“On s’ennuie presque toujours avec ceux qu’on ennuie.”
Hester did not fail a second time to warn the Gresleys of the arrival of guests. She mentioned it in time to allow of the making of cakes, and Mr. Gresley graciously signified his intention of returning early from his parochial rounds on the afternoon when Dick and Rachel were expected, while Mrs. Gresley announced that the occasion was a propitious one for inviting the Pratts to tea.
“Miss West will like to meet them,” she remarked to Hester, whose jaw dropped at the name of Pratt. “And it is very likely if they take a fancy to her they will ask her to stay at the Towers while she is in the neighborhood. If the captain is at home I will ask him to come too. The Pratts are always so pleasant and hospitable.”
Hester was momentarily disconcerted at the magnitude of the social effort which Rachel’s coming seemed to entail. But for once she had the presence of mind not to show her dismay, and she helped Mrs. Gresley to change the crewel-work antimacassars, with their washed-out kittens swinging and playing leap-frog, for the best tussore-silk ones.
The afternoon was still young when all the preparations had been completed, and Mrs. Gresley went up-stairs to change her gown, while Hester took charge of the children, as Fraeulein had many days previously arranged to make music with Dr. and Miss Brown on this particular afternoon. And very good music it was which proceeded out of the open windows of the doctor’s red brick house opposite Abel’s cottage. Hester could just hear it from the bottom of the garden near the church-yard wall, and there she took the children, and under the sycamore, with a bench round it, the dolls had a tea-party. Hester had provided herself with a lump of sugar and a biscuit, and out of these many dishes were made, and were arranged on a clean pocket-handkerchief spread on the grass. Regie carried out his directions as butler with solemn exactitude; and though Mary, who had inherited the paternal sense of humor, thought fit to tweak the handkerchief and upset everything, she found the witticism so coldly received by “Auntie Hester,” although she explained that father always did it, that she at once suited herself to her company, and helped to repair the disaster.
It was very hot. The dolls, from the featureless midshipman to the colossal professional beauty sitting in her own costly perambulator (a present from Mrs. Pratt), felt the heat, and showed it by their moist countenances. The only person who was cool was a small, nude, china infant in its zinc bath, the property of Stella, whose determination to reach central facts, and to penetrate to the root of the matter, at present took the form of tearing or licking off all that could be torn or licked from objects of interest. Hester, who had presented her with the floating baby in the bath, sometimes wondered, as she watched Stella conscientiously work through a well-dressed doll down to its stitched sawdust compartments, what Mr. Gresley would make of his daughter when she turned her attention to theology.