He was a tolerable shot, and a plucky, though not a graceful horseman. He hated dancing because he trod on his partner’s toes, and shunned ladies’ society because he had to make himself agreeable to them. Nevertheless, having been fairly “licked into shape” by a course successively of Eton and of Oxford, he was able to behave like a gentleman in his mother’s house when it was necessary for him to do so, and he quite appreciated the fact of his being an important personage in the Miller family.
It was to celebrate the coming of age of this interesting young gentleman that Mr. and Mrs. Miller had settled to give a monster entertainment to several hundreds of their fellow-creatures.
The proceedings were to include a variety of instructive and amusing pastimes, and were to last pretty nearly all day. There was to be a country flower-show in a big tent on the lawn; that was pure business, and concerned the farmers as much as the gentry. There were also to be athletic sports in a field for the active young men, lawn-tennis for the active young women, an amateur polo match got up by the energy and pluck of Miss Beatrice and her uncle Tom; a “cold collation” in a second tent to be going on all the afternoon; the whole to be finished up with a dance in the large drawing room, for a select few, after sunset.
The programme, in all conscience, was varied enough; and the day broke hopefully, after the wild storm of the previous night, bright and cool and sunny, with every prospect of being perfectly fine.
Beatrice, happy in the possession of her lover, was full of life and energy; she threw herself into all the preparations of the fete with her whole heart. Herbert, who came over from Lutterton at an early hour, followed her about like a dog, obeying her orders implicitly, but impeding her proceedings considerably by a constant under-current of love-making, by which he strove to vary and enliven the operation of sticking standard flags into the garden borders, and nailing up wreaths of paper roses inside the tent.
Mrs. Miller, having consented to the engagement, like a sensible woman, was resolved to make the best of it, and was, if not cordial, at least pleasantly civil to her future son-in-law. She had given over Beatrice as a bad job; she had resolved to find suitable matches for Guy and for Geraldine.
By one o’clock the company was actually beginning to arrive, the small fry of the neighbourhood being, of course, the first to appear. By-and-by came the rank and fashion of Meadowshire, and by three o’clock the gardens were crowded.
It was a brilliant scene; there was the gaily-dressed crowd going in and out of the tents, groups of elderly people sitting talking under the trees, lawn-tennis players at one end of the garden, the militia band playing Strauss’s waltzes at the other, the scarlet and white flags floating bravely over everybody in the breeze, and a hum of many voices and a sound of merry laughter in every direction.