“Crow, do look at Ethelrida’s face! Did you ever see one so idiotically blissful, except when she has been kissed by the person she loves?”
“Well, how do you know that is not the case with our dear Ethelrida?” grunted the Crow. “She did not come out for a walk. You had better count up, and see who else stayed at home!”
So Lady Anningford began laughingly. The idea was too impossible, but she must reason it out.
“There was Lord Melton but Lady Melton stayed behind, too, and the Thornbys—all impossible. There was no one else except Tristram, who I know was in the smoking-room, with a fearful headache, and Mr. Markrute, who was with the Duke.”
“Was he with the Duke?” queried the Crow.
“Crow!” almost gasped Lady Anningford. “Do you mean to tell me that you think Ethelrida would have her face looking like that about a foreigner! My dear friend, you must have taken leave of your seven senses—” and then she paused, for several trifles came back to her recollection, connected with these two, which, now that the Crow had implanted a suspicion in her breast, began to assume considerable proportions.
Ethelrida had talked of most irrelevant matters always during their good-night chats, unless the subject happened to be Zara, and she had never once mentioned Mr. Markrute personally or given any opinion about him; and yet, as Anne had seen, they had often talked. There must be something in it, but that was not enough to account for Ethelrida’s face. A pale, rather purely colorless complexion like hers did not suddenly change to bright scarlet cheeks, without some practical means! And, as Anne very well knew, kisses were a very practical means! But her friend Ethelrida would never allow any man to kiss her, unless she had promised to marry him. Now, if it had been Lily Opie, she could not have been so sure, though she hoped she could be sure of any nice girl; but about Ethelrida she could take her oath. It followed, as Ethelrida had been quite pale at lunch and was not a person who went to sleep over fires, something extraordinary must have happened—but what?
“Crow, dear, I have never been so thrilled in my life,” she said, after her thoughts had come to this stage. “The lurid tragedy of the honeymoon pair cannot compare in interest to anything connected with my sweet Ethelrida, for me, so it is your duty to put that horribly wise, cynical brain of yours to work and unravel me this mystery. Look, here is Mr. Markrute coming in—let us watch his face!”
But, although they subjected the financier to the keenest good-natured scrutiny, he did not show a sign or give them any clue. He sat down quietly, and began talking casually to the group by the tea-table, while he methodically spread his bread and butter with blackberry jam. Such delicious schoolroom teas the company indulged in, at the hospitable tea-table of Montfitchet! He did not seem to be even addressing Ethelrida. What could it be?