“You know what I mean by our set,” went on the vivacious old “Gainsborough,” “the aristocrats whose conversation is limited to the weather and scandal, and who are so frightfully dull! Dull! My dear Ross you know how dull they are!”
“Well, upon my word, they are,” admitted Courtney. “You are right there. I certainly agree with you.”
“I’m sure you do! They have no ideas. Now, artists have ideas,— they live on ideas and sentiment. Sentiment is such a beautiful thing—so charming! I believe that fierce-looking Gervase is a creature of sentiment—and how delightful that is! Of course, he’ll paint the Princess Ziska—he must paint her,—no one else could do it so well. By the way, have you been asked to her great party next week?”
“And are you going?”
“So am I. That absurd Chetwynd Lyle woman came to me this evening and asked me if I really thought it would be proper to take her ‘girls’ there,” and Lady Fulkeward laughed shrilly. “Girls indeed! I should say those two long, ugly women could go anywhere with safety. ‘Do you consider the Princess a proper woman?’ she asked, and I said, ‘Certainly, as proper as you are.’”
Courtney laughed outright, and began to think there was some fun in Lady Fulkeward.
“By Jove! Did you tell her that?”
“I should think I did! Oh, I know a thing or two about the Chetwynd Lyles, but I keep my mouth shut till it suits me to open it. I said I was going, and then, of course, she said she would.”
And Courtney gave the answer vaguely, for the waltz was ended, and the Princess Ziska, on the arm of Gervase, was leaving the ball-room.
“She’s going,” exclaimed Lady Fulkeward. “Dear creature! Excuse me—I must speak to her for a moment.”
And with a swish of her full skirts and a toss of her huge hat and feathers, the lively flirt of sixty tripped off with all the agility of sixteen, leaving Courtney to follow her or remain where he was, just as he chose. He hesitated, and during that undecided pause was joined by Dr. Maxwell Dean.
“A very brilliant and interesting evening!” said that individual, smiling complacently. “I don’t remember any time when I have enjoyed myself so thoroughly.”
“Really! I shouldn’t have thought you a man to care for fancy-dress balls,” said Courtney.
“Shouldn’t you? Ha! Well, some fancy-dress balls I might not care for, but this one has been highly productive of entertainment in every way, and several incidents connected with it have opened up to me a new vista of research, the possibilities of which are—er--very interesting and remarkable.”
“Indeed!” murmured Courtney indifferently, his eyes fixed on the slim, supple figure of the Princess Ziska as she slowly moved amid her circle of admirers out of the ball-room, her golden skirts gleaming sun-like against the polished floor, and the jewels about her flashing in vivid points of light from the hem of her robe to the snake in her hair.