He had carefully prepared all the avenues; and had made himself of great importance to the Duke, allowing his masterly brain to be seen in glimpses, and convincing His Grace of his possible great usefulness to the party to which he belonged. He did not look for continued opposition in that quarter, once he should have assured himself that Lady Ethelrida loved him. That he loved her, with all the force of his self-contained nature, was beyond any doubt. Love, as a rule, recks little of the suitability of the object, when it attacks a heart; but in some few cases—that is the peculiar charm—Francis Markrute had waited until he was forty-six years old, firmly keeping to his ideal, until he found her, in a measure of perfection, of which even he had not dared to dream. His theory, which he had proved in his whole life, was that nothing is beyond the grasp of a man who is master of himself and his emotions. But even his iron nerves felt the tension of excitement, as luncheon drew to an end, and he knew in half an hour, when most of the company were safely disposed of, he should again find his way to his lady’s shrine.
Ethelrida did not look at him. She was her usual, charmingly-gracious self to her neighbors, solicitous of Tristram’s headache. He had only just appeared, and looked what he felt—a wreck. She was interested in some news in the Sunday papers, which had arrived; and in short, not a soul guessed how her gentle being was uplifted, and her tender heart beating with this, the first real emotion she had ever experienced.
Even the Crow, so thrilled with his interest in the bridal pair, had not scented anything unusual in his hostess’s attitude towards one of her guests.
“I think Mr. Markrute is awfully attractive, don’t you, Crow?” said Lady Anningford, as they started for their walk. To go to Lynton Heights after lunch on Sunday was almost an invariable custom at Montfitchet. “I can’t say what it is, but it is something subtle and extraordinary, like that in his niece—what do you think?”
Colonel Lowerby paused, struck from her words by the fact that he had been too preoccupied to have noticed this really interesting man.
“Why, ’pon my soul—I haven’t thought!” he said, “but now you speak of it, I do think he is a remarkable chap.”
“He is so very quiet,” Lady Anningford went on, “and, whenever he speaks, it is something worth listening to; and if you get on any subject of books, he is a perfect encyclopaedia. He gives me the impression of all the forces of power and will, concentrated in a man. I wonder who he really is? Not that it matters a bit in these days. Do you think there is any Jew in him? It does not show in his type, but when foreigners are very rich there generally is.”
“Sure to be, as he is so intelligent,” the Crow growled. “If you notice, numbers of the English families who show brains have a touch of it in the background. So long as the touch is far enough away, I have no objection to it myself—prefer folks not to be fools.”