Part 1 out of 4
[Book 2 of The Little Ottleys]
by Ada Leverson
TO ROBERT ROSS
A Verbal Invitation
Because Edith had not been feeling very well, that seemed no reason why
she should be the centre of interest; and Bruce, with that jealousy of
the privileges of the invalid and in that curious spirit of rivalry
which his wife had so often observed, had started, with enterprise, an
indisposition of his own, as if to divert public attention. While he
was at Carlsbad he heard the news. Then he received a letter from
Edith, speaking with deference and solicitude of Bruce's rheumatism,
entreating him to do the cure thoroughly, and suggesting that they
should call the little girl Matilda, after a rich and sainted--though
still living--aunt of Edith's. It might be an advantage to the child's
future (in every sense) to have a godmother so wealthy and so
religious. It appeared from the detailed description that the new
daughter had, as a matter of course (and at two days old), long golden
hair, far below her waist, sweeping lashes and pencilled brows, a
rosebud mouth, an intellectual forehead, chiselled features and a tall,
elegant figure. She was a magnificent, regal-looking creature and was a
superb beauty of the classic type, and yet with it she was dainty and
winsome. She had great talent for music. This, it appeared, was shown
by the breadth between the eyes and the timbre of her voice.
Overwhelmed with joy at the advent of such a paragon, and horrified at
Edith's choice of a name, Bruce had replied at once by wire,
_'Certainly not Matilda I would rather she were called Aspasia.'_
Edith read this expression of feeling on a colourless telegraph form,
and as she was, at Knightsbridge, unable to hear the ironical tone of
the message she took it literally.
She criticised the name, but was easily persuaded by her mother-in-law
to make no objection. The elder Mrs Ottley pointed out that it might
have been very much worse.
'But it's not a pretty name,' objected Edith. 'If it wasn't to be
Matilda, I should rather have called her something out of
Maeterlinck--Ygraine, or Ysolyn--something like that.'
'Yes, dear, Mygraine's a nice name, too,' said Mrs Ottley, in her
humouring way, 'and so is Vaselyn. But what does it really matter? I
shouldn't hold out on a point like this. One gets used to a name. Let
the poor child be called Asparagus if he wishes it, and let him feel he
has got his own way.'
So the young girl was named Aspasia Matilda Ottley. It was
characteristic of Edith that she kept to her own point, though not
aggressively. When Bruce returned after his after-cure, it was too
late to do anything but pretend he had meant it seriously.
Archie called his sister Dilly.
Archie had been rather hurt at the--as it seemed to him--unnecessary
excitement about Dilly. Not that he was jealous in any way. It was
rather that he was afraid it would spoil her to be made so much of at
her age; make her, perhaps, egotistical and vain. But it was not
Archie's way to show these fears openly. He did not weep loudly or
throw things about as many boys might have done. His methods were more
roundabout, more subtle. He gave hints and suggestions of his views
that should have been understood by the intelligent. He said one
morning with some indirectness:
'I had such a lovely dream last night, Mother.'
'Did you, pet? How sweet of you. What was it?'
'Oh, nothing much. It was all right. Very nice. It was a lovely dream.
I dreamt I was in heaven.'
'Really! How delightful. Who was there?'
This is always a woman's first question.
'Oh, you were there, of course. And father. Nurse, too. It was a lovely
dream. Such a nice place.'
'Was Dilly there?'
'Dilly? Er--no--no--she wasn't. She was in the night nursery, with
Sometimes Edith thought that her daughter's names were decidedly a
failure--Aspasia by mistake, Matilda through obstinacy, and Dilly by
accident. However the child herself was a success. She was four years
old when the incident occurred about the Mitchells. The whole of this
story turns eventually on the Mitchells.
The Ottleys lived in a concise white flat at Knightsbridge. Bruce's
father had some time ago left him a good income on certain conditions;
one was that he was not to leave the Foreign Office before he was
fifty. One afternoon Edith was talking to the telephone in a voice of
agonised entreaty that would have melted the hardest of hearts, but did
not seem to have much effect on the Exchange, which, evidently, was not
responsive to pathos that day.
'Oh! Exchange, _why_ are you ringing off? _Please_ try again.... Do I
want any number? Yes, I do want any number, of course, or why should I
ring up?... I want 6375 Gerrard.'
Here Archie interposed.
'Mother, can I have your long buttonhook?'
'No, Archie, you can't just now, dear.... Go away Archie.... Yes, I
said 6375 Gerrard. Only 6375 Gerrard!... Are you there? Oh, don't keep
on asking me if I've got them!... No, they haven't answered.... Are you
6375?... Oh--wrong number--sorry.... 6375 Gerrard? Only six--are you
there?... Not 6375 Gerrard?... Are you anyone else?... Oh, is it you,
Vincy?... I want to tell you--'
'Mother, can I have your long buttonhook?'
Here Bruce came in. Edith rang off. Archie disappeared.
'It's really rather wonderful, Edith, what that Sandow exerciser has
done for me! You laughed at me at first, but I've improved
Bruce was walking about doing very mild gymnastics, and occasionally
hitting himself on the left arm with the right fist.' Look at my
muscle--look at it--and all in such a short time!'
'Wonderful!' said Edith.
'The reason I know what an extraordinary effect these few days have had
on me is something I have just done which I couldn't have done before.
Of course I'm naturally a very powerful man, and only need a little--'
'What have you done?'
'Why--you know that great ridiculous old wooden chest that your awful
Aunt Matilda sent you for your birthday--absurd present I call it--mere
'When it came I could barely push it from one side of the room to the
other. Now I've lifted it from your room to the box-room. Quite
easily. Pretty good, isn't it?'
'Yes, of course it's very good for you to do all these exercises; no
doubt it's capital.... Er--you know I've had all the things taken out
of the chest since you tried it before, don't you?'
'Things--what things? I didn't know there was anything in it.'
'Only a silver tea-service, and a couple of salvers,' said Edith, in a
...He calmed down fairly soon and said: 'Edith, I have some news for
you. You know the Mitchells?'
'Do I know the _Mitchells_? Mitchell, your hero in your office, that
you're always being offended with--at _least_ I know the Mitchells by
_name_. I ought to.'
'Well, what do you think they've done? They've asked us to dinner.'
'Have they? Fancy!'
'Yes, and what I thought was so particularly jolly of him was that it
was a verbal invitation. Mitchell said to me, just like this, 'Ottley,
old chap, are you doing anything on Sunday evening?''
Here Archie came to the door and said, 'Mother, can I have your long
Edith shook her head and frowned.
''Ottley, old chap,'' continued Bruce, ''are you and your wife doing
anything on Sunday? If not, I do wish you would waive ceremony and come
and dine with us. Would Mrs Ottley excuse a verbal invitation, do you
think?' I said, 'Well, Mitchell, as a matter of fact I don't believe we
have got anything on. Yes, old boy, we shall be delighted.' I accepted,
you see. I accepted straight out. When you're treated in a friendly
way, I always say why be unfriendly? And Mrs Mitchell is a charming
little woman--I'm sure you'd like her. It seems she's been dying to
'Fancy! I wonder she's still alive, then, because you and Mitchell have
known each other for eight years, and I've never met her yet.'
'Well, you will now. Let bygones be bygones. They live in Hamilton
'Oh yes....Park Lane?'
'I told you he was doing very well, and his wife has private means.'
'Mother,' Archie began again, like a litany, 'can I have your long
buttonhook? I know where it is.'
'No, Archie, certainly not; you can't fasten laced boots with a
buttonhook.... Well, that will be fun, Bruce.'
'I believe they're going to have games after dinner,' said Bruce. 'All
very jolly--musical crambo--that sort of thing.... What shall you wear,
'Mother, do let me have your long buttonhook. I want it. It isn't for
'_Certainly_ not. What a nuisance you are! Do go away.... I think I
shall wear my salmon-coloured dress with the sort of mayonnaise-
coloured sash.... (No, you're not to have it, Archie).'
'But, Mother, I've got it.... I can soon mend it, Mother.'
On Sunday evening Bruce's high spirits seemed to flag; he had one of
his sudden reactions. He looked at everything on its dark side.
'What on earth's that thing in your hair, Edith?'
'It's a bandeau.'
'I don't like it. Your hair looks very nice without it. What on _earth_
did you get it for?'
'For about six-and-eleven, I think.'
'Don't be trivial, Edith. We shall be late. Ah! It really does seem
rather a pity, the very first time one dines with people like the
'We sha'n't be late, Bruce. It's eight o'clock, and eight o'clock I
suppose means--well, eight. Sure you've got the number right?'
'Really. Edith!... My memory is unerring, dear. I never make a mistake.
Haven't you ever noticed it?'
'A--oh yes--I think I have.'
'Well, it's 168 Hamilton Place. Look sharp, dear.'
On their way in the taxi he gave her a good many instructions and
advised her to be perfectly at her ease and _absolutely natural_; there
was nothing to make one otherwise, in either Mr or Mrs Mitchell. Also,
he said, it didn't matter a bit what she wore, as long as she had put
on her _best_ dress. It seemed a pity she had not got a new one, but
this couldn't be helped, as there was now no time. Edith agreed that
she knew of no really suitable place where she could buy a new evening
dress at eight-thirty on Sunday evening. And, anyhow, he said, she
looked quite nice, really very smart; besides, Mrs Mitchell was not the
sort of person who would think any the less of a pretty woman for being
a little dowdy and out of fashion.
When they drove up to what house agents call in their emotional way a
superb, desirable, magnificent town mansion, they saw that a large
dinner-party was evidently going on. A hall porter and four powdered
footmen were in evidence.
