by Georgette Heyer
In spite of the fact that Penhallow's determination to hold a tea-party pleased no-one, least of all the invited guests, it took place, Mrs Venngreen being the only person to decline the invitation. It was considered unlikely that Delia Ottery would come, since she visited Trevellin rarely, but she did come, persuaded, it was believed, by Phineas, who, for all his dislike of Penhallow, was extremley inquisitive, and rarely refused an invitation to visit him. Rosamund obviously came because Clifford had begged her to; and the younger Penhallows held that the Vicar came because Sybilla's scones and cakes were very much richer than any baked under Mrs Venngreen's auspices.
Penhallow did honour to the occasion by making Jimmy and Martha dress him, a circumstance which relieved one at least of his wife's anxieties. The apprehension that he would appear at the party in his aged dressing-gown had induced her seriously to consider the advisability of retiring to bed with an unnamed illness.
Tea was served in the Long drawing-room, and the first guests to arrive were Clifford and Rosamund, Rosamund looking cool and remote in one of her excellent tailor-made flannel suits, and Clifford overflowing with geniality, and professing the greatest satisfaction on beholding his uncle in such robust health.
Penhallow, who had been wheeled into the drawing room, and placed near the fire, which he had insisted on being lighted, quite regardless of the sultriness of the day, saw that Rosamund was looking cool and self-possessed, and maliciously summoned her to sit beside him, where, between the heat of the fire, and the raffish nature of his remarks, she very soon began to look hot, and even a little flustered. This pleased Penhallow so much that by the time Conrad ushered the Otterys into the room he was in a state of good humour which was felt to be only less dangerous than his moods of blind rage. He looked Delia over with twinkling eyes and said as he took her nervous hand in his: "Well, well! What a sight for sore eyes! Seeing you with pink roses in your hat takes me back to the time when I first met you, Delia, by God it does! Now, how long ago would that be? How old are you, Ray? Thirty-nine? Then it must be about forty years ago, eh, Delia?"
Miss Ottery blushed to the roots of her untidy grey hair, and stammered something almost inaudible. She was always at her worst and most incoherent in Penhallow's company, and looked now to be so unhappy that Faith, indignant with Penhallow for jibing at the poor lady's youthful taste in dress, affectionately invited her to come and sit beside her on a sofa a little removed from his vicinity.
"No, no, you let Delia sit next to Ray!" said Penhallow. "He's the one she really came to see, didn't you, Delia? Always have had a soft corner for him, eh?"
"Oh, I'm sure Ray doesn't want to be bothered with his old aunt!" Delia said, in a flutter of embarrassment. "Anywhere will do for me--not too near the fire!"
"And how, my old friend," inquired Phineas, softly rubbing his hands together, "do you find yourself these days? It is indeed a pleasure to find you up and about!"
"I'm still pretty clever," Penhallow boasted. "I'll surprise the lot of you yet, Lifton included. You're not wearing so well, Phineas: You've developed a paunch. You're flabby, that's what you are. Gone to seed. Lord, I remember when you were thin as a rake, with all the girls after you! Sold you a horse once which wasn't up to my weight."
"Indeed, yes!" smiled Phineas. "A straight-shouldered grey, always throwing out a splint. I remember him well."
"Honours," said Eugene, "may now be said to be even. Of course, I feel that Father would have sold you an unsound horse."
Penhallow accepted this tribute with a grin, and upon Clay's coming into the room at that moment, at once called upon Clifford to "run your eye over this young cub!" Clifford shook hands with his cousin, and said that he looked forward to having him in his office.
"Oh, well, as to that--I mean, nothing's decided yet, is it?" Clay said with an uneasy laugh. "I'm afraid my bent isn't in the least legal. I've always been more on the artistic side--if you know what I mean."
"You know, even Aubrey doesn't make me feel as sick as Clay," remarked Conrad to the room at large.
"That will do, thank you!" Faith said sharply.
"Edifying close-up of the Penhallows at home!" muttered Vivian.
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