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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 32. A Supper At The "Milan," And A Meeting
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The Survivor - Chapter 32. A Supper At The 'Milan,' And A Meeting Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3031

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The Survivor - Chapter 32. A Supper At The "Milan," And A Meeting

CHAPTER XXXII. A SUPPER AT THE "MILAN," AND A MEETING

Drexley, a travelled man of fastidious tastes and with ample means to gratify them, proved a delightful host. In his earlier days he had been a constant diner-out; he understood the ordering of impromptu meals, and he had that decision and air which inspires respect even in a head-waiter. He marshalled his little party to the table reserved for them, waved away the _table d'hote card, and ordered his dishes and wine with excellent judgment and consideration for the tastes of his guests. It was all most delightful--delightfully novel to Cicely and her friend, delightful to Drexley, who was amazed to find that the power of enjoyment still remained with him. The soft strains of music rose and fell from a small but perfectly chosen Hungarian band out on the balcony, the hum of conversation grew louder and merrier at every moment, the champagne flashed in their glasses, and a younger Drexley occupied the place of their kindly but taciturn host. Douglas, to whom fell the entertaining of Cicely's friend, was honestly delighted at the change. But in the midst of it came a crushing blow. Emily de Reuss walked into the room.

As usual she was marvellously dressed, a stately glittering figure in a gown of shimmering black which seemed at every moment on fire. Her beautiful neck and shoulders were uncovered and undecorated; she walked between a grey-headed man, who wore the orders of an ambassador and a blue sash on his evening clothes, and his wife. Every one turned to look at her, every one was watching when she stopped for a moment before Drexley's table, but every one did not see the flash in her eyes and the sudden tightening of her lips as she recognised the little party. Yet she was graciousness itself to them, and Douglas was the only one who noticed that first impulse of displeasure. She rested her fingers almost affectionately on Drexley's shoulder, and the new flush of colour in his cheeks faded into sallowness at her touch.

"Here are two at least of my friends who have proved faithless," she said, lightly. "I have been abroad for--ah! how long it seems--one, two, three months, and neither of you has bidden me welcome back to this wonderful city."

"We are not magicians," Douglas answered, "and as yet I am sure there is no paper which has chronicled your return. Only yesterday I was told that you were at Vienna."

"Never," she said, smiling into his face, "never under any circumstances believe anything anybody ever says about me. I have to tell that to my friends, in order that I may keep them. Tell me, have you begun the country letters yet for Mr. Anderson?"

"I send my first one away on Thursday," Douglas answered.

"You will send me a proof?"

"If I may, with pleasure."

She turned to Drexley.

"And you, my friend," she said, "how have things gone with you? The _Ibex is as good as ever. I bought this month's at a kiosk in Buda. You must get Mr. Jesson to write you more stories as good as 'No Man's Land.'"

Drexley looked up at her with a grim smile twitching at the corners of his lips.

"Yes," he said, quietly. "It was a good story, although I am afraid we rather humbugged Jesson about it. I'm not at all sure that he'll trust us with another."

She returned Drexley's look with a stare of non-comprehension. It was the first sign of revolt from one in whom she had thought all along such a thing dead. Then with a pleasant nod to Douglas she passed on, threading her way slowly amongst the tables to where her friends were waiting. It was not until after she had gone that the two men realised how utterly she had ignored their two companions.

They took up the thread of their conversation--and it was the unexpected which intervened. Drexley relaxed still further; there was a quiet humour in everything he said; he took upon his shoulders the whole entertainment of the little party. The coming of Emily de Reuss might well have been a matter of indifference to him. With Douglas it was strangely different. To him she had never seemed more beautiful; the fascination of her near presence, her voice, her exquisite toilette crept into his blood. He was silent at first, a bright light gleamed in his eyes, he watched her continually. A sense of aloofness crept over him. He spoke and ate mechanically, scarcely noticing that he was drinking a good deal more wine than usual. Once he glanced quickly at Cicely; her cheeks were flushed, and she was looking her best--he saw only her imperfections. Her prettiness, after all, was ordinary; her simple evening gown, even to his inexperienced eyes, suggested the home dressmaker; that slight tenderness for her which only a few days ago had seemed such a pleasant thing seemed suddenly swept away in the broad flood of a passion against which unconsciously he had long been struggling. He forced himself after a while to share in their conversation, he joined in their laughter and listened to Drexley's stories, but all the time with a sense of inward excitement which he found it hard to conceal. Coffee and cigarettes were served at Drexley's suggestion out in the palm court attached to the restaurant. Afterwards, when the girls rose to leave, Douglas was conscious for the first time of a look of reproach in Cicely's dark eyes. He pretended to ignore it--he felt that any sort of response just then was impossible. The girls refused any escort home. They drove away in a hansom, and Drexley remained upon the pavement listening to the echo of their farewell speeches as to a very pleasant thing. He turned back with a rare smile upon his lips and laid his hand upon Douglas's shoulder.

"Your cousin is charming, Jesson," he said. "I'll never be able to thank you enough for this evening. For the first time I have felt that after all there may be a chance for me."

"I'm very glad," Douglas answered--"very glad indeed."

Drexley looked at him curiously.

"You're not quite yourself this evening, Jesson," he remarked.

"I'm all right. Which way are you going--to the club?"

Drexley shook his head.

"Back to my rooms," he answered. "I shall have a pipe and go to bed. I haven't slept well lately. To-night I think I shall."

They were parted by a stream of outcoming people, and Douglas took advantage of the opportunity to slip away. A little way along the street a small brougham, which was very familiar to him, was waiting.

"Twenty, Grosvenor Square," he said, hailing a hansom.

He was driven through the seething streets, along Piccadilly, all on fire with its streams of people, carriages, and brilliant lights, and, arriving at the corner of the Square, jumped out. He walked slowly up and down the pavement. He could feel his heart thumping with excitement; his cheeks were burning with an unusual colour. He cursed himself for coming, yet the sound of every carriage which turned the corner sent the blood leaping through his veins. He cursed himself for a fool, but waited with the eagerness of a boy, and when her brougham came into sight he was conscious of an acute thrill of excitement which turned him almost dizzy. Supposing--she were not alone? He forgot to draw back into the shadows, as at first had been his intention, but stood in the middle of the pavement, so that the footman, who jumped down to open the carriage door, looked at him curiously. She was within a few feet of him when she stepped out.

"Douglas!" she exclaimed. "Is that you?"

"May I come in, or is it too late?"

She looked into his face, and the ready assent died away upon her lips. He noticed her hesitation, but remained silent.

"Of course," she said, slowly. "What have you done with your friends?"

"They have gone home," he answered, shortly. "I came on here. I wanted to see you."

They passed into the house and to her little sitting-room, where a couch was drawn up before a tiny fire of cedar wood, and her maid was waiting. Emily dismissed her almost at once, and, throwing herself down, lighted a cigarette.

"Sit down, my friend, and smoke," she said. "I will tell you, if you like, about my travels, and then I must hear about the novel."

But Douglas came over and stood by her side. His eyes were burning with fire, and his voice was tremulous with emotion as he replied.

"Afterwards. I have something else to say to you first."

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