'By Jove!' said Bruce, as he got out, 'I'd no idea old Mitchell did
himself so well as this.'... The butler had never heard of the
Mitchells. The house belonged to Lord Rosenberg.
'Confound it! 'said Bruce, as he flung himself into the taxi. 'Well!
I've made a mistake for once in my life. I admit it. Of course, it's
really Hamilton Gardens. Sorry. Yet somehow I'm rather glad Mitchell
doesn't live in that house.'
'You are perfectly right,' said Edith: 'the bankruptcy of an old friend
and colleague could be no satisfaction to any man.'
Hamilton Gardens was a gloomy little place, like a tenement building
out of Marylebone Road. Bruce, in trying to ring the bell,
unfortunately turned out all the electric light in the house, and was
standing alone in despair in the dark when, fortunately the porter, who
had been out to post a letter, ran back, and turned up the light
again.... 'I shouldn't have thought they could play musical crambo
here, 'he called out to Edith while he was waiting. 'And now isn't it
odd? I have a funny kind of feeling that the right address is Hamilton
'I suppose you're perfectly certain they don't live at a private idiot
asylum?' Edith suggested doubtfully.
On inquiry it appeared the Mitchells did not live at Hamilton Gardens.
An idea occurred to Edith, and she asked for a directory.
The Winthrop Mitchells lived at Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood.
'At last!' said Bruce. 'Now we shall be too disgracefully late for the
first time. But be perfectly at your ease, dear. Promise me that. Go in
'How else can I go in?'
'I mean as if nothing had happened.'
'I think we'd better tell them what _has_ happened,' said Edith; 'it
will make them laugh. I hope they will have begun their dinner.'
'Surely they will have finished it.'
'Perhaps we may find them at their games!'
'Now, now, don't be bitter, Edith dear--never be bitter--life has its
ups and downs.... Well! I'm rather glad, after all, that Mitchell
doesn't live in that horrid little hole.'
'I'm sure you are,' said Edith; 'it could be no possible satisfaction
to you to know that a friend and colleague of yours is either
distressingly hard up or painfully penurious.'
They arrived at the house, but there were no lights, and no sign of
life. The Mitchells lived here all right, but they were out. The
parlourmaid explained. The dinner-party had been Saturday, the night
'Strange,' said Bruce, as he got in again. 'I had a curious
presentiment that something was going wrong about this dinner at the
'What dinner at the Mitchells'? There doesn't seem to be any.'
'Do you know,' Bruce continued his train of thought, 'I felt certain
somehow that it would be a failure. Wasn't it odd? I often think I'm a
pessimist, and yet look how well I'm taking it. I'm more like a
fatalist--sometimes I hardly know what I am.'
'I could tell you what you are,' said Edith, 'but I won't, because now
you must take me to the Carlton. We shall get there before it's
Whether to behave with some coolness to Mitchell, and be stand-offish,
as though it had been all his fault, or to be lavishly apologetic, was
the question. Bruce could not make up his mind which attitude to take.
In a way, it was all the Mitchells' fault. They oughtn't to have given
him a verbal invitation. It was rude, Bohemian, wanting in good form;
it showed an absolute and complete ignorance of the most ordinary and
elementary usages of society. It was wanting in common courtesy;
really, when one came to think about it, it was an insult. On the other
hand, technically, Bruce was in the wrong. Having accepted he ought to
have turned up on the right night. It may have served them right (as he
said), but the fact of going on the wrong night being a lesson to them
seemed a little obscure. Edith found it difficult to see the point.
Then he had a more brilliant idea; to go into the office as cheerily as
ever, and say to Mitchell pleasantly, 'We're looking forward to next
Saturday, old chap,' pretending to have believed from the first that
the invitation had been for the Saturday week; and that the dinner was
still to come....
This, Edith said, would have been excellent, provided that the
parlourmaid hadn't told them that she and Bruce had arrived about a
quarter to ten on Sunday evening and asked if the Mitchells had begun
dinner. The chances against the servant having kept this curious
incident to herself were almost too great.
After long argument and great indecision the matter was settled by a
cordial letter from Mrs Mitchell, asking them to dinner on the
following Thursday, and saying she feared there had been some mistake.
So that was all right.
Bruce was in good spirits again; he was pleased too, because he was
going to the theatre that evening with Edith and Vincy, to see a play
that he thought wouldn't be very good. He had almost beforehand settled
what he thought of it, and practically what he intended to say.
But when he came in that evening he was overheard to have a strenuous
and increasingly violent argument with Archie in the hall.
Edith opened the door and wanted to know what the row was about.
'Will you tell me, Edith, where your son learns such language? He keeps
on worrying me to take him to the Zoological Gardens to see
the--well--you'll hear what he says. The child's a perfect nuisance.
Who put it into his head to want to go and see this animal? I was
obliged to speak quite firmly to him about it.'
Edith was not alarmed that Bruce had been severe. She thought it much
more likely that Archie had spoken very firmly to him. He was always
strict with his father, and when he was good Bruce found fault with
him. As soon as he grew really tiresome his father became abjectly
Archie was called and came in, dragging his feet, and pouting, in tears
that he was making a strenuous effort to encourage.
'You must be firm with him,' continued Bruce. 'Hang it! Good heavens!
Am I master in my own house or am I not?'
There was no reply to this rhetorical question.
He turned to Archie and said in a gentle, conciliating voice:
'Archie, old chap, tell your mother what it is you want to see. Don't
'Want to see the damned chameleon,' said Archie, with his hands in his
eyes. 'Want father to take me to the Zoo.'
'You can't go to the Zoo this time of the evening. What do you mean?'
'I want to see the damned chameleon.'
'You hear!' exclaimed Bruce to Edith.
'Who taught you this language?'
'Miss Townsend taught it me.'
'There! It's dreadful, Edith; he's becoming a reckless liar. Fancy her
dreaming of teaching him such things! If she did, of course she must be
mad, and you must send her away at once. But I'm quite sure she
'Come, Archie, you know Miss Townsend never taught you to say that.
What have you got into your head?'
'Well, she didn't exactly teach me to say it--she didn't give me
lessons in it--but she says it herself. She said the damned chameleon
was lovely; and I want to see it. She didn't say I ought to see it. But
I want to. I've been wanting to ever since. She said it at lunch today,
and I do want to. Lots of other boys go to the Zoo, and why shouldn't
I? I want to see it so much.'
'Edith, I must speak to Miss Townsend about this very seriously. In the
first place, people have got no right to talk about queer animals to
the boy at all--we all know what he is--and in such language! I should
have thought a girl like Miss Townsend, who has passed examinations in
Germany, and so forth, would have had more sense of her
responsibility--more tact. It shows a dreadful want of--I hardly know
what to think of it--the daughter of a clergyman, too!'
'It's all right, Bruce,' Edith laughed. 'Miss Townsend told me she had
been to see the _Dame aux Camelias_ some time ago. She was enthusiastic
about it. Archie dear, I'll take you to the Zoological Gardens and
we'll see lots of other animals. And don't use that expression.'
'What! Can't I see the da--'
'Mr Vincy,' announced the servant.
'I must go and dress,' said Bruce.
Vincy Wenham Vincy was always called by everyone simply Vincy. Applied
to him it seemed like a pet name. He had arrived at the right moment,
as he always did. He was very devoted to both Edith and Bruce, and he
was a confidant of both. He sometimes said to Edith that he felt he was
just what was wanted in the little home; an intimate stranger coming in
occasionally with a fresh atmosphere was often of great value (as, for
instance, now) in calming or averting storms.
Had anyone asked Vincy exactly what he was he would probably have said
he was an Observer, and really he did very little else, though after he
left Oxford he had taken to writing a little, and painting less. He was
very fair, the fairest person one could imagine over five years old. He
had pale silky hair, a minute fair moustache, very good features, a
single eyeglass, and the appearance, always, of having been very
recently taken out of a bandbox.
But when people fancied from this look of his that he was an
empty-headed fop they soon found themselves immensely mistaken.
He was thirty-eight, but looked a gilded youth of twenty; and _was_
sufficiently gilded (as he said), not perhaps exactly to be
comfortable, but to enable him to get about comfortably, and see those
He had a number of relatives in high places, who bored him, and were
always trying to get him married. He had taken up various occupations
and travelled a good deal. But his greatest pleasure was the study of
people. There was nothing cold in his observation, nothing of the
cynical analyst. He was impulsive, though very quiet, immensely and
ardently sympathetic and almost too impressionable and enthusiastic. It
was not surprising that he was immensely popular generally, as well as
specially; he was so interested in everyone except himself.
No-one was ever a greater general favourite. There seemed to be no type
of person on whom he jarred. People who disagreed on every other
subject agreed in liking Vincy.
But he did not care in the least for acquaintances, and spent much
ingenuity in trying to avoid them; he only liked intimate friends, and
of all he had perhaps the Ottleys were his greatest favourites.
His affection for them dated from a summer they had spent in the same
hotel in France. He had become extraordinarily interested in them. He
delighted in Bruce, but had with Edith, of course, more mutual
understanding and intellectual sympathy, and though they met
constantly, his friendship with her had never been misunderstood.
