The Earl of Castlemere, with his beautiful Countess leaning lovingly on his arm, are pacing leisurely up and down among the assembled guests, exchanging here and there words of courteous pleasantry. Lounging over the back of a handsome fautiel, Colonel Snaffle, of the Lancers, is conversing with Pauline Barton, in his usual gay and lively manner, relating to some reminiscence which occurred to them while dwelling on the sunny plains of Hindostan. Horace Barton, Aunt Cotterell and the Rev. Charles Denham were discussing some knotty point concerning high and low church, etc., while some political question was evidently exciting the minds of the worthy old Stockbroker, Dr. Ashburnham, and Tom Barton. The good natured Draycott was exhausting his powers of pleasing by relating to Mrs. Ashburnham, her sister Emily and pretty Cousin Kate, the last on dit going the rounds of the fashionable circles at the metropolis.
Light-hearted, happy children gamboled on the broad marble steps, or seated on soft cushions at their parents’ feet, listened to the sparkling wit, repartee and agreeable rattle that broke forth among the gay loungers on the terrace. Occasionally the eyes of the whole party would rest with admiration and pride on the scene enacting before them, and well they might, for on the smooth, soft, velvet-like sward of the croquet lawn, eight youthful figures, the eldest scarcely sixteen, were engaged in that most exhilarating, delightful and exciting of all out door amusements, the game of croquet.
The Lady Eglentine Carlton, eldest daughter of the Countess of Castlemere, a tall, graceful girl, inheriting all her mother’s soft beauty of form and features, stood with her small, exquisitely shaped foot resting on a bright, blue ball, evidently listening to some suggestion of her partner, Clarence Ashburnham, preparatory to giving the final stroke that would croquet her adversary’s ball to a considerable distance. Not far off stood, in an easy position, the Earl’s handsome son and heir, Lord Adolphus Carlton, mallet in hand, explaining to pretty Alice Denham, the rector’s daughter, what effect on the game his sister’s stroke would have if correctly given. Kate Barton, the little golden-haired fairy, as she was called generally, is chatting merrily with the Honourable Eustace Carlton, a noble, aristocratic looking youth, with chestnut curls and the bright, flashing eyes of the Earl, his father, declaring with great animation that their side must win, while Maud Ashburnham, the physician’s dark-haired daughter, a sparkling brunette, full of life and vivacity, announces to her partner, Alfred Arthur Denham, that her next stroke shall carry her through the last hoop, this will make her a rover, and she will then come to his assistance; and thus the game progressed, first in favor of one side and then the other, till at length a splendid stroke from the youthful Lady Eglentine’s mallet, put her own and her partner’s ball through the last wire arch, placing them in a triumphant position, amidst shouts of applause from their own side.