Page:The Voyage Out.djvu/185

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183
THE VOYAGE OUT

"but wearing puce velvet, as she does even on the hottest August day, it somehow doesn't show."

"Pepper, you have me," said Mr. Elliot. "My chess is even worse than I remember." He accepted his defeat with great equanimity, because he really wished to talk.

He drew his chair beside Mr. Wilfred Flushing, the newcomer.

"Are these at all in your line?" he asked, pointing at a case in front of them, where highly polished crosses, jewels, and bits of embroidery, the work of the natives, were displayed to tempt visitors.

"Shams, all of them," said Mr. Flushing briefly. "This rug, now, isn't at all bad." He stooped and picked up a piece of the rug at their feet. "Not old, of course, but the design is quite in the right tradition. Alice, lend me your brooch. See the difference between the old work and the new."

A lady, who was reading with great concentration, unfastened her brooch and gave it to her husband without looking at him or acknowledging the tentative bow which Mr. Elliot was desirous of giving her. If she had listened, she might have been amused by the reference to old Lady Barborough, her great-aunt, but, oblivious of her surroundings, she went on reading.

The clock, which had been wheezing for some minutes like an old man preparing to cough, now struck nine. The sound slightly disturbed certain somnolent merchants, government officials, and men of independent means who were lying back in their chairs, chatting, smoking, ruminating about their affairs, with their eyes half shut; they raised their lids for an instant at the sound and then closed them again. They had the appearance of crocodiles so fully gorged by their last meal that the future of the world gives them no anxiety whatever. The only disturbance in the placid bright room was caused by a large moth which shot from light to light, whizzing over elaborate heads of hair, and causing several young women to raise their hands nervously and exclaim, "Some one ought to kill it!"

Absorbed in their own thoughts, Hewet and Hirst had not spoken for a long time. When the clock struck. Hirst said: