The various groups wandered in and out. Elizabeth Eliza studied the costumes of her friends, and wished she had tried each one of them. The members of the Circumambient Society agreed that it would be always well to wear costumes at their meetings. As the principles of the society enforced a sort of uncertainty, if you always went in a different costume you would never have to keep up your own character. Elizabeth Eliza thought she should enjoy this. She had all her life been troubled with uncertainties and questions as to her own part of “Elizabeth Eliza,” wondering always if she were doing the right thing. It did not seem to her that other people had such a bother. Perhaps they had simpler parts. They always seemed to know when to speak and when to be silent, while she was always puzzled as to what she should do as Elizabeth Eliza. Now, behind her pillow-case, she could look on and do nothing; all that was expected of her was to be smothered now and then. She breathed freely and enjoyed herself, because for the evening she could forget the difficult role of Elizabeth Eliza.
Mrs. Peterkin was bewildered. She thought it a good occasion to study how Mrs. Peterkin should act; but there were three Mrs. Peterkins. She found herself gazing first at one, then at another. Often she was herself called Mrs. Peterkin.
[Illustration: The ass’s head proved hot and heavy, and Agamemnon was forced to hang it over his arm.]
At supper-time the bewilderment increased. She was led in by the Earl of Leicester, as principal guest. Yet it was to her own dining-room, and she recognized her own forks and spoons among the borrowed ones, although the china was different (because their own set was not large enough to go round for so much company). It was all very confusing. The dance-music floated through the air. Three Mrs. Peterkins hovered before her, and two Agamemnons; for the ass’s head proved hot and heavy, and Agamemnon was forced to hang it over his arm as he offered coffee to Titania. There seemed to be two Elizabeth Elizas, for Elizabeth Eliza had thrown back her pillow-case in order to eat her fruit-ice. Mr. Peterkin was wondering how Julius Caesar would have managed to eat his salad with his fork, before forks were invented, and then he fell into a fit of abstraction, planning to say “Vale” to the guests as they left, but anxious that the word should not slip out before the time. Eight little boys and three Hindu snake-charmers were eating copiously of frozen pudding. Two Joans of Arc were talking to Charles I., who had found his head. All things seemed double to Mrs. Peterkin as they floated before her.
“Was she eating her own supper or somebody’s else? Were they Peterkins, or were they not?”
Strains of dance-music sounded from the library. Yes, they were giving a fancy ball! The Peterkins were “At Home” for the last time before leaving for Egypt!