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and breaking hearts.” Here he paused, laughed, coughed, and drew his hand aimlessly across his lips, while his kindly brown eyes looked doubtfully and apologetically into hers.
“Ah, wicked one!” said she smiling, and sighed deeply. “And they say I have been gay. Gay!” she sighed again. “May I have a little more sugar? A thousand thanks. I have the sweet tooth, as you say,” and she gave a little laugh full of coquetry.
"And the best cook, they say," continued the Baronet wagging his head, “and the best turn-out, · and the best—the best people.”
“One must have the best,” murmured the Contessa, as if it were a moral truism. “Ah, but it is good to be once more at this quiet life! To be rid of it all !” she added, with a motion of washing her hands, as she thought of a young Parisian who had followed her about during the winter, and of whom she was heartily tired. Here Lady Lappin gave her husband the look which always meant that he was likely to be tedious, and the little man dropped away from the spot where he had been standing and smiling before the Contessa's chair. He was very grateful for these hints and thought it a wonderful thing to have a wife who under
stood these delicate matters. He retired into the background and admired her social talents. He watched her as she moved among them with an air of high-bred familiarity suitable to a lady who had renounced society for art. It is true that she had never been in that society which is called the best, but having long thought of herself as of one who had renounced the pomps and pleasures of the British aristocracy, she had learned to believe in her renunciation and to speak of it with amazing frankness. Now she lived for art. She wore her hair down her back and bound by a simple ribbon; her gown of violet velvet had a girdle of graven gold. Whatever the fashion of the moment, the classical was always right. The Countess, who got all her gowns from the most exclusive of Parisian artists, protested that she envied her friend. “But how is it possible ?" she cried. “Look at me. I am a scarecrow. To dare to be simple one must have curves." Lady Lappin had curves. As she moved among her few intimate friends, who had come to tea with her that afternoon, it was felt that she needed height and a face less cherubically round. So thought Miss Lindley looking at her hostess with somewhat watery eyes, and remembering her own grace in those days when she was called the Lily of Loamshire. The Lily who had refused a park, was a spinster lily still and not unacquainted with toil. She produced triumphs of intricate embroidery and designs for artistic needlework, painted fans and flower-pieces, and sold these various products privately to friends. She meekly valued herself on this determined privacy; perhaps it was a judicious delicacy which prevented her from exposing her wares in the rude marts of the world. Her delicate nose was apt to get red now; her cheeks were pinched; her motive for living in Venice was economical; and she had a general air of being insufficiently nourished, which made the spectator grateful for the profusion of Lady Lappin's homemade muffins. She was as devoted to Lady Lappin, as was Lady Lappin to the Belrotoli. “It's my belief,” Sir Rupert had sometimes said in moments of unusual assertion; “its my belief that she'd starve if it wasn't for my good wife.”
The little afternoon party went gaily on with light talk and the clink of teaspoons. The afternoon sun — the delightful temperate sun of the Venetian spring—came pleasantly in at the long windows and deepened the shadows under gorgeous cabinets chairs and stuffs which filled the large room. Rich objects in confusion was Lady
Lappin's idea of the surroundings fit for those who had given up society for art. The Belrotoli lay back in her deep easy-chair, a slim dark figure against crimson, moving her fan sharply and acknowledging with her eyebrows the most astonishing details of the story, which Mr Bonamy Playdell had brought with him from Rome. It was the same story which had driven poor Mr Playdell from the eternal city. It had been told in strict confidence to so many people that, after embroiling two noble families Italian and English, being scented at the Vatican and exploding at the Quirinal, it had finally raised such a clamour, that the judicious Bonamy had withdrawn suddenly from the Piazza di Spagna. His joy at finding in exile a woman who was worthy of this delightful scandal was unbounded. The veteran gossip almost whinnied with delight as he drew his chair up close to the aristocratic ear. All was going pleasantly and well, as the hostess felt, although the Captain Tiribomba erect as a sentinel by the chair of the Contessa a little marred the artistic ease. Moreover there was one small group of people who would not mingle with the other guests. Hugo Deane refused to yield to the soothing influence of the place and of the hour; and neither his wife
nor his daughter dared yield before him. Now when Lady Lappin was aware that Mr Deane thought himself neglected, she came softly sailing to soothe his wounded feelings. She had a great veneration for Mr Deane, partly because his cousin was a lord; partly because, as she often declared with emphasis, there was no subject about which he did not know something; partly because there was so active a spring of admiration in her capacious bosom that she was always on the look-out for people to admire. Consequently she was pained when she saw on Mr Deane's face that look of languid indifference which seemed to say that it was too much trouble to be disdainful. When he wore this expression it was hard to converse with him, and harder still to extract remarks from his wife or daughter. Mr Deane acknowledged Lady Lappin's attentions with the slightest bows and said almost nothing. Mrs Deane who sat a little withdrawn in his shadow said nothing at all, nervously conscious that if she made a remark her husband would consider it silly. Cynthia never said anything. She sat very close to her meek stepmother, looking out with soft eyes and lips parted with the promise of a smile. Being but seventeen and having seen but little of the