Page:Court Royal.djvu/183

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hospitality extended on all sides. Not for one moment did the thought cross the steward's horizon and trouble it, that this revival was due to Lucy's fortune. Nor was his daughter more concerned than he. Generous, self-sacrificing, devoted heart and soul to the family, she was ready to give everything without demanding a return, without grudging if it were lost.

It was other with Beavis. He knew exactly how matters stood. He knew the extent of the peril. He knew whose money paid for all these gaieties and stopped the mouths of the clamorous creditors. For himself he did not care, but for his sister he cared a great deal. A sense of uneasiness that he could not shake off oppressed his spirits. He looked on at the festivities; he partook of them with perception of their hollowness and without enjoying them.

On the evening of the ball he was present, standing in a recessed window, half screened by the blue silk curtains, looking on in a dreamy state—the cloud of apprehension hanging over him—conscious at the moment, however, only of irritation at the dance strains of Strauss, which seemed to his fastidious ear as music full of unclean double-entendre unsuitable for such a place and such company.

The ball-room, built by Frederick Augustus, Duke of Kingsbridge, was a noble hall, lighted by two cut-glass lustres of great size. It was painted in panels with pastoral subjects, divided by pilasters of white and gold. The ceiling was of plaster flower-work containing paintings; walls and ceiling were the work of French artists, brought eager for the purpose by the art- and splendour-loving Frederick Augustus.

The Duke appeared for a short while, but his delicate condition of health did not permit a long stay. He was surrounded on his appearance by a cluster of ladies, eager for a word and one of his charming speeches full of old-world courtesy and wit.

Beavis did not go to him. For a while, on his appearance, the music ceased, then the doors were flung open, and two Highland pipers entered, one an immense man with sandy hair. They strode up the ball-room to the Duke's chair, stood there a moment playing, then turned sharply and strode down the room still playing, made a second circuit, and disappeared. They were the pipers of a Highland regiment stationed at Exeter.

After this diversion the Duke retired with an apology, and the dancing recommenced with vigour. Then it was, whilst teased by a waltz of Strauss, that Beavis was startled by a