I stared through the open door of the Hall at the gay world of colour outside and wondered if I was under the thrall of some queer illusion. But as I moved towards the garden with a vague idea of regaining my sanity in the open air, the silence in the breakfast-room was broken by the sigh of a general movement, the door was opened from within, and there poured out a long procession of servants: a grave woman in black, a bevy of print-gowned maids, and finally John—all of them looking staid and a trifle melancholy, they made their way with a kind of hushed timidity towards the red-baized entrance that led to the freedoms of their proper condition.
Within the breakfast-room a low chatter of voices was slowly rising to the level of ordinary conversation.
My entrance was anything but jaunty. This was the first intimation I had received of the Jervaises’ piety; and my recognition of the ceremonial of family worship to which I had so unintuitively listened, had evoked long undisturbed memories of my boyhood. As I entered the breakfast-room, I could not for the life of me avoid a feeling of self-reproach. I had been naughty again. My host, taking the place of my father, would be vexed because I had missed prayers.
My reception did little to disperse my sense of shame. The air of Sunday morning enveloped the whole party. Even Hughes and Frank Jervaise were dressed as for a special occasion in black tail-coats and gray trousers that boasted the rigidity of a week’s pressing. Not only had I been guilty of cutting family prayers; I was convicted, also of disrespect on another count. My blue serge and bright tie were almost profane in those surroundings. The thought of how I had spent the night convicted me as a thorough-going Pagan.
“I hope you managed to get a little sleep, Mr. Melhuish,” Mrs. Jervaise said tepidly. “We are having breakfast half an hour later than usual, but you were so very late last night.”
I began to mumble something, but she went on, right over me, speaking in a voice that she obviously meant to carry “And Brenda isn’t down even now,” she said. “In fact she’s having breakfast in her own room, and I am not at all sure that we shan’t keep her there all day. She has the beginning of a nasty cold brought on by her foolishness—and, besides, she has been very, very naughty and will have to be punished.” She gave a touch of grim playfulness to her last sentence, but I should not in any case have taken her statement seriously. If I knew anything of our Brenda, it was that she was not the sort of young lady who would submit to being kept in her own room as a punishment.
“I hope the cold won’t be serious,” was all I could find to say.