And, indeed, when they entered the house—the balconies and windows were a blaze of flowers all shining in the sun—they found that their host and hostess had already come downstairs, and were seated at table with their small party of guests. This circumstance did not lessen Sir Keith Macleod’s trepidation; for there is no denying the fact that the young man would rather have faced an angry bull on a Highland road than this party of people in the hushed and semi-darkened and flower-scented room. It seemed to him that his appearance was the signal for a confusion that was equivalent to an earthquake. Two or three servants—all more solemn than any clergyman—began to make new arrangements; a tall lady, benign of aspect, rose and most graciously received him; a tall gentleman, with a gray mustache, shook hands with him; and then, as he vaguely heard young Ogilvie, at the other end of the room, relate the incident of the upsetting of the cab, he found himself seated next to this benign lady, and apparently in a bewildering paradise of beautiful lights and colors and delicious odors. Asparagus soup? Yes, he would take that; but for a second or two this spacious and darkened room, with its stained glass and its sombre walls, and the table before him, with its masses of roses and lilies-of-the-valley, its silver, its crystal, its nectarines, and cherries, and pineapples, seemed some kind of enchanted place. And then the people talked in a low and hushed fashion, and the servants moved silently and mysteriously, and the air was languid with the scents of fruits and flowers. They gave him some wine in a tall green glass that had transparent lizards crawling up its stem; he had never drunk out of a thing like that before.
“It was very kind of Mr. Ogilvie to get you to come; he is a very good boy; he forgets nothing,” said Mrs. Ross to him; and as he became aware that she was a pleasant-looking lady of middle age, who regarded him with very friendly and truthful eyes, he vowed to himself that he would bring Mr. Ogilvie to task for representing this decent and respectable woman as a graceless and dangerous coquette. No doubt she was the mother of children. At her time of life she was better employed in the nursery or in the kitchen than in flirting with young men; and could he doubt that she was a good house-mistress when he saw with his own eyes how spick and span everything was, and how accurately everything was served? Even if his cousin Janet lived in the south, with all these fine flowers and hot-house fruits to serve her purpose, she could not have done better. He began to like this pleasant-eyed woman, though she seemed delicate, and a trifle languid, and in consequence he sometimes could not quite make out what she said. But then he noticed that the other people talked in this limp fashion too: there was no precision about their words; frequently they seemed to leave you to guess the end of their sentences. As for the young lady next him, was she not very delicate also? He had never seen such hands—so small, and fine, and white. And although she talked only to her neighbor on the other side of her, he could hear that her voice, low and musical as it was, was only a murmur.