The day wasted away in Beaton’s hands; at half-past four o’clock he went out to tea at the house of a lady who was At Home that afternoon from four till seven. By this time Beaton was in possession of one of those other selves of which we each have several about us, and was again the laconic, staccato, rather worldlified young artist whose moments of a controlled utterance and a certain distinction of manner had commended him to Mrs. Horn’s fancy in the summer at St. Barnaby.
Mrs. Horn’s rooms were large, and they never seemed very full, though this perhaps was because people were always so quiet. The ladies, who outnumbered the men ten to one, as they always do at a New York tea, were dressed in sympathy with the low tone every one spoke in, and with the subdued light which gave a crepuscular uncertainty to the few objects, the dim pictures, the unexcited upholstery, of the rooms. One breathed free of bric-a-brac there, and the new-comer breathed softly as one does on going into church after service has begun. This might be a suggestion from the voiceless behavior of the man-servant who let you in, but it was also because Mrs. Horn’s At Home was a ceremony, a decorum, and not festival. At far greater houses there was more gayety, at richer houses there was more freedom; the suppression at Mrs. Horn’s was a personal, not a social, effect; it was an efflux of her character, demure, silentious, vague, but very correct.
Beaton easily found his way to her around the grouped skirts and among the detached figures, and received a pressure of welcome from the hand which she momentarily relaxed from the tea-pot. She sat behind a table put crosswise of a remote corner, and offered tea to people whom a niece of hers received provisionally or sped finally in the outer room. They did not usually take tea, and when they did they did not usually drink it; but Beaton was, feverishly glad of his cup; he took rum and lemon in it, and stood talking at Mrs. Horn’s side till the next arrival should displace him: he talked in his French manner.
“I have been hoping to see you,” she said. “I wanted to ask you about the Leightons. Did they really come?”
“I believe so. They are in town—yes. I haven’t seen them.”
“Then you don’t know how they’re getting on—that pretty creature, with her cleverness, and poor Mrs. Leighton? I was afraid they were venturing on a rash experiment. Do you know where they are?”