Chapter V: De Motu Proprio
They arrived at Adriutha two days later in a roaring downpour of June rain. A maid conducted Silvette and Diana to their rooms, a valet piloted Edgerton to another wing of the house devoted to bachelors' quarters over the vast billiard room.
At the eastern end of the house Silvette stood beside the window while the maid assigned to them undressed her. Diana, already in her pajamas and sandals, lay flat on the bed, one knee crossed over, swinging her slim, bare foot and looking out at the rain.
It was a wet outlook across the meadows, over a low range of rocky and wooded hills, behind which the invisible sun had already set. In the drenched foreground, beyond the meadow's matted edge, the Deerfield River tossed and foamed, swollen a deeper amber by the rain—a wide, swift stream set with spray-dashed bowlders, and bordered alternately by ledges dripping with verdure and sandy stretches full of low rain-beaten willows. The world, through its limpid veil of rain, looked like a silvery aquarelle framed by a window.
Tea was presently served. Silvette in her silk lounging suit came over and seated herself on the edge of the bed; the maid finished drawing the bath, and retired until again summoned.
"Well," sighed Silvette, pouring the tea, "here we are, Di. How do you feel about it now?"
"Depressed," said Diana briefly.
"So do I, somehow.... I wish we were back in New York, with just enough to live on."
Diana swung her foot gently, but made no reply.
Presently she kicked off her sandal, lay thinking a moment, and then sat up and accepted the cup of tea offered by her sister. They sipped their tea in silence for a while, nibbled toast and cakes until sufficiently refreshed.
"After all," observed Silvette, "what we are doing for a living is purely a matter of personal taste. It ought not to depress us."
"We should have told him! That is the only thing that worries me," remarked Diana. "Still, it is really none of his business what we do for a living."
"After all," repeated Silvette, "what is there to tell him? Keno, Nevada, has nothing to learn from New York in frivolity, I fancy. There are several pretty women in every set who'd starve if they didn't play cards better than their neighbors."
"I rather wish we'd told him about our year there; yet, what is there to tell? Probably it resembled plenty of years with which he is perfectly familiar."
"Do we have to account to Jim Edgerton anyway?" asked Silvette impatiently.
"He wanted to come with us," mused Diana. "When he wants to go, he'll go fast enough, I fancy. It isn't what he might think, or his possible disapproval, that worries me; it's that he ought to have been told more about us in the beginning.... But how were we to tell him?"
"He didn't ask, did he?"
"No; but, somehow or other, we ought to have put him au courant, and then he could have had his choice about recognizing the relationship or ignoring it. That's what bothers me a little."
"How could we possibly have told him all about ourselves the first afternoon we ever set eyes on him?"
"There were two other afternoons; one is just ending.... I don't know; I might easily have created a situation in which it would have seemed natural enough to mention our programme to him."
"Why didn't you, Di?"
"Cowardice," said the girl frankly; and she stretched herself out flat on the bed again.
"Do you think as much of Jim Edgerton's opinion as that?"
"I seem to.... I didn't want to take the risk of his disapproval. I'm beginning to realize that we've been dishonest with him."
"That is an ugly word, little sister."
"I don't know any way to soften it. A girl is either honest or the contrary. I was not honest with Jim Edgerton."
"He might not disapprove, after all. He is no provincial."
"Yes—and he might disapprove. Men of his kind who stand for almost anything in outsiders are finicky about their own relatives. They really don't care what imprudence other people commit; they may even admire it—even do it themselves—but there's a difference as soon as it involves one of the family. I've an idea he is like that."
"Isn't it stretching a thin tie of kinship too far to speak of Jim Edgerton and ourselves in a family sense? Are you and I not rather inclined to abuse that word cousin, Diana?"
"He first used it to us," she said warmly; "it is his choice. He's a very impulsive and generous boy; do you know it?"
"Yes, I do.... Isn't it a thousand pities?"
"His losing everything—being so wretchedly poor.... And our being poor, too."
