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Man and Wife

The Guests
Who was responsible for the reform of the summer-house? The new tenant at Windygates
was responsible.
And who was the new tenant?
Come, and see.
In the spring of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight the summer-house had been the dismal
dwelling-place of a pair of owls. In the autumn of the same year the summer-house was
the lively gathering-place of a crowd of ladies and gentlemen, assembled at a lawn party-
-the guests of the tenant who had taken Windygates.
The scene--at the opening of the party--was as pleasant to look at as light and beauty and
movement could make it.
Inside the summer-house the butterfly-brightness of the women in their summer dresses
shone radiant out of the gloom shed round it by the dreary modern clothing of the men.
Outside the summer-house, seen through three arched openings, the cool green prospect
of a lawn led away, in the distance, to flower-beds and shrubberies, and, farther still,
disclosed, through a break in the trees, a grand stone house which closed the view, with a
fountain in front of it playing in the sun.
They were half of them laughing, they were all of them talking--the comfortable hum of
their voices was at its loudest; the cheery pealing of the laughter was soaring to its
highest notes--when one dominant voice, rising clear and shrill above all the rest, called
imperatively for silence. The moment after, a young lady stepped into the vacant space in
front of the summer-house, and surveyed the throng of guests as a general in command
surveys a regiment under review.
She was young, she was pretty, she was plump, she was fair. She was not the least
embarrassed by her prominent position. She was dressed in the height of the fashion. A
hat, like a cheese-plate, was tilted over her forehead. A balloon of light brown hair
soared, fully inflated, from the crown of her head. A cataract of beads poured over her
bosom. A pair of cock-chafers in enamel (frightfully like the living originals) hung at her
ears. Her scanty skirts shone splendid with the blue of heaven. Her ankles twinkled in
striped stockings. Her shoes were of the sort called "Watteau." And her heels were of the
height at which men shudder, and ask themselves (in contemplating an otherwise lovable
woman), "Can this charming person straighten her knees?"
The young lady thus presenting herself to the general view was Miss Blanche Lundie--
once the little rosy Blanche whom the Prologue has introduced to the reader. Age, at the
present time, eighteen. Position, excellent. Money, certain. Temper, quick. Disposition,
variable. In a word, a child of the modern time--with the merits of the age we live in, and
the failings of the age we live in--and a substance of sincerity and truth and feeling
underlying it all.
"Now then, good people," cried Miss Blanche, "silence, if you please! We are going to
choose sides at croquet. Business, business, business!"
 
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