Chapter V
 

"That was mighty good of you; you saved my life!" said Keith to him, gratefully, as they walked up the street.

"You couldn't have that tribe of wild Indians descending on your wife," said Sansome. He had kept pace with, the others, but showed it not at all. Sansome was a slender, languid, bored, quiet sort of person, exceedingly well dressed in the height of fashion, speaking with a slight, well-bred drawl, given to looking rather superciliously from beneath his fine eyelashes, almost too good looking. He liked, or pretended he liked, to view life from the discriminating spectator's standpoint; and remained unstirred by stirring events. He prided himself on the delicacy of his social tact. In the natural course of evolution he would probably never marry, and would become in time an "old beau," haunting ballrooms with reminiscences of old-time belles.

Keith, meeting the open air, began to feel his exhilaration.

"What I need is my head under a pump for about ten seconds," he told Sansome frankly. "Lord! It was just about time I got away."

Arrived at the hotel, Sansome said good-bye, but Keith would have none of it.

"No, no!" he cried. "You must come in, now you've come so far! I want you to meet my wife; she'll be delighted!"

And Sansome, whose celebrated social tact had been slightly obscured by his potations, finally consented. Truth to tell, it would have been a little difficult for him to have got away. Poising his light stick and gloves in his left hand, giving his drooping moustache a last twirl, and settling his heavy cravat in place, he followed Keith down the little hall to the Sherwoods' apartments.

At the knock Keith was at once invited to enter. The men threw open the door. Sansome stared with all his might.

Nan Keith had made the usual miraculous recovery from seasickness once she felt the solid ground beneath, her. The beautiful baby-textured skin had come alive with soft colour, her dark, wide, liquid eyes had brightened. She had assumed a soft, silken, wrapperlike garment with, a wide sash, borrowed from Mrs. Sherwood; and at the moment was seated in an enveloping armchair beneath a wide-shaded lamp. The firm, soft lines of her figure, uncorseted in this negligee, were suggested beneath the silk. Sansome stopped short, staring, his eyes kindling with, interest. Here was something not only new but different--a distinct addition. Sansome, like most dilettantes, was something of a phrase maker, and prided himself on the apt word. He found it here, to his own satisfaction, at least.

"Her beauty is positively creamy!" he murmured to himself.

At sight of her Keith crossed directly to her, full of a sudden, engaging, tender solicitude.

"How are you feeling now, honey?" he inquired. "Quite recovered? All right now?"

But Nan was inclined to be a little vexed and reproachful. She had been left alone, with strangers, altogether too long. Keith excused himself volubly and convincingly--she had been asleep--she was much better off not being disturbed--that this was true was proven by results--she was blooming, positively blooming--as fresh as a rose leaf--of course it was rather an imposition on the Sherwoods, but the baggage hadn't come up yet, and they were kind people, our sort, the sort for whom the word obligation did not exist--he, personally, had not intended being gone so long, but by the rarest of chances he had run across some of the men to whom, he had introductions, and they had been most kind in making him acquainted-- nothing was more important to a young lawyer than to "establish connections"--it did not do to overlook a chance.

He urged all this, and more, with all his usual, vital, enthusiastic force. In spite of herself, she was overborne to a reproachful forgiveness.

In the meantime Mrs. Sherwood had gone over to where Ben Sansome was still standing by the door. Sansome did not like Mrs. Sherwood. He considered that she had no social tact at all. This was mainly--though he did not analyze it--because she was quite apt to speak the direct and literal truth to him; because she had a disquieting self-confidence and competence in place of appropriate, graceful, feminine dependence; but especially because she had never and would never play up to his game.

"Are you making a formal afternoon call, Ben?" she asked in her cool, mocking voice. "Aren't you really a little de trop?"

"I did not come of my own volition at this time, I assure you," he replied a trifle stiffly. The thought that he was suspected of a blunder in social custom stung him; as, in a rather lazily amused way, she knew it would.

At this reply she glanced keenly toward Keith, then nodded; slowly.

"I see," she conceded.

Sansome moved to go. But at this Keith's attention was attracted. He sprang forward, seized Sansome's arm, insisted on introducing him to Nan, was over-effusive, over-cordial, buoyant. Both Sansome and Mrs. Sherwood were experienced enough to yield entirely to his mood. They understood perfectly that at the least opposition Keith was in just the condition to reveal himself, perhaps, to break over the frail barrier that separates exhilaration from loss of self-control. They saw also that Nan had no suspicion of the state of affairs. Indeed, following the reaction from her long voyage and her illness, she responded and played up to Keith's high spirits. Neither wanted her to grasp the situation if it could be avoided: Mrs. Sherwood from genuine good feeling, Sansome because of the social awkwardness and bad taste. Besides, he felt that his presence at such a scene would be a very bad beginning for himself.

"No, you're not going," Keith was insisting; "you don't realize what a celebration this is! Here we've pulled up all our roots, haven't we, Nan? and come thousands of miles to a new country, a wonderful country; and the very first day of our landing you want us to act as though nothing had happened!"

Nan nodded a vigorous assent to his implied reference to her.

"And what we're going to do is to celebrate," insisted Keith. "You're all going to dine with us. No, I insist! You're the only friends we have out here, and you aren't going to desert us the very first day we need you."

"I wish you would!" cried Nan, sitting forward eagerly.

They tried to expostulate, to get out of it, but without avail. It seemed easier to promise. Keith rushed out to look for his baggage, to arrange for rooms, leaving the three together to await his return.