meals were later than those in the country, but she
hadn't been specific. Perhaps each household kept its own
Fumbling along the top of the
dressing-table, Azalea found a branch of candles and lit them from
the embers of what that afternoon had been a cheerful fire. Opening
the clothes-press in the corner of the chamber, she was pleased to
find that the efficient Junie had unpacked and hung her gowns, and
had apparently even shaken out the worst of the travel creases.
Selecting her best gown, a deep
rust-coloured velvet, she donned it with full knowledge that it
would hardly stand comparison with the fashionable creations she
had seen in a ladies' periodical on the drawing-room table earlier.
Shopping for new clothes would have to be high on her list of
things to do.
Her hair was neat, but hardly attractive,
drawn severely back from her face and twisted into a knot at the
base of her neck. However, this was the only style, other than
letting it hang loose, that she was capable of on her own, and she
knew that Millie could scarcely have done better. Hairdressing was
not one of the girl's strong points.
Feeling very much the dowdy country cousin,
Azalea descended the stairs and paused at the bottom, listening for
voices that might give her a clue as to where the family was
assembled at this hour. A murmur behind the doors of the
drawing-room encouraged her to approach.
Entering, she beheld her cousin, still
attired in her brilliant rose, yellow and amethyst silks, speaking
with a dazzling young lady dressed with impeccable and obviously
expensive taste. At Azalea's entrance, the young lady turned wide,
blandly interested blue eyes in her direction.
"Awake already, my dear?" Lady Beauforth
asked solicitously. "I was going to have Junie check on you in half
an hour, when I retired to my room to dress for dinner."
Azalea's imagination faltered at what her
ladyship's idea of evening attire might be.
"Did you rest at all?"
"Oh, yes, Cousin Alice, I feel very
refreshed. Truth to tell, it was hunger that awakened me, and not
knowing the dinner hour here, I thought it best to dress and come
"How thoughtless of me! Of course, you would
not be familiar with our customs yet. Dinner won't be for another
hour and more. Marilyn and I were going upstairs to dress in a few
Thus recalling Marilyn's presence, Lady
Beauforth turned to introduce Azalea to her daughter, whose smile
had become rather fixed.
"Marilyn, this is your cousin, Azalea
Clayton, of course. Azalea, let me present my daughter, Miss
Marilyn Beauforth." This last was said with a flourish, and her
ladyship stepped back as if presenting a rare artwork to view.
Azalea was suitably impressed. She could
scarcely conceive of a more perfect picture of fashion than the
beautiful creature now facing her. Honey-coloured hair was piled
artistically atop her graceful head in a style that caused Azalea
an unfamiliar twinge of envy. The beautiful creature seemed a shade
less than charmed, however.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, I'm
certain, Miss Clayton," Marilyn said with a slight nod. The
formality of her words clashed oddly with her voice—a high,
childish lisp that was still a good octave lower than her
"The honour is mine, Miss Beauforth,"
replied Azalea, following her cousin's lead. As Marilyn seemed
disinclined to pursue the conversation further, Azalea turned back
to Lady Beauforth.
"Ma'am, I could not help admiring your
gardens from my window earlier. As I am down so early, would it be
permissible for me to take a stroll through them before
Though expressing surprise that Azalea
should wish to walk out in the chill air after dark, Lady Beauforth
saw no reason to disallow it, providing she was accompanied by
Junie and wore a cloak.
Thanking her cousin with a warmth that drew
surprised looks from both ladies, Azalea excused herself.
"Well!" Marilyn exclaimed pettishly as soon
as the door had closed behind