“Hardly.” Laine looked at his watch. “What time do you have dinner?”
“Seven. It’s time for me to dress.” Mrs. Warrick got up. “Do pray be decent and go to-morrow night, Winthrop. Mr. Taillor has been such a good friend, and Mrs. Taillor will be so pleased. Don’t forget to send the child flowers. I wonder if Claudia is ready. Dorothea grabs her every chance she gets, and I don’t doubt she’s with the children this minute. She’ll stay until dinner is served, so don’t worry; and for goodness’ sake don’t let her being here keep you away.”
Going down the crowded steps into the crowded drawing-room, Winthrop Laine slowly made his way through the door to the place where Mr. and Mrs. Taillor and their daughter were receiving their guests and passing them on with a rapidity that would have been creditable to the custodian of a game of human roulette, and as he reached them his name was called with uncomfortable clearness.
“Well, this is a surprise!” Both of Mrs. Taillor’s hands held Laine’s. “But commend me to a person who knows when to change his mind. Jessica, you should feel honored. Awfully good of you to come! How do you do, Mrs. Haislip?” And Laine, too, was passed on, and a moment later found himself in a corner where he could watch the door and all who came in.
What was he here for? He didn’t know. The air was heavy with perfume. In the distance music reached him faintly, and the throb and stir and color and glow for some minutes interested him as he glanced around the handsome room with its massed palms, its wealth of flowers, its brilliant lights, and streams of gorgeously gowned women and prosperous-looking men, and then he wondered what had made him start anything of this sort again. To come had been a sudden decision. Long ago the dreariness of functions such as these had caused their giving-up, but a fancy to look once more upon one had possessed him unaccountably, and he had come.
Up-stairs in the men’s room his reappearance had been banteringly commented on, and with good-natured hand-shaking he had been welcomed back; but down here many faces were strange and figures unrecognizable; and with something of shock he realized how few were the years necessary to change the personnel of any division of humanity. The heat was intense, and moving farther back toward a screen of palms near a half-open window, he pulled one slightly forward that he might see and not be seen, and again watched each newcomer with mild speculation as to whether he or she were known or not.
For a while it was puzzling, this continuing arrival of new faces, with here and there one he knew well or slightly; but gradually its effect chilled, and he was wondering if he could get away when he heard his name called.
“Winthrop Laine! Of all people!” Miss French held out her hand. “From what loophole were you watching this passing show for man’s derision given? May I come in?”