The shooting men were up first, to their early breakfast. It seemed to Deb a matter of course that Claud would be of this virile company; it was his saving grace as a man, when he was young, that he was a keen and accomplished sportsman. After an indifferent night, she rose lazily and late; found, as she expected, only a few more women in the breakfast-room, and ate her own meal alone at one of the little tables. The hostess drifted in amongst the last, and stopped a moment to shake hands and exchange a word.
“It seems a beautiful day,” she said, “and we shall be making up a party by-and-by to go out and lunch with the guns. You will join us, of course?”
But Deb thought of Claud amongst the guns, and of the horrible risk of appearing to run after him; and she replied sweetly that, although she would have loved the outing, she was afraid she must stay at home, owing to important letters that had to be written for the afternoon post.
“All right,” said the hostess, “I’ll stay too—there are plenty without me—and we’ll have a drive later on.”
She passed to her breakfast-table, and Deb rose and went upstairs, to see what she could find to attend to in the way of pressing correspondence.
She had the status of a married lady in this great house, as everywhere; that is to say, a sitting-room of her own—a very cosy place between tea and the dressing-bell. Just now, however, Rosalie was busy in it. The maid offered to retire to the adjoining bed-chamber, but Deb said, “Oh, never mind; go on,” and gathering her blotting-book and papers, went downstairs again to make herself comfortable in the library. She loved a good library to sit in, and generally found privacy therein at this time of day.
The library here was magnificent in stately comfort—books in thousands, busts, old masters, muffling Turkey carpets, a great, bright, still fire, and armchairs so big and soft that it was strange they could stand empty. She drew up one of them and sat awhile, toasting her feet and turning precious leaves—it was the interval covered by Claud’s breakfast—and then set herself to the business she was supposed to be engaged in.
“Dear Francie,—I tried at half-a-dozen shops to match your Chinese satin, but nowhere could I get the exact shade. If you like I will try again when I go back to town, but if I were you I would not attempt to make it go with any modern stuff, which could not help looking crude beside it; I would have quite another material and colour. What do you stay to—”
She paused reflectively, the tip of her pen-handle between her teeth, her eyes fixed absently upon the green park beyond the open window, composing a gorgeous costume in her mind. Before she could even decide whether to advise a ball-dress with crepe de Chine, or a tea-gown with Oriental cashmere, one of the noiseless library doors swung back, and a man came in. Without noticing her still figure, he strolled over to a certain shelf, opened a book that he wanted, and stood, with his back to her, turning over the leaves.