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- Green Fancy - 20/51 -
O'Dowd, observing the glance of appreciation that Barnes sent about the room, said: "All of thim are in the very rarest state. He has one of the finest collections in America. Ye'll want your boots cleaned and polished, and your face needs scrubbing, if ye don't mind my saying so," he went on, critically surveying the visitor's person. "Come up to my room and make yourself tidy. My own man will dust you off and furbish you up in no time at all."
They passed into another room at the left and approached a wide stairway, the lower step of which was flush with the baseboard on the wall. Not so much as an inch of the stairway protruded into the room, and yet Barnes, whose artistic sense should have been offended, was curiously pleased with the arrangement and effect. He made a mental note of this deliberate violation of the holy rules of construction, and decided that one day he would try it out for himself.
The room itself was obviously a continuation of the larger one beyond, a sort of annex, as it were. The same scheme in decoration and furnishings was observed, except here the walls were adorned with small paintings in oil, heavily framed. Hanging in the panel at the right of the stairway was an exquisite little Corot, silvery and feathery even in the dim light of early dusk. On the opposite side was a brilliant little Cazin.
The stairs were thickly carpeted. At the top, his guide turned to the left and led the way down a long corridor. They passed at least four doors before O'Dowd stopped and threw open the fifth on that side of the hall. There were still two more doors beyond.
"Suggests a hotel, doesn't it?" said the Irishman, standing aside for Barnes to enter. "All of the sleeping apartments are on this floor, and the baths, and boudoirs, and what-not. The garret is above, and that's where we deposit our family skeletons, intern our grievances, store our stock of spitefulness, and hide all the little devils that must come sneaking up from the city with us whether we will or no. Nothing but good-humour, contentment, happiness and mirth are permitted to occupy this floor and the one below. I might also add beauty, for you can't conceive any of the others without it, me friend. God knows I couldn't be good-natured for a minute if I wasn't encouraged by beauty appreciative, and as for being contented, happy or mirthful,--bedad, words fail me! Dabson," he said, addressing the man who had quietly entered the room through the door behind them, "do Mr. Barnes, will ye, and fetch me from Mr. De Soto's room when you've finished. I leave you to Dabson's tender mercies. The saints preserve us! Look at the man's boots! Dabson, get out your brush and dauber first of all. He's been floundering in a bog."
The jovial Irishman retired, leaving Barnes to be "done" by the silent, swift-moving valet. Dabson was young and vigorous and exceedingly well-trained. He made short work of "doing" the visitor; barely fifteen minutes elapsed before O'Dowd's return.
Presently they went downstairs together. Lamps had been lighted, many of them, throughout the house. A warm, pleasing glow filled the rooms, softening,--one might even say tempering,--the insistent reds in the rugs, which now seemed to reflect rather than to project their hues; a fire crackled in the cavernous fireplace at the end of the living- room, and grouped about its cheerful, grateful blaze were the ladies of Green Fancy.
Barnes was aware of a quickening of his pulses as he advanced with O'Dowd. De Soto was there ahead of them, posed ungracefully in front of the fire, his feet widespread, his hands in his pockets. Another man, sallow-faced and tall, with a tired looking blond moustache and sleepy eyes, was managing, with amazing skill, the retention of a cigarette which seemed to be constantly in peril of detaching itself from his parted though inactive lips.
SHE was there, standing slightly aloof from the others, but evidently amused by the tale with which De Soto was regaling them. She was smiling; Barnes saw the sapphire lights sparkling in her eyes, and experienced a sensation that was woefully akin to confusion.
He had the feeling that he would be absolutely speechless when presented to her; in the full, luminous glow of those lovely eyes he would lose consciousness, momentarily, no doubt, but long enough to give her,--and all the rest of them,--no end of a fright.
But nothing of the kind happened. Everything went off quite naturally. He favoured Miss Cameron with an uncommonly self-possessed smile as she gave her hand to him, and she, in turn, responded with one faintly suggestive of tolerance, although it certainly would have been recorded by a less sensitive person than Barnes as "ripping."
In reply to his perfunctory "delighted, I'm sure, etc.," she said, quite clearly: "Oh, now I remember. I was sure I had seen you before, Mr. Barnes. You are the magic gentleman who sprung like a mushroom out of the earth yesterday afternoon."
"And frightened you," he said; "whereupon you vanished like the mushroom that is gobbled up by the predatory glutton."
