“Ethelrida, you darling, I know you haven’t!” and Anne bounded up and gave her a hug. “And I knew you were perfectly happy, and had had a blissful afternoon when you came down to tea yesterday. Your whole face was changed, you pet!”
“Did I look so like a fool, Anne?” Ethelrida cried.
Then Lady Anningford laughed happily, as she answered with a roguish eye,
“It was not exactly that, darling, but your dear cheeks were scarlet, as though they had been exquisitely kissed!”
“Oh!” gasped Ethelrida, flaming pink, as she laughed and covered her face with her hands.
“Perhaps he knows how to make love nicely—I am no judge of such things—in any case, he makes me thrill. Anne, tell me, is that—that curious sensation as though one were rather limp and yet quivering—is that just how every one feels when they are in love?”
“Ethelrida, you sweet thing!” gurgled Anne.
Then Ethelrida told her friend about the present of books, and showed them to her, and of all the subtlety of his ways, and how they appealed to her.
“And oh, Anne, he makes me perfectly happy and sure of everything; and I feel that I need never decide anything for myself again in my life!”
Which, taking it all round, was a rather suitable and fortunate conviction for a man to have implanted in his lady love’s breast, and held out the prospect of much happiness in their future existence together.
“I think he is very nice looking,” said Anne, “and he has the most perfect clothes. I do like a man to have that groomed look, which I must say most Englishmen have, but Tristram has it, especially, and Mr. Markrute, too. If you knew the despair my old man is to me with his indifference about his appearance. It is my only crumpled rose leaf, with the dear old thing.”
“Yes,” agreed Ethelrida, “I like them to be smart—and above all, they must have thick hair. Anne, have you noticed Francis’ hair? It is so nice, it grows on his forehead just as Zara’s does. If he had been bald like Papa, I could not have fallen in love with him!”
So once more the fate of a man was decided by his hair!
And during this exchange of confidences, while Emily and Mary took a brisk walk with the Crow and young Billy, Francis Markrute faced his lady’s ducal father in the library.
He had begun without any preamble, and with perfect calm; and the Duke, who was above all a courteous gentleman, had listened, first with silent consternation and resentment, and then with growing interest.
Francis Markrute had manipulated infinitely more difficult situations, when the balance of some of the powers of Europe depended upon his nerve; but he knew, as he talked to this gallant old Englishman, that he had never had so much at stake, and it stimulated him to do his best.
He briefly stated his history, which Ethelrida already knew; he made no apology for his bar sinister; indeed, he felt none was needed. He knew, and the Duke knew, that when a man has won out as he had done, such things fade into space. And then with wonderful taste and discretion he had but just alluded to his vast wealth, and that it would be so perfectly administered through Lady Ethelrida’s hands, for the good of her order and of mankind.