From the deep embrasure Nicholas Burr watched curiously the flutter of women’s skirts and the flicker of candle light on shining heads. Eugenia moved easily from group to group, the straight fall of her flaxen gown giving her an added height, the dark coil of hair on the nape of her long neck seeming to rise above the shoulders of other women. She was never silent—for one and all she had some ready words, and her manner was cordial, almost affectionate. It was as if she were in the midst of a great family party, held together by the ties of blood.
In a far corner Juliet Galt and Emma Carr, the prettiest women in the room, sat together upon a corn-coloured divan, and in front of them a file of men passed and repassed slowly on their way to and from the dining-room, pausing to exchange brief remarks and drifting on aimlessly. Near them a fair, pale gentleman, robust and slightly bald, with protruding eyes and anaemic lips, had flung himself upon a gilded chair, a glass of punch in his hand. He had danced incessantly for hours in the adjoining room, and at last, wearied, winded, with a palpitating heart, he had found a punch bowl and a gilded chair.
Through the doorway floated music and the laughter of young girls intoxicated with the dance. In the hall, some had sought rest upon the stairway, and sat in radiant clusters, fanning themselves briskly as they talked. There was about them an absence of coquetry as of self-consciousness; they were frank, cordial-voiced, almost boyish.
The governor stepped suddenly from the embrasure and ran against Ben Galt, who caught his arm.
“I’ve been searching the house for you,” he exclaimed, “after landing my twelfth matron in the dining-room.” Then catching sight of the other’s face, he inquired blandly:
Galt gave a comprehending wink.
“So am I. These things are death. I say, don’t go! Come into the library and we’ll lock the door and have supper shoved in through the window, while we talk business. I’ve a decanter of the finest Madeira you ever tasted behind the bookcase. Juliet will never know, and I don’t care a continental if she does. I’m a desperate man!”
“I was just going,” replied the governor. “I’m not up to parties; but lead off, if it’s out of this.”
It was one o’clock when the governor left Galt’s house, and turning into Grace Street strolled leisurely in the direction of the Capitol Square. The night was sharp with frost and a rising wind drove the shadows on the pavement against darkened house-fronts, while behind a far-off church spire, a wizened moon shivered through a thin cloud. On the silence came the sound of fire bells ringing in the distance.