Frivolous friends of his who did not know her might amuse themselves by
being humorous and flippant about Vincy's little Ottleys, but no-one
who had ever seen them together could possibly make a mistake. They
were an example of the absurdity of a tradition--'the world's'
proneness to calumny. Such friendships, when genuine, are never
misconstrued. Perhaps society is more often taken in the other way. But
as a matter of fact the truth on this subject, as on most others, is
always known in time. No-one had ever even tried to explain away the
intimacy, though Bruce had all the air of being unable to do without
Vincy's society sometimes cynically attributed to husbands in a
Vincy was pleased with the story of the Mitchells that Edith told him,
and she was glad to hear that he knew the Mitchells and had been to the
'How like you to know everyone. What did they do?'
'The night I was there they played games,' said Vincy. He spoke in a
soft, even voice. 'It was just a little--well--perhaps just a _tiny_
bit ghastly, I thought; but don't tell Bruce. That evening I thought
the people weren't quite young enough, and when they played 'Oranges
and Lemons, and the Bells of St Clements,' and so on--their bones
seemed to--well, sort of rattle, if you know what I mean. But still
perhaps it was only my fancy. Mitchell has such very high spirits, you
see, and is determined to make everything go. He won't have
conventional parties, and insists on plenty of verve; so, of course,
one's forced to have it.' He sighed. 'They haven't any children, and
they make a kind of hobby of entertaining in an unconventional way.'
'It sounds rather fun. Perhaps you will be asked next Thursday. Try.'
'I'll try. I'll call, and remind her of me. I daresay she'll ask me.
She's very good-natured. She believes in spiritualism, too.'
'I wonder who'll be there?'
'Anyone might be there, or anyone else. As they say of marriage, it's a
lottery. They might have roulette, or a spiritual seance, or Kubelik,
or fancy dress heads.'
'Fancy dress heads!'
'Yes. Or a cotillion, or just bridge. You never know. The house is
rather like a country house, and they behave accordingly. Even
hide-and-seek, I believe, sometimes. And Mitchell adores unpractical
'I see. It's rather exciting that I'm going to the Mitchells at last.'
'Yes, perhaps it will be the turning-point of your life,' said Vincy.
'Ah! here's Bruce.'
'I don't think much of that opera glass your mother gave you,' Bruce
remarked to his wife, soon after the curtain rose.
'It's the fashion,' said Edith. 'It's jade--the latest thing.'
'I don't care if it is the fashion. It's no use. Here, try it, Vincy.'
He handed it to Vincy, who gave Bruce a quick look, and then tried it.
'Rather quaint and pretty, I think. I like the effect,' he said,
handing it back to Bruce.
'It may be quaint and pretty, and it may be the latest thing, and it
may be jade,' said Bruce rather sarcastically, 'but I'm not a slave to
fashion. I never was. And I don't see any use whatever in an opera
glass that makes everything look smaller instead of larger, and at a
greater distance instead of nearer. I call it rot. I always say what I
think. And you can tell your mother what I said if you like.'
'You're looking through it the wrong side, dear,' said Edith.
The Golden Quoribus
Edith had been very pretty at twenty, but at twenty-eight her
prettiness had immensely increased; she had really become a beauty of a
particularly troubling type. She had long, deep blue eyes, clearly-cut
features, hair of that soft, fine light brown just tinged with red
called by the French chatain clair; and a flower-like complexion. She
was slim, but not angular, and had a reposeful grace and a decided
attraction for both men and women. They generally tried to express this
fascination by discovering resemblances in her to various well-known
pictures of celebrated artists. She had been compared to almost every
type of all the great painters: Botticelli, Sir Peter Lely,
Gainsborough, Burne-Jones. Some people said she was like a Sargent,
others called her a post-impressionist type; there was no end to the
old and new masters of whom she seemed to remind people; and she
certainly had the rather insidious charm of somehow recalling the past
while suggesting something undiscovered in the future. There was a good
deal that was enigmatic about her. It was natural, not assumed as a
pose of mysteriousness. She was not all on the surface: not obvious.
One wondered. Was she capable of any depth of feeling? Was she always
just sweet and tactful and clever, or could there be another side to
her character? Had she (for instance) a temperament? This question was
considered one of interest,--so Edith had a great many admirers. Some
were new and fickle, others were old and faithful. She had never yet
shown more than a conversational interest in any of them, but always
seemed to be laughing with a soft mockery at her own success.
Edith was not a vain woman, not even much interested in dress, though
she had a quick eye and a sure impressionistic gift for it. She was
always an immense favourite with women, who felt subconsciously
grateful to her for her wonderful forbearance. To have the power and
not to use it! To be so pretty, yet never _to take_ _anyone away_!--not
even coldly display her conquests. But this liking she did not, as a
rule, return in any decided fashion. She had dreadfully little to say
to the average woman, except to a few intimate friends, and frankly
preferred the society of the average man, although she had not as yet
developed a taste for coquetry, for which she had, however, many
natural gifts. She was much taken up by Bruce, by Archie and Dilly, and
was fond of losing herself in ideas and in books, and in various
artistic movements and fads in which her interest was cultivated and
perhaps inspired by Vincy. Vincy was her greatest friend and confidant.
He was really a great safety-valve, and she told him nearly every
Still, Archie was, so far, her greatest interest. He was a particularly
pretty boy, and she was justified in thinking him rather unusual. At
this period he spent a considerable amount of his leisure time not only
in longing to see real animals, but in inventing and drawing pictures
of non-existent ones--horrible creatures, or quaint creatures, for
which he found the strangest names. He told Dilly about them, but Dilly
was not his audience--she was rather his confidante and literary
adviser; or even sometimes his collaborator. His public consisted
principally of his mother. It was a convention that Edith should be
frightened, shocked and horrified at the creatures of his imagination,
while Dilly privately revelled in their success. Miss Townsend, the
governess, was rather coldly ignored in this matter. She had a way of
speaking of the animals with a smile, as a nice occupation to keep the
children quiet. She did not understand.
'Please, Madam, would you kindly go into the nursery; Master Archie
wishes you to come and hear about the golden--something he's just made
up like,' said Dilly's nurse with an expression of resignation.
Edith jumped up at once.
'Oh dear! Tell Master Archie I'm coming.'
She ran into the nursery and found Archie and Dilly both looking rather
excited; Archie, fairly self-controlled, with a paper in his hand on
which was a rough sketch which he would not let her see, and hid behind
'Mother,' Archie began in a low, solemn voice, rather slowly, 'the
golden quoribus is the most horrible animal, the most awful-looking
animal, you ever heard of in _your_ life!'
'Oh-h-h! How awful!' said Edith, beginning to shiver. 'Wait a
moment--let me sit down quietly and hear about it.'
She sat down by the fire and clasped her hands, looking at him with a
terrified expression which was part of the ritual.
Dilly giggled, and put her thumb in her mouth, watching the effect with
widely opened eyes.
'Much more awful than the gazeka, of course, I suppose?' Edith said
'Much,' said Dilly.
'(Be quiet, Dilly!) Mother!' he was reproachful, 'what do you mean? The
gazeka? Why--the gazeka's nothing at all--it's a rotten little animal.
It doesn't count. Besides, it isn't real--it never was real. Gazeka,
'Oh, I beg your pardon,' said Edith repentantly; 'do go on.'
'No... the golden quoribus is far-ar-r-r-r more frightening even than
the jilbery. Do you remember how awful _that_ was? And much larger.'
'What! Worse than the jilbery! Oh, good gracious! How dreadful! What's
'First of all--it's as long as from here to Brighton,' said Archie.
'A little longer,' said Dilly.
'(Shut up, miss!) As long. It's called the golden quoribus because it's
bright gold, except the bumps; and the bumps are green.'
'Bright green,' said Dilly.
'(Oh, will you hold your tongue, Dilly?) Green.'
'How terrible!... And what shape is it?'
'All pointed and sharp, and three-cornered.'
'Does it breathe fire?' asked Edith.
Archie smiled contemptuously.
'Breathe fire! Oh, Mother! Do you think it's a silly dragon in a fairy
story? Of course it doesn't. How can it breathe fire?'
'Sorry,' said Edith apologetically. 'Go on.'
'_But_, the peculiar thing about it, besides that it lives entirely on
muffins and mutton and the frightening part, I'm coming to now.' He
became emphatic, and spoke slowly. 'The golden quoribus has more claws
than any... other... animal... in the whole world!'
'Oh-h-h,' she shuddered.
'Yes,' said Archie solemnly. 'It has large claws coming out of its
'Its head! Good gracious!'
'It has claws here and claws there; claws coming out of the eyes; and
claws coming out of the ears; and claws coming out of its shoulders;
and claws coming out of the forehead!'
Edith shivered with fright and held up her hands in front of her eyes
to ward off the picture.
'And claws coming out of the mouth,' said Archie, coming a step nearer
to her and raising his voice.
'And claws coming out of the hands, and claws coming out of the feet!'
'Yes,' said Dilly, wildly and recklessly and jumping up and down, 'and
claws on the ceiling, and claws on the floor, and claws all over the
With one violent slap she was sent sprawling.
Shrieks, sobs and tears filled the quiet nursery.
'I know,' said Archie, when he had been persuaded to apologise, 'of
course I know a gentleman oughtn't to hit a lady, not even--I mean,
especially not if she's his little sister. But oh, Mother, ought a lady
to interrupt a story?'
When Edith told Vincy he entirely took Archie's side.
Suppose Sargent were painting a beautiful picture, and one of his
pupils, snatching the paint-brush from him, insisted on finishing it,
and spoiling it--how would he like it? Imagine a poet who had just
written a great poem, and been interrupted in reciting it by someone
who quickly finished it off all wrong! The author might be forgiven
under such circumstances if in his irritation he took a strong line. In
Vincy's opinion it served Dilly jolly well right. Young? Of course she
was young, but four (he said) was not a day too soon to begin to learn
to respect the work of the artist. Edith owned that Archie was not
easily exasperated and was as a rule very patient with the child. Bruce
took an entirely different view. He was quite gloomy about it and
feared that Archie showed every sign of growing up to be an Apache.