"Yes," said Diana simply.
"And he'll never, never recoup. He is full of talent, and nothing else. What a pity! He isn't the successful sort. It's a pity, isn't it, Di?"
"Because he is already quite mad about you, Di—he's a perfect boy about you... How can men of his age retain their niceness and charm and freshness, after what they usually pass through. With all his undesirable wisdom and his masculine worldly experiences, he's practically as innocent as we are."
Diana suddenly sat up cross-legged on the bed and gathered her ankles in her hands.
"I wonder just how innocent we really are," she said, "with all those things which we have been obliged to know about in our higher education? And—speaking of education—there was our last year in Keno. That year did some curious things to us. Do you realize our development, our worldly evolution since the beginning of last year—how familiar we became with that doubtful worldly wisdom which is supposed to be part of the make-up of a woman of the world? ... Do you realize that it was a year of laissez faire, of revelation, of laxity and acquiescence in relaxation, a year of paradox, of ceremony sans façon, of schooling oneself to overlook and accept, of an education in morals and their immoral variations? How aloof have we kept ourselves from what we have learned to tolerate?—and how much was due to fastidiousness, how much to expediency, how much to common sense, and how much to spiritual conviction?"
"Does your conscience really trouble you?" asked Silvette anxiously.
"No; only in regard to Jim Edgerton. I'd rather he knew how we regard life before he reclaims relationship in public; that's all."
Silvette said: "We are merely wiser; merely less provincial and more honest and tolerant of a world that isn't any too goody-goody. We've learned to distinguish between mock modesty, false shame, hypocrisy, and honest conviction. Take Keno, for instance; before we lived there we were inclined to look askance on what the world accepts with indifference and perfect good nature. I mean, on the rather lurid gayeties of a little world where attractive divorcées make up the bulk of society—where the eternal cry in the ballroom is 'Change partners! Ladies change!'—and where nobody plays cards except for stakes. After all, Keno is merely a section of New York temporarily transplanted. He'd probably feel at home there."
Diana turned, deliberately rolled across the bed, landing lightly on her feet.
"All right," she said; "only, some day somebody will tell Jim Edgerton that those two cousins of his are outpacing propriety. We're just a dash too pretty, Silvie, and we've simply got to be careful. There's one enemy you and I will always have to reckon with—our own sex."
She walked to the window, looked out, and stood watching the rain, her childish mouth troubled. And, presently, speaking again without turning around:
"Our programme, as we have arranged it, was to be a general one—to win out, go in for everything, play the game as hard as it can be played, meet the gayer world face to face squarely, and take from it honestly all it has to offer."
"Love, per se, we can't afford," said Silvette gayly; "however, it may even be included. Who knows? Material masculine eligibility need not necessarily exclude that agreeable passion, need it? Many a worthy heart beats beneath the waistcoat of the plutocrat."
"The chances are against any deal in hearts, as far as we are concerned."
"You're not thinking of Jim Edgerton, are you, Di?"
Diana stood, hands clasped behind her back, staring at the rain. Suddenly she pivoted on her sandals.
"Yes, I am thinking of him. I'm thinking of him all the time."
"That is very unwise," said Silvette gently.
"I am thinking of him, but it's only thinking.... I like him. I never liked any man better, or as well, perhaps.... And I've known him three days. Give me a day or two grace, and I'll stop thinking about him."
"You were quite mad over young Inwood in Keno," mused Silvette.
"Yes.... I realize that I like men. I enjoy them; if I had my way, I'd carry on like the deuce with every man who took my fancy, before I come to the final decision and spoil life for myself."
"You carry on like the deuce now, sister," said Silvette, laughing.
"I don't do it enough," retorted Diana fiercely; "what have I got to look forward to, after all?—a homeless life of social employment, an old age of gossip and cards!—or, if I win out, a loveless middle age wearing some wealthy man's name and pearls, and all the rest dashed out—the brightness, the youth of things, the hope of things, children——"
"You don't want children!" exclaimed Silvette, horrified; "grubby little things! I thought you hated them!"
