Lady Ethelrida did everything with moderation. She was not mad about any sport or any fad. She loved her father, her aunt, her cousins of the Tancred family, and her friend, Lady Anningford. She was, in short, a fine character and a great lady.
“I have come to tell you such a piece of news, Ethelrida,” Tristram said as he sat down beside her on the chintz-covered sofa. Ethelrida’s tastes in furniture and decorations were of the simplest in her own room. “Guess what it is!”
“How can I, Tristram? Mary is really going to marry Lord Henry?”
“Not that I know of as yet, but I daresay she will, some day. No, guess again; it is about a marriage.”
She poured him out some tea and indicated the bread and butter. Tristram, she knew, loved her stillroom maid’s brown bread and butter.
“A man, or a woman?” she asked, meditatively.
“A man—ME!” he said, with reckless grammar.
“You, Tristram!” Ethelrida exclaimed, with as much excitement as she ever permitted herself. “You going to be married! But to whom?”
The thing seemed too preposterous; and her mind had instantly flown to the name, Laura Highford, before her reason said, “How ridiculous—she is married already!”—so she repeated again: “But to whom?”
“I am going to be married to a widow, a niece of Francis Markrute’s; you know him.” Lady Ethelrida nodded. “She is the most wonderfully attractive creature you ever saw, Ethelrida, a type not like any one else. You’ll understand in a minute, when you see her. She has stormy black eyes—no, they are not really black; they are slate color—and red hair, and a white face, and, by Jove! a figure! And do you know, my dear child, I believe I am awfully in love with her!”
“You only ‘believe,’ Tristram! That sounds odd to be going to be married upon!” Lady Ethelrida could not help smiling.
He sipped his tea and then jumped up. He was singularly restless to-day.
“She is the kind of woman a man would go perfectly mad about when he knew her well. I shall, I know.” Then, as he saw his cousin’s humorous expression, he laughed boyishly. “It does sound odd, I admit,” he said, “the inference is that I don’t know her well—and that is just it, Ethelrida, but only to you would I say it. Look here, my dear girl, I have got to be comforted this afternoon. She has just flattened me out. We are going to be married on the 25th of October, and I want you to be awfully nice to her. I am sure she has had a rottenly unhappy life.”
“Of course I will, Tristram dear,” said Lady Ethelrida, “but remember, I am completely in the dark. When did you meet her? Can’t you tell me something more? Then I will be as sympathetic as you please.”
So Lord Tancred sat down on the sofa beside her again, and told her the bare facts: that it was rather sudden, but he was convinced it was what he wanted most to do in life; that she was young and beautiful, rich, and very reserved, and rather cold; that she was going away, until a week before the wedding; that he knew it sounded all mad, but his dear Ethelrida was to be a darling, and to understand and not reason with him!