“Is not this wonderful news about your nephew, Duke? No one expected it of him just now, though I as one of his best friends have been urging him to marry, for the last two years. Dear Lady Tancred must be so enchanted.”
“I am sure you gave him good counsel,” said the Duke, screwing his eyeglass which he wore on a long black ribbon into his whimsical old blue eye. “But Tristram’s a tender mouth, and a bit of a bolter—got to ride him on the snaffle, not the curb.”
Lady Highford looked down at her plate, while she gave an answer quite at variance with her own methods.
“Snaffle or curb, no one would ever try to guide Lord Tancred! And what is the charming lady like? You all know her, of course?”
“Why, no,” said His Grace. “The uncle, Mr. Markrute, dined here the other night. He’s been very useful to the Party, in a quiet way and seems a capital fellow—but Ethelrida and I have never met the niece. Of course, no one has been in town since the season, and she was not here then. We only came up, like you, for Flora’s wedding, and go down to-morrow.”
“This is thrilling!” said Lady Highford. “An unknown bride! Have you not even heard what she is like—young or old? A widow always sounds so attractive!”
“I am told that she is perfectly beautiful,” said Lady Ethelrida from the other side of the table—there had been a pause—“and Tristram seems so happy. She is quite young, and very rich.”
She had always been amiably friendly and indifferent to Laura Highford. It was Ethelrida’s way to have no likes and dislikes for the general circle of her friends; her warm attachment was given to so very few, and the rest were just all of a band. Perhaps if she felt anything definite it was a tinge on the side of dislike for Laura. Thinking to please Tristram at the time she had asked her to this, her birthday party, when they had met at Cowes in August, and now she was faced with the problem how to put her off, since Tristram and his bride would be coming. She saw the glint in the light hazel eyes as she described the fiance and her kind heart at once made her determine to turn the conversation. After all, it was perfectly natural for poor Laura to have been in love with Tristram—no one could be more attractive—and, of course, it must hurt her—this marriage. She would reserve the “putting off,” until they left the dining-room and she could speak to her alone. So with her perfect tact and easy grace she diverted the current of conversation to the political situation, and luncheon went on.
But this was not what Lady Highford had come for. She wanted to hear everything she could about her rival, in order to lay her plans; and the moment Ethelrida was engaged with the politician and the Duke had turned to Mrs. Radcliffe, she tackled the cousin, in a lower voice.
He, Jimmy Danvers, had only read what she had, that morning. He had seen Tristram at the Turf on Tuesday after lunch—the day before yesterday—and he had only talked of Canada—and not a word of a lady then. It was a bolt from the blue. “And when I telephoned to the old boy this morning,” he said, “and asked him to take me to call upon his damsel to-day, he told me she had gone to Paris and would not be back until a week before the wedding!”