They did it between them and there was wonderful talking that night, a talk that delighted Mrs. Rylands altogether. It was like the talks her mother used to tell of in the great days of Clouds and Stanway, in the happy eighties when Lady Elcho and all the “Souls” were young and Lord Balfour was “Mr. Arthur” and people used to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Talk and Talkers in the hope of improving their style. Mr. Plantagenet-Buchan was bright and skilful and Lady Catherine was characteristically generous in giving away a vintage that might have been reserved for her alone, and Philip most unexpectedly helped with one intelligent question and Lord Tamar with two. Mr. Sempack once started, proved to be as great a talker as his reputation demanded, he could interest and inform and let in contributors while keeping them in order, and the evening was tremendously entertaining and quite different from any other evening over which Mrs. Rylands had presided at Casa Terragena.
There were moments of difficulty. The Mathisons were visibly disconcerted and alarmed by the strong, persistent drive towards such high-brow and devastating topics as what was going to happen to the world, what could be made to happen to the world, and how things could be made to happen. Their eyes met in only too evident protest against such “rot.” The evening before they had had quite a good time, comparing notes with Geoffry Rylands and Puppy Clarges about the different tennis courts upon the Riviera and shouting, “Oh! that’s a scorcher if you like!” or “Talk about a cinder track!” and expressing opinions about the ankles of Miss Wills and the terrible and scandalous dispute about the balls and whether Suzanne was ever likely to marry, nice sensible stuff, as it seemed to them. Now they were pushed aside. They couldn’t get in. Nor could Geoffry nor Puppy help them. These four were scattered among the high-brows. Colonel Bullace was interested — positively interested, in a hostile way indeed, but interested. Once he interrupted. And Mrs. Bullace got loose for a time with a story about how down in Ventimiglia that day she had attempted to rescue a donkey from ill-treatment by a man it didn’t belong to, and who wasn’t, as a matter of fact, ill-treating it, and indeed who possibly had never been aware of the existence of the donkey until she called his attention to it, and how nice everybody had been about it, and had taken her part when the man became insulting. She began it unexpectedly and apropos of nothing. “Ow,” she said suddenly, “such a funny thing!” But that had been a lacuna, and the great talk was joined up again before she had nearly done.
The great talk had reassembled itself after every interruption and triumphed over all that might have slain it in its immaturity and grown into a great edifice of interest. After dinner and a little interlude the men came up, and while the low-brow contingent was excreted to the bridge tables, the interested people gathered as a matter of course round the fire and went on talking. They went on talking and it was a great success, and little Mrs. Rylands felt that even Lady Elcho or Lady Sassoon, bright stars in her mother’s memories, could never have presided over a better one. And at midnight, they were still talking, Mr. Sempack talking, Mr. Plantagenet-Buchan talking, Catherine talking, the Tamars both interested (unless she was pretending awfully well), Philip hanging on every word — unexpected Philip could be at times! — Miss Fenimore drinking it in. But she would drink anything in; it was her rôle. Even Colonel Bullace, whenever he was dummy, came and listened, and he was mostly dummy with such a chronic over-caller as Lady Grieswold for a partner.
It was wonderful how varied and yet how consistent the great talk was, how its topics went about and around and interwove and remained parts of one topic. Mrs. Rylands was reminded of a phrase Mr. Plantagenet-Buchan had used once for some music, “a cathedral of sound.” This was a cathedral of ideas. A Gothic cathedral. Everything said had a sort of freedom and yet everything belonged.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:56