The many friends Macleod had made in the South—or rather those of them who had remained in town till the end of the season—showed an unwonted interest in this nondescript party of his; and it was at a comparatively early hour in the evening that the various groups of people began to show themselves in Miss Rawlinson’s garden. That prim old lady, with her quick, bright ways, and her humorous little speeches, studiously kept herself in the background. It was Sir Keith Macleod who was the host. And when he remarked to her that he thought the most beautiful night of all the beautiful time he had spent in the South had been reserved for this very party, she replied—looking round the garden just as if she had been one of his guests—that it was a pretty scene. And it was a pretty scene. The last fire of the sunset was just touching the topmost branches of the trees. In the colder shade below, the banks and beds of flowers and the costumes of the ladies acquired a strange intensity of color. Then there was a band playing, and a good deal of chatting going on, and one old gentleman with a grizzled mustache humbly receiving lessons in lawn tennis from an imperious small maiden of ten. Macleod was here, there, and everywhere. The lanterns were to be lit while the people were in at supper. Lieutenant Ogilvie was directed to take in Lady Beauregard when the time arrived.
“You must take her in yourself, Macleod,” said that properly constituted youth. “If you outrage the sacred laws of precedence—”
“I mean to take Miss Rawlinson in to supper,” said Macleod; “she is the oldest woman here, and I think, my best friend.”
“I thought you might wish to give Miss White the place of honor,” said Ogilvie, out of sheer impertinence; but Macleod went off to order the candles to be lit in the marquee, where supper was laid.
By and by he came out again. And now the twilight had drawn on apace; there was a cold, clear light in the skies, while at the same moment a red glow began to shine through the canvas of the long tent. He walked over to one little group who were seated on a garden chair.
“Well,” said he, “I have got pretty nearly all my people together now, Mrs. Ross.”
“But where is Gertrude White?” said Mrs. Ross; “surely she is to be here?”
“Oh yes, I think so,” said he. “Her father and herself both promised to come. You know her holidays have begun now.”
“It is a good thing for that girl,” said Miss Rawlinson, in her quick, staccato fashion, “that she has few holidays. Very good thing she has her work to mind. The way people run after her would turn any woman’s head. The Grand D—— is said to have declared that she was one of the three prettiest women he saw in England: what can you expect if things like that get to a girl’s ears?”
“But you know Gerty is quite unspoiled,” said Mrs. Ross, warmly.
“Yes, so far,” said the old lady, “So far she retains the courtesy of being hypocritical.”