Lord Ronsdale remained long at the club and the card-table that night; over the bits of pasteboard, however, his zest failed to flare high, although instinctively he played with a discernment that came from long practice. But the sight of a handful of gold pieces here, of a little pile there, the varying shiftings of the bright disks, as the vagaries of chance sent them this way or that, seemed to move him in no great degree,—perhaps because the winning or losing of a few hundred pounds, more or less, would have small effect on his fortunes or misfortunes. At a late, or rather, early, hour he pushed back his chair, richer by a few coins that jingled in his pocket, and, yawning, walked out. Summoning a cab, he got in, but as he found himself rattling homeward to the chambers he had taken in a fashionable part of town, he was aware that any emotions of annoyance and discontent experienced earlier that night, had suffered no abatement.
“Tasmania!” The horse’s hoofs beat time to vague desultory thoughts; he stared out, perhaps, in fancy, at southern seas, looked up at stars more lustrous than those that hung over him now. Then the divers clusters of points, glowing, insistent, swam around, and he fell into a half doze, from which he was awakened by the abrupt stopping of the cab. Having paid the man he went up to his rooms. On the table in an inner apartment, his study, something bright, white, met his gaze: a note in Jocelyn Wray’s handwriting! Quickly he reached for it and tore it open.
“A party of us ride in the park to-morrow morning. Will you join us?”
That was all; brief and to the point; Lord Ronsdale frowned.
“A party!” That would include John Steele perhaps. Once before on a morning, the girl’s fair face and dancing eyes had wooed Steele away from his desk, or the court, to the park.
Should he go? The note slipped from his fingers to the carpet; he permitted it to lie there; the importance to himself and others of his decision he little realized. Could he have foreseen all that was involved by his going, or staying away, he would not so carelessly have thrown off his clothes and retired, dismissing the matter until the morrow, or rather, until he should chance to waken.
* * * * *
IN THE PARK
Close at hand, the trees in Hyde Park seemed to droop their branches, as if in sympathy with the gray aspect of the day, while afar, across the green, the sylvan guardians of the place had either receded altogether in the gray haze or stood forth like shadowy ghosts. In the foreground, not far from the main entrance, a number of sheep and their young nibbled contentedly the wet and delectable grass, and as some bright gown paused or whisked past, the juxtaposition of fine raiment and young lamb suggested soft, shifting Bouchers or other dainty French pastorals in paint. The air had a tang; the dampness enhanced the perfumes, made them fuller and sweeter, and a joyous sort of melancholy seemed to hold a springtime world in its grasp.