“You’re a capital host, Tom,” I said.
“Am I, Justin? Well, I hope I am to you, for I have been really longing for you to come, and I want you to have a jolly time.”
“I’m sure I shall,” I replied.
“Well, I hope so; only you don’t care for ladies’ society, and I’m afraid I shall have to be away from you a good bit.”
“Naturally you will, old fellow. You see, you are master of the hall, and will have to look after the comfort of all the guests.”
“Oh, as to that, mother will do all that’s necessary; but I—that is—” and Tom stopped.
“Any particular guest, Tom?” I asked.
“Yes, there is, Justin. I don’t mind telling you, but I’m in love, and I want to settle the matter this Christmas. She’s an angel of a girl, and I’m in hopes that—Well, I don’t believe she hates me.”
“Good, Tom. And her name?”
“Her name,” said Tom slowly, “is Edith Gray.”
I gave a sigh of relief. I could not help it—why I could not tell; and yet I trembled lest he should mention another name.
We reached Temple Hall in due time, where I was kindly welcomed by Mrs. Temple and her two daughters. The former was just the kind of lady I had pictured her, while the daughters gave promise of following in the footsteps of their kind-hearted mother.
Tom took me to my room, and then, looking at his watch, said, “Make haste, old fellow. Dinner has been postponed on account of you late arrivals, but it will be ready in half-an-hour.”
I was not long over my toilet, and soon after hearing the first dinner bell I wended my way to the drawing-room, wondering who and what kind of people I should meet, but was not prepared for the surprises that awaited me.
Just before I reached the drawing-room door, Mrs. Temple came up and took me by the arm.
“We are all going to be very unceremonious, Mr. Blake,” she said, “and I shall expect my son’s friend to make himself perfectly at home.”
I thanked her heartily, for I began to feel a little strange.
We entered the drawing-room together, where I found a number of people had gathered. They were mostly young, although I saw one or two ancient-looking dames, who, I supposed, had come to take care of their daughters.
“I am going to introduce you to everybody,” continued the old lady, “for this is to be a family gathering, and we must all know each other. I know I may not be acting according to the present usages of society, but that does not trouble me a little bit.”
Accordingly, with the utmost good taste, she introduced me to a number of the people who had been invited.
I need make no special mention of most of them. Some of the young ladies simpered, others were frank, some were fairly good looking, while others were otherwise, and that is about all that could be said. None had sufficient individuality to make a distinct impression upon me. The young men were about on a par with the young ladies. Some lisped and were affected, some were natural and manly; and I began to think that, as far as the people were concerned, the Christmas gathering would be a somewhat tame affair.