The Mitchells were, as Vincy had said, extremely hospitable; they had a
perfect mania for receiving; they practically lived for it, and the big
house at Hampstead, with its large garden covered in, and a sort of
studio built out, was scarcely ever without guests. When they didn't
have some sort of party they invariably went out.
Mitchell's great joy was to make his parties different from others by
some childish fantasy or other. He especially delighted in a surprise.
He often took the trouble (for instance) to have a telegram sent to
every one of his guests during the course of the evening. Each of these
wires contained some personal chaff or practical joke. At other times
he would give everyone little presents, concealed in some way.
Christmas didn't come once a year to the Mitchells; it seemed never to
go away. One was always surprised not to find a Christmas tree and
crackers. These entertainments, always splendidly done materially, and
curiously erratic socially, were sometimes extremely amusing; at
others, of course, a frost; it was rather a toss-up.
And the guests were, without exception, the most extraordinary mixture
in London. They included delightful people, absurd people, average
people; people who were smart and people who were dowdy, some who were
respectable and nothing else, some who were deplorable, others
beautiful, and many merely dull. There was never the slightest attempt
at any sort of harmonising, or of suitability; there was a great deal
of kindness to the hard-up, and a wild and extravagant delight in any
novelty. In fact, the Mitchells were everything except exclusive, and
as they were not guided by any sort of rule, they really lived, in St
John's Wood, superior to suburban or indeed any other restrictions.
They would ask the same guests to dinner time after time, six or seven
times in succession. They would invite cordially a person of no
attraction whatsoever whom they had only just met, and they would
behave with casual coolness to desirable acquaintances or favourite
friends whom they had known all their lives. However, there was no
doubt that their parties had got the name for being funny, and that was
quite enough. London people in every set are so desperate for something
out of the ordinary way, for variety and oddness, that the Mitchells
were frequently asked for invitations by most distinguished persons who
hoped, in their blase fatigue, to meet something new and queer.
For the real Londoner is a good deal of a child, and loves Punch and
Judy shows, and conjuring tricks (symbolically speaking)--and is also
often dreaming of the chance of meeting some spring novelty, in the way
of romance. Although the Mitchells were proud of these successes they
were as free from snobbishness as almost anyone could be. On the whole
Mrs Mitchell had a slight weakness for celebrities, while Mr Mitchell
preferred pretty women, or people who romped. It was merely from
carelessness that the Ottleys had never been asked before.
When Edith and Bruce found themselves in the large square
country-house-looking hall, with its oak beams and early English
fireplace, about twenty people had arrived, and as many more were
expected. A lively chatter had already begun; for each woman had been
offered on her arrival a basket from which she had to choose a brightly
coloured ribbon. These ribbons matched the rosettes presented in an
equally haphazard way to every man. As Vincy observed, it gave one the
rather ghastly impression that there was going to be a cotillion at
once, on sight, before dinner; which was a little frightening. In
reality it was merely so that the partners for the meal should be
chosen by chance. Mitchell thought this more fun than arranging guests;
but there was an element of gambling about it that made wary people
nervous. Everyone present would have cheated had it been possible. But
it was not.
Mrs Mitchell was a tiny brown-eyed creature, who looked absurdly young;
she was kind, sprightly, and rather like a grouse. Mitchell was a
jovial-looking man, with a high forehead, almost too much ease of
manner, and a twinkling eye.
The chief guests tonight consisted of Lord Rye, a middle-aged
suffraget, who was known for his habit of barking before he spoke and
for his wonderful ear for music--he could play all Richard, Oscar and
Johann Strauss's compositions by ear on the piano, and never mixed them
up; Aylmer Ross, the handsome barrister; Myra Mooney, who had been on
the stage; and an intelligent foreigner from the embassy, with a
decoration, a goat-like beard, and an Armenian accent. Mrs Mitchell
said he was the minister from some place with a name like Ruritania.
She had a vague memory. There was also a Mr Cricker, a very young man
of whom it was said that he could dance like Nijinsky, but never would;
and the rest were chiefly Foreign Office clerks (like Mitchell and
Bruce), more barristers and their wives, a soldier or two, some
undergraduates, a lady photographer, a few pretty girls, and vague
people. There were to be forty guests for dinner and a few more in the
Almost immediately on her arrival Edith noticed a tall, clean-shaven
man, with smooth fair hair, observant blue eyes, and a rather humorous
expression, and she instantly decided that she would try to will him to
take her to dinner. (Rather a superfluous effort of magnetism, since it
must have been settled already by fate and the ribbons.) It was obvious
from one quick glance that he shared the wish. To their absurdly great
mutual disappointment (a lot of ground was covered very quickly at the
Mitchells), their ribbons didn't match, and she was taken to dinner by
Captain Willis, who looked dull. Fortune, however, favoured her. On her
other side she found the man who looked amusing. He was introduced to
her across the table by Mrs Mitchell, with _empressement_, as Mr Aylmer
Edith felt happy tonight; her spirits were raised by what she felt to
be an atmosphere _tiede_, as the French say; full of indulgence,
sympathetic, relaxing, in which either cleverness or stupidity could
float equally at its ease. The puerility of the silly little
arrangements to amuse removed all sense of ceremony. The note is always
struck by the hostess, and she was everything that was amiable, without
effort or affectation.
No-one was ever afraid of her.
Bruce's neighbour at dinner was the delicate, battered-looking
actress, in a Royal fringe and a tight bodice with short sleeves, who
had once been a celebrity, though no-one remembered for what. Miss Myra
Mooney, formerly a beauty, had known her days of success. She had been
the supreme performer of ladylike parts. She had been known as the very
quintessence of refinement. It was assumed when she first came out that
a duke would go to the devil for her in her youth, and that in her late
maturity she would tour the provinces with _The Three Musketeers_.
Neither of these prophecies had, however, been fulfilled. She still
occasionally took small middle-aged titled parts in repertoire
matinees. She was unable to help referring constantly to the hit she
made in _Peril_ at Manchester in 1887; nor could she ever resist
speaking of the young man who sent her red carnations every day of his
blighted existence for fifteen years; a pure romance, indeed, for, as
she owned, he never even wished to be introduced to her. She still
called him poor boy, oblivious of the fact that he was now sixty-eight,
and, according to the illustrated papers, spent his entire time in
giving away a numberless succession of daughters in brilliant marriage
at St George's, Hanover Square.
In this way Miss Mooney lived a good deal in the past, but she was not
unaware of the present, and was always particularly nice to people
generally regarded as bores. So she was never without plenty of
invitations. Mitchell had had formerly a slight _tendre_ for her, and
in his good nature pretended to think she had not altered a bit. She
was still refined _comme cela ne se fait plus_; it was practically no
longer possible to find such a perfect lady, even on the stage. As she
also had all the easy good nature of the artist, and made herself
extremely agreeable, Bruce was delighted with her, and evidently
thought he had drawn a prize.
'I wondered,' Aylmer Ross said, 'whether this could possibly happen.
First I half hoped it might; then I gave it up in despair.'
'So did I,' said Edith; 'and yet I generally know. I've a touch of
second sight, I think--at dinner-parties.'
'Oh, well, I have second sight too--any amount; only it's always wrong.
'Aren't the Mitchells dears?' said Edith.
'Oh, quite. Do you know them well?'
'Very well, indeed. But I've never seen them before.'
'Ah, I see. Well, now we've found our way here--broken the ice and that
sort of thing--we must often come and dine with them, mustn't we, Mrs
Ottley? Can't we come again next week?'
'Very sweet of you to ask us, I'm sure.'
'Not at all; very jolly of us to turn up. The boot is on the other leg,
or whatever the phrase is. By the way, I'm sure you know everything,
Mrs Ottley, tell me, did people ever wear only one boot at a time, do
you think, or how did this expression originate?'
Something in his suave manner of taking everything for granted seemed
to make them know each other almost too quickly, and gave her an odd
sort of self-consciousness. She turned to Captain Willis on her other
'I say,' he said querulously, 'isn't this a bit off? We've got the same
coloured ribbons and you haven't said a word to me yet! Rather rot,
isn't it, what?'
'Oh, haven't I? I will now.'
Captain Willis lowered his voice to a confidential tone and said: 'Do
you know, what I always say is--live and let live and let it go at
'That's a dark saying,' said Edith.
'Have a burnt almond,' said Captain Willis inconsequently, as though it
would help her to understand. 'Yes, Mrs Ottley, that's what I always
say.... But people won't, you know--they won't--and there it is.' He
seemed resigned. 'Good chap, Mitchell, isn't he? Musical chairs, I
believe--that's what we're to play this evening; or bridge, whichever
we like. I shall go in for bridge. I'm not musical.'
'And which shall you do?' asked Aylmer of Edith. He had evidently been
'We'll talk then, shall we? I can't play bridge either.... Mrs
Ottley--which is your husband? I didn't notice when you came in.'
'Over there, opposite; the left-hand corner.'
'Good-looking chap with the light moustache--next to Myra Mooney?'
'That's it,' she said. 'He seems to be enjoying himself. I'm glad he's
got Miss Mooney. He's lucky.'
'He is indeed,' said Aylmer.
'She's a wonderful-looking woman--like an old photograph, or someone in
a book,' said Edith.
