“Superb! I don’t know when I have seen finer, Tom, really!”
“Ah!” said Tom, complacently handling his left whisker. “And,” he added, after a moment or two, “and thereby hangs a tale!”
It was after dinner — after one of Tom Gainsborough’s snug, inimitable little dinners; only we three — Tom, his wife, and myself: and a couple of negro attendants, as well trained and less overpowering than the best of the native English stock; and that charming dining-room, just big enough, just cool enough, soft-carpeted, clear-walled, and the steady white radiance of the argand burners descending upon the damask tablecloth, crowned with fruits and flowers; and an agreeable shadow over the rest of the room, so that those sable servitors could perform their noiseless evolutions unseen; and a pervading sense of unconscious good-breeding and unobtrusive wealth; and —— but I will not speak of the china; I will not descant upon Tom’s wines; I don’t wish to make other people envious. Only it was all inexpressibly good, from fascinating Mrs. Gainsborough and her diamonds, down.
I felt a peculiar interest in Mrs. Gainsborough, because, in addition to her other attractions, she was a countrywoman of mine — that is to say, an American. She was brunette, slender, graceful; with a weird expression of the eyes under straight black eyebrows, an expression which somehow suggested mesmerism — or perhaps a liability on her part to be mesmerised; faultless throat and shoulders; and hands and wrists that she could talk with, almost. Where had Tom found her? I never had thought of asking him; she was a Virginian very likely — an “F. F. V.”; and they had doubtless met upon the Continent. This was the first occasion on which I had seen her in her diamonds. Indeed, Tom and she had only been married a year or two, and had been settled in that bijou residence of theirs scarcely six months; and this was but my third or fourth dinner there. Well, her diamonds became her, and she them; they somehow matched that weird light in her eyes; and I told Tom as much when, after dinner, she withdrew and left us over our wine.
“And thereby hangs a tale,” repeated he, thoughtfully reaching his hand towards the decanter, and filling my glass and his own.
Now, it seemed to me entirely in accordance with young Mrs. Gainsborough’s “style” that there should have been something odd and romantic in the circumstances of her first acquaintance with Tom, and that diamonds should be mixed up with it. Therefore I was more than willing to give ear to the strange story which he proceeded to relate to me. Imagine the servants dismissed, a fresh lump of coal in the grate, the decanter between us, and our legs and elbows disposed in the most comfortable manner possible. Then, this is the story.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56