“Quite right, Jimmy,” agreed the Crow, who, with Lady Anningford, was to chaperon the young folk. “I’m all for not getting wet, with my rheumatic shoulder, and I hear you and Young Billy are a couple of firstclass cooks.”
“Then,” interrupted Lady Betty enthusiastically, “we can cook our own lunch! Oh, how delightful! We will make a fire in the big chimney. Uncle Crow, you are a pet!”
“I will go and give orders for everything at once,” Lady Ethelrida agreed delightedly. “Jimmy, what a bright boy to have thought of the plan!”
And by twelve o’clock all was arranged. Now, it had been settled the night before that Mr. Markrute should shoot with the Duke and the rest of the more serious men; but early in the morning that astute financier had sent a note to His Grace’s room, saying, if it were not putting out the guns dreadfully, he would crave to be excused as he was expecting a telegram of the gravest importance concerning the new Turkish loan, which he would be obliged to answer by a special letter, and he was uncertain at what time the wire would come. He was extremely sorry, but, he added whimsically, the Duke must remember he was only a poor, business-man!
At which His Grace had smiled, as he thought of his guest’s vast millions, in comparison to his own.
Thus it was that just before twelve o’clock when the young party were ready to start for their picnic. Mr. Markrute, having written his letter and despatched it by express to London, chanced upon Lady Ethelrida in a place where he felt sure he should find her, and, expressing his surprise that they were not already gone, he begged to be allowed to come with them. He, too, was an excellent cook, he assured her, and would be really of use. And they all laughingly started.
And if she could have seen the important letter concerning the new Turkish loan, she would have found it contained a pressing reminder to Bumpus to send down that night certain exquisitely bound books!
* * * * *
Above all, the young ladies had demanded they should have no servants at their picnic—everything, even the fire, was to be made by themselves. Jimmy was to drive the donkey-cart, with Lady Betty, to take all the food. The only thing they permitted was that the pots and pans and the wood for the fire might be sent on.
And they were all so gay and looked so charming and suitably clad, in their rough, short, tweed frocks.
Zara, who walked demurely by Lord Elterton, had never seen anything of the sort. She felt like a strange, little child at its first party.
Before he had started in the morning Tristram had sent her a note (he could not stand the maid and valet as verbal messengers—it made him laugh too bitterly), it was just a few lines:
“You asked me to tell you anything special about our customs, so this is to say, just put on some thick, short, ordinary suit, and mind you have a pair of thick boots.”