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Lord Bracondale arrived at his sister's house in Charles Street about a
quarter of an hour before her luncheon guests were due.
Anne rushed down to see him, meeting her husband on the stairs.
"Oh, don't come in yet, Billy, like a darling," she said, "I want to
talk to Hector alone."
And the meek and fond Lord Anningford had obediently retired to his
"Well, Hector," she said, when she had greeted him, "and so you are
going to the Fitzgeralds' for Whitsuntide, and not to Bracondale, mother
tells me this morning. She is in the seventh heaven, taking it for a
sign, as you had to manoeuvre so to be asked, that things are coming
to a climax between you and Morella."
"Morella? Is she going?" said Hector, absently. He had quite forgotten
that fact, so perfectly indifferent was he to her movements, and so
completely had his own aims engrossed him.
"Why--dear boy!" Anne gasped. The whole scene, highly colored by
repetition, had been recounted to her. How Morella had told him of her
plans, and how he had at once got introduced to Lady Ada, and played his
cards so skilfully that the end of the evening produced the invitation.
"Oh yes, of course, I remember she is going," he said, impatiently.
"Anne, you haven't asked that beast Wensleydown to-day, have you?"
"No, dear. What made you think so?"
"I saw you talking to him in the park this morning, and I feared you
might have. I shall certainly quarrel with him one of these days."
"You will have an opportunity, then, at Beechleigh, as he will be there.
He is always with the Fitzgeralds," Anne said, and she tried to laugh.
"But don't make a scandal, Hector."
She saw his eyes blaze.
"He is going there, is he?" he said, and then he stared out of the
Anne knew nothing of the relationship between Theodora and Sir Patrick.
She never for a moment imagined the humble Browns would be invited to
this exceptionally smart party. And yet she was uneasy. Why was Hector
going? What plan was in his head? Not Morella, evidently. But she had
never believed that would be his attraction.
And Hector was too preoccupied to enlighten her.
"Is mother coming to lunch?" he asked.
"Yes, by her own request. I had not meant to ask her--Oh, well, you
know, she is never very pleased at your having new friends, and I
thought she might fix Mrs. Brown with that stony stare she has
sometimes, and we would be happier without her; but she was determined
"It is just as well," he said, "because she will have to get accustomed
to it. I shall ask my friends the Browns down to Bracondale on every
occasion, and as she is hostess there the stony stare won't answer."
"Manage her as best you may," said Anne. "But you know how she can be
now and then--perfectly annihilating to unfortunate strangers."
Hector's finely chiselled lips shut like a vise.
"We shall see," he said. "And who else have you got? None of the
Harrowfield-Devlyn crew, I hope--"
"Hector, how strange you are! I thought you and Lady Harrowfield were
the greatest friends, so of course I asked her. No one in London can
make a woman's success as she can."
"Or mar it so completely if she takes a dislike! Have you ever heard of
her doing a kindness to any one? I haven't!" he said, irritably.
Then he walked to the window and back quickly.
"I tell you I am sick of it all, Anne. Last night, whoever I spoke to
had something vile to impute or insinuate about every one they
mentioned; and Lady Harrowfield, with a record of her own worse than the
lowest, rode a high horse of virtue, and was more spiteful than all the
rest put together. I loathe them, the whole crew. What do they know of
anything good or pure or fine? Painted Jezebels, the lot of them!"
"Hector!" almost screamed Lady Anningford. "What has come over you, my
"I will tell you," he said; and his voice, which had been full of
passion, now melted into a tone of deep tenderness. "I love a woman
whose pure goodness has taught me there are other possibilities in life
beyond the aims of these vile harpies of our world--a woman whose very
presence makes one long to be better and nobler, whose dear soul has
not room for anything but kind and loving thoughts of sweetness and
light. Oh, Anne, if I might have her for my own, and live away down at
Bracondale far from all this, I think--I think I, too, could learn what
heaven would mean on earth."
"Dear Hector!" said Anne, who was greatly moved. "Oh, I am so sorry for
you! But what is to be done? She is married to somebody else, and you
will only injure her and yourself if you see too much of her."
"I know," he said. "I realize it sometimes--this morning, for
instance--and then--and then--"
He did not add that the thought of Lord Wensleydown and the rest
swarming round Theodora drove him mad, deprived him of his power of
reasoning, and filled him with a wild desire to protect her, to be near
her, to keep her always for himself, always in his sight.
"Anne," he said, at last, "promise me you will go out of your way to be
kind to her. Don't let these other odious women put pin-points into her,
because she is so innocent, and all unused to this society. She is just
my queen and my darling. Will you remember that?"
And as Anne looked she saw there were two great tears in his eyes--his
deep-gray eyes which always wore a smile of whimsical mockery--and she
felt a lump in her throat.
