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The Devil's Paw

Chapter 18
The Baron Hellman, comfortably seated at the brilliantly decorated round dining table,
between Catherine, on one side, and a lady to whom he had not been introduced,
contemplated the menu through his immovable eyeglass with satisfaction, unfolded his
napkin, and continued the conversation with his hostess, a few places away, which the
announcement of dinner had interrupted.
"You are quite right, Princess," he admitted.
"The position of neutrals, especially in the diplomatic world, becomes, in the case of a
war like this, most difficult and sometimes embarrassing. To preserve a correct attitude is
often a severe strain upon one's self-restraint."
The Princess nodded sympathetically.
"A very charming young man, the Baron," she confided to the General who had taken her
in to dinner. "I knew his father and his uncle quite well, in those happy days before the
war, when one used to move from country to country."
"Diplomatic type of features," the General remarked, who hated all foreigners. "It's rather
bad luck on them," he went on, with bland insularity, "that the men of the European
neutrals - Dutch, Danish, Norwegians or Swedes - all resemble Germans so much more
than Englishmen."
The Baron turned towards Catherine and ventured upon a whispered compliment. She
was wearing a wonderful pre-war dress of black velvet, close-fitting yet nowhere
cramping her naturally delightful figure. A rope of pearls hung from her neck-her only
ornament.
"It is permitted, Countess, to express one's appreciation of your toilette?" he ventured.
"In England it is not usual," she reminded him, with a smile, "but as you are such an old
friend of the family, we will call it permissible. It is, as a matter of fact, the last gown I
had from Paris. Nowadays, one thinks of other things."
"You are one of the few women," he observed, "who mix in the great affairs and yet
remain intensely feminine."
"Just now," she sighed, "the great affairs do not please me."
"Yet they are interesting," he replied. "The atmosphere at the present moment is electric,
charged with all manner of strange possibilities. But we talk too seriously. Will you not
let me know the names of some of your guests? With General Crossley I am already
acquainted."
 
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