But whatever the girl’s motive, her conduct in the matter reacted on my lord; the fellow was in the way, very much so. How could he himself pay court to her when she frivolously, if only for the moment, preferred this commoner’s company? That very afternoon my lord, entering the music-room of the great mansion, had found her at the piano playing for him, her slim fingers moving over the keys to the tune of one of Chopin’s nocturnes. He had surprised a steady, eloquent look in the fellow’s eye turned on her when she was unconscious of his gaze, a glance the ardency of which there was no mistaking. It had altered at my lord’s rather quiet and abrupt appearance, crystallized into an impersonal icy light, colder even than the nobleman’s own stony stare. He had, perforce, to endure the other’s presence and conversation, an undercurrent to the light talk of the girl who seemed, Lord Ronsdale thought, a little maliciously aware of the constraint between the two men, and not at all put out by it.
What made the situation even more anomalous to Ronsdale and the less patiently to be borne, was that Sir Charles understood and sympathized with his desires and position in the matter. And why not? Ronsdale’s father and Sir Charles had been old and close friends; there were reasons that pointed to the match as a suitable one, and Sir Charles, by his general manner and attitude, had long shown he would put no obstacle in the way of the nobleman’s suit for the hand of his fair niece. As for Lady Wray, Lord Ronsdale knew that he had in that practical and worldly person a stanch ally of his wishes; these had not become less ardent since he had witnessed the unqualified success of the beautiful colonial girl in London; noted how men, illustrious in various walks of life, grave diplomats, stately ambassadors, were swayed by her light charm and impulsive frankness of youth. And to have her who could have all London at her feet, including his distinguished self, show a predilection, however short-lived and capricious, for—
“Confound the cad! Where did he come from? Who are his family—if he has one!”
Thus ruminating he had drawn near his club, a square, imposing edifice, when a voice out of the darkness caused him abruptly to pause:
“If it isn’t ’is lordship!”
The tones expressed surprise, satisfaction; the nobleman looked down; gave a slight start; then his face became once more cold, apathetic.
“Who are you? What do you want?” he said roughly.
The countenance of the fellow who had ventured to accost the nobleman fell; a vindictive light shone from his eyes.
“It’s like a drama at old Drury,” he observed, with a slight sneer. “Only your lordship should have said: ‘Who the devil are you?’”
Lord Ronsdale looked before him to where, in the distance, near a street lamp, the figure of a policeman might be dimly discerned; then, with obvious intention, he started toward the officer; but the man stepped in front of him. “No, you don’t,” he said.