Side by side with his dignified, handsome wife, Lord Bernard Clanavon, Earl of Alceston, stood receiving his guests in the spacious corridor which led into the brilliantly-lit ball-room of his town mansion. It was getting on toward midnight, but the stream of arrivals was scarcely yet lessened, and the broad marble staircase, lined with banks of palms and sweet-smelling exotics, was still thronged with graceful women in marvellous costumes and flashing jewelry, and tall, distinguished-looking men, some in gorgeous uniforms, with crosses and orders glistening upon their breasts, a few in court dress, and fewer still in the ordinary evening garb of civilians. For it was the first function of any social importance of a season which promised to be an exceptionally brilliant one, and nobody who was anybody at all in the charmed circle of London society would have thought of missing it. And so they trooped up the crimson-druggeted stairs in incongruous array—statesmen and peers, learned men and poets, men of the world and men of letters, the former with, the latter in most cases without, their womenkind; and very few indeed passed on into the ball-room without receiving some graceful little speech of welcome from their courteous host or charming hostess.
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