'Do you care for books?'
'Oh, yes, rather. I've just been discovering Bourget. Fancy, I didn't
know about him! I've just read _Mensonges_ for the first time.'
'Oh yes. Rather a pompous chap, isn't he? But you could do worse than
read _Mensonges_ for the first time.'
'I _have_ done worse. I've been reading Rudyard Kipling for the last
'Really! Don't you like him? Why?'
'I feel all the time, somehow, as if he were calling me by my Christian
name without an introduction, or as if he wanted me to exchange hats
with him,' she said. 'He's so fearfully familiar with his readers.'
'But you think he keeps at a respectful distance from his characters?
However--why worry about books at all, Mrs Ottley? Flowers, lilies of
the field, and so forth, don't toil or spin; why should they belong to
libraries? I don't think you ever ought to read--except perhaps
sometimes a little poetry, or romance.... You see, that is what you
are, rather, isn't it?'
'Don't you care for books?' she answered, ignoring the compliment. 'I
should have thought you loved them, and knew everything about them. I'm
not sure that I know.'
'You know quite enough, believe me,' he answered earnestly. 'Oh, don't
be cultured--don't talk about Lloyd George! Don't take an intelligent
interest in the subjects of the day!'
'All right; I'll try not.'
She turned with a laugh to Captain Willis, who seemed very depressed.
'I say, you know,' he said complainingly, 'this is all very well. It's
all very well no doubt. But I only ask one thing--just one. Is this
cricket? I merely ask, you know. Just that--is it cricket; what?'
'It isn't meant to be. What's the matter?'
'Why, I'm simply fed up and broken-hearted, you know. Hardly two words
have I had with you tonight, Mrs Ottley.... I suppose that chap's
awfully amusing, what? I'm not amusing.... I know that.'
'Oh, don't say that. Indeed you are.' she consoled him.
'Am I though?'
'Well, you amuse _me_!'
'Right!' He laughed cheerily. He always filled up pauses with a laugh.
Certainly Mrs Mitchell on one side and Captain Willis on the other had
suffered neglect. But they seemed to become hardened to it towards the
end of dinner....
'I have a boy, too,' Aylmer remarked irrelevantly, 'rather a nice chap.
Though only by the merest, slightest movement of an eyelash Edith could
not avoid showing her surprise. No-one ever had less the air of a
married man. Also, she was quite ridiculously disappointed. One can't
say why, but one doesn't talk to a married man quite in the same way or
so frankly as to a bachelor--if one is a married woman. She did not ask
about his wife, but said:
'Fancy! Boys are rather nice things to have about, aren't they?'
She was looking round the table, trying to divine which was Mrs Aylmer
Ross. No, she wasn't there. Edith felt sure of it. It was an
'Yes; he's all right. And now give me a detailed description of _your_
'I can't. I never could talk about them.'
'I see.... I should like to see them.... I saw you speak to Vincy. Dear
little fellow, isn't he?'
'He's a great friend of mine.'
'I'm tremendously devoted to him, too. He's what used to be called an
exquisite. And he _is_ exquisite; he has an exquisite mind. But, of
course, you know what a good sort he is.'
'He seems rather to look at life than to act in it, doesn't he?'
continued Aylmer. 'He's a brilliant sort of spectator. Vincy thinks
that all the world's a stage, but _he's_ always in the front row of the
stalls. I never could be like that ... I always want to be right in the
thick of it, on in every scene, and always performing!'
'To an audience?' said Edith.
He smiled and went on.
'What's so jolly about him is that though he's so quiet, yet he's
genial; not chilly and reserved. He's frank, I mean--and confiding.
Without ever saying much. He expresses himself in his own way.'
'That's quite true.'
'And, after all, it's really only expression that makes things real.
'If you don't talk about a thing, it has never happened.''
'But it doesn't always follow that a thing has happened because you do
talk about it,' said Edith. 'Ah, Mrs Mitchell's going !'
She floated away.
He remained in a rather ecstatic state of absence of mind.
* * * * *
Mrs Mitchell gladly told Edith all about Aylmer Ross, how clever he
was, how nice, how devoted to his little boy. He had married very
young, it seemed, and had lost his wife two years after. This was ten
years ago, and according to Mrs Mitchell he had never looked at another
woman since. Women love to simplify in this sentimental way.
'However,' she said consolingly, 'he's still quite young, under forty,
and he's sure to fall in love and marry again.'
'No doubt,' said Edith, wishing the first wife had remained alive. She
disliked the non-existent second one.
* * * * *
Nearly all the men had now joined the ladies in the studio, with the
exception of Bruce and of Aylmer Ross. Mrs Mitchell had taken an
immense fancy to Edith and showed it by telling her all about a
wonderful little tailor who made coats and skirts better than Lucile
for next to nothing, and by introducing to her Lord Rye and the embassy
man, and Mr Cricker. Edith was sitting in a becoming corner under a
shaded light from which she could watch the door, when Vincy came up to
talk to her.
'You seemed to get on rather well at dinner,' he said.
'Yes; isn't Captain Willis a dear?'
'Oh, simply sweet. So bright and clever. I was sure you'd like him,
Captain Willis here came up and said, a shade more jovially than he had
spoken at dinner, with his laugh:
'Well, you know, Mrs Ottley, what I always say is--live and let live
and let it go at that; what? But they never _do_, you know! They
won't--and there it is!'
Edith now did a thing she had never done in her life before and which
was entirely unlike her. She tried her utmost to retain the group round
her, and to hold their attention. For a reason of which she was hardly
conscious, she wanted Aylmer Ross to see her surrounded. The minister
from the place with a name like Ruritania was so immensely bowled over
that he was already murmuring in a low voice (almost a hiss, as they
say in melodrama): 'Vous etes chez vous, quand? Dites un mot, un mot
seulement, et je me precipiterai a vos pieds_,' while at the same time,
in her other ear, Lord Rye was explaining (to her pretended intense
interest) how he could play the whole of _Elektra, The Chocolate
Soldier_ and _Nightbirds_ by ear without a single mistake. ('Perfectly
sound!' grumbled Captain Willis, 'but why do it?') Vincy was listening,
enjoying himself. Bruce came in at last, evidently engaged in an
absorbed and intimate conversation with Aylmer Ross. They seemed so
much interested in their talk that they went to the other end of the
room and sat down there together. Aylmer gave her one glance only.
Edith was unreasonably annoyed. What on earth could he and Bruce find
to talk about? At length, growing tired of her position, she got up,
and walked across the room to look at a picture on the wall, turning
her graceful back to the room.
Bruce had now at last left his companion, but still Aylmer Ross did not
go and speak to her, though he was sitting alone.
Musical chairs began in the studio. Someone was playing 'Baby,
look-a-here,' stopping suddenly in the middle to shouts of laughter and
shrieks from the romping players. In the drawing-room some of the
people were playing bridge. How dull the rest of the evening was! Just
before the party practically broke up, Edith had an opportunity of
saying as she passed Aylmer:
'I thought we were going to have a talk instead of playing games?'
'I saw you were occupied,' he answered ceremoniously. 'I didn't
She laughed. 'Is this a jealous scene, Mr Ross?'
'I wonder,' he said, smiling, 'and if so, whose. Well, I hope to see
you again soon.'
'_What_ a success your charming wife has had tonight,' said Mrs
Mitchell to Bruce, as they took leave. 'Everyone is quite wild about
her. How pretty she is! You _must_ be proud of her.'
They were nearly the last. Mr Cricker, who had firmly refused the whole
evening, in spite of abject entreaties, to dance like Nijinsky,
suddenly relented when everyone had forgotten all about it, and was
leaping alone in the studio, while Lord Rye, always a great lingerer,
was playing Richard Strauss to himself on the baby Grand, and smoking a
'Edith,' said Bruce solemnly, as they drove away, 'I've made a friend
tonight. There was one really charming man there--he took an immense
fancy to me.'
'Oh--who was that?'
'Who was that?' he mimicked her, but quite good-naturedly. 'How stupid
women are in some things! Why, Aylmer Ross, the chap who sat next to
you at dinner! I suppose you didn't appreciate him. Very clever, very
interesting. He was anxious to know several things which I was glad to
be in a position to tell him. Yes--an awfully good sort. I asked him to
dine at my club one day, to go on with our conversation.'
'Oh, did you?'
'Yes. Why shouldn't I? However, it seems from what he said that he
thinks the Carlton's nicer for a talk, so I'm going to ask him there
instead. You can come too, dear. He won't mind; it won't prevent our
'Oh, are we going to give a dinner at the Carlton?'
'I wish you wouldn't oppose me, Edith. Once in a way! Of course I
shall. Our flat's too small to give a decent dinner. He's one of the
nicest chaps I've ever met.'
'Well, do you want me to write tomorrow morning then, dear?'
'Er--no--I have asked him already.'
'Oh, really--which day?'
'Well, I suggested next Thursday--but he thought tomorrow would be
better; he's engaged for every other day. Now don't go and say you're
engaged tomorrow. If you are, you'll have to chuck it!'
'Oh no; I'm not engaged.'
Mentally rearranging her evening dress, Edith drove home thoughtfully.
She was attracted and did not know why, and for the first time hoped
she had made an impression. It had been a long evening, and her
headache, she said, necessitated solitude and darkness at once.
'All right. I've got a much worse headache--gout, I think, but never
mind about me. Don't be anxious, dear! I say, that Miss Mooney is a
very charming woman. She took rather a fancy to me, Edith. Er--you
might ask her to dinner too, if you like, to make a fourth!'
