Reginald in Russia and Other Stories
The Reticence Of Lady Anne
Egbert came into the large, dimly lit drawing-room with the air of a man who is not
certain whether he is entering a dovecote or a bomb factory, and is prepared for either
eventuality. The little domestic quarrel over the luncheon-table had not been fought to a
definite finish, and the question was how far Lady Anne was in a mood to renew or forgo
hostilities. Her pose in the arm-chair by the tea-table was rather elaborately rigid; in the
gloom of a December afternoon Egbert's pince-nez did not materially help him to discern
the expression of her face.
By way of breaking whatever ice might be floating on the surface he made a remark
about a dim religious light. He or Lady Anne were accustomed to make that remark
between 4.30 and 6 on winter and late autumn evenings; it was a part of their married
life. There was no recognised rejoinder to it, and Lady Anne made none.
Don Tarquinio lay astretch on the Persian rug, basking in the firelight with superb
indifference to the possible ill-humour of Lady Anne. His pedigree was as flawlessly
Persian as the rug, and his ruff was coming into the glory of its second winter. The
pageboy, who had Renaissance tendencies, had christened him Don Tarquinio. Left to
themselves, Egbert and Lady Anne would unfailingly have called him Fluff, but they
were not obstinate.
Egbert poured himself out some tea. As the silence gave no sign of breaking on Lady
Anne's initiative, he braced himself for another Yermak effort.
"My remark at lunch had a purely academic application," he announced; "you seem to put
an unnecessarily personal significance into it."
Lady Anne maintained her defensive barrier of silence. The bullfinch lazily filled in the
interval with an air from Iphigenie en Tauride. Egbert recognised it immediately, because
it was the only air the bullfinch whistled, and he had come to them with the reputation for
whistling it. Both Egbert and Lady Anne would have preferred something from The
Yeomen of the Guard, which was their favourite opera. In matters artistic they had a
similarity of taste. They leaned towards the honest and explicit in art, a picture, for
instance, that told its own story, with generous assistance from its title. A riderless
warhorse with harness in obvious disarray, staggering into a courtyard full of pale
swooning women, and marginally noted "Bad News", suggested to their minds a distinct
interpretation of some military catastrophe. They could see what it was meant to convey,
and explain it to friends of duller intelligence.
The silence continued. As a rule Lady Anne's displeasure became articulate and markedly
voluble after four minutes of introductory muteness. Egbert seized the milkjug and
poured some of its contents into Don Tarquinio's saucer; as the saucer was already full to
the brim an unsightly overflow was the result. Don Tarquinio looked on with a surprised
interest that evanesced into elaborate unconsciousness when he was appealed to by