Lady Tilchester had not appeared yet.
I sat down at the table next “Billy.” It was all so gay and friendly no one could feel depressed.
Viewed close, Miss Trumpet was, for her age, too splendidly attired. She looked prettier in her simple travelling-dress. But her spirits and her repartee left nothing to be desired. She kept us all amused, and, whether Lady Grenellen would eventually permit it or no, Lord Luffton seemed immensely epris with her now.
There was only one other girl at the table, Lady Agatha de Champion, and her slouching, stooping figure and fuzzled hair did not show to advantage beside the heiress’s upright, rounded shape and well-brushed waves.
“Where have you been all the afternoon?” demanded the Duke, reproachfully, over my shoulder. “I searched everywhere down-stairs, and finally sent to your room, but your maid knew nothing of you.”
“I have been sitting with Lady Tilchester in her sitting-room,” I said, smiling.
“Here comes Margaret. She shall answer to me for kidnapping my guests like this.” And he went forward to meet her.
“Do not scold me,” said Lady Tilchester, as she returned with him. “I think Mrs. Gurrage will tell you we have spent a very pleasant afternoon.”
“Indeed, yes,” I said.
“And I mean to spend a pleasant evening,” he whispered, low, to me. “As soon as you have eaten that horrid muffin I shall carry you off to see my pictures.”
I looked at Lady Tilchester. What would she wish me to do?
“Impress upon him the necessity of being charming to the heiress. You were quite right. He has a serious rival,” she whispered, and we walked off.
The Duke can be agreeable in his unattractive, lackadaisical way. He is so full of information, not of the statistical kind like Miss Trumpet, but the result of immense cultivation.
“What do you think of my heiress?” he said, at last, as we paused beneath a Tintoretto. I said everything suitable and encouraging I could think of.
“I am quite pleased with her,” he allowed, “but I fear she will not be content with the role I had planned out for my Duchess. She is too individual. I feel it is I who would subside and attend to the nurseries and the spring cleaning. However, I mean to go through with it, although I am in a hideous position, because, you know, I am falling very deeply in love with you.”
“How inconvenient for you!"’ I said, smiling. “But please do not let that interfere with your prospects. You must attend to the subject of pleasing the heiress, as I see great signs of Lord Luffton cutting the ground from under your feet.”
He stared at me incredulously.
“Luffy!” he said, aghast. “Oh, but Cordelia would take care of that. He is her friend.”
“Oh, how you amuse me, all of you,” I said, laughing, “with your loves and your jealousies and your little arrangements! Every one two and two; every one with a ‘friend.’”