On one of the wide benches that were placed here and there on the descending terraces, in the late hours of an exquisite summer afternoon, a man and a woman were sitting. They had strolled slowly from the tennis court, where half-a-dozen young persons were violently exercising themselves in the sunshine, with the vague intention of reaching the tea table, on the upper level. But here, in the clear shade, Isabelle Carter had suddenly seated herself, and Anthony Pope, her cavalier, had thrown himself on the steps at her feet.
She was a woman worthy of the exquisite setting, and in her richly coloured gown, against the clear cream of the marble, the new green of the trees and lawns, and the brilliant hues of the flowers, she might well have turned an older head than that of the boy beside her. Brunette, with smooth cheeks deeply touched with rose, black eyes, and a warmly crimson mouth that could be at once provocative and relentless, she glowed like a flower herself in the sweet and enervating heat of the summer’s first warm day. She wore a filmy gown of a dull cream colour, with daring great poppies in pink and black and gold embroidered over it; her lacy black hat, shadowing her clear forehead and smoke-black hair, was covered with the soft pink flowers. She was the tiniest of women, and the little foot, that, in its transparent silk stocking and buckled slipper, was close to Anthony’s hand, was like a child’s.
The man was twice her size, and as dark as she, earnest, eager, and to-day with a troubled expression clouding his face. It was to banish that look, if she might, that Isabelle had deliberately stopped him here.
She had been behaving badly toward him, and in her rather irresponsible and shallow way she was sorry for it. Isabelle was a famous flirt, her husband knew it, everyone knew it. There was always some man paying desperate court to her, and always half-a-dozen other men who were eager to be in his place. Now it was a painter, now a singer, now one of the men of her husband’s business world. They sent her orchids and sweets, and odd bits of jewellery, and curious fans and laces, and pictures and brasses, and quaint pieces of china. They sent her tremendously significant letters, just the eloquent word or two, the little oddity of date or signature or paper that was to impress her with an individuality, or with the depth of a passion. Isabelle lived for this, went from one adventure to another with the naive confidence of a woman whose husband smiles upon her playing, and whose position is impregnable.
But this boy, this Anthony, was different. In the first place he was young, he was but twenty-six. In the second place he was, or had been, her own son’s closest friend. Ward Carter was twenty-two, and his mother nineteen years older.