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Society was absolutely flabbergasted when it read in the _Morning Post_
the announcement of Lord Tancred's engagement! No one had heard a word
about it. There had been talk of his going to Canada, and much chaff
upon that subject--so ridiculous, Tancred emigrating! But of a
prospective bride the most gossip-loving busybody at White's had never
heard! It fell like a bombshell. And Lady Highford, as she read the
news, clenched her pointed teeth, and gave a little squeal like a stoat.
So he had drifted beyond her, after all! He had often warned her he
would, at the finish of one of those scenes she was so fond of creating.
It was true then, when he had told her before Cowes that everything must
be over. She had thought his silence since had only been sulking! But
who was the creature? "Countess Shulski." Was it a Polish or Hungarian
name? "Daughter of the late Maurice Grey." Which Grey was that? "Niece
of Francis Markrute, Esquire, of Park Lane." Here was the reason--money!
How disgusting men were! They would sell their souls for money. But the
woman should suffer for this, and Tristram, too, if she could manage it!
Then she wept some tears of rage. He was so adorably good looking and
had been such a feather in her cap, although she had never been really
sure of him. It was a mercy her conduct had always been of such an
immaculate character--in public--no one could say a word. And now she
must act the dear, generous, congratulating friend.
So she had a dose of sal volatile and dressed, with extra care, to lunch
at Glastonbury House. There she might hear all the details; only
Ethelrida was so superior, and uninterested in news or gossip.
There was a party of only five assembled, when she arrived--she was
always a little late. The Duke and Lady Ethelrida, Constance Radcliffe,
and two men: an elderly politician, and another cousin of the family.
She could certainly chatter about Tristram, and hear all she could.
They were no sooner seated than she began:
"Is not this wonderful news about your nephew, Duke? No one expected it
of him just now, though I as one of his best friends have been urging
him to marry, for the last two years. Dear Lady Tancred must be so
"I am sure you gave him good counsel," said the Duke, screwing his
eyeglass which he wore on a long black ribbon into his whimsical old
blue eye. "But Tristram's a tender mouth, and a bit of a bolter--got to
ride him on the snaffle, not the curb."
Lady Highford looked down at her plate, while she gave an answer quite
at variance with her own methods.
"Snaffle or curb, no one would ever try to guide Lord Tancred! And what
is the charming lady like? You all know her, of course?"
"Why, no," said His Grace. "The uncle, Mr. Markrute, dined here the
other night. He's been very useful to the Party, in a quiet way and
seems a capital fellow--but Ethelrida and I have never met the niece. Of
course, no one has been in town since the season, and she was not here
then. We only came up, like you, for Flora's wedding, and go down
"This is thrilling!" said Lady Highford. "An unknown bride! Have you not
even heard what she is like--young or old? A widow always sounds so
"I am told that she is perfectly beautiful," said Lady Ethelrida from
the other side of the table--there had been a pause--"and Tristram seems
so happy. She is quite young, and very rich."
She had always been amiably friendly and indifferent to Laura Highford.
It was Ethelrida's way to have no likes and dislikes for the general
circle of her friends; her warm attachment was given to so very few, and
the rest were just all of a band. Perhaps if she felt anything definite
it was a tinge on the side of dislike for Laura. Thinking to please
Tristram at the time she had asked her to this, her birthday party, when
they had met at Cowes in August, and now she was faced with the problem
how to put her off, since Tristram and his bride would be coming. She
saw the glint in the light hazel eyes as she described the fianc� and
her kind heart at once made her determine to turn the conversation.
After all, it was perfectly natural for poor Laura to have been in love
with Tristram--no one could be more attractive--and, of course, it must
hurt her--this marriage. She would reserve the "putting off," until they
left the dining-room and she could speak to her alone. So with her
perfect tact and easy grace she diverted the current of conversation to
the political situation, and luncheon went on.
But this was not what Lady Highford had come for. She wanted to hear
everything she could about her rival, in order to lay her plans; and the
moment Ethelrida was engaged with the politician and the Duke had
turned to Mrs. Radcliffe, she tackled the cousin, in a lower voice.
