“It is very pretty,” the baronet said, carelessly, and passed it to his wife.
Lady Kingsland took it quite carelessly. The next instant she had turned sharply around and looked Mr. Parmalee full in the face.
The American had evidently expected it, for he had glanced away abruptly, and begun hustling his pictures back into his portfolio. Sybilla could see he was flushed dark red. She turned to my lady. She was deathly pale.
“Did you paint those portraits, too?” she asked, speaking for the first time.
“No, marm—my lady, I mean. I collected these as curiosities. One of ’em—the one you’re looking at—was given me by the original herself.”
The picture dropped from my lady’s hand as if it had been red-hot. Mr. Parmalee bounded forward and picked it up with imperturbable sang froid.
“I value this most of all my collection. I know the lady well. I wouldn’t lose it for any amount of money.”
My lady arose abruptly and walked to the window, and the hue of her face was the hue of death. Sybilla Silver’s glittering eyes went from face to face.
“I reckon I’ll be going now,” Mr. Parmalee remarked. “The rain seems to hold up a little. I’ll be along to-morrow, Sir Everard, to take those views. Much obliged to you for your kindness. Good-day.”
He glanced furtively at the stately woman by the window, standing still as if turning to stone. But she neither looked nor moved nor spoke.
IN THE PICTURE-GALLERY.
Mr. Parmalee, true to his promise, presented himself at the earliest admissible hour next day with all the apparatus of his art.
So early was it, indeed, that Sybilla was just pouring out the baronet’s first cup of tea, while he leisurely opened the letters the morning mail had brought.
Lady Kingsland complained of a bad headache, her husband said, and would not leave her room until dinner.
Sir Everard made this announcement, quietly opening his letters. Sybilla looked at him with gleaming eyes. The time had come for her to begin to lay her train.
My lady had ascended to her room immediately upon the departure of the American, the preceding day, and had been invisible ever since. That convenient feminine excuse, headache, had accounted for it, but Sybilla Silver knew better. She had expected her to breakfast this morning, and she began to think Mr. Parmalee’s little mystery was more of a mystery than even she had dreamed. The man’s arrival gave her her cue.
“Our American friend is a devotee of art, it seems,” she said, with a light laugh. “He lets no grass grow under his feet. I had no easy task to restrain his artistic ardor during your absence. I never knew such an inquisitive person, either; he did nothing but ask questions.”
“A national trait,” Sir Everard responded, with a shrug. “Americans are all inquisitive, which accounts for their go-aheadativeness, I dare say.”