'But--really! Ought we to snatch all the Mitchells' friends the first
'Why, of course, it's only courteous. It's all right. One must return
The following afternoon Edith was standing by the piano in her
condensed white drawing-room, trying over a song, which she was
accompanying with one hand, when to her surprise the maid announced 'Mr
Aylmer Ross.' It was a warm day, and though there was a fire the
windows were open, letting in the scent of the mauve and pink hyacinths
in the little window-boxes. She thought as she came forward to meet him
that he seemed entirely different from last night. Her first impression
was that he was too big for the room, her second that he was very
handsome, and also a little agitated.
'I really hardly know how to apologise, Mrs Ottley. I oughtn't to have
turned up in this cool way. But your husband has kindly asked me to
dine with you tonight, and I wasn't sure of the time. I thought I'd
come and ask you.' He waited a minute. 'Of course, if I hadn't been so
fortunate as to find you in, I should just have left a note.' He looked
round the room.
* * * * *
Obviously it was quite unnecessary for him to have called; he could
have sent the note that he had brought with him. She was flattered. She
thought that she liked his voice and the flash of his white teeth when
'Oh, I'm glad I'm at home,' she said, in a gentle way that put him at
his ease, and yet at an immense distance. 'I felt in the mood to stop
at home and play the piano today. I'm delighted to see you.' They sat
down by the fire. 'It's at eight tonight. Shall we have tea?'
'Oh no, thanks; isn't it too early? I sha'n't keep you a moment. Thanks
very much.... You were playing something when I came in. I wish you'd
play it to me over again.'
* * * * *
Nine women out of ten would have refused, saying they knew nothing of
music, or that they were out of practice, or that they never played
except for their own amusement, or something of the kind; especially if
they took no pride whatever in that accomplishment. But Edith went back
to the piano at once, and went on trying over the song that she didn't
know, without making any excuse for the faltering notes.
'That's charming,' he said. 'Thanks. Tosti, of course.'
She came back to the fireplace. 'Of course. We had great fun last
night, didn't we?'
'Oh, _I_ enjoyed myself immensely; part of the time at least.'
'But after dinner you were rather horrid, Mr Ross. You wouldn't come
and talk to me, would you?'
'Wouldn't I? I was afraid. Tell me, do I seem many years older since
last night?' he asked.
'I don't see any difference. Why?'
'Because I've lived months--almost years--since I saw you last. Time
doesn't go by hours, does it?... What a charming little room this is.
It suits you. There's hardly anything in it, but everything is right.'
'I don't like to have many things in a room,' said Edith, holding out
her delicate hands to the fire. 'It makes me nervous. I have gradually
accustomed Bruce to my idea by removing one thing at a time
--photographs, pictures, horrid old wedding presents, all the
little things people have. They suggest too many different trains of
thought. They worry me. He's getting used to it now. He says, soon
there'll be nothing left but a couple of chairs and a bookcase!'
'And how right! I've had rather the same idea in my house, but I
couldn't keep it up. It's different for a man alone; things seem to
accumulate; especially pictures. I know such a lot of artists. I'm very
unfortunate in that respect.... I really feel I oughtn't to have turned
up like this, Mrs Ottley.'
'You're very kind.... Excuse my country manners, but how nice your
husband is. He was very kind to me.'
'He liked _you_ very much, too.'
'He seems charming,' he repeated, then said with a change of tone and
with his occasional impulsive brusqueness, 'I wonder--does he ever jar
on you in any way?'
'Oh no. Never. He couldn't. He amuses me,' Edith replied softly.
'Oh, does he?... If I had the opportunity I wonder if I should _amuse_
you,' he spoke thoughtfully.
'No; I don't think you would at all,' said Edith, looking him straight
in the face.
'That's quite fair,' he laughed, and seemed rather pleased. 'You mean I
should bore you to death! Do forgive me, Mrs Ottley. Let's go on with
our talk of last night.... I feel it's rather like the Palace of Truth
here; I don't know why. There must be something in the atmosphere--I
seem to find it difficult not to think aloud--Vincy, now--do you see
much of Vincy?'
'Oh yes; he comes here most days, or we talk on the telephone.'
'I see; he's your confidant, and you're his. Dear Vincy. By the way, he
asked me last night to go to a tea-party at his flat next week. He was
going to ask one or two other kindred spirits--as I think they're
called. To see something--some collection. Including you, of course?'
'I shall certainly go,' said Edith, 'whether he asks me or not.'
Aylmer seemed to be trying to leave. He nearly got up once or twice and
sat down again.
'Well, I shall see you tonight,' he said. 'At eight.'
'What shall you wear, Mrs Ottley?'
'Oh, I thought, perhaps, my mauve chiffon? What do you advise?' she
'Not what you wore last night?'
'It was very jolly. I liked it. Er--red, wasn't it?'
'Oh no! It was pink!' she answered.
Then there was an extraordinary pause, in which neither of them seemed
able to think of anything to say. There was a curious sort of vibration
in the air.
'Isn't it getting quite springy?' said Edith, as she glanced at the
window. 'It's one of those sort of warm days that seem to have got
mixed up by mistake with the winter.'
'Very,' was his reply, which was not very relevant.
Another pause was beginning.
'Mr Vincy,' announced the servant.
He was received with enthusiasm, and Aylmer Ross now recovered his ease
and soon went away.
'Edith!' said Vincy, in a reproving tone. '_Really_! How _very_ soon!'
'He came to know what time we dine. He was just passing.'
'Oh, yes. He would want to know. He lives in Jermyn Street. I
suppose Knightsbridge is on his way to there.'
'From where?' she asked.
'From here,' said Vincy.
'What happened after we left?' said Edith. 'I saw the Cricker man
beginning to dance with hardly anyone looking at him.'
'Isn't his imitation of Nijinsky wonderful?' asked Vincy.
'Simply marvellous! I thought he was imitating George Grossmith. Do you
know, I love the Mitchells, Vincy. It's really great fun there. Fancy,
Bruce seems so delighted with Aylmer Ross and Miss Mooney that he
insisted on their both dining with us tonight.'
'He seemed rather carried away, I thought. There's a fascination about
Aylmer. There are so many things he's not,' said Vincy.
'Tell me some of them.'
'Well, for one thing, he's not fatuous, though he's so good-looking.
He's not a lady-killing sort of person or anything else tedious.'
She was delighted at this especially.
'If he took a fancy to a person--well, it might be rather serious, if
you take my meaning,' said Vincy.
'How sweet of him! So unusual. Do you like Myra Mooney?'
'Me? Oh, rather; I'm devoted to her. She's a delightful type. Get her
on to the subject of the red carnations. She's splendid about them....
She received them every day at breakfast-time for fifteen years.
Another jolly thing about Aylmer is that he has none of that awful
old-fashioned modernness, thank goodness!'
'Ah, I noticed that.'
'I suppose he wasn't brilliant today. He was too thrilled. But, do be
just a teeny bit careful, Edith dear, because when he is at all he's
very much so. Do you see?'
'What a lot you seem to think of one little visit, Vincy! After all, it
was only one.'
'There hasn't been time yet for many more, has there, Edith dear? He
could hardly call twice the same day, on the first day, too.... Yes, I
come over quite queer and you might have knocked me down with a
feather, in a manner of speaking, when I clapped eyes on him setting
Edith liked Vincy to talk in his favourite Cockney strain. It
contrasted pleasantly with his soft, even voice and _raffine_
'Here's Bruce,' she said.
Bruce came in carrying an enormous basket of gilded straw. It was
filled with white heather, violets, lilies, jonquils, gardenias and
mimosa. The handle was trimmed with mauve ribbon.
'Oh, Bruce! How angelic of you!'
'Don't be in such a hurry, dear. These are not from me. They arrived
just at the same time that I did. Brought by a commissionaire. There
was hardly room for it in the lift.'
Edith looked quickly at the card. It bore the name of the minister of
the place with a name like Ruritania.
'What cheek!' exclaimed Bruce, who was really flattered. 'What infernal
impertinence. Upon my word I've more than half a mind to go and tell
him what I think of him--straight from the shoulder. What's the
'Well, I don't care. I shall go straight to the embassy,' said Bruce.
'No, I sha'n't. I'll send them back and write him a line--tell him that
Englishwomen are not in the habit of accepting presents from
undesirable aliens.... I consider it a great liberty. Aren't I right,
'Quite. But perhaps he means no harm, Bruce. I daresay it's the custom
in the place with the funny name. You see, you never know, in a place
'Then you don't think I ought to take it up?'
'I don't want them. It's a very oppressive basket,' Edith said.
'How like you, Edith! I thought you were fond of flowers.'
'So I am, but I like one at a time. This is too miscellaneous and
'Some women are never satisfied. It's very rude and ungrateful to the
poor old man, who meant to be nice, no doubt, and to show his respect
for Englishwomen. I think you ought to write and thank him,' said
Bruce. 'And let me see the letter before it goes.'
Coup de Foudre
When Aylmer Ross got back to the little brown house in Jermyn Street he
went to his library, and took from a certain drawer an ivory miniature
framed in black. He looked at it for some time. It had a sweet,
old-fashioned face, with a very high forehead, blue eyes, and dark hair
arranged in two festoons of plaits, turned up at the sides. It
represented his mother in the early sixties and he thought it was like
Edith. He had a great devotion and cult for the memory of his mother.