He, Jimmy Danvers, had only read what she had, that morning. He had seen
Tristram at the Turf on Tuesday after lunch--the day before
yesterday--and he had only talked of Canada--and not a word of a lady
then. It was a bolt from the blue. "And when I telephoned to the old boy
this morning," he said, "and asked him to take me to call upon his
damsel to-day, he told me she had gone to Paris and would not be back
until a week before the wedding!"
"How very mysterious!" piped Laura. "Tristram is off to Paris, too,
then, I suppose?"
"He did not say; he seemed in the deuce of a hurry and put the receiver
"He is probably only doing it for money, poor darling boy!" she said
sympathetically. "It was quite necessary for him."
"Oh, that's not Tristram's measure," Sir James Danvers interrupted.
"He'd never do anything for money. I thought you knew him awfully well,"
he added, surprised. Apprehension of situations was not one of his
"Of course I do!" Laura snapped out and then laughed. "But you men!
Money would tempt any of you!"
"You may bet your last farthing, Lady Highford, Tristram is in
love--crazy, if you ask me--he'd not have been so silent about it all
otherwise. The Canada affair was probably because she was playing the
poor old chap,--and now she's given in; and that, of course, is
Money, as the motive, Lady Highford could have borne, but, to hear
about love drove her wild! Her little pink and white face with its
carefully arranged childish setting suddenly looked old and strained,
while her eyes grew yellow in the light.
"They won't be happy long, then!" she said. "Tristram could not be
faithful to any one."
"I don't think he's ever been in love before, so we can't judge," the
blundering cousin continued, now with malice prepense. "He's had lots of
little affairs, but they have only been 'come and go.'"
Lady Highford crumbled her bread and then turned to the Duke--there was
nothing further to be got out of this quarter. Finally luncheon came to
an end, and the three ladies went up to Ethelrida's sitting-room. Mrs.
Radcliffe presently took her leave to catch a train, so the two were
"I am so looking forward to your party, dear Ethelrida," Lady Highford
cooed. "I am going back to Hampshire to-morrow, but at the end of the
month I come up again and will be with you in Norfolk on the 2nd."
"I was just wondering," said Lady Ethelrida, "if, after all, you would
not be bored, Laura? Your particular friends, the Sedgeworths, have had
to throw us over--his father being dead. It will be rather a family sort
of collection, and not so amusing this year, I am afraid. Em and Mary,
Tristram and his new bride,--and Mr. Markrute, the uncle--and the rest
as I told you."
"Why, my dear child, it sounds delightful! I shall long to meet the new
Lady Tancred! Tristram and I are such dear friends, poor darling boy! I
must write and tell him how delighted I am with the news. Do you know
where he is at the moment?"
"He is in London, I believe. Then you really will stick to us and not be
bored? How sweet of you!" Lady Ethelrida said without a change in her
level voice while her thoughts ran: "It is very plucky of Laura; or, she
has some plan! In any case I can't prevent her coming now, and perhaps
it is best to get it over. But I had better warn Tristram, surprises are
Then, after a good deal of gush about "dear Lady Tancred's" prospective
happiness in having a daughter-in-law, and "dear Tristram," Lady
Highford's motor was announced, and she went.
And when she had gone Lady Ethelrida sat down and wrote her cousin a
note. Just to tell him in case she did not see him before she went back
to the country to-morrow that her list, which she enclosed, was made up
for her November party, but if he would like any one else for his bride
to meet, he was to say so. She added that some friends had been to
luncheon, and among them Laura Highford, who had said the nicest things
and wished him every happiness.
Lady Ethelrida was not deceived about these wishes, but she could do no
The Duke came into her room, just as she was finishing, and warmed
himself by her wood fire.
"The woman is a cat, Ethelrida," he said without any preamble. These two
understood each other so well, they often seemed to begin in the middle
of a sentence, of which no outsider could grasp the meaning.
