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The Fifth Picture
by [?]

Lady Tamworth felt unutterably bored. The sensation of lassitude, even in its less acute degrees, was rare with her; for she possessed a nature of so fresh a buoyancy that she was able, as a rule, to extract diversion from any environment. Her mind took impressions with the vivid clearness of a mirror, and also, it should be owned, with a mirror’s transient objectivity. To-day, however, the mirror was clouded. She looked out of the window; a level row of grey houses frowned at her across the street. She looked upwards; a grey pall of cloud swung over the rooftops. The interior of the room appeared to her even less inviting than the street. It was the afternoon of the first drawing-room, and a debutante was exhibiting herself to her friends. She stood in the centre, a figure from a Twelfth-Night cake, amidst a babble of congratulations, and was plainly occupied in a perpetual struggle to conceal her moments of enthusiasm beneath a crust of deprecatory languor.

The spectacle would have afforded choice entertainment to Lady Tamworth, had she viewed it in the company of a sympathetic companion. Solitary appreciation of the humorous, however, only induced in her a yet more despondent mood. The tea seemed tepid; the conversation matched the tea. Epigrams without point, sallies void of wit, and cynicisms innocent of the sting of an apt application floated about her on a ripple of unintelligent laughter. A phrase of Mr. Dale’s recurred to her mind, “Hock and seltzer with the sparkle out of it;” so he had stigmatised the style and she sadly thanked him for the metaphor.

There was, moreover, a particular reason for her discontent. Nobody realised the presence of Lady Tamworth, and this unaccustomed neglect shot a barbed question at her breast. “After all why should they?” She was useless, she reflected; she did nothing, exercised no influence. The thought, however, was too painful for lengthened endurance; the very humiliation of it produced the antidote. She remembered that she had at last persuaded her lazy Sir John to stand for Parliament. Only wait until he was elected! She would exercise an influence then. The vision of a salon was miraged before her, with herself in the middle deftly manipulating the destinies of a nation.

“Lady Tamworth!” a voice sounded at her elbow.

“Mr. Dale!” She turned with a sudden sprightliness. “My guardian angel sent you.”

“So bad as that?”

“I have an intuition.” She paused impressively upon the word.

“Never mind!” said he soothingly. “It will go away.”

Lady Tamworth glared, that is, as well as she could; nature had not really adapted her for glaring. “I have an intuition,” she resumed, “that this is what the suburbs mean.” And she waved her hand comprehensively.

“They are perhaps a trifle excessive,” he returned. “But then you needn’t have come.”

“Oh, yes! Clients of Sir John.” Lady Tamworth sighed and sank with a weary elegance into a chair. Mr. Dale interpreted the sigh. “Ah! A wife’s duties,” he began.

“No man can know,” she interrupted, and she spread out her hands in pathetic forgiveness of an over-exacting world. Her companion laughed brutally. “You are rude!” she said and laughed too. And then, “Tell me something new!”

“I met an admirer of yours to-day.”

“But that’s nothing new.” She looked up at him with a plaintive reproach.

“I will begin again,” he replied submissively. “I walked down the Mile-End road this morning to Sir John’s jute-factory.”

“You fail to interest me,” she said with some emphasis.

“I am so sorry. Good-bye!”

“Mr. Dale!”

“Yes!”

“You may, if you like, go on with the first story.”

“There is only one. It was in the Mile-End road I met the admirer–Julian Fairholm.”

“Oh!” Lady Tamworth sat up and blushed. However, Lady Tamworth blushed very readily.

“It was a queer incident,” Mr. Dale continued. “I caught sight of a necktie in a little dusty shop-window near the Pavilion Theatre. I had never seen anything like it in my life; it fairly fascinated me, seemed to dare me to buy it.”