Before she had half completed her toilette the guests were beginning to arrive.
“I am afraid I must go down and receive these people, dear Lady Kynaston,” said Mrs. Miller, who had remained in her guest’s room full of regret and sympathy at the contretemps of her journey.
“Oh, dear me! yes, Caroline—pray go down. I shall be all the quicker for being left alone. Not that cap, West; the one with the Spanish point, of course. Dear me, how I do hate all this hurry and confusion!”
“I am so afraid you will be tired,” murmured Mrs. Miller, soothingly. “Would you like me to send Miss Nevill up to your room? It might be pleasanter for you than to meet her downstairs.”
“Good gracious, no!” exclaimed the elder lady, testily. “What on earth should I be in such a hurry for! I shall see quite as much of her as I want by-and-by, I have no doubt.”
Mrs. Miller retired, and the old lady was left undisturbed to finish her toilette, during which it may fairly be assumed that that dignified personage, Mrs. West, had a hard time of it.
When she issued forth from her room, dressed, like a little fairy godmother, in point lace and diamonds, the dancing downstairs was in full swing.
Lady Kynaston paused for a minute at the top of the broad staircase to look down upon the bright scene below. The hall was full of people. Girls in many-coloured dresses passed backwards and forwards from the ball-room to the refreshment-room, laughing and chatting to their partners; elderly people were congregated about the doorways gossiping and shaking hands with new-comers, or watching their daughters with pleased or anxious faces, according to the circumstances of their lot. Everybody was talking at once. There came up a pleasant confusion of sound—happy voices mingling with the measured strains of the dance-music. In a sheltered corner behind the staircase, Beatrice and Herbert Pryme had settled themselves down comfortably for a chat. Lady Kynaston saw them.
“Caroline is a fool!” she muttered to herself. “All the balls in the world won’t get that girl married as she wishes. She has set her heart upon that briefless barrister. I saw it as plain as daylight last season. As to entertaining all this cohue of aborigines, Caroline might spare her trouble and her money, as far as the girl is concerned.”
And then, coming slowly down the staircase, Lady Kynaston saw something which restored her to good temper at once.
The something was her younger son. She had caught sight of him through an open doorway in the conservatory. His back was turned to her, and he was bending over a lady who was sitting down, and whose face was concealed behind him.
Lady Kynaston stood still with that sudden serrement de coeur which comes to us all when we see the creature we love best on earth. He did not see her, and she could not see his face, because it was turned away from her; but she knew, by his very attitude, the way he bent down over his companion, by the eager manner in which he was talking to her, and by the way in which he was evidently entirely engrossed and absorbed in what he was saying—that he was enjoying himself, and that he was happy.