Julie soon found herself unwilling to meet the gaze fixed upon her. She flushed a little and began to talk of other things.
“Everybody, surely, is unusually late. It will be annoying, indeed, if the Duchess doesn’t come.”
“The Duchess is a delicious creature, but not for me,” said Warkworth, with a laugh. “She dislikes me. Ah, now then for the fray!”
For the outer bell rang loudly, and there were steps in the hall.
“Oh, Julie”—in swept a white whirlwind with the smallest white satin shoes twinkling in front of it—“how clever of you—you naughty angel! Aunt Flora in bed—and you down here! And I who came prepared for such a dose of humble-pie! What a relief! Oh, how do you do?”
The last words were spoken in quite another tone, as the Duchess, for the first time perceiving the young officer on the more shaded side of the fireplace, extended to him a very high wrist and a very stiff hand. Then she turned again to Julie.
“My dear, there’s a small mob in the hall. Mr. Montresor—and General Somebody—and Jacob—and Dr. Meredith with a Frenchman. Oh, and old Lord Lackington, and Heaven knows who! Hutton told me I might come in, so I promised to come first and reconnoitre. But what’s Hutton to do? You really must take a line. The carriages are driving up at a fine rate.”
“I’ll go and speak to Hutton,” said Julie.
And she hurried into the hall.
When Miss Le Breton reached the hall, a footman was at the outer door reciting Lady Henry’s excuses as each fresh carriage drove up; while in the inner vestibule, which was well screened from the view of the street, was a group of men, still in their hats and over-coats, talking and laughing in subdued voices.
Julie Le Breton came forward. The hats were removed, and the tall, stooping form of Montresor advanced.
“Lady Henry is so sorry,” said Julie, in a soft, lowered voice. “But I am sure she would like me to give you her message and to tell you how she is. She would not like her old friends to be alarmed. Would you come in for a moment? There is a fire in the library. Mr. Delafield, don’t you think that would be best?... Will you tell Hutton not to let in anybody else?”
She looked at him uncertainly, as though appealing to him, as a relation of Lady Henry’s, to take the lead.