"I am afraid she is, Papa. I have just been writing to Tristram, to let
him know she still insists upon coming to the shoot. She can't do
anything there, and they may as well get it over. She will have to be
civil to the new Lady Tancred in our house."
"Whew!" whistled the Duke, "you may have an exciting party. You had
better go and leave our cards to-day on the Countess Shulski, and
another of mine, as well, for the uncle. We'll have to swallow the whole
lot, I suppose."
"I rather like Mr. Markrute, Papa," Ethelrida said. "I talked to him the
other night for the first time; he is extremely intelligent. We ought
not to be so prejudiced, perhaps, just because he is a foreigner, and in
the City. I've asked him on the 2nd, too--you don't mind? I will leave
the note to-day; Tristram particularly wished it."
"Then we'll have to make the best of it, pet. I daresay you are right,
and one ought not to be prejudiced about anything, in these days."
And then he patted his daughter's smoothly brushed head, and went out
Lady Ethelrida drove in the ducal carriage (the Duke insisted upon a
carriage, in London), to Park Lane, and was handing her cards to her
footman to leave, when Francis Markrute himself came out of the door.
His whole face changed; it seemed to grow younger. He was a fairly tall
man, and distinguished looking. He came forward and said: "How do you
do," through the brougham window.
Alas! his niece had left that morning _en route_ for Paris--_trousseaux_
and feminine business, but he was so delighted to have had this chance
of a few words with her--Lady Ethelrida.
"I was leaving a note to ask you to come and shoot with my father at
Montfitchet, Mr. Markrute," she said, "on the 2nd of November. Tristram
says he hopes they will be back from the honeymoon in time to join us,
"I shall be delighted, and my niece will be delighted at your kindness
in calling so soon."
Then they said a few more polite things and the financier finished
by:--"I am taking the great liberty of having the book, which I told you
about, rebound--it was in such a tattered condition, I was ashamed to
send it to you--do not think I had forgotten. I hope you will accept
"I thought you only meant to lend it to me because it is out of print
and I cannot buy it. I am so sorry you have had this trouble," Lady
Ethelrida said, a little stiffly. "Bring it to the shoot. It will
interest me to see it but you must not give it to me." And then she
smiled graciously; and he allowed her to say good-bye, and drive on. And
as he turned into Grosvenor Street he mused,
"I like her exquisite pride; but she shall take the book--and many other
* * * * *
Meanwhile Zara Shulski had arrived at Bournemouth. She had started early
in the morning, and she was making a careful investigation of the house.
The doctor appeared all that was kind and clever, and his wife gentle
and sweet. Mirko could not have a nicer home, it seemed. Their little
girl was away at her grandmother's for the next six weeks, they said,
but would be enchanted to have a little boy companion. Everything was
arranged satisfactorily. Zara stayed the night, and next day, having
wired to Mimo to meet her at the station, she returned to London.
They talked in the Waterloo waiting-room; poor Mimo seemed so glad and
happy. He saw her and her small bag into a taxi. She was going back to
her uncle's, and was to take Mirko down next day, and, on the following
one, start for Paris.
"But I can't go back to Park Lane without seeing Mirko, now," she said.
"I did not tell my uncle what train I was returning by. There is plenty
of time so I will go and have tea with you at Neville Street. It will be
like old times, we will get some cakes and other things on the way, and
boil the kettle on the fire."
So Mimo gladly got in with her and they started. He had a new suit of
clothes and a new felt hat, and looked a wonderfully handsome foreign
gentleman; his manner to women was always courteous and gallant. Zara
smiled and looked almost happy, as they arranged the details of their
surprise tea party for Mirko.
At that moment there passed them in Whitehall a motorcar going very
fast, the occupant of which, a handsome young man, caught the most
fleeting glimpse of them--hardly enough to be certain he recognized
Zara. But it gave him a great start and a thrill.
"It cannot be she," he said to himself, "she went to Paris yesterday;
but if it is--who is the man?"
He altered his plans, went back to his rooms, and sat moodily down in
his favorite chair--an unpleasant, gnawing uncertainty in his heart.
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