The Tempting of Tavernake
I.5. Introducing Mrs. Wenham Gardner
A very distinguished client was engaging the attention of Mr. Dowling, Senior, of
Messrs. Dowling, Spence & Company, auctioneers and estate agents, whose offices were
situated in Waterloo Place, Pall Mall. Mr. Dowling was a fussy little man of between fifty
and sixty years, who spent most of his time playing golf, and who, although he studiously
contrived to ignore the fact, had long since lost touch with the details of his business.
Consequently, in the absence of Mr. Dowling, Junior, who had developed a marked
partiality for a certain bar in the locality, Tavernake was hastily summoned to the rescue
from another part of the building, by a small boy violently out of breath.
"Never see the governor in such a fuss," the latter declared, confidentially, "She's asking
no end of questions and he don't know a thing."
"Who is the lady?" Tavernake asked, on the way downstairs.
"Didn't hear her name," the boy replied. "She's all right, though, I can tell you--a regular
slap-up beauty. Such a motor-car, too! Flowers and tables and all sorts of things inside.
By Jove, won't the governor tear his hair if she goes before you get there!"
Tavernake quickened his steps and in a few moments knocked at the door of the private
office and entered.
His chief welcomed him with a gesture of relief. The distinguished client of the firm,
whose attention he was endeavoring to engage, had glanced toward the newcomer, at his
first appearance, with an air of somewhat bored unconcern. Her eyes, however, did not
immediately leave his face. On the contrary, from the moment of his entrance she
watched him steadfastly. Tavernake, stolid, unruffled, at that time without
comprehension, approached the desk.
"This is--er--Mr. Tavernake, our manager," Mr. Dowling announced, obsequiously. "In
the absence of my son, he is in charge of the letting department. I have no doubt that he
will be able to suggest something suitable. Tavernake," he continued, "this lady,"--he
glanced at a card in front of him--"Mrs. Wenham Gardner of New York, is looking for a
town house, and has been kind enough to favor us with an inquiry."
Tavernake made no immediate reply. Mr. Dowling was shortsighted, and in any case it
would never have occurred to him to associate nervousness, or any form of emotion, with
his responsible manager. The beautiful lady leaned back in her chair. Her lips were parted
in a slight but very curious smile, her fingers supported her cheek, her eyelids were
contracted as she looked into his face. Tavernake felt that their recognition was mutual.
Once more he was back again in the tragic atmosphere of that chemist's shop, with
Beatrice, half fainting, in his arms, the beautiful lady turned to stone. It was an odd
tableau, that, so vividly imprinted upon his memory that it was there before him at this
very moment. There was mystery in this woman's eyes, mystery and something else.