It was Friday, and Hilda was lunching. The two had met among the faint-tinted draperies of Alicia’s drawing-room—there was something auroral even about the mantelpiece—a little like diplomatists using a common tongue native to neither of them. Perhaps Alicia drew the conventions round her with the greater fluency; Hilda had more to cover, but was less particular about it. The only thing she was bent upon making imperceptible was her sense of the comedy of Miss Livingstone’s effort to receive her as if she had been anybody else. Alicia was hardly aware of what she wanted to conceal, unless it was her impression that Miss Howe’s dress was cut a trifle too low in the neck, that she was almost too effective in that cream and yellow to be quite right. Alicia remembered afterwards to smile at it, that her first ten minutes of intercourse with Hilda Howe were dominated by a lively desire to set Celine at her—with such a foundation to work upon what could Celine not have done? She remembered her surprise, too, at the ordinary things Hilda said in that rich voice, even in the tempered drawing-room tones of which resided a hint of the seats nearest the exit under the gallery, and her wonder at the luxury of gesture that went with them, movements which seemed to imply blank verse and to be thrown away upon two women and a little furniture. A consciousness stood in the room between them, and their commonplaces about the picturesqueness of the bazar rode on long absorbed regards, one reading, the other anxious to read; yet the encounter was so conventionally creditable to them both that they might have smiled past each other under any circumstances next day and acknowledged no demand for more than the smile.
The cutlets had come before Hilda’s impression was at the back of her head, her defences withdrawn, her eyes free and content, her elbow on the table. They had found a portrait-painter.