’Brought Philippa to you, my dear Lady Clonbrony, this figure, rather than not bring her at all,’ said puffing Mrs. Broadhurst; ’and had all the difficulty in the world to get her out at all, and now I’ve promised she shall stay but half an hour. Sore throat—terrible cold she took in the morning. I’ll swear for her, she’d not have come for any one but you.’
The young lady did not seem inclined to swear, or even to say this for herself; she stood wonderfully unconcerned and passive, with an expression of humour lurking in her eyes, and about the corners of her mouth; whilst Lady Clonbrony was ‘shocked,’ and ‘gratified,’ and ‘concerned’ and ‘flattered’ and whilst everybody was hoping, and fearing, and busying themselves about her—’Miss Broadhurst, you’d better sit here!’—’Oh, for Heaven’s sake! Miss Broadhurst, not there!’ ‘Miss Broadhurst, if you’ll take my opinion;’ and ’Miss Broadhurst, if I may advise—’
‘Grace Nugent!’ cried Lady Clonbrony—’Miss Broadhurst always listens to you. Do, my dear, persuade Miss Broadhurst to take care of herself, and let us take her to the inner little pagoda, where she can be so warm and so retired—the very thing for an invalid. Colambre! pioneer the way for us, for the crowd’s immense.’
Lady Anne and Lady Catharine H—, Lady Langdale’s daughters, were at this time leaning on Miss Nugent’s arm, and moved along with this party to the inner pagoda. There was to be cards in one room, music in another, dancing in a third, and, in this little room, there were prints and chess-boards, etc.
‘Here you will be quite to yourselves,’ said Lady Clonbrony; ’let me establish you comfortably in this, which I call my sanctuary—my snuggery—Colambre, that little table!—Miss Broadhurst, you play chess? Colambre, you’ll play with Miss Broadhurst—’
‘I thank your ladyship,’ said Miss Broadhurst, ’but I know nothing of chess, but the moves. Lady Catharine, you will play, and I will look on.’
Miss Broadhurst drew her seat to the fire; Lady Catharine sat down to play with Lord Colambre; Lady Clonbrony withdrew, again recommending Miss Broadhurst to Grace Nugent’s care. After some commonplace conversation, Lady Anne H—–, looking at the company in the adjoining apartment, asked her sister how old Miss Somebody was, who passed by. This led to reflections upon the comparative age and youthful appearance of several of their acquaintance, and upon the care with which mothers concealed the age of their daughters. Glances passed between Lady Catharine and Lady Anne.
‘For my part,’ said Miss Broadhurst, ’my mother would ’labour that point of secrecy in vain for me; for I am willing to tell my age, even if my face did not tell it for me, to all whom it may concern. I am past three-and-twenty—shall be four-and-twenty the 5th of next July.’
‘Three-and-twenty! Bless me! I thought you were not twenty!’ cried Lady Anne.