Perhaps it was just a kindly thought on her part to ask Austin Selwyn. It may have been the desire of having an author to lend an exotic touch to the gathering. Or, being a woman, she may have wanted an American to see her at the head of the table in two widely different settings.
Perhaps it was all three motives.
In preparation for the arrival of guests, ‘a certain liveliness’ pervaded the tranquil atmosphere of Roselawn. The tennis-court was rolled and marked; fishing-tackle was inspected and repaired; in view of the possibility of dancing, the piano was tuned; bridge deficiencies were made good at the local stationer’s; and gardeners and gamekeepers hurried about their tasks, while flapping game-birds signalled to trembling trout that the enemy was mobilising for the yearly campaign.
Roselawn differed little from the hundreds of English country-houses, the seclusion and invulnerability of which have played so great a part in forming the English character. A lodge at the entrance to the estate supplied a medieval sense of challenge to the outside world, and the beautifully kept hedges at the side of the mile-long carriage-drive gave that feeling of retirement and emancipation from the world so much desired by tranquil minds.
It was the setting to produce a poet, or a race of Tories. Once within the embracing solitude of Roselawn, the discordant jangling of common people worrying about their long hours of work or the right to give their offspring a decent chance in the world became a distant murmur, no more unpleasant or menacing than the whang of a wasp outside the window.
Not that the inhabitants of Roselawn were any more callous or selfish than others of their class, for the record of the Durwent family was by no means devoid of kindly and knightly deeds. Tenantry lying ill were always the recipients of studied thoughtfulness from the lord and lady of the place, and servants who had served both long and faithfully could look forward to a decent pension until death sent them to the great equality of the next world.
If one could trace the history of the Durwent family from the beginning, it would be seen that among the victims of a hereditary system there must be numbered many of the aristocracy themselves. Caricaturists and satirists, who smear the many with the weaknesses of the few, would have us believe that the son of a lord is no better than the son of a fool; yet, if the vaults of some of the old families were to unfold their century-hugged secrets, it would be seen that, as Gray’s country churchyard might hold some mute inglorious Milton, so might these vaults hold the ashes of many a splendid brain ruined by the genial absurdity of ‘class’ wherein it had been placed. A boy with a title suspended over his head like the sword of Damocles may enter life’s arena armed with great aspirations and the power to bring a depth of human understanding to earth’s problems, but what chance has he against the ring of antagonists who confront him? Flunkeyism, ‘swank,’ the timid worship of the peerage, the leprosy of social hypocrisy, all sap his strength, as barnacles clinging to the keel of a ship lessen her speed with each recurring voyage.