“Jolly well every one looks tonight,” her partner, who was Sir Charles, remarked. “All the women seem to be wearing smart frocks, and some of those foreign uniforms are gorgeous.”
“Even the Prince,” Penelope said thoughtfully, “must find some reflection of the philosophy of his own country in such a scene as this. For the last fortnight we have been surfeited with horrors. We have had to go through all sorts of nameless things,” she added, shivering slightly, “and tonight we dance at Devenham House. We dance, and drink champagne, and marvel at the flowers, as though we had not a care in the world, as though life moved always to music.”
Sir Charles frowned a little.
“The Prince again!” he said, half protesting. “He seems to be a great deal in your thoughts lately, Penelope.”
“Why not?” she answered. “It is something to meet a person whom one is able to dislike. Nowadays the whole world is so amiable.”
“I wonder how much you really do dislike him,” he said.
She looked at him with a mysterious smile.
“Sometimes,” she murmured softly, “I wonder that myself.”
“Leaving the Prince out of the question,” he continued, “what you say is true enough. Only a few days ago, you had to attend that awful inquest, and the last time I saw dear old Dicky Vanderpole, he was looking forward to this very dance.”
“It seems callous of us to have come,” Penelope declared. “And yet, if we hadn’t, what difference would it have made? Every one else would have been here. Our absence would never have been noticed, and we should have sat at home and had the blues. But all the same, life is cruel.”
“Can’t say I find much to grumble at myself,” Sir Charles said cheerfully. “I’m frightfully sorry about poor old Dicky, of course, and every other decent fellow who doesn’t get his show. But, after all, it’s no good being morbid. Sackcloth and ashes benefit no one. Shall we have another turn?”
“Not yet,” Penelope replied. “Wait till the crowd thins a little. Tell me what you have been doing today?”
“Pretty strenuous time,” Sir Charles remarked. “Up at nine, played golf at Ranelagh all morning, lunched down there, back to my rooms and changed, called on my tailor, went round to the club, had one game of billiards and four rubbers of bridge.”
“Is that all?” Penelope asked.
The faint sarcasm which lurked beneath her question passed unnoticed. Sir Charles smiled good-humoredly.
“Not quite,” he answered. “I dined at the Carlton with Bellairs and some men from Woolwich and we had a box at the Empire to see the new ballet. Jolly good it was, too. Will you come one night, if I get up a party?”
“Oh, perhaps!” she answered. “Come and dance.”
They passed into the great ballroom, the finest in London, brilliant with its magnificent decorations of real flowers, its crowd of uniformed men and beautiful women, its soft yet ever-present throbbing of wonderful music. At the further end of the room, on a slightly raised dais, still receiving her guests, stood the Duchess of Devenham. Penelope gave a little start as they saw who was bowing over her hand.