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5. Val Beverley
The luncheon was so good as to be almost ostentatious. One could not have
lunched better at the Carlton. Yet, since this luxurious living was evidently
customary in the colonel's household, a charge of ostentation would not have
been deserved. The sinister-looking Pedro proved to be an excellent servant;
and because of the excitement of feeling myself to stand upon the edge of
unusual things, the enjoyment of a perfectly served repast, and the sheer delight
which I experienced in watching the play of expression upon the face of Miss
Beverley, I count that luncheon at Cray's Folly a memorable hour of my life.
Frankly, Val Beverley puzzled me. It may or may not have been curious, that
amidst such singular company I selected for my especial study a girl so freshly
and typically English. I had thought at the moment of meeting her that she was
provokingly pretty; I determined, as the lunch proceeded, that she was beautiful.
Once I caught Harley smiling at me in his quizzical fashion, and I wondered
guiltily if I were displaying an undue interest in the companion of Madame.
Many topics were discussed, I remember, and beyond doubt the colonel's
cousin-housekeeper dominated the debate. She possessed extraordinary force
of personality. Her English was not nearly so fluent as that spoken by the colonel,
but this handicap only served to emphasize the masculine strength of her
intellect. Truly she was a remarkable woman. With her blanched hair and her
young face, and those fine, velvety eyes which possessed a quality almost
hypnotic, she might have posed for the figure of a sorceress. She had unfamiliar
gestures and employed her long white hands in a manner that was new to me
and utterly strange.
I could detect no family resemblance between the cousins, and I wondered if
their kinship were very distant. One thing was evident enough: Madame de
Staemer was devoted to the Colonel. Her expression when she looked at him
changed entirely. For a woman of such intense vitality her eyes were uncannily
still; that is to say that whilst she frequently moved her head she rarely moved
her eyes. Again and again I found myself wondering where I had seen such eyes
before. I lived to identify that memory, as I shall presently relate.
In vain I endeavoured to define the relationship between these three people, so
incongruously set beneath one roof. Of the fact that Miss Beverly was not happy I
became assured. But respecting her exact position in the household I was
reduced to surmises.
The Colonel improved on acquaintance. I decided that he belonged to an order of
Spanish grandees now almost extinct. I believed he would have made a very
staunch friend; I felt sure he would have proved a most implacable enemy.
Altogether, it was a memorable meal, and one notable result of that brief
companionship was a kind of link of understanding between myself and Miss