Not another single word was spoken between them, for at that very minute a door was thrown open, and the whole of the party in the house came trooping forth in pairs from the drawing-room in a long procession on their way to the dining-room.
First came Mr. Miller with old Mrs. Macpherson on his arm. Then Mr. Pryme and Miss Sophy Macpherson; her sister behind with Guy Miller; Beatrice, looking melancholy, with the curate in charge; and her mother last with Sir John, who had come over from Kynaston to dinner. Edwin Miller, the second son, by himself brought up the rear.
There was some laughter at the expense of the three defaulters, who, of course, were supposed to have only just hurried downstairs.
“Aha! just saved your soup, ladies!” cried Mr. Miller, laughingly. “Fall in, fall in, as best you can!”
Mrs. Miller came to the rescue, and, by a rapid stroke of generalship, marshalled them into their places.
Miss Nevill, of course, was a stranger; Helen had been on intimate terms with them all for years; Vera, besides, was standing close to Maurice.
“Please take in Miss Nevill, Captain Kynaston; and Edwin, my dear, give your arm to Mrs. Romer.”
Edwin, who was a pleasant-looking boy, with plenty to say for himself, hurried forward with alacrity; and Helen had to accept her fate with the best grace she could.
“Well, how did you get on with Vera, and how did you like her?” asked Sir John, coming round to his brother’s side of the table when the ladies had left the room. He had noted with pleasure that Vera and Maurice had talked incessantly throughout the dinner.
“My dear fellow!” cried Maurice, heartily, “she is the handsomest woman I ever met in my life! I give you my word that, when she introduced herself to me coming downstairs, I was so surprised, she was so utterly different to what I and the mother have been imagining, that upon my life I couldn’t speak a word—I could do nothing but stare at her!”
“You like her, then?” said his brother, smiling, well pleased at his openly expressed admiration.
“I think you are a very lucky fellow, old man! Like her! of course I do; she’s a downright good sort!”
And if Sir John was slightly shocked at the irreverence of alluding to so perfect and pure a woman as his adored Vera by so familiar a phrase as “a good sort,” he was, at all events, too pleased by Maurice’s genuine approval of her to find any fault with his method of expressing it.
AN IDLE MORNING.
We loved, sir; used to meet;
How sad, and bad, and mad it was;
But then, how it was sweet!
Leaning against a window-frame at the end of a long corridor on the second floor, and idly looking out over the view of the wide lawns and empty flower-beds which it commands, stands Mr. Herbert Pryme, on the second morning after his arrival at Shadonake House.