WAITING FOR DINNER.
Dinner at Hartledon had been ordered for seven o’clock. It was beyond that hour when Dr. Ashton arrived, for he had been detained—a clergyman’s time is not always under his own control. Anne and Arthur were with him, but not Mrs. Ashton. He came in, ready with an apology for his tardiness, but found he need not offer it; neither Lord Hartledon nor his brother having yet appeared.
“Hartledon and that boy Carteret have not returned home yet,” said the countess-dowager, in her fiercest tones, for she liked her dinner more than any other earthly thing, and could not brook being kept waiting for it. “And when they do come, they’ll keep us another half-hour dressing.”
“I beg your ladyship’s pardon—they have come,” interposed Captain Dawkes. “Carteret was going into his room as I came out of mine.”
“Time they were,” grumbled the dowager. “They were not in five minutes ago, for I sent to ask.”
“Which of the two won the race?” inquired Lady Maude of Captain Dawkes.
“I don’t think Carteret did,” he replied, laughing. “He seemed as sulky as a bear, and growled out that there had been no race, for Hartledon had played him a trick.”
“What did he mean?”
“I hope Hartledon upset him,” charitably interrupted the dowager. “A ducking would do that boy good; he is too forward by half.”
There was more waiting. The countess-dowager flounced about in her pink satin gown; but it did not bring the loiterers any the sooner. Lady Maude—perverse still, but beautiful—talked in whispers to the hero of the day, Mr. Shute; wearing a blue-silk robe and a blue wreath in her hair. Anne, adhering to the colours of Lord Hartledon, though he had been defeated, was in a rich, glistening white silk, with natural flowers, red and purple, on its body, and the same in her hair. Her sweet face was sunny again, her eyes were sparkling: a word dropped by Dr. Ashton had given her a hope that, perhaps, Percival Elster might be forgiven sometime.
He was the first of the culprits to make his appearance. The dowager attacked him of course. What did he mean by keeping dinner waiting?
Val replied that he was late in coming home; he had been out. As to keeping dinner waiting, it seemed that Lord Hartledon was doing that: he didn’t suppose they’d have waited for him.
He spoke tartly, as if not on good terms with himself or the world. Anne Ashton, near to whom he had drawn, looked up at him with a charming smile.
“Things may brighten, Percival,” she softly breathed.
“It’s to be hoped they will,” gloomily returned Val. “They look dark enough just now.”
“What have you done to your face?” she whispered.
“To my face? Nothing that I know of.”
“The forehead is red, as if it had been bruised, or slightly grazed.”