"Grubby little things," repeated the girl slowly; "so I do, in theory."
"You don't know anything about them practically."
"Except at the Maternity Hospital.... Oh, Silvie, it is ghastly.... It's horrid! horrid!—it's devilishly unfair! ... Young girls in the springtide of youth crept in and out of that dreadful place like the white ghosts of murdered souls! If maternity didn't slay them, it killed the better part of them. Then the world ended for them—youth, hope, freedom ended with the first thin cry of the tyrant that dooms all women.... Yes, I—hate children!" She stood a moment, slim hands on her hips, head lowered with the brown locks clustering against her cheeks; then, looking up:
"But I mean to have one of my own sometime. Life to the full, dregs and all, before I die. That is my programme."
Silvette laughed. "This is a new and recent development, isn't it?"
"I'm developing like lightning."
"Lightning develops quickly, but it doesn't last, dear."
Diana, lost in retrospection again, smiled vaguely. Then, lifting her pretty eyes:
"Did you ever see starlings feeding their young? A pair nested opposite the studio. I found their evolutions rather interesting."
"No doubt," said her sister. "Is that what has aroused the maternal instinct? Come, who is to bathe first. Pull down the shade and turn on the electricity, and ring for the maid, dear. She ought to lay out our gowns at once."
Diana did as she was bidden; then, on impulse, sat down at the little fly-away desk and scribbled a note:
"Take it to Mr. Edgerton," she said to the maid.
Edgerton, dressing leisurely, read the note where he stood under the electric cluster:
"DEAR JIM: The rain, the world, and things oppress me. So do you sometimes.... There's a long future ahead of me. I dread it—who was eager for the plunge a few days since. I seem to be standing on the threshold of things in general, waiting for my cue to enter, but with little heart for the stage now. Alas, I am already tired before the overture has ended.
"If we dance to-night, ask me. Probably I'm the only girl in the house who could stand a dance with you—and I'm not so certain about myself.... But if we play Bridge, continue not to sit at our table. I ask it of you for reasons which are none of your business. Indulge my whim, please.
He finished dressing, then scribbled a note to her, and sent it by the valet:
"Japonette, dear, I'm as rotten at cards as I am dancing. I won't permit indiscreet infatuation to interfere with your Bridge.... And, by the way, in this sort of a house the chances are they'll play for stakes—probably high stakes. My limit is a cent a point—or was in days of affluence—but our host will scarcely expect us to risk our salaries, I fancy. So even if you have no objection to playing for stakes—which probably, however, you have—you need not feel obliged to. Our duties here do not include losing money to Mr. Rivett's assorted guests, you know. Feel perfectly at liberty to let the table carry you and Silvette.
"Shall I wait and go down with you both?
She read the note; then handed it silently to Silvette, who read it also in silence.
"You see," said Diana, "it's exactly what I told you. He doesn't wish us to play for stakes."
"He says nothing here about his wishes.... Besides, it would be an impertinence for him to make any such suggestion to either you or me."
"His attitude is plain enough—if you think it impertinent."
"I don't think it is. He indicates that he supposes we do not play for stakes, and adds that, anyway, we need not if we don't wish to. That is all the note expresses. Anyway, it doesn't matter, does it?"
Diana shook her disheveled head, seated herself and wrote a hasty answer, sending it away by the valet, who was waiting outside the door.
"Don't wait for us; we're not hooked up yet. We're quite accustomed to play for stakes, you funny boy, so that need cause you no uneasiness.... And please don't forget to ask me, if they dance."
Edgerton stood thinking for a moment before his fireplace after reading the missive; then struck a match and lit the two notes, holding them together until almost consumed, and lingered still to watch the edge of yellow flame on the hearth licking up the remaining margins of the paper.
Then he went downstairs and into a green and gold drawing-room, where his hostess received him shyly, almost timidly—a small gray-haired woman all over jewels whose thin little hand trembled slightly in his.
It was a frail hand, fragile of bone, yet never the hand of generations of leisure, for the joints were hard and accented, and the fingers rather worn than thin—as though once not unaccustomed to household labor; and, without knowing just why, he retained the diamond-laden hand in his firm, warm clasp for a moment as though to reassure her.
"It is nice of you to ask us," he said gently. "You have made everything very easy and comfortable for us. My cousins will be down in a few moments; they asked me to come first."
The little gray woman looked up into his pleasant, well-cut face as though confused; he smiled down at her, still retaining her hand.
"My husband has told me who you are," she said. "I didn't expect you to be just like this.... You and your cousins are our very welcome and honored guests.... Our guests," she repeated almost tremulously, "and none more welcome under our roof."
"It is gracious and kind of you to say so," he said, touched by the simplicity and the mild, faded face upturned.
Then Mr. Rivett came forward, cautiously treading the velvet, his two burned-brown eyes fixed behind the big concave eyeglasses.
"It's wet weather," he said, shaking hands. "I hope your quarters are comfortable."
"Most luxurious, thank you—with a beautiful outlook."
Mrs. Rivett's gentle voice sounded at his elbow presenting him to her daughter and son, and after that to several others who, for the moment, he made no effort to distinguish one from another except that he recognized Colonel Curmew in superb form and obtrusive pearl studs decorating a fluted shirt front.
A moment later Silvette and Diana entered, slender and youthful, with all the softly flushed charm of eighteen and the winning composure of a wider experience than eighteen years can ever lend.
Colonel Curmew presently outflanked Silvette, forcing her skillfully into a momentary retreat toward the recess of a window, where he blockaded her and curled his mustache with satisfaction and shot his cuffs, and prepared to drive in her outer pickets.
Diana remained in quiet conversation with Mrs. Rivett, the latter shy, wistful, and ill at ease by turns; the former sweet and deferential, yet all the while composedly taking the measure of the others in the room, and of the room itself, vaguely aware in her apparently smiling preoccupation that she was winning a perplexed and timid heart.
Cocktails were served—unusual ones that had a scent like the original Ricky, that is, the aromatic odor of wild blossoms.
The little gray woman barely tasted hers, with that same inborn instinct, perhaps, that impelled those old-time hostesses in the days when viands and wines sometimes proved fatal.
Then Edgerton relieved her of her scarcely touched glass; took Diana's, too, which was still half full. Mrs. Rivett rose and gave him her arm, to his surprise; Mr. Rivett took in Diana, his son Silvette. The name of Edgerton had counted heavily.
In the dining room everything was grossly overdone except the cookery—the sort of thing most calculated to annoy and bore the very man most accustomed to it in town; profusion akin to the plethora which offends; effort impossible to disguise which stirs even in the most good-natured and generous an unwilling contempt.
Edgerton let his eyes rest for a moment, outside the silver and crystal-set circle of light, on gold, heavy carving, gilded tapestry and picture, and withdrew his gaze gravely. Men servants swarmed, bothering him; the scent of greenhouse blossoms, forced before their time; the heavy magnificence out of place—all slightly disgusted him, though much of it was about what he had expected of such people.
Little Miss Rivett, on his left, dissected her terrapin with the healthy attention of youth and hunger; and presently he turned to look at her with amused but wholly amiable curiosity.
He saw a small, plump, dainty maid, with exceedingly clear and bright brown eyes, and a softly brilliant complexion, looking back at him with unconcealed interest.
There was a moment's silence, then they both smiled.
"Do you think you'll like us?" she asked saucily; "or do you hate us already?"
"Not the slightest doubt of my liking you, Miss Rivett; but how about your liking us?"
"Your cousins are most bewitching and bewildering.... You seem to be nice—are you?"
"Very," he said, laughing. "I'm glad you gave me an opportunity of saying so, because otherwise it might not have been perfectly clear to you."
