Lady Angleby was great lady enough to have her own by-laws of etiquette in her own house, and her nephew was assigned to take Miss Fairfax to dinner. They sat side by side, and were wonderfully sociable at one end of the table, with the hostess and Mr. Fairfax facing them at the other. Besides the guests already introduced, there was one other gentleman, very young—Sir Edward Lucas—whose privilege it was to escort Mrs. Chiverton. Mr. Forbes gave his arm to Miss Burleigh. Mr. Chiverton and Mr. Oliver Smith had no ladies: Lady Angleby liked a preponderance of gentlemen at her entertainments. Everybody talked and was pleasant, and Bessie Fairfax felt almost at ease, so fast does confidence grow in the warm atmosphere of courtesy and kindness. When the ladies retired to the drawing-room she was bidden to approach Lady Angleby’s footstool, and treated caressingly; while Mrs. Chiverton was allowed to converse on philanthropic missions with Miss Burleigh, who yawned behind her fan and marvelled at the splendor of the bride’s jewels.
In the dining-room conversation became more animated when the gentlemen were left to themselves. Mr. Chiverton loved to take the lead. He had said little during dinner, but now he began to talk with vivacity, and was heard with the attention that must be paid to an old man possessed of enormous wealth and the centre of great connexions. He was accustomed to this deference, and cared perhaps for none other. He had a vast contempt for his fellow-creatures, and was himself almost universally detested. But he could bear it, sustained by the bitter tonic of his own numerous aversions. One chief aversion was present at this moment in the elegant person of Mr. Oliver Smith. Mr. Oliver Smith was called not too strong in the head, but he was good, and possessed the irresistible influence of goodness. Mr. Chiverton hated his mild tenacity. His own temper was purely despotic. He had represented a division of the county for several years, and had finally retired from Parliament in dudgeon at the success of the Liberal party and policy. After some general remarks on the approaching election, came up the problem of reconciling the quarrel between labor and capital, then already growing to such proportions that the whole community, alarmed, foresaw that it might have ere long to suffer with the disputants. The immediate cause of the reference was the fact of a great landowner named Gifford having asked for soldiers from Norminster to aid his farmers in gathering in the harvest, which was both early and abundant. The request had been granted. The dearth of labor on his estates arose from various causes, but primarily from there not being cottages enough to house the laborers, his father and he having both pursued the policy of driving them to a distance to keep down the rates.