When he was charmed with a woman he always imagined her to be like his
He had never thought this about his wife People had said how
extraordinarily Aylmer must have been in love to have married that
uninteresting girl, no-one in particular, not pretty and a little
second-rate. As a matter of fact the marriage had happened entirely by
accident. It had occurred through a misunderstanding during a game of
consequences in a country house. She was terribly literal. Having taken
some joke of his seriously, she had sent him a touchingly coy letter
saying she was overwhelmed at his offer (feeling she was hardly worthy
to be his wife) and must think it over. He did not like to hurt her
feelings by explaining, and when she relented and accepted him he
couldn't bear to tell her the truth. He was absurdly tender-hearted,
and he thought that, after all, it didn't matter so very much. The
little house left him by his mother needed a mistress; he would
probably marry somebody or other, anyhow; and she seemed such a
harmless little thing. It would please her so much! When the hurried
marriage had come to a pathetic end by her early death everyone was
tragic about it except Aylmer. All his friends declared he was
heart-broken and lonely and would never marry again. He had indeed been
shocked and grieved at her death, but only for her--not at being left
alone. That part, was a relief. The poor little late Mrs Aylmer Ross
had turned out a terrible mistake. She had said the wrong thing from
morning till night, and, combining a prim, refined manner with a vulgar
point of view, had been in every way dreadfully impossible. He had
really been patience and unselfishness itself to her, but he had
suffered. The fact was, he had never even liked her. That was the
reason he had not married again.
But he was devoted to his boy in a quiet way. He was the sort of man
who is adored by children, animals, servants and women. Tall, strong
and handsome, with intelligence beyond the average, yet with nothing
alarming about him, good-humoured about trifles, jealous in matters of
love--perhaps that is, after all, the type women really like best. It
is sheer nonsense to say that women enjoy being tyrannised over. No
doubt there are some who would rather be bullied than ignored. But the
hectoring man is, with few exceptions, secretly detested. In so far as
one can generalise (always a dangerous thing to do) it may be said that
women like best a kind, clever man who can be always trusted; and
occasionally (if necessary) deceived.
Aylmer hardly ever got angry except in an argument about ideas. Yet his
feelings were violent; he was impulsive, and under his suave and
easy-going manner emotional. He was certainly good-looking, but had he
not been he would have pleased all the same. He seemed to radiate
warmth, life, a certain careless good-humour. To be near him was like
warming one's hands at a warm fire. Superficially susceptible and
inclined to be experimental he had not the instinct of the collector
and was devoid of fatuousness. But he could have had more genuine
successes than all the Don Juans and Romeos and Fausts who ever climbed
rope ladders. Besides his physical attraction he inspired a feeling of
reliance. Women felt safe with him; he would never treat anyone badly.
He inspired that kind of trust enormously in men also, and his house
was constantly filled with people asking his advice and begging him to
do things--sometimes not very easy ones. He was always being left
guardian to young persons who would never require one, and said himself
he had become almost a professional trustee.
As Aylmer was generous and very extravagant in a way of his own (though
he cared nothing for show), he really worked hard at the bar to add to
his already large income. He always wanted a great deal of money. He
required ease, margin and elbow-room. He had no special hobbies, but he
needed luxury in general of a kind, and especially the luxury of
getting things in a hurry, his theory being that everything comes to
the man who won't wait. He was not above detesting little material
hardships. He was not the sort of man, for instance, even in his
youngest days, who would go by omnibus to the gallery to the opera, to
hear a favourite singer or a special performance; not that he had the
faintest tinge of snobbishness, but simply because such trifling
drawbacks irritated him, and spoilt his pleasure.
Impressionistic as he was in life, on the other hand, curiously,
Aylmer's real taste in art and decoration was Pre-Raphaelite;
delicate, detailed and meticulous almost to preciousness. He often had
delightful things in his house, but never for long. He had no pleasure
in property; valuable possessions worried him, and after any amount of
trouble to get some object of art he would often give it away the next
week. For he really liked money only for freedom and ease. The general
look of the house was, consequently, distinguished, sincere and
extremely comfortable. It was neither hackneyed nor bizarre, and, while
it contained some interesting things, had no superfluities.
Aylmer had been spoilt as a boy and was still wilful and a little
impatient. For instance he could never wait even for a boy-messenger,
but always sent his notes by taxi to wait for an answer. And now he
wanted something in a hurry, and was very much afraid he would never
Aylmer was, as I have said, often a little susceptible. This time he
felt completely bowled over. He had only seen her twice. That made no
The truth was--it sounds romantic, but is really scientific, all
romance being, perhaps, based on science--that Edith's appearance
corresponded in every particular with an ideal that had grown up with
him. Whether he had seen some picture as a child that had left a vague
and lasting impression, or whatever the reason was, the moment he saw
her he felt, with a curious mental sensation, as of something that fell
into its place with a click ('Ca y est!'), that she realised some
half-forgotten dream. In fact, it was a rare and genuine case of _coup
de foudre_. Had she been a girl he would have proposed to her the next
day, and they might quite possibly have married in a month, and lived
happily ever after. These things occasionally happen. But she was
Had she been a fool, or a bore, a silly little idiot or a fisher of
men, a social sham who prattled of duchesses or a strenuous feminine
politician who babbled of votes; a Christian Scientist bent on
converting, an adventuress without adventures (the worst kind), a
mind-healer or a body-snatcher, a hockey-player or even a lady
novelist, it would have been exactly the same; whatever she had been,
mentally or morally, he would undoubtedly have fallen in love with her
physically, at first sight. But it was very much worse than that. He
found her delightful, and clever; he was certain she was an angel. She
was married to Ottley. Ottley was all right.... Rather an ass ...
rather ridiculous; apparently in every way but one.
* * * * *
So absurdly hard hit was Aylmer that it seemed to him as if to see her
again as soon as possible was already the sole object in his life. Did
she like him? Intuitively he felt that during his little visit his
intense feeling had radiated, and not displeased--perhaps a little
impressed--her. He could easily, he knew, form a friendship with them;
arrange to see her often. He was going to meet her tonight, through his
own arrangement. He would get them to come and dine with him soon--no,
the next day.
What was the good?
Well, where was the harm?
Aylmer had about the same code of morals as the best of his numerous
friends in Bohemia, in clubland and in social London. He was no more
scrupulous on most subjects than the ordinary man of his own class.
Still, _he had been married himself_. That made an immense difference,
for he was positively capable of seeing (and with sympathy) from the
husband's point of view. Even now, indifferent as he had been to his
own wife, and after ten years, it would have caused him pain and fury
had he found out that she had ever tried to play him false. Of course,
cases varied. He knew that if Edith had been free his one thought would
have been to marry her. Had she been different, and differently placed,
he would have blindly tried for anything he could get, in any possible
way. But, as she was?... He felt convinced he could never succeed in
making her care for him; there was not the slightest chance of it. And,
supposing even that he could? And here came in the delicacy and scruple
of the man who had been married himself. He thought he wouldn't even
wish to spoil, by the vulgarity of compromising, or by the shadow of a
secret, the serenity of her face, the gay prettiness of that life. No,
he wouldn't if he could. And yet how exciting it would be to rouse her
from that cool composure. She was rather enigmatic. But he thought she
could be roused. And she was so clever. How well she would carry it
off! How she would never bore a man! And he suddenly imagined a day
with her in the country.... Then he thought that his imagination was
flying on far too fast. He decided not to be a hopeless fool, but just
to go ahead, and talk to her, and get to know her; not to think too
much about her. She needn't even know how he felt. To idolise her from
a distance would be quite delightful enough. When a passion is not
realised, he thought, it fades away, or becomes ideal worship
--Dante--Petrarch--that sort of thing! It could never fade away
in this case, he was sure. How pretty she was, how lovely her mouth was
when she smiled! She had no prejudices, apparently; no affectations;
how she played and sang that song again when he asked her! With what a
delightful sense of humour she had dealt with him, and also with Bruce,
at the Mitchells. Ottley must be a little difficult sometimes. She had
read and thought; she had the same tastes as he. He wondered if she
would have liked that thing in _The Academy_, on Gardens, that he had
just read. He began looking for it. He thought he would send it to her,
asking her opinion; then he would get an answer, and see her
handwriting. You don't know a woman until you have had a letter from
But no--what a fool he would look! Besides he was going to see her
tonight. It was about time to get ready.... Knowing subconsciously that
he had made some slight favourable impression--at any rate that he
hadn't repelled or bored her--he dressed with all the anxiety, joy and
thrills of excitement of a boy of twenty; and no boy of twenty can ever
feel these things as keenly or half as elaborately as a man nearly
twice that age, since all the added experiences, disillusions,
practice, knowledge and life of the additional years help to form a
part of the same emotion, making it infinitely deeper, and all the
stronger because so much more _averti_ and conscious of itself.
He seemed so nervous while dressing that Soames, the valet, to whom he
was a hero, ventured respectfully to hope there was nothing wrong.
'No. I'm all right,' said Aylmer. 'I'm never ill. I think, Soames, I
shall probably die of middle age.'
He went out laughing, leaving the valet smiling coldly out of
* * * * *
Soames never understood any kind of jest. He took himself and everyone
else seriously. But he already knew perfectly well that his master had
fallen in love last night, and he disapproved very strongly. He thought
all that sort of thing ought to be put a stop to.
'Mrs Ottley,' said Miss Townsend,' do you mind looking at this essay of
Archie's? I really don't know what to think of it. I think it shows
talent, except the spelling. But it's _very_ naughty of him to have
written what is at the end.'
Edith took the paper and read:
'TRAYS OF CHARACTER
trays of character will always show threw how ever much you may polish
it up trays of character will always show threw the grane of the wood.
