Natalie Spencer was giving a dinner. She was not an easy hostess. Like most
women of futile lives she lacked a sense of proportion, and the small and
unimportant details of the service absorbed her. Such conversation as she threw
at random, to right and left, was trivial and distracted.
Yet the dinner was an unimportant one. It had been given with an eye more to
the menu than to the guest list, which was characteristic of Natalie's mental
processes. It was also characteristic that when the final course had been served
without mishap, and she gave a sigh of relief before the gesture of withdrawal
which was a signal to the other women, that she had realized no lack in it. The
food had been good, the service satisfactory. She stood up, slim and beautifully
dressed, and gathered up the women with a smile.
The movement found Doctor Haverford, at her left, unprepared and with his
coffee cup in his hand. He put it down hastily and rose, and the small cup
overturned in its saucer, sending a smudge of brown into the cloth.
"Dreadfully awkward of me!" he said. The clergyman's smile of apology was
boyish, but he was suddenly aware that his hostess was annoyed. He caught his
wife's amiable eyes on him, too, and they said quite plainly that one might spill
coffee at home - one quite frequently did, to confess a good man's weakness -
but one did not do it at Natalle Spencer's table. The rector's smile died into a
For the first time since dinner began Natalie Spencer had a clear view of her
husband's face. Not that that had mattered particularly, but the flowers had been
too high. For a small dinner, low flowers, always. She would speak to the florist.
But, having glanced at Clayton, standing tall and handsome at the head of the
table, she looked again. His eyes were fixed on her with a curious intentness. He
seemed to be surveying her, from the top of her burnished hair to the very gown
she wore. His gaze made her vaguely uncomfortable. It was unsmiling,
appraising, almost - only that was incredible in Clay - almost hostile.
Through the open door the half dozen women trailed out, Natalie in white, softly
rustling as she moved, Mrs. Haverford in black velvet, a trifle tight over her ample
figure, Marion Hayden, in a very brief garment she would have called a frock,
perennial debutante that she was, rather negligible Mrs. Terry Mackenzie, and
trailing behind the others, frankly loath to leave the men, Audrey Valentine.
Clayton Spencer's eyes rested on Audrey with a smile of amused toleration, on
her outrageously low green gown, that was somehow casually elegant, on her
long green ear-rings and jade chain, on the cigaret between her slim fingers.
Audrey's audacity always amused him. In the doorway she turned and
nonchalantly surveyed the room.
"For heaven's sake, hurry!" she apostrophized the table. "We are going to knit - I
feel it. And don't give Chris anything more to drink, Clay. He's had enough."
She went on, a slim green figure, moving slowly and reluctantly toward the
drawing-room, her head held high, a little smile still on her lips. But, alone for a
moment, away from curious eyes, her expression changed, her smile faded, her