He must save his superfluous energy for the evening, when the neighbors are to come together, and we are to dance. This fact is news to most of us, and I think we hardly receive it with the elation he expects. There seems to be more of rheumatism than of dance in many of our limbs, and our united sneezes will be enough to drown the band. However, revolt in this case is useless. We must console ourselves with the notion that at least in a ballroom there can be neither rain nor wind—that we cannot lose our way or be upset, at least not in the sense which had such terror for us yesterday. Roger has gone over to Tempest on business, and is away all day. Mrs. Huntley sits by the fire, with a little fichu over her head, sipping a tisane; while Algy, in undisturbed possession, and with restored but feverish amiability, stretches his length on the rug at her feet, and looks injured if Barbara or I, or even the footman with coals, enters the room.
As the day goes on, there is not much to do; a new idea takes possession of Mr. Parker’s active mind.
Why should not we all be in fancy-dress to-night? Well, not all of us, then—not his uncle, of course, nor Sir Roger, but any of us that liked. Trouble! Not a bit of it. Why, the ladies need only rouge a bit, and put some flour on their heads, and there they are; and, as for the men, there is a heap of old things up in the lumber-room that belonged to his great-grandfather, and among them there is sure to be something to fit everybody. If they do not believe him, they may come and see for themselves.
Such is the force of a strong will, that he actually carries off the deeply unwilling Musgrave to inspect his ancestor’s wardrobe. At first we have treated his proposal only with laughter, but he is so profoundly in earnest about it, and dwells with such eagerness on the advantage of the fact that not a soul among the company will recognize us—he can answer for himself at least—it is always by his hair (with a laugh) that people know him—that we at length begin to catch his ardor.
To tell truth, from the beginning the idea has approved itself to Barbara and me, only that we were ashamed to say so—carrying us back in memory as it does to the days when we dressed the Brat up in my clothes as me, and took in all the maid-servants. I think, too, that I have a little of the feeling of faint hope that inspired Balak when he showed Balaam the Israelites from a fresh point of view. Perhaps, in carmine cheeks and a snow-white head, I may find a little of my old favor in Roger’s eyes.
Human wills are mostly so feeble and vacillating, that if one thorough-going determined one sticks to any proposition, however absurd, he is pretty sure to get the majority round to him in time; and so it is in the present case. Mr. Parker succeeds in making us all, willing and unwilling, promise to travesty ourselves. We are not to dress till after dinner; that is over now, and we are all adorning ourselves.