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- The Devil's Paw - 6/44 -
look as though he would ever unbend. Then the Shervintons are here, and the Princess Torski--your friend Miss Abbeway's aunt."
"The Princess Torski?" Julian repeated. "Who on earth is she?"
"She was English," his mother explained, "a cousin of the Abbeways. She married in Russia and is on her way now to France to meet her husband, who is in command of a Russian battalion there. She seems quite a pleasant person, but not in the least like her niece."
"Miss Abbeway is still here, of course?"
"Naturally. I asked her for a week, and I think she means to stay. We talked for an hour after tea this afternoon, and I found her most interesting. She has been living in England for years, it seems, down in Chelsea, studying sculpture."
"She is a remarkably clever young woman," Julian said thoughtfully, "but a little incomprehensible. If the Princess Torski is her aunt, who were her parents?"
"Her father," the Countess replied, "was Colonel Richard Abbeway, who seems to have been military attache at St. Petersburg, years ago. He married a sister of the Princess Torski's husband, and from her this young woman inherited a title which she won't use and a large fortune. Colonel Abbeway was killed accidentally in the Russo-Japanese War, and her mother died a few years ago."
"No German blood, or anything of that sort, then?"
"My dear boy, what an idea!" his mother exclaimed reprovingly. "On the contrary, the Torskis are one of the most aristocratic families in Russia, and you know what the Abbeways are. The girl is excellently bred, and I think her charming in every way. Whatever made you suggest that she might have German blood in her?"
"No idea! Anyhow, I am glad she hasn't. Who else?"
"The Bishop," his mother continued, "looking very tired, poor dear! Doctor George Lennard, from Oxford, two young soldiers from Norwich, whom Charlie asked us to be civil to--and the great man himself."
"Tell me about the great man? I don't think I've seen him to speak to since he became Prime Minister."
"He declares that this is his first holiday this year. He is looking rather tired, but he has had an hour's shooting since he arrived, and seemed to enjoy it. Here's your father."
The Earl of Maltenby, who entered a moment later, was depressingly typical. He was as tall as his youngest son, with whom he shook hands absently and whom he resembled in no other way. He had the conventionally aristocratic features, thin lips and steely blue eyes. He was apparently a little annoyed.
"Anything wrong, dear?" Lady Maltenby asked.
Her husband took up his position on the hearthrug.
"I am annoyed with Stenson," he declared.
The Countess shook her head.
"It's too bad of you, Henry," she expostulated. "You've been trying to talk politics with him. You know that the poor man was only longing for forty-eight hours during which he could forget that he was Prime Minister of England."
"Precisely, my dear," Lord Maltenby agreed. "I can assure you that I have not transgressed in any way. A remark escaped me referring to the impossibility of providing beaters, nowadays, and to the fact that out of my seven keepers, five are fighting. I consider Mr. Stenson's comment was most improper, coming from one to whom the destinies of this country are confided."
"What did he say?" the Countess asked meekly.
"Something about wondering whether any man would be allowed to have seven keepers after the war," her husband replied, with an angry light in his eyes. "If a man like Stenson is going to encourage these socialistic ideas. I beg your pardon--the Bishop, my dear."
The remaining guests drifted in within the next few moments,--the Bishop, Julian's godfather, a curious blend of the fashionable and the devout, the anchorite and the man of the people; Lord and Lady Shervinton, elderly connections of the nondescript variety; Mr. Hannaway Wells, reserved yet, urbane, a wonderful type of the supreme success of mediocrity; a couple of young soldiers, light-hearted and out for a good time, of whom Julian took charge; an Oxford don, who had once been Lord Maltenby's tutor; and last of all the homely, very pleasant-looking, middle-aged lady, Princess Torski, followed by her niece. There were a few introductions still to be effected.
Whilst Lady Maltenby was engaged in this task, which she performed at all times with the unfailing tact of a great hostess, Julian broke off in his conversation with the two soldiers and looked steadfastly across the room at Catherine Abbeway, as though anxious to revise or complete his earlier impressions of her. She was of medium height, not unreasonably slim, with a deliberate but noticeably graceful carriage. Her complexion was inclined to be pale. She had large, soft brown eyes, and hair of an unusual shade of chestnut brown, arranged with remarkably effective simplicity. She wore a long string of green beads around her neck, a black tulle gown without any relief of colour, but a little daring in its cut. Her voice and laugh, as she stood talking to the Bishop, were delightful, and neither her gestures nor her accent betrayed the slightest trace of foreign blood. She was, without a doubt, extraordinarily attractive, gracious almost to freedom in her manner, and yet with that peculiar quality of aloofness only recognisable in the elect,--a very appreciable charm. Julian found his undoubted admiration only increased by his closer scrutiny. Nevertheless, as he watched her, there was a slightly puzzled frown upon his forehead, a sense of something like bewilderment mingled with those other feelings. His mother, who had turned to speak to the object of his attentions, beckoned him, and he crossed the room at once to their side.
"Julian is going to take you in to dinner, Miss Abbeway," the Countess announced, "and I hope you will be kind to him, for he's been out all night and a good part of the morning, too, shooting ducks and talking nonsense with a terrible Socialist."
Lady Maltenby passed on. Julian, leaning on his stick, looked down with a new interest into the face which had seldom been out of his thoughts since their first meeting, a few weeks ago.
"Tell me, Mr. Orden," she asked, "which did you find the more exhausting--tramping the marshes for sport, or discussing sociology with your friend?"
"As a matter of fact," he replied, "we didn't tramp the marshes. We stood still and got uncommonly wet. And I shot a goose, which made me very happy."
"Then it must have been the conversation," she declared. "Is your friend a prophet or only one of the multitude?"
"A prophet, most decidedly. He is a Mr. Miles Furley, of whom you must have heard."
She started a little.
"Miles Furley!" she repeated. "I had no idea that he lived in this part of the world."
"He has a small country house somewhere in Norfolk," Julian told her, "and he takes a cottage down here at odd times for the wild-fowl shooting."
"Will you take me to see him to-morrow?" she asked.
"With pleasure, so long as you promise not to talk socialism with him."
"I will promise that readily, out of consideration to my escort. I wonder how it is," she went on, looking up at him a little thoughtfully, "that you dislike serious subjects so much."
"A frivolous turn of mind, I suppose," he replied. "I certainly prefer to talk art with you."
"But nowadays," she protested, "it is altogether the fashion down at Chelsea to discard art and talk politics."
"It's a fashion I shouldn't follow," he advised. "I should stick to art, if I were you."
"Well, that depends upon how you define politics, of course. I don't mean Party politics. I mean the science of living, as a whole, not as a unit."
The Princess ambled up to them.
"I don't know what your political views are, Mr. Orden," she said, "but you must look out for shocks if you discuss social questions with my niece. In the old days they would never have allowed her to live in Russia. Even now, I consider some of her doctrines the most pernicious I ever heard."
"Isn't that terrible from an affectionate aunt!"
Catherine laughed, as the Princess passed on. "Tell me some more about your adventures last night?"
She looked up into his face, and Julian was suddenly conscious from whence had come that faint sense of mysterious trouble which had been with him during the last few minutes. The slight quiver of her lips brought it all back to him. Her mouth, beyond a doubt, with its half tender, half mocking curve, was the mouth which he had seen in that tangled dream of his, when he had lain fighting for consciousness upon the marshes.
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