He had thrilled at the sound of her voice. It was the low, deliberate voice of the woman of the crossroads, and, as before, he caught the almost imperceptible accent. The red gleam from the blazing logs fell upon her shining hair; it glistened like gold. She wore a simple evening gown of white, softened over the shoulders and neck with a fall of rare vallenciennes lace. There was no jewelry,--not even a ring on her slender, tapering fingers. Oddly enough, now that he stood beside her, she was not so tall as he had believed her to be the day before. The crown of her silken head came but little above his shoulder. As she had appeared to him among the trees he would have sworn that she was but little below his own height, which was a liberal six feet. He recalled a flash of wonder on that occasion; she had seemed so much taller than the woman at the cross-roads that he was almost convinced that she could not, after all, be the same person. Now she was back to the height that he remembered, and he marvelled once more.
Mrs. Collier, the hostess, was an elderly, heavy-featured woman, decidedly over-dressed. Barnes knew her kind. One encounters her everywhere: the otherwise intelligent woman who has no sense about her clothes. Mrs. Van Dyke, her daughter, was a woman of thirty, tall, dark and handsome in a bold, dashing sort of way. She too was rather resplendent in a black jet gown, and she was liberally bestrewn with jewels. Much to Barnes's surprise, she possessed a soft, gentle speaking-voice and a quiet, musical laugh instead of the boisterous tones and cackle that he always associated with her type. The lackadaisical gentleman with the moustache turned out to be her husband.
"My brother is unable to be with us to-night, Mr. Barnes," explained Mrs. Collier. "Mr. O'Dowd may have told you that he is an invalid. Quite rarely is he well enough to leave his room. He has been feeling much better of late, but now his nerves are all torn to pieces by this shooting affair. The mere knowledge that our grounds were being inspected to-day by the authorities upset him terribly. He has begged me to present his apologies and regrets to you. Another time, perhaps, you will give him the pleasure he is missing to-night. He wanted so much to talk with you about the quaint places you have described so charmingly in your articles. They must be wonderfully appealing. One cannot read your descriptions without really envying the people who live in those enchanted--"
"Ahem!" coughed O'Dowd, who actually had read the articles and could see nothing alluring in a prospect that contemplated barren, snow- swept wildernesses in the Andes. "The only advantage I can see in living up there," he said, with a sly wink at Barnes, "is that one has all the privileges of death without being put to the expense of burial."
"How very extraordinary, Mr. O'Dowd," said Mrs. Collier, lifting her lorgnon.
"Mrs. Collier has been reading my paper on the chateau country in France," said Barnes mendaciously. (It had not yet been published, but what of that?)
"Perfectly delightful," said Mrs. Collier, and at once changed the subject.
De Soto's cocktails came in. Miss Cameron did not take one. O'Dowd proposed a toast.
"To the rascals who went gunning for the other rascals. But for them we should be short at least one member of this agreeable company."
It was rather startling. Barnes's glass stopped half-way to his lips. An instant later he drained it. He accepted the toast as a compliment from the whilom Irishman, and not as a tribute to the prowess of those mysterious marksmen.
"Rather grewsome, O'Dowd," drawled Van Dyke, "but offset by the foresightedness of the maker of this cocktail. Uncommonly good one, De Soto."
The table in the spacious dining-room was one of those long, narrow Italian boards, unmistakably antique and equally rare. Sixteen or eighteen people could have been seated without crowding, and when the seven took their places wide intervals separated them. No effort had been made by the hostess to bring her guests close together, as might have been done by using one end or the centre of the table. Except for scattered doylies, the smooth, nut-brown top was bare of cloth; there was a glorious patina to this huge old board, with tiny cracks running like veins across its surface.
Decorations were scant. A half dozen big candlesticks, ecclesiastical in character, were placed at proper intervals, and at each end of the table there was a shallow, alabaster dish containing pansies. The serving plates were of silver. Especially beautiful were the long- stemmed water goblets and the graceful champagne glasses. They were blue and white and of a design and quality no longer obtainable except at great cost. The aesthetic Barnes was not slow to appreciate the rarity of the glassware and the chaste beauty of the serving plates.
The man Nicholas was evidently the butler, despite his Seventh Avenue manner. He was assisted in serving by two stalwart and amazingly clumsy footmen, of similar ilk and nationality. On seeing these additional men-servants, Barnes began figuratively to count on his fingers the retainers he had so far encountered on the place. Already he has seen six, all of them powerful, rugged fellows. It struck him. as extraordinary, and in a way significant, that there should be so many men at Green Fancy.
Somewhere back in his mind was the impression that O'Dowd had spoken of Pierre the cook, a private secretary and male attendant who looked after Mr. Curtis. Then there was Peter, the regular chauffeur, whom he had not seen, and doubtless there were able-bodied woodchoppers and foresters besides. Not forgetting the little book-agent! It suddenly
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