It poured rain again before the sportsmen returned, and they were more or less wet and cross. Antony went straight to his room to change, and so did the two other decent men. But the commercial friends stayed as they were, muddy boots and all, and were grouped round the fire, smelling of wet, hot tweed, when Mrs. Dodd sailed into the room.
“Wullie,” she said, sternly, “you’ve no more sense than a child, and if it was not for me you’d have been in your coffin these five years. Go up-stairs this minute and change your boots.” And off she sent him, but not without a parting shot from Miss Springle.
“Mind you put on a blue velvet smoking-suit, Mr. Dodd, dear. I do love gentlemen in smoking-suits,” she said, giggling.
Tea was a terrible function. Oh, the difference to the merry tea at Harley!
Lady Wakely, sleepily knitting and addressing an occasional observation to her neighbor; the rest of the women silent as the grave, except Miss Springle and Mrs. Dodd, who sparred together like two cats.
The men could talk of nothing but the war news which had come by the afternoon post.
There was a gloom over the whole party. How on earth was I to escape from the oppression? They were not people of the world, who would be accustomed to each person doing what they pleased. They expected to be entertained all the time. To get away from them for a moment I would be obliged to invent some elaborate excuse.
Antony had not appeared upon the scene, or Augustus, either.
At last—at last Lady Wakely put her knitting in a bag and made a move towards the door.
“I shall rest now,” she said, in her fat, kind voice, and I accompanied her from the room, leaving the rest of my guests to take care of themselves. I felt I should throw the cups at their heads if I stayed any longer.
There, in the hall, was Antony, quietly reading the papers. His dark-blue and black silk smoking-suit was extraordinarily becoming. He looked like a person from another planet after the people I had left in the drawing-room.
He rose as we passed him.
“Some very interesting South African news,” he said, addressing me, and while I stopped to answer him Lady Wakely went up the stairs alone.
“The draughts are dreadful here again, Comtesse,” he said, plaintively.
“Why did you not go into the library, then,” I said, “or the billiard-room, or one of the drawing-rooms?”
“I thought perhaps you might pass this way and would give me your advice as to which room to choose.”
I laughed. “The library, then, I suggest,” and I started as if to go up the stairs.
“Comtesse! You would not leave me all alone, would you? You have not told me half enough about our ancestors yet.”
“Oh, I am tired of the ancestors!” and I mounted one step and looked back.