It was one of those faultless June evenings when the only mission of the faintly stirring breeze seems to be to carry perfumes from garden to garden and to make the lightest of music amongst the rustling leaves. The dinner-table had been set out of doors, underneath the odorous cedar-tree. Above, the sky was an arc of the deepest blue through which the web of stars had scarcely yet found its way. Every now and then came the sound of the splash of oars from the river; more rarely still, the murmur of light voices as a punt passed up the stream. The little party at The Sanctuary sat over their coffee and liqueurs long after the fall of the first twilight, till the points of their cigarettes glowed like little specks of fire through the enveloping darkness. Conversation had been from the first curiously desultory, edited, in a way, Francis felt, for his benefit. There was an atmosphere about his host and Lady Cynthia, shared in a negative way by Margaret Hilditch, which baffled Francis. It seemed to establish more than a lack of sympathy—to suggest, even, a life lived upon a different plane. Yet every now and then their references to everyday happenings were trite enough. Sir Timothy had assailed the recent craze for drugs, a diatribe to which Lady Cynthia had listened in silence for reasons which Francis could surmise.
“If one must soothe the senses,” Sir Timothy declared, “for the purpose of forgetting a distasteful or painful present, I cannot see why the average mind does not turn to the contemplation of beauty in some shape or other. A night like to-night is surely sedative enough. Watch these lights, drink in these perfumes, listen to the fall and flow of the water long enough, and you would arrive at precisely the same mental inertia as though you had taken a dose of cocaine, with far less harmful an aftermath.”
Lady Cynthia shrugged her shoulders.
“Cocaine is in one’s dressing-room,” she objected, “and beauty is hard to seek in Grosvenor Square.”
“The common mistake of all men,” Sir Timothy continued, “and women, too, for the matter of that, is that we will persist in formulating doctrines for other people. Every man or woman is an entity of humanity, with a separate heaven and a separate hell. No two people can breathe the same air in the same way, or see the same picture with the same eyes.”
Lady Cynthia rose to her feet and shook out the folds of her diaphanous gown, daring alike in its shapelessness and scantiness. She lit a cigarette and laid her hand upon Sir Timothy’s arm.
“Come,” she said, “must I remind you of your promise? You are to show me the stables at The Walled House before it is dark.”
“You would see them better in the morning,” he reminded her, rising with some reluctance to his feet.
“Perhaps,” she answered, “but I have a fancy to see them now.”