"I am rather fastidious," she said. "How well do you dance?"
"My grace in that praiseworthy pastime is ursine."
"You are very British, aren't you?"
"Do you refer to my little play upon words?"
"No, generally; that was merely a touch of local color. Naturally, also, you fishshootridetohoundsandplaypolo; do you?"
"Also gawf, dear lady."
"Perfectly symmetrical and indistinguishable from others of your kind. I thought so. Crocky, too?"
"Certainly, crocky," he admitted; "also no bank account. You may call me m'lud with impunity."
"Perhaps you're not entirely qualified. How do you stand on the heiress question, Mr. Edgerton?"
"I can't qualify there."
"Then you're a sham. Besides, you're neither clever nor gallant. I am an heiress."
"Then I qualify at once as a fortune hunter," he said, laughing, "and I'll cable for my solicitors."
"What are you saying?" asked Mrs. Rivett in her gentle, uncertain voice.
"Mother, Mr. Edgerton and I are going to be friends. Perhaps he isn't sure of it, but I am. Tell him what happens when I am sure of anything."
"Dear, perhaps Mr. Edgerton doesn't quite understand your manner of saying things."
"That's just it; he does understand! He is going to turn out exceedingly nice, mother; watch him!"
"Christine! Please be a little less personal and abrupt."
They turned, smiling, toward the other end of the table where much laughter sounded. Evidently Diana and Silvette were becoming very popular, and, somehow, it occurred to Edgerton that perhaps this great room had not often resounded with mirth.
But the chatter and laughter were incessant now; so were the servants' ministrations, and Edgerton was glad enough to give his arm to the faded little woman beside him and take her to her great, gilded chair in the drawing-room, and follow the men to another room, where blue smoke from cigars presently floated to the ceiling.
Jack Rivett, rather too plump and smooth, moved into a chair beside Edgerton; and the latter, who had prejudged him from his appearance, was slightly surprised to find the youth widely read, widely traveled, with a mind and even a wit entirely his own, and an original but sometimes callow comment for any subject brought up.
In a desultory conversation it presently transpired that young Rivett was a candidate for the Patroon's Club.
"You're a member, I believe; are you not?" he asked Edgerton.
"I have resigned."
"Oh! I thought that was the one club from which nobody ever resigned. I beg your pardon, Edgerton!" he added, turning red; "don't think me a cad."
"No offense," smiled Edgerton; "I resigned because I couldn't afford it. It's a good club; hope you make it soon."
"I hope I do.... But we're rather recent additions—if we are additions—to New York. You never can tell what New Yorkers will do to people like us," he added laughingly.
"New York is practically composed of recent residents," said Edgerton, smiling.
"They're the most pitiless to newcomers. I wouldn't be very much afraid if we had only your sort to encounter. If you old residents like a man, he gets his hat check ultimately, and passes in; but it lies with the sidewalk speculators now. The seats of the mighty are in their hands."
Edgerton was much amused.
"Not entirely," he said; "even we older residents are asked about now and then."
"Into which of the three circles—Smart, Knickerbocker, or Old Testament?"
Edgerton was laughing so frankly that Rivett senior turned his convex glasses on him; and, deciding that the laughter was genuine and not included in services, went on with his business conversation with a Mr. Snaith—a large, soft-skinned gentleman deeply immersed in oil and cotton.
Colonel Curmew came over briskly, expelling smoke.
"What are you youngsters playing this evening? Auction or Chinese Kahn?"
"However, they choose to make up the tables," said Jack Rivett lazily. Then, as though on an after thought: "I doubt whether Mr. Edgerton bothers with cards; do you?"
"I don't mind, except that I've cut out playing for stakes," replied Edgerton, perfectly aware of Jack Rivett's kindly consideration in giving him a chance to escape gracefully, and a trifle amused, too, that the young man should suppose he cared what anybody in the place might think of him.