This dear, dear brother! And she could do nothing to comfort him--one
way or another.
"Hector, I will promise--always," she said, and her voice trembled. "I
am sure she is sweet and good; and she is so lovely and fascinating--and
oh, I wish--I wish--too!"
Then he bent down and kissed her, just as his mother and Lady
Harrowfield came into the room.
Anne felt glad she had not informed them they were to meet the Browns,
as was her first intention. She seemed suddenly to see with Hector's
eyes, and to realize how narrow and spiteful Lady Harrowfield could be.
Most of the guests arrived one after the other, and were talking about
the intimate things they all knew, when "Mr. and Mrs. Brown" were
announced, and the whole party turned to look at them, while Lady
Harrowfield tittered, and whispered almost audibly to her neighbor: "These are the creatures Florence insisted upon my giving an invitation
to last night. I did it for her sake, of course, so wretchedly poor she
is, dear Florence, and she hopes to make a good thing out of them. Look
at the man!" she added. "Has one ever sees such a person, except in a
"I have never been in one," said Hector, agreeably, a dangerous flash in
his eyes; "but I hear things are too wonderfully managed at Harrowfield
House--though I had no idea you did the shopping yourself, dear Lady
She looked up at him, rage in her heart. Hector had long been a hopeless
passion of hers--so good-looking, so whimsical, and, above all, so
indifferent! She had never been able to dominate and ride rough-shod
ever him. When she was rude and spiteful he answered her back, and then
neglected her for the rest of the evening.
But why should he defend these people, whom, probably, he did not even
She would watch and see.
Then they went in to luncheon, without waiting for two or three stray
young men who were always late.
And Theodora found herself sitting between the Crow and a sleek-looking
politician; while poor Josiah, extremely ill at ease, sat at the left
hand of his hostess.
Anne had purposely not put Hector near Theodora; with her mother there
she thought it was wiser not to run any risks.
Lady Bracondale was sufficiently soothed by her happy dream of the cause
of Hector's visit to Beechleigh to be coldly polite to Theodora, whom
Anne had presented to her before luncheon. She sat at the turn of the
long, oval table just one off, and was consequently able to observe her
"She is extremely pretty and looks well bred--quite too extraordinary,"
she said to herself, in a running commentary. "Grandfather a convict, no
doubt. She reminds me of poor Minnie Borringdon, who ran off with that
charming scapegrace brother of Patrick Fitzgerald. I wonder what became
Lady Bracondale deplored the ways of many of the set she was obliged to
move in--Delicia Harrowfield, for instance. But what was one to do? One
must know one's old friends, especially those to whom one had been a
The Crow, who had begun by being determined to find Theodora as cunning
as other angels he was acquainted with, before the second course had
fallen completely under her spell.
No one to look into her tender eyes could form an adverse opinion about
her; and her gentle voice, which only said kind things, was pleasing to
"'Pon my soul, Hector is not such a fool as I thought," Colonel Lowerby
said to himself. "This seems a bit of pure gold--poor little white lady!
What will be the end of her?"
And opposite, Hector, with great caution, devoured her with his eyes.
Theodora herself was quite happy, though her delicate intuition told her
Lady Harrowfield was antagonistic to her, and Hector's mother
exceedingly stiff, while most of the other women eyed her clothes and
talked over her head. But they all seemed of very little consequence to
She was like the sun, who continues to shine and give warmth and light
no matter how much ugly imps may look up and make faces at him.
Theodora was never ill at ease. It would grieve her sensitive heart to
the core if those she loved made the faintest shade of difference in
their treatment of her--but strangers! They counted not at all, she had
too little vanity.
Both her neighbors, the young politician and the Crow, were completely
fascinated by her. She had not the slightest accent in speaking
English, but now and then her phrasing had a quaint turn which was
original and attractive.
Anne was not enjoying her luncheon-party. The impression of sorrow and
calamity which the conversation with her brother had left upon her
deepened rather than wore off.
Josiah's commonplace and sometimes impossible remarks perhaps helped it.
She seemed to realize how it must all jar on Hector. To know his loved
one belonged to this worthy grocer--to understand the hopelessness of
Anne was proud of her family and her old name. It was grief, too, to
think that after Hector the title would go to Evermond Le Mesurier, the
unmarried and dissolute uncle, if he survived his nephew, and then would
die out altogether. There would be no more Baron Bracondales of
Bracondale, unless Hector chose to marry and have sons. Oh, life was a
topsy-turvy affair at the best of times, she sighed to herself.
Just before the ladies left the table, Josiah had announced their
intended visit to Beechleigh, and his wife's relationship to Sir Patrick
Fitzgerald and the old Earl Borringdon.
