“The Smithly-Dubbs are in Town,” said Sir James. “I wish you would show them some attention. Ask them to lunch with you at the Ritz or somewhere.”
“From the little I’ve seen of the Smithly-Dubbs I don’t thing I want to cultivate their acquaintance,” said Lady Drakmanton.
“They always work for us at election times,” said her husband; “I don’t suppose they influence very many votes, but they have an uncle who is on one of my ward committees, and another uncle speaks sometimes at some of our less important meetings. Those sort of people expect some return in the shape of hospitality.”
“Expect it!” exclaimed Lady Drakmanton; “the Misses Smithly-Dubb do more than that; they almost demand it. They belong to my club, and hang about the lobby just about lunch-time, all three of them, with their tongues hanging out of their mouths and the six-course look in their eyes. If I were to breathe the word ‘lunch’ they would hustle me into a taxi and scream ‘Ritz’ or ‘Dieudonne’s’ to the driver before I knew what was happening.”
“All the same, I think you ought to ask them to a meal of some sort,” persisted Sir James.
“I consider that showing hospitality to the Smithly-Dubbs is carrying Free Food principles to a regrettable extreme,” said Lady Drakmanton; “I’ve entertained the Joneses and the Browns and the Snapheimers and the Lubrikoffs, and heaps of others whose names I forget, but I don’t see why I should inflict the society of the Misses Smithly-Dubb on myself for a solid hour. Imagine it, sixty minutes, more or less, of unrelenting gobble and gabble. Why can’t YOU take them on, Milly?” she asked, turning hopefully to her sister.
“I don’t know them,” said Milly hastily.
“All the better; you can pass yourself off as me. People say that we are so alike that they can hardly tell us apart, and I’ve only spoken to these tiresome young women about twice in my life, at committee-rooms, and bowed to them in the club. Any of the club page-boys will point them out to you; they’re always to be found lolling about the hall just before lunch-time.”
“My dear Betty, don’t be absurd,” protested Milly; “I’ve got some people lunching with me at the Carlton to-morrow, and I’m leaving Town the day afterwards.”
“What time is your lunch to-morrow?” asked Lady Drakmanton reflectively.
“Two o’clock,” said Milly.
“Good,” said her sister; “the Smithly-Dubbs shall lunch with me to- morrow. It shall be rather an amusing lunch-party. At least, I shall be amused.”
The last two remarks she made to herself. Other people did not always appreciate her ideas of humour. Sir James never did.
The next day Lady Drakmanton made some marked variations in her usual toilet effects. She dressed her hair in an unaccustomed manner, and put on a hat that added to the transformation of her appearance. When she had made one or two minor alterations she was sufficiently unlike her usual smart self to produce some hesitation in the greeting which the Misses Smithly-Dubb bestowed on her in the club-lobby. She responded, however, with a readiness which set their doubts at rest.
“What is the Carlton like for lunching in?” she asked breezily.
The restaurant received an enthusiastic recommendation from the three sisters.
“Let’s go and lunch there, shall we?” she suggested, and in a few minutes’ time the Smithly-Dubb mind was contemplating at close quarters a happy vista of baked meats and approved vintage.
“Are you going to start with caviare? I am,” confided Lady Drakmanton, and the Smithly-Dubbs started with caviare. The subsequent dishes were chosen in the same ambitious spirit, and by the time they had arrived at the wild duck course it was beginning to be a rather expensive lunch.
The conversation hardly kept pace with the brilliancy of the menu. Repeated references on the part of the guests to the local political conditions and prospects in Sir James’s constituency were met with vague “ahs” and “indeeds” from Lady Drakmanton, who might have been expected to be specially interested.