Servants were now arranging the old-fashioned colonial card tables in the noticeably old-fashioned colonial card room. A young girl or two appeared at the arched doorway, lingering on the threshold as several of the men came out to gossip.
Then the hostess appeared with the others; groups formed, shifted, and gradually subsided into seats; seals of fresh packs were broken, scores penciled, the first hands dealt at auction.
Diana, Colonel Curmew, a very pretty Mrs. Wemyss, and Mr. Rivett sat together; at another table Silvette, Mr. Snaith, Christine Rivett, and a Mr. Dineen—a gentleman weighing some two hundred pounds and wearing an attractive snub nose and a pair of merry gray-blue eyes.
And the awful hush of auction descended without a sound.
Edgerton and his hostess and a Judge Wicklow and a Mrs. Lorrimore—a fair, fat, blue-eyed thing with a cupid-bow mouth as sweet as the smile that abode there—settled themselves to Chinese Kahn, a game spelled in various ways and played in several more.
"Stakes?" inquired Mrs. Lorrimore with businesslike directness.
"Your pleasure," replied Judge Wicklow in the deep, thick voice celebrated and feared where judicial procedures are thickest and most unimportant.
"Neither Mr. Edgerton nor I care to gamble—I think," said Mrs. Rivett timidly.
The judge turned his bovine countenance on Edgerton. The only anomaly in it seemed to be his eyebrows. Cows have no eyebrows.
"I'm sorry," said Edgerton.
The judge seemed sorry, too, but he shuffled the two packs in his enormous and hairy hands, dealt, and deposited the surplus in a pile with a single card separate and face upward—the ace of hearts.
Mrs. Lorrimore promptly picked it up, laid down three aces, four fours, a small sequence interiorly made possible by a joker, and sat back triumphantly with her depleted suit in her gemmed fingers, which were pressed comfortably to an ample bosom.
"Discard," rumbled the judge.
"Oh, I beg pardon!" She laughed, and laid down a nine.
Nobody ever wants a nine, somehow. The judge snorted, helped himself, discarded, and turned his heavy countenance on his hostess.
"Dear me," she said in her humble little voice, "I—I'm afraid—afraid I'm going out!"
"What!" thundered his honor. "Nobody ever goes out first hand, madam!"
But she timidly did that very thing to the suppressed fury of his honor, who had cherished a long sequence, according to rule, and was further nursing the other joker and three kings.
"It's too bad," she ventured, looking around at Edgerton, whose entire hand was being minutely counted by Mrs. Lorrimore.
"I don't mind!" said the young fellow, laughing; and he leaned a trifle nearer and added under his breath: "But suppose I had played for stakes!"
Into her timid and faded eyes came the ghost of a glimmer—the momentary sparkle of fun, and went out very quickly.
But it had been there for a second; and thereafter Edgerton found a curious pleasure in making it come back at intervals. She even laughed—even ventured to provoke his laughter—rather scared at trying until his quick mirth set her at momentary ease again.
Luck bedeviled his honor; the fair Mrs. Lorrimore won steadily without the least respect for the law and no consideration at all for the sanctity of the bench; and the judge became peevish. He was a very rich man.
Presently he had enough of it—letters to write for the morning mail—and got himself out and upstairs with the dignity of a fly-pestered ox.
"Horrid old screw," observed Mrs. Lorrimore in Edgerton's ear, and laughed her peculiarly sweet and captivating laugh as a servant returned with his honor's check in an angrily scrawled envelope.
Mrs. Rivett had passed into a farther room, where the high gilded pipes of an organ glimmered in the subdued light. Edgerton saw her seated there—a thin, bejeweled little figure beneath the tall gothic majesty of the pipes.
After a while the low harmony of an old-time hymn stole into the card room.
Those at the bridge tables remained silent and absorbed, except Mr. Rivett, who cautiously turned his sphinxlike countenance toward the farther dusk where his wife was seated.
Edgerton stood behind Diana's chair, watching. Presently he went over to Silvette, lingered for a while, then came back to Diana again.