A burd will keep on singing because he wants to and they can't help
doing what it wants this is instinkt. and it is the same with trays of
charicter. having thus shown my theory that trays of carocter will
always show threw in spite of all trubble and in any circemstances
whatever I will conclude Archibald Bruce Ottley please t.o.'
On the other side of the paper was written very neatly, still in
'3 LINDEN MANSIONS, CADOGAN SQUARE, KNIGHTSBRIDGE. _Second Floor_
1. Mr Bruce Ottley (FO) 2. Mrs Bruce Ottley 3. Master Archibald Bruce
Ottley 4. Little _beast_ 5. Mary Johnson housemaid 6. Miss Thrupp Cook
7. Marie maid
8. Dorothy Margaret Miss Townsend governess 9. Ellen Maud Parrot
'Do you see?' said Miss Townsend. 'It's his way of slyly calling poor
Dilly a beast, because he's angry with her. Isn't it a shame? What
shall I do?' Both of them laughed and enjoyed it.
'Archie, what is the meaning of this? Why did you make this census of
your home?' Edith asked him gently.
'Why, I didn't make senses of my home; I just wrote down who lived
Edith looked at him reproachfully.
'Well, I didn't call Dilly a beast. I haven't broken Miss Townsend's
rules. She made a new rule I wasn't to call her a beast before
'What, you're allowed to call her these awful names after breakfast?'
'No. She made a rule before breakfast I wasn't to call Dilly a beast,
and I haven't. How did you know it meant her anyway? It might have
meant somebody else.'
'That's prevaricating; it's mean--not like you, Archie.'
'Well, I never called her a beast. No-one can say I did. And besides,
anybody would have called her a beast after how she went on.'
'What are you angry with the child for?'
'Oh, she bothers so. The moment I imitate the man with the German
accent she begins to cry. She says she doesn't like me to do it. She
says she can't bear me to. Then she goes and tells Miss Townsend I
slapped her, and Miss Townsend blames me.'
'Then you shouldn't have slapped her; it was horrid of you; you ought
to remember she's a little girl and weaker than you.'
'I did remember...'
'Well, I'll make it up if she begs my pardon; not unless she does I
sha'n't,' said Archie magnanimously.
'I shall certainly not allow her to do anything of the kind.'
At this moment Dilly came in, with her finger in her tiny mouth, and
went up to Archie, drawling with a pout, and in a whining voice:
'I didn't mean to.'
Archie beamed at once.
'That's all right, Dilly,' he said forgivingly.
Then he turned to his mother.
'Mother, have you got that paper?'
'Yes, I have indeed!'
'Well, cross out--that, and put in Aspasia Matilda Ottley. Sorry,
Dilly!' He kissed her, and they ran off together hand in hand; looking
like cherubs, and laughing musically.
At the Carlton Aylmer had easily persuaded Bruce and Edith to dine with
him next day, although they were engaged to the elder Mrs Ottley
already. He said he expected two or three friends, and he convinced
them they must come too. It is only in London that people meet for the
first time at a friend's house, and then, if they take to each other,
practically live together for weeks after. No matter what social
engagements they may happen to have, these are all thrown aside for the
new friend. London people, with all their correctness, are really more
unconventional than any other people in the world. For instance, in
Paris such a thing could never happen in any kind of _monde_, unless,
perhaps, it were among artists and Bohemians; and even then it would be
their great object to prove to one another that they were not wanting
in distractions and were very much in demand; the lady, especially,
would make the man wait for an opportunity of seeing her again, from
calculation, to make herself seem of more value. Such second-rate
solicitudes would never even occur to Edith. But she had a scruple
about throwing over old Mrs Ottley.
* * * * *
'Won't your mother be disappointed?' Edith asked.
'My dear Edith, you can safely leave that to me. Of course she'll be
disappointed, but you can go round and see her, and speak to her nicely
and tell her that after all we can't come because we've got another
'And am I to tell her it's a subsequent one? Otherwise she'll wonder we
didn't mention it before.'
'Don't be in a hurry, dear. Don't rush things; remember... she's my
mother. Perhaps to you, Edith, it seems a rather old-fashioned idea,
and I daresay you think it's rot, but to me there's something very
sacred about the idea of a mother.' He lit a cigarette and looked in
'Yes, dear. Then, don't you think we really ought to have kept our
promise to dine with her? She'll probably be looking forward to it. I
daresay she's asked one or two people she thinks we like, to meet us.'
'Circumstances alter cases, Edith. If it comes to that, Aylmer Ross has
got two or three people coming to dine with him whom he thinks we might
like. He said so himself. That's why he's asked us.'
'Yes, but he can't have asked them on purpose, Bruce, because, you see,
we didn't know him on Thursday.'
'Well, why should he have asked them on purpose? _How_ you argue! _How_
you go on! It really seems to me you're getting absurdly exacting and
touchy, Edith dear. I believe all those flowers from the embassy have
positively turned your head. _Why_ should he have asked them on
purpose. You admit yourself that we didn't even know the man last
Thursday, and yet you expect--' Bruce stopped. He had got into a slight
Edith looked away. She had not quite mastered the art of the inward
'Far better, in my opinion,' continued Bruce, walking up and down the
room.--'Now, don't interrupt me in your impulsive way, but hear me
out--it would be far more kind and sensible in every way for you to sit
right down at that little writing-table, take out your stylographic pen
and write and tell my mother that I have a bad attack of influenza....
Yes; one should always be considerate to one's parents. I suppose it
really is the way I was brought up that makes me feel this so keenly,'
Edith sat down to the writing-table. 'How bad is your influenza?'
'Oh, not very bad; because it would worry her: a slight attack.--Stop!
Not so very slight--we must let her think it's the ordinary kind, and
then she'll think it's catching and she won't come here for a few days,
and that will avoid our going into the matter in detail, which would be
'If she thinks it's catching, dear, she'll want Archie and Dilly, and
Miss Townsend and Nurse to go and stay with her in South Kensington,
and that will be quite an affair.'
'Right as usual; very thoughtful of you; you're a clever little woman
sometimes, Edith. Wait!'--he put up his hand with a gesture frequent
with him, like a policeman stopping the traffic at Hyde Park Corner.
'Wait!--leave out the influenza altogether, and just say I've caught a
'Yes. Then she'll come over at once, and you'll have to go to bed.'
'My dear Edith,' said Bruce, 'you're over-anxious; I shall do nothing
of the kind. There's no need that I should be laid up for this. It's
He was beginning to believe in his own illness, as usual.
'Air! (I want to go round to the club)--tonic treatment!--that's the
thing!--that's often the very best thing for a chill--this sort of
chill.... Ah, that will do very nicely. Very neatly written....
* * * * *
As soon as Bruce had gone out Edith rang up the elder Mrs Ottley on the
telephone, and relieved her anxiety in advance. They were great
friends; the sense of humour possessed by her mother-in-law took the
sting out of the relationship.
* * * * *
The dinner at Aylmer's house was a great success. Bruce enjoyed himself
enormously, for he liked nothing better in the world than to give his
opinion. And Aylmer was specially anxious for his view as to the
authenticity of a little Old Master he had acquired, and took notes,
also, of a word of advice with regard to electric lighting, admitting
he was not a very practical man, and Bruce evidently was.
Edith was interested and pleased to go to the house of her new friend
and to reconstruct the scene as it must have been when Mrs Aylmer Ross
had been there.
Freddy, the boy, was at school, but there was a portrait of him.
Evidently he resembled his father. The sketch represented him with the
same broad forehead, smooth, dense light hair, pale blue eyes under
eyebrows with a slight frown in them, and the charming mouth rather
fully curved, expressing an amiable and pleasure-loving nature. The boy
was good-looking, but not, Edith thought, as handsome as Aylmer.
The only other woman present was Lady Everard, a plump, talkative,
middle-aged woman in black; the smiling widow of Lord Everard, and well
known for her lavish musical hospitality and her vague and
indiscriminate good nature. She bristled with aigrettes and sparkled
with diamonds and determination. She was marvellously garrulous about
nothing in particular. She was a woman who never stopped talking for a
single moment, but in a way that resembled leaking rather than laying
down the law. Tepidly, indifferently and rather amusingly she prattled
on without ceasing, on every subject under the sun, and was socially a
valuable help because where she was there was never an awkward
pause--or any other kind.
Vincy was there and young Cricker, whose occasional depressed silences
were alternated with what he called a certain amount of sparkling
Lady Everard told Edith that she felt quite like a sort of mother to
'Don't you think it's sad, Mrs Ottley,' she said, when they were alone,
'to think that the dear fellow has no wife to look after this dear
little house? It always seems to me such a pity, but still, I always
say, at any rate Aylmer's married once, and that's more than most of
them do nowadays. It's simply horse's work to get them to do it at all.
Sometimes I think it's perfectly disgraceful. And yet I can't help
seeing how sensible it is of them too; you know, when you think of it,
what with one thing and another, what does a man of the present day
need a wife for? What with the flats, where everything on earth is done
for them, and the kindness of friends--just think how bachelors are
spoilt by their married friends!--and their clubs, and the frightful
expense of everything, it seems to me, as a general rule, that the
average man must be madly unselfish or a perfect idiot to marry at
all--that's what it seems to me--don't you? When you think of all the
responsibilities they take upon themselves!--and I'm sure there are not
many modern wives who expect to do anything on earth but have their
bills and bridge debts paid, and their perpetual young men asked to
dinner, and one thing and another. Of course, though, there are some
exceptions.' She smiled amiably. 'Aylmer tells me you have two