It came as a thunderclap to Lady Anningford. This accounted for
Hector's eagerness to obtain the invitation--accounted for Theodora's
exceeding look of breeding--accounted for many things.
She only trusted her mother had not heard the news also. So much better
to leave her in her fool's paradise about Morella.
If Lady Harrowfield knew, she said nothing about it. She absolutely
ignored Theodora, as though she had never shaken hands with her in her
own house the night before. Theodora wondered at her manners--she did
not yet know Mayfair.
The conversation turned upon some of the wonderful charities they were
all interested in, and Theodora thought how good and kind of them to
help the poor and crippled. And she said some gentle, sympathetic things
to a lady who was near her. And Anne thought to herself how sweet and
beautiful her nature must be, and it made her sadder and sadder.
Presently they all began to discuss the ball at Harrowfield House. It
had been too lovely, they said, and Lady Harrowfield joined in with one
of her sharp thrusts.
"Of course it could not be just as one would have wished. I was obliged
to ask all sorts of people I had never even heard of," she said. "The
usual grabbing for invitations, you know, to see the Royalties. Really,
the quaint creatures who came up the stairs! I almost laughed in their
faces once or twice."
"But don't you like to feel what pleasure you gave them, the poor
things?" Theodora said, quite simply, without the least sarcasm. "You
see, I know you gave them pleasure, because my husband and I were some
of them--and we enjoyed it, oh, so much!"
And she smiled one of her adorable smiles which melted the heart of
every one else in the room. But of Lady Harrowfield she made an enemy
for life. The venomous woman reddened violently--under her paint--while
she looked this upstart through and through. But Theodora was quite
unconscious of her anger. To her Lady Harrowfield seemed a poor, soured
old woman very much painted and ridiculous, and she felt sorry for
unlovely old age and ill-temper.
Meanwhile, Lady Bracondale was being favorably impressed. She was a most
presentable young person, this wife of the Australian millionaire, she
Anne took the greatest pains to be charming to Theodora. They were
sitting together on a sofa when the men came into the room.
Hector could keep away no longer. He joined them in their corner, while
his face beamed with joy to see the two people he loved best in the
world apparently getting on so well together.
"What have you been talking about?" he asked.
"Nothing very learned," said Anne. "Only the children. I was telling
Mrs. Brown how Fordy's pony ran away in the park this morning, and how
plucky he had been about it."
"They are rather nice infants," said Hector. "I should like you to see
them," and he looked at Theodora. "Mayn't we have them down, Anne?"
Lady Anningford adored her offspring, and was only too pleased to show
them; but she said: "Oh, wait a moment, Hector, until some of these people have gone. Lady
Harrowfield hates children, and Fordy made some terrible remarks about
her wig last time."
"I wish he would do it again," said Hector. "She took the skin off every
one the whole way through lunch."
"But Colonel Lowerby told me she was one of the cleverest women in
London!" exclaimed Theodora; "and surely it is not very clever just to
be bitter and spiteful!"
"Yes, she is clever," said Anne, with a peculiar smile, "and we are all
rather under her thumb."
"It is perfectly ridiculous how you pander to her!" Hector said,
impatiently. "I should never allow my wife to have anything but a
distant acquaintance with her if I were married," and he glanced at
Lady Anningford's duties as hostess took her away from them then, and he
sat down on the sofa in her place.
"Oh, how I hate all this!" he said. "How different it is to Paris! It
grates and jars and brings out the worst in one. These odious women and
their little, narrow ways! You will never stay much in London--will you,
"I have always to do what Josiah wishes, you know; he rather likes it,
and means us to come back after Whitsuntide, I think."
Hector seemed to have lost the power of looking ahead. Whitsuntide, and
to be with her in the country for that time, appeared to him the
boundary of his outlook.
What would happen after Whitsuntide? Who could say?
He longed to tell her how his thoughts were forever going back to the
day at Versailles, and the peace and beauty of those woods--how all
seemed here as though something were dragging him down to the
commonplace, away out of their exalted dream, to a dull earth. But he
dared not--he must keep to subjects less moving. So there was silence
for some moments.
Theodora, since coming to London, had begun to understand it was
possible for beautiful Englishmen to be husbands now and then, and that
the term is not necessarily synonymous with "bore" and "duty"--as she
had always thought it from her meagre experience.
She could not help picturing what a position of exquisite happiness some
nice girl might have--some day--as Hector's wife. And she looked out of
the window, and her eyes were sad. While the vision which floated to him
at the same moment was of her at his side at Bracondale, and the
delicious joy of possessing for their own some gay and merry babies like
Fordy and his little brother and sister. And each saw a wistful longing
in the other's eyes, and they talked quickly of banal things.