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The Half-Hearted

16. A Movement Op The Powers
At Mrs. Montrayner's dinner parties a world of silent men is sandwiched between a
_monde_ of chattering women. The hostess has a taste for busy celebrities who eat
their dinner without thought of the cookery, and regard their fair neighbours much as the
diners think of the band in a restaurant. She chose her company with care, and if at her
table there was not the busy clack of a fluent conversation, there was always the
possibility of _bons mots_ and the off-chance of a State secret. So to have dined with
the Montrayners became a boast in a small social set, and to the unilluminate the
Montrayner banquets seemed scarce less momentous than Cabinet meetings.
Wratislaw found himself staring dully at a snowy bank of flowers and looking listlessly at
the faces beyond. He was extremely worried, and his grey face and sunken eyes
showed the labour he had been passing through. The country was approaching the
throes of a crisis, and as yet the future was a blind alley to him. There was an autumn
session, and he had been badgered all the afternoon in the Commons; his even temper
had been perilously near its limits, and he had been betrayed unconsciously into certain
ineptitudes which he knew would grin in his face on the morrow from a dozen leading
articles. The Continent seemed on the edge of an outbreak; in the East especially,
Russia by a score of petty acts had seemed to foreshadow an incomprehensible policy.
It was a powder-barrel waiting for the spark; and he felt dismally that the spark might
come at any moment from some unlooked-for quarter of the globe. He ran over in his
mind the position of foreign affairs. All seemed vaguely safe; and yet he was conscious
that all was vaguely unsettled. The world was on the eve of one of its cyclic changes,
and unrest seemed to make the air murky.
He tried to be polite and listened attentively to the lady on his right, who was telling him
the latest gossip about a certain famous marriage. But his air was so manifestly artificial
that she turned to the presumably more attractive topic of his doings.
"You look ill," she said--she was one who adopted the motherly air towards young men,
which only a pretty woman can use. "Are they over-working you in the House?"
"Pretty fair," and he smiled grimly. "But really I can't complain. I have had eight hours'
sleep in the last four days, and I don't think Beauregard could say as much. Some day I
shall break loose and go to a quiet place and sleep for a week. Brittany would do--or
"I was in Scotland last week," she said. "I didn't find it quiet. It was at one of those
theatrical Highland houses where they pipe you to sleep and pipe you to breakfast. I