Page:Out of due time, Ward, 1906.djvu/38

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28
OUT OF DUE TIME.

Count's mother had been English, and that he had been to an English school. He was twenty years older than his half-sister at the least, and curiously old at that. I came to see that quite unconsciously he took the part of the aged in the house. He laboured not, neither did he lack anything he needed. As we settled down he realised the place of the aristocracy in our small party. He ruled us, and in return we were grateful, and we gave him of our best. He did not know it himself, and by the time I came to recognise our mutual relations I acquiesced in them heartily. I have read aloud to the Comte d'Etranges until my throat was sore, and I have copied his impossible writing until my eyes were dim, but I only felt how stupid it was of me to have tonsils that would swell and eyes that could not work without pain after midnight with even three candles.

I can't be clear now as to what I thought of him then; I can't now dissociate his personality from the influence I grew to feel later on. It certainly seemed natural that our hostess apologised to him and not to her guests for making dinner late. It seemed natural, too, that during most of the meal the conversation consisted of George Sutcliffe talking to and for our host, asking his opinion on things as if it were decisive, and presenting his own as if of necessity an inferior article. I felt nervous and tired, but I enjoyed myself all the same. I don't know now what they talked about; partly, I suppose, because I had not then any clue to much of what they said. I remember that Marcelle hardly listened, and that she had at moments a look of being bored, quite fiercely bored, in her dark eyes. The Count's hands struck me as something unusual; I think I gave him a decanter and our fingers touched, and in spite of the heat of the room his fingers were very cool, almost cold.

I had an odd little thrill then, and I recall it now. He was always the same, independent of what affected other people; hot rooms left him cool, and icy weather made him no