward, and to accept names and greetings absently, in an aside, as it were, smiling perfunctorily and briefly at the eager girls and women, and returning immediately to his concerned and passionate undertones with the boy.