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Delia Blanchflower   By: (1851-1920)

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Chapter I

"Not a Britisher to be seen or scarcely! Well, I can do without 'em for a bit!"

And the Englishman whose mind shaped these words continued his leisurely survey of the crowded salon of a Tyrolese hotel, into which a dining room like a college hall had just emptied itself after the mid day meal. Meanwhile a German, sitting near, seeing that his tall neighbour had been searching his pockets in vain for matches, offered some. The Englishman's quick smile in response modified the German's general opinion of English manners, and the two exchanged some remarks on the weather a thunder shower was splashing outside remarks which bore witness at least to the Englishman's courage in using such knowledge of the German tongue as he possessed. Then, smoking contentedly, he leant against the wall behind him, still looking on.

He saw a large room, some seventy feet long, filled with a miscellaneous foreign crowd South Germans, Austrians, Russians, Italians seated in groups round small tables, smoking, playing cards or dominoes, reading the day's newspapers which the funicular had just brought up, or lazily listening to the moderately good band which was playing some Rheingold selection at the farther end.

To his left was a large family circle Russians, according to information derived from the headwaiter and among them, a girl, apparently about eighteen, sitting on the edge of the party and absorbed in a novel of which she was eagerly turning the pages. From her face and figure the half savage, or Asiatic note, present in the physiognomy and complexion of her brothers and sisters, was entirely absent. Her beautiful head with its luxuriant mass of black hair, worn low upon the cheek, and coiled in thick plaits behind, reminded the Englishman of a Greek fragment he had admired, not many days before, in the Louvre; her form too was of a classical lightness and perfection. The Englishman noticed indeed that her temper was apparently not equal to her looks. When her small brothers interrupted her, she repelled them with a pettish word or gesture; the English governess addressed her, and got no answer beyond a haughty look; even her mother was scarcely better treated.

Close by, at another table, was another young girl, rather younger than the first, and equally pretty. She too was dark haired, with a delicate oval face and velvet black eyes, but without any of the passionate distinction, the fire and flame of the other. She was German, evidently. She wore a plain white dress with a red sash, and her little feet in white shoes were lightly crossed in front of her. The face and eyes were all alive, it seemed to him, with happiness, with the mere pleasure of life. She could not keep herself still for a moment. Either she was sending laughing signals to an elderly man near her, presumably her father, or chattering at top speed with another girl of her own age, or gathering her whole graceful body into a gesture of delight as the familiar Rheingold music passed from one lovely motif to another.

"You dear little thing!" thought the Englishman, with an impulse of tenderness, which passed into foreboding amusement as he compared the pretty creature with some of the matrons sitting near her, with one in particular, a lady of enormous girth, whose achievements in eating and drinking at meals had seemed to him amazing. Almost all the middle aged women in the hotel were too fat, and had lost their youth thereby, prematurely. Must the fairy herself Euphrosyne come to such a muddy vesture in the end? Twenty years hence? alack!

"Beauty that must die... Continue reading book >>

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