It was at this point that Anne rose, passed quietly, with the bearing of a queen, down the long room, and without a single word or glance went out and closed the door very softly behind her.
AT THE MEET
On one occasion, and one only, in the whole year were the gates of the Manor thrown open to all comers, opulent Americans and impecunious Britons alike. And this was when, in accordance with a custom that had been observed from time immemorial, the foxhounds met upon the Manor lawn.
It was then that Sir Giles, who cursed this obligatory hospitality for weeks beforehand, emerged with a smile as fixed as his scowl, shook hands with the select few whom he deigned to number among his acquaintances and pointedly ignored the many who did not enjoy this privilege.
With old Dimsdale the butler rather than with his master rested the honours of the house, and old Dimsdale did his part nobly; so nobly that Major Shirley was heard to remark more than once that it was a pity he and Sir Giles couldn’t change places. It was the great day of Dimsdale’s year, and his was the proud task to see that none of the guests were neglected.
Anne usually rode to hounds on this occasion. Tall and stately, clad in the conventional black riding-habit that only added grace to her severity of outline, she moved among her husband’s guests. And even those of them who, like Major Shirley, resented that queenliness which was an inborn part of her very nature, were fain to admit that she filled her position as lady of the Manor with striking success. Though she had withdrawn herself more and more of late from the society of the neighbourhood, she acted the part of hostess with unfailing graciousness. On foot she moved among the throng, greeting everyone she knew.
Little Dot Waring, standing in the background with her brother on a certain misty morning in January marked her progress with looks of loving admiration. Lady Carfax’s mount, a powerful grey with nervous ears and gleaming eyes, was being held in unwilling subjection close to them.
“Be ready to mount her when she comes this way, Ralph,” Dot whispered, as the tall figure drew nearer.
But the honour of mounting Lady Carfax was not for Ralph. A man on a black mare—a slight man with high cheek-bones and an insolent bearing—was threading his way towards them through the crowd. The mare, like the grey, was restive, and her rider swore at her whimsies as he came.
Meeting Dot’s frank regard, he checked himself and raised his hat with a courtesy half-instinctive.
Dot stared, coloured, and very slightly bowed.
Ralph sniggered. “Let yourself in for it that time, my child! Here comes Bertie to effect a formal introduction.”
“Bertie won’t introduce him,” she said quickly.
Bertie, looking very handsome and stalwart, was already close to them. He leaned down from the saddle to shake hands.