And Ethelrida whispered, “Yes, yes,” so he continued:
“All his life from a boy’s to a man’s, this person we are speaking of had kept his ideal of the woman he should love. She must be fine and shapely, and noble and free; she must be tender and devoted, and gracious and good. But he passed all his early manhood and grew to middle age, before he even saw her shadow across his path. He looked up one night, eighteen months ago, at a court ball, and she passed him on the arm of a royal duke, and unconsciously brushed his coat with her soft dove’s wing; and he knew that it was she, after all those years, so he waited and planned, and met her once or twice; but fate did not let him advance very far, and so a scheme entered his head. His niece, the daughter of his dead sister, had also had a very unhappy life; and he thought she, too, should come among these English people, and find happiness with their level ways. She was beautiful and proud and good, so he planned the marriage between his niece and the cousin of the lady he worshiped, knowing by that he should be drawn nearer his star, and also pay the debt to his dead sister, by securing the happiness of her child; but primarily it was his desire to be nearer his own worshiped star, and thus it has all come about.” He paused, and looked full at her face, and saw that her sweet eyes were moist with some tender, happy tears. So he leaned forward, took her other hand, and kissed them both, placing the soft palms against his mouth for a second; then he whispered hoarsely, his voice at last trembling with the passionate emotion he felt:
“Ethelrida—darling—I love you with my soul—tell me, my sweet lady, will you be my wife?”
And the Lady Ethelrida did not answer, but allowed herself to be drawn into his arms.
And so in the firelight, with the watchful gray owl, the two rested blissfully content.
When Lady Ethelrida came down to tea, her sweet face was prettily flushed, for she was quite unused to caresses and the kisses of a man. Her soft gray eyes were shining with a happiness of which she had not dreamed, and above all things, she was filled with the exquisite emotion of having a secret!—a secret of which even her dear friend Anne was ignorant—a blessed secret, just shared between her lover and herself. And Lady Anningford, who had no idea that she had spent the afternoon with the financier, but believed she had religiously written letters alone, wondered to herself what on earth made Ethelrida look so joyous and not the least fatigued, as most of the others were. She really got prettier, she thought, as she grew older, and was always the greatest dear in the whole world. But, to look as happy as that and have a face so flushed, was quite mysterious and required the opinion of the Crow!
So she dragged Colonel Lowerby off to a sofa, and began at once: