Her Hero by Ethel M. Dell
"I wonder why Priscilla has put on that severely plain attire? It makes her look almost ugly," sighed Lady Raffold. "And how dreadfully pale she is to-night! Really, I have never seen her look more unattractive."
She turned with her most dazzling smile to receive the American Ambassador, and no one could have guessed that under her smile was real anger, because her stepdaughter was gracing the occasion in a robe of sombre black.
All the guests had arrived with the exception of Ralph Cochrane, the heir-apparent, as Priscilla styled him, and Lady Raffold chatted with one eye on the door. It was too bad of the young man to be late.
She was just giving him up in despair, and preparing to proceed to the dining-room without him, when his name was announced. Lord Raffold went forward to meet him. Priscilla, sitting on a lounge with Lord Harfield's mother, caught the sound of a soft, leisurely voice apologising; and something tightened suddenly at her heart, and held its beating. It was a voice she knew.
As through a mist, she looked across the great room, with its many lights, its buzz of careless voices. And suddenly, it seemed to her, she was back in the little village church at Raffold, furtively watching a stranger who stood in the entrance, and searched with level scrutiny quite deliberately and frankly till he found her.
Their eyes met, and her heart thrilled responsively as an instrument thrills to the hand of a skilled player.
Almost involuntarily she rose. There was some mistake. She knew there must be some mistake. She felt that in some fashion it rested with her to explain and to justify his presence there.
But in that instant his eyes left her, and the magnetism that compelled her died swiftly down. She saw him shake hands with Lady Raffold, and bow to the Ambassador.
Then came her stepmother's quick, beckoning glance, and she moved forward in response to it. She was quivering from head to foot, bewildered, in some subtle fashion afraid.
"My dear, your cousin. He will take you in. Ralph, this is Priscilla."
It was sublimely informal. Lady Raffold had rehearsed that introduction several times. It was half the battle that the young man should feel himself one of the family from the outset.
Priscilla grabbed at her self-control, and managed to bow. But the next instant his hand, strong, warm, reassuring, grasped hers.
"Curious, isn't it?" the quiet voice asked. "We can't be strangers, you and I."
The grip of his fingers was close and intimate. It was as if he appealed for her support.
With an effort she forced herself to respond:
"Of course not. It must be quite five years since our first meeting."
He looked at her oddly, quizzically, as he offered his arm.
"Why, yes," he drawled, as they began to move towards the door. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot? It is exactly five years ago to-day."