An hour later Mr. Rivett said abruptly: "Does anybody care to dance?"
The effect was like a pistol shot on lotus eaters. Slowly the players came out of their absorption; color returned faintly to white, tense faces.
"I suppose I may ask it?" added Mr. Rivett dryly. "I'm a heavy loser."
"Sure thing, dad," said Jack with a laugh. "I'm about even, and I venture to ask it, too. Does anybody here want to dance? You surely won't object," he added mischievously to Silvette.
"I have no right to say anything at all," she laughed.
"Every right—the right of the conqueror! Accept my bow and spear—and speak! ... How is it with your sister?"
"I'm afraid I haven't any voice in the matter, either," said Diana serenely. "It is for the losers to decide."
They decided to dance. Mrs. Rivett came from the dim music room and stood watching them with her little worn hands folded, while servants lighted and cleared the larger drawing-room, designed for a ballroom, with its little gilded balcony aloft and the great concert grand in its carved and gilded foliations sprawling like a bedizened elephant in the corner.
A servant was sent for "mademoiselle"—evidently somebody who lived somewhere in the house whose duties included dance music. Meanwhile Edgerton sat down at the piano, and began a fascinating Spanish waltz.
"Traitor," whispered a fresh, young voice at his elbow, and he looked up into the winning eyes of Diana.
"Hello," he said; "how went the battle?"
"As usual, thank you."
"Oh! And how do they usually go with you, fair cousin?"
"Well enough," she said briefly.
She stood leaning on the piano.
"You play cleverly," she observed.
"Oh, yes—cleverly. There's nothing else to anything I do."
"Isn't that enough?"
"Is it, Diana?"
"Enough as far as music is concerned," she said impatiently. "Did you ever see a musical virtuoso whom a real man didn't want to kick? And as for you," she added, "you are a traitor. You said you would ask me to dance. Now, if you ask me, I won't!"
Still playing, he continued to look up at her smilingly.
"What do you really care about me anyway?" he said. "I wish you'd tell me, Diana."
"Honestly, or flippantly?"
"Masks off, you mean?"
"Yes—as far off as they'll come."
"I care a lot about you."
"You say it too frankly," he laughed.
"What I say, I say.... Did you find Christine Rivett agreeable at dinner?"
"Is that all!" evidently disappointed.
"Well, she's very fetching."
"That is far more serious."
"Indeed, it is. I've qualified as an aspirant for her hand and fortune already."
"I don't doubt it," she returned calmly. "That's one reason her father decided to employ us."
She said it unsmiling, and after he had looked up at her once or twice he said: "Of course you are joking."
"Ob, yes; it's one kind of a jest. Meanwhile here comes a young person in black—doubtless mademoiselle.... I'm not going to dance with you; don't compose your features in that smug fashion. You're a traitor, and I won't."
She turned on her heel and advanced leisurely toward Colonel Curmew, who immediately began to twirl his mustache and shoot his cuffs, when, without warning, she sheered off into the receptive arms of Jack Rivett, and was presently drifting across the room in a Viennese waltz.
Others were dancing now; Edgerton went over and asked his hostess—an old New York custom now obsolete—who colored and smiled at him, explaining that she had renounced that art with the advent of rheumatism. So, after a while, he took out her daughter Christine—also an obsolete custom—who soon, however, had enough of him as a dancer, and took him into the conservatory.
The others danced until supper time; midnight found them separating on the stairs. Edgerton and Christine Rivett had rather a prolonged leave-taking, then shook hands cordially in plain view of everybody.
Diana, passing with Silvette, said a careless good night to him. Silvette, retaining her sister's arm, detained him for a moment in conversation; then they went away together, Diana dismissing him with an inattentive nod.
But, as he was prepared for his pillow, a servant brought an envelope to his door and tucked it under the sill.
Inside was a single line:
"Good night, Jim."
The handwriting was now familiar to him.