Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

I really should have given offence if I had thrust myself forward by dancing with him, and I didn't at all want to dance with him ; so I had the inspiration of thrusting myself upon you instead. I hope you don't mind ?"

“Mind !” ejaculated Cuthbert, with condensed eloquence. “Only," he added with a sigh, "you have had convincing evidence of what a wretched partner I am.”

“Oh, you don't dance badly," she returned, "and it would be all the same if you did ; we shall have more conversation than waltzing in the cotillon. Go on telling me about Yorkshire, and about your uncle Mr. Scarth and your people there. I love to hear about English country life, because it is an open question whether I shall ever see it with my own eyes."

He was very anxious that she should enjoy that privilege, very anxious that she should do so under such favourable conditions as would be afforded by a visit to Lannowe and very willing to tempt her by the exercise of any descriptive powers that he had at command. He did his best during the cotillon, which was a long, elaborate and graceful performance, skilfully conducted by Sol and glorified by costly gifts and decorations. He was by nature a modest youth, yet he could not but be aware—he was, in fact, virtually told—that he had produced an agreeable impression upon Miss Dallison. The impression which she produced upon him was that which a remarkably beautiful girl who goes out of her way to be kind and civil to one of the opposite sex must of necessity produce upon the favoured individual. He had not exactly fallen in love with her, but he dimly realised (and perhaps she realised without any dimness) that she could make him fall in love with her as easily as possible. When all was over, and she was preparing to depart under the wing of the French lady who had chaperoned her, she said, after a moment of apparent hesitation

“If you are going to be a little longer in Paris, and if you have nothing particular to do about five o'clock tomorrow afternoon, and if you are capable of climbing up to the third story of a house in an unfashionable street

"Oh, but of course I shall be delighted !” he cried.

She smiled. “Then I may mention, without committing you to anything, that to-morrow is my mother's reception day. Rue de Moscou, 95, au troisième. You will have to take a cab. Mr. Wharton would show you the way; but I would rather you didn't bring Mr. Wharton with you, please. Good night."

Soon afterwards Cuthbert, having taken leave of his hostess, was making for the exit when he was intercepted by Sol, who removed a cigarette from his lips to remark

“Well, you've had even more opportunity for carrying out my modest request than I meant to give you. Any result ?"

“My dear fellow," answered the young Englishman, with genuine contrition, “ I'm awfully sorry; but Miss Dallison began talking about England and Yorkshire and one thing and another, and—and the fact is that I clean forgot your request."

CHAPTER IV

THE ART OF EQUITATION

MRS
RS. DALLISON'S small, dingy salon had been

made as tidy as the femme de ménage could be persuaded to make it for the reception of the few visitors who frequented the rue de Moscou once a week. Mrs. Dallison matched her salon in that she also was small and dingy. She was a sallow, fretful woman, older in aspect than in years, who had every excuse for being fretful and looking old in the shape of exiguous means and a husband who was much more often drunk than sober. It is true that, as some sort of compensation, she had an extremely beautiful daughter ; but her daughter's behaviour was not always of a nature to give her comfort. What, for instance, was the sense of having asked a young man to call who, by Ethel's own admission, was neither rich nor highly connected ?

"I can't think why you do these things!” she complained. “It is very marked to make advances like that to a total stranger, and-and I don't think Mr. Wharton would like it, if he knew."

"Now that you mention it," answered Ethel, in the soft, low-pitched voice which was one of her many charms, "I dare say he wouldn't. But let us not take too gloomy a view of the situation ; perhaps he won't know." "Wharton going to look us up this afternoon?” inquired Major Dallison, in nervously cheerful accents. " Pleasant fellow, Wharton ; always glad to see him.”

He spoke with assumed cheerfulness because he was quite sober and because, as was always the case with him on such rare occasions, he was quite miserable. There were times, as his unfortunate wife well knew, when he could be savage and brutal; but he was timid when not under the influence of alcohol, and he had become increasingly afraid of his daughter, who did not disguise her contempt for him. In answer to his question, she said

“Oh dear, no! He goes a long way; it is only fair to him to admit that he does go a very long way; but not quite so far as to the rue de Moscou. It is already a good deal that he deigns to own acquaintance with anybody who lives there."

Mrs. Dallison drew in her breath impatiently, while the Major, with shaking fingers, caressed his waxed moustache. Those trembling hands of his, those watery eyes, those dull-red, pendulous cheeks advertised him for what he was and seemed to invite the resolutely closed doors which he had ceased to resent. Major and Mrs. Dallison had been pronounced impossible, although he was known to be a gentleman by birth; and if Miss Dallison was to be met in some exclusive Parisian circles, that was only because her parents were not too proud to let her accept hospitality which was not extended to themselves. They may have felt that pride, in their case, would have been somewhat anomalous ; what they certainly did feel was that they could not afford such a luxury. With some difficulty, and as a bold speculation, they had managed, at Ethel's sugges tion, to afford the expense of sending her to an aristocratic convent to be educated, and in that way she had made some very desirable acquaintances, although the brilliant marriage to which they looked forward had not thus far come off. Sol Wharton, in virtue of his millions of dollars, must be regarded as brilliant; but the disquieting thing was that they could not be at all sure of her accepting Sol Wharton. She was very apt to do just exactly what she liked, and her parents would have been still more disquieted had she told them what a very genuine liking she had taken to Cuthbert Gretton.

He was amongst the earlier arrivals of a gathering which was small, if scarcely select. Not many people cared to bear Mrs. Dallison's reception day in mind, while those who did were either unmistakably shady or patronisingly compassionate; so that young Gretton, with his fresh, simple manner, his well-fitting clothes and his general air of belonging to a decent sort of class, could not but impress these déclassés agreeably. However, he took little more notice of them than civility required; he had eyes only for their daughter, whose claims

of
any
and

every young man were, to be sure, undeniable. Her beauty struck him as enhanced by the broad light of day; the smiles with which he was from time to time favoured were, he thought, not a bit those of a flirt, but only of a fellow-creature who had conceived friendly sentiments for him, and the scraps of conversation that he had with her when she was not handing round tea and cakes confirmed that view. Well, he was glad, of course, to be thus honoured. Equally of course, he could not help perceiving what kind of people the Dallisons were, and this made him a little sorry that Sol Wharton's affections should have fixed themselves where they had done. Not, indeed, on Sol's account (for it would be infinitely better luck than Sol, or perhaps anybody else, deserved to win that goddess in human form), but because it seemed barely possible for a suitor so opulent to be refused. He

eyes

upon the

« AnteriorContinuar »