If you want my opinion . . .” Brooke said, lifting a decanter of whiskey.
Brooke, of course, was undeterred. To the contrary, a keen anticipation lit his eyes. The man possessed a cutting wit, and used it to draw blood. Some gentlemen angled trout while on holiday; others shot game. Arthur Brooke made it a sport to disenchant— as though it were his personal mission to drive fancy and naiveté to extinction.
He said smugly, “My dear Mrs. Yardley, you have assembled a lovely collection of words.”
Portia eyed him with skepticism. “I don’t suppose that’s a compliment.”
“No, it isn’t,” he answered. “Pretty words, all, but there are too many of them. With so many extravagant ornaments, one cannot make out the story beneath.”
“I can make out the story quite clearly,” Cecily protested. “It’s nighttime, and there is a terrific storm.”
“There you have it,” Denny said. “It was a dark and stormy night.” He made a generous motion toward Portia. “Feel free to use that. I won’t mind.”
With a groan, Portia rose from her chair and swept to the window. “The difficulty is, this is not a dark and stormy night. It is clear, and well-lit by the moon, and unseasonably warm for autumn. Terrible. I was promised a gothic holiday to inspire my literary imagination, and Swinford Manor is hopeless. Mr. Denton, your house is entirely too cheerful and maintained.”
“So sorry to disappoint,” Denny said. “Shall I instruct the housekeeper to neglect the cobwebs in your chambers?”
“That wouldn’t be nearly enough. There’s still that sprightly toile wallpaper to contend with— all those gamboling lambs and frolicking dairymaids. Can you imagine, this morning I found myself humming! I expected this house to be decrepit, lugubrious . . .”
“Lugubrious.” Brooke drawled the word into his whiskey. “Another pretty word, lugubrious. More than pretty. Positively voluptuous with vowels, lugubrious. And spoken with such . . . mellifluence.”
Portia flicked him a bemused glance.
He added, “One pretty word deserves another, don’t you think?