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Next day they had summoned him from the studio to see a peculiar phenomenon--Johnny Dromore, very well groomed, talking to Sylvia with unnatural suavity, and carefully masking the goggle in his eyes! Mrs. Lennan ride? Ah! Too busy, of course. Helped Mark with his--er-- No! Really! Read a lot, no doubt? Never had any time for readin' himself--awful bore not having time to read! And Sylvia listening and smiling, very still and soft.
What had Dromore come for? To spy out the land, discover why Lennan and his wife thought nothing of the word 'outside'--whether, in fact, their household was respectable. . . . A man must always look twice at 'what-d'you-call-ems,' even if they have shared his room at school! . . . To his credit, of course, to be so careful of his daughter, at the expense of time owed to the creation of the perfect racehorse! On the whole he seemed to be coming to the conclusion that they might be useful to Nell in the uncomfortable time at hand when she would have to go about; seemed even to be falling under the spell of Sylvia's transparent goodness-- abandoning his habitual vigilance against being scored off in life's perpetual bet; parting with his armour of chaff. Almost a relief, indeed, once out of Sylvia's presence, to see that familiar, unholy curiosity creeping back into his eyes, as though they were hoping against parental hope to find something--er-- amusing somewhere about that mysterious Mecca of good times--a 'what-d'you-call-it's' studio. Delicious to watch the conflict between relief and disappointment. Alas! no model--not even a statue without clothes; nothing but portrait heads, casts of animals, and such-like sobrieties--absolutely nothing that could bring a blush to the cheek of the young person, or a glow to the eyes of a Johnny Dromore.
With what curious silence he walked round and round the group of sheep-dogs, inquiring into them with that long crinkled nose of his! With what curious suddenness, he said: "Damned good! You wouldn't do me one of Nell on horseback?" With what dubious watchfulness he listened to the answer:
"I might, perhaps, do a statuette of her; if I did, you should have a cast."
Did he think that in some way he was being outmanoeuvered? For he remained some seconds in a sort of trance before muttering, as though clinching a bet:
"Done! And if you want to ride with her to get the hang of it, I can always mount you."
When he had gone, Lennan remained staring at his unfinished sheep- dogs in the gathering dusk. Again that sense of irritation at contact with something strange, hostile, uncomprehending! Why let these Dromores into his life like this? He shut the studio, and went back to the drawing-room. Sylvia was sitting on the fender, gazing at the fire, and she edged along so as to rest against his knees. The light from a candle on her writing-table was shining on her hair, her cheek, and chin, that years had so little altered. A pretty picture she made, with just that candle flame, swaying there, burning slowly, surely down the pale wax--candle flame, of all lifeless things most living, most like a spirit, so bland and vague, one would hardly have known it was fire at all. A drift of wind blew it this way and that: he got up to shut the window, and as he came back; Sylvia said:
"I like Mr. Dromore. I think he's nicer than he looks."
"He's asked me to make a statuette of his daughter on horseback."
"And will you?"
"I don't know."
"If she's really so pretty, you'd better."
"Pretty's hardly the word--but she's not ordinary."
She turned round, and looked up at him, and instinctively he felt that something difficult to answer was coming next.
"I wanted to ask you: Are you really happy nowadays?"
"Of course. Why not?"
What else to be said? To speak of those feelings of the last few months--those feelings so ridiculous to anyone who had them not-- would only disturb her horribly.
And having received her answer, Sylvia turned back to the fire, resting silently against his knees. . . .
Three days later the sheep-dogs suddenly abandoned the pose into which he had lured them with such difficulty, and made for the studio door. There in the street was Nell Dromore, mounted on a narrow little black horse with a white star, a white hoof, and devilish little goat's ears, pricked, and very close together at the tips.
"Dad said I had better ride round and show you Magpie. He's not very good at standing still. Are those your dogs? What darlings!"
She had slipped her knee already from the pummel, and slid down; the sheep-dogs were instantly on their hind-feet, propping themselves against her waist. Lennan held the black horse--a bizarre little beast, all fire and whipcord, with a skin like satin, liquid eyes, very straight hocks, and a thin bang-tail reaching down to them. The little creature had none of those commonplace good looks so discouraging to artists.
He had forgotten its rider, till she looked up from the dogs, and said: "Do you like him? It is nice of you to be going to do us."
When she had ridden away, looking back until she turned the corner, he tried to lure the two dogs once more to their pose. But they would sit no more, going continually to the door, listening and sniffing; and everything felt disturbed and out of gear.
That same afternoon at Sylvia's suggestion he went with her to call on the Dromores.
While they were being ushered in he heard a man's voice rather high-pitched speaking in some language not his own; then the girl:
"No, no, Oliver. 'Dans l'amour il y a toujours un qui aime, et l'autre qui se laisse aimer.'"
She was sitting in her father's chair, and on the window-sill they saw a young man lolling, who rose and stood stock-still, with an almost insolent expression on his broad, good-looking face. Lennan scrutinized him with interest--about twenty-four he might be, rather dandified, clean-shaved, with crisp dark hair and wide-set hazel eyes, and, as in his photograph, a curious look of daring. His voice, when he vouchsafed a greeting, was rather high and not unpleasant, with a touch of lazy drawl.
They stayed but a few minutes, and going down those dimly lighted stairs again, Sylvia remarked:
"How prettily she said good-bye--as if she were putting up her face to be kissed! I think she's lovely. So does that young man. They go well together."
Rather abruptly Lennan answered:
"Ah! I suppose they do."
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