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At twelve o'clock punctually Lord Bracondale was ushered into Mrs.
McBride's sitting-room at the Ritz, the day after her dinner-party at
Armenonville. He expected she would not be ready to receive him for at
least half an hour; having said twelve he might have known she meant
half-past, but he was in a mood of impatience, and felt obliged to be
He was suffering more or less from a reaction. He had begun towards
morning to realize the manner in which he had spent the evening was not
altogether wise. Not that he had the least intention of not repeating
his folly--indeed, he was where he was at this hour for no other purpose
than to enlist the widow's sympathy, and her co-operation in arranging
as many opportunities for similar evenings as together they could
After all, she only kept him waiting twenty minutes, and he had been
rather amused looking at the piles of bric-à-brac obsequious art dealers
had left for this rich lady's inspection.
A number of spurious bronzes warranted pure antique, clocks, brocades,
what not, lying about on all the available space.
"And I wonder what it will look like in her marble palace halls," he
thought, as he passed from one article to another.
"I am just too sorry to keep you, mon cher Bracondale," Mrs. McBride
said, presently, suddenly opening the adjoining door a few inches, "but
it is a quite exasperating hat which has delayed me. I can't get the
thing on at the angle I want. I--"
"Mayn't I come and help, dear lady?" interrupted Hector. "I know all
about the subject. I had to buy forty-seven at Monte Carlo, and see them
all tried on, too--and only lately! Do ask Marie to open that door a
little wider; I will decide in a minute how it should be."
"Insolent!" said the widow, who spoke French with perfect fluency and a
quite marvellously pure American accent. But she permitted the giggling
and beaming Marie to open the door wide, and let Hector advance and kiss
He then took a chair by the dressing-table and inspected the situation.
Seven or eight dainty bandboxes strewed the floor, some of their
contents peeping from them--feathers, aigrettes, flowers, impossible
birds--all had their place, and on the sofa were three chef
d'oeuvres ruthlessly tossed aside. While in the widow's fair hands
was a gem of gray tulle and the most expensive feather heart of woman
"You see," she said, plaintively, "it is meant to go just so," and she
placed it once more upon her head, a handsome head of forty-five, fresh
and well preserved and comely. "But the vile-tempered thing refuses to
stay there once I let go, and no pin will correct it."
"Base ingratitude," said Lord Bracondale, with feeling; "but couldn't
you stuff these in the hiatus," and he tenderly lifted a bunch of
nut-brown curls from the dressing-table. "They would fill up the gap and
keep the fractious thing steady."
"Of course they would," said Mrs. McBride; "but I have a rooted
objection to auxiliary nature trimmings. That bunch was sent with the
hat, and Marie has been trying to persuade me to wear it ever since we
began this struggle. But I won't! My hair's my own, and I don't mean to
have any one else's alongside of it. There is my trouble."
"If milor were to hold madame's 'at one side, while I de other, madame
might force her emerald parrot pin through him," suggested Marie, which
advice was followed, and the widow beamed with satisfaction at the
"There!" she exclaimed, with a sigh of relief, "that will do; and I am
just ready. Gloves, handkerchief--oh! and my purse, Marie." And in five
minutes more she was leading the way back into her sitting-room.
"I have not ordered lunch until one o'clock," she said, "so we have
oceans of time to talk and tell each other secrets. Sit down, jeune
homme, and confess to me." She pointed to a bergère, but it was filled
with Italian embroideries. "Marie, take this rubbish away!" she called,
and presently some chairs were made clear.
"And what must I confess?" asked Hector, when they were seated. "That I
am frantically in love with you, and your coldness is driving me wild?"
"Certainly not!" said the widow, while she rose again and began to
arrange some giant roses in a wonderful basket which looked as if it had
just arrived--her shrewd eye had seen the card, "From Captain
Fitzgerald, with his best bonjour." "Certainly not! We are going to talk
truth, or, to punish you, I shall not ask you to meet her again, and I
shall warn her father of your strictly dishonorable intentions."
"You would not be so cruel!"
"Yes I would. And it is what I ought to do, anyway. She is as innocent
as a woolly lamb, and unsophisticated and guileless, and will probably
be falling in love with you. You take the wind out of the sails of that
husband of hers, you see!"
"Do I?" said Hector, with overdone incredulity.
She looked at him. His long, lithe limbs stretched out, every line
indicative of breeding and strength. She noted the shape of his head,
the perfect grooming, his lazy, insolent grace, his whimsical smile.
Englishmen of this class were certainly the most provokingly beautiful
creatures in the world.
"It is because they have done nothing but order men, kill beasts, and
subjugate women for generations," she said to herself. "Lazy, naughty
darlings! If they came to our country and worked their brains a little,
they would soon lose that look. But it would be a pity," she
added--"yes, a pity."
"What are you thinking of?" asked Lord Bracondale, while she gazed at
"I was thinking you are a beautiful, useless creature. Just like all
your nation. You think the world is made for you; in any case, all the
women and animals to kill are."
"What an abominable libel! But I am fond of both things--women and
animals to kill."
"And you class them equally--or perhaps the animals are ahead."
"Indeed not always," said Hector, reassuringly. "Some women have quite
the first place."
"You are too flattering!" retorted the widow. "Those sentiments are all
very well for your own poor-spirited, down-trodden women, but they won't
do for Americans! A man has to learn a number of lessons before he is
fitted to cope with them."
"Oh, tell me," said Hector.
"He has got to learn to wait, for one thing, to wait about for hours if
necessary, and not to lose his temper, because the woman can't make up
her mind to be in time for things, or to change it often as to where she
will dine. Then he has to learn to give up any pleasure of his own for
hers--and travel when she wants to travel, or stay home when she wants
to go alone. If he is an Englishman he don't have brains enough to make
the money, but he must let her spend what he has got how she likes, and
not interfere with her own."
"And in return he gets?"
"The woman he happens to want, I suppose." And the widow laughed,
showing her wonderfully preserved brilliant white teeth.
"You enunciate great truths, belle dame!" said Hector, "and your last
sentence is the greatest of all--'The woman he happens to want.'"
"Which brings us back to our muttons--in this case only a defenceless
baby lamb. Now tell me what you are here for, trying to cajole me with
your good looks and mock humility."
"I am here to ask you to help me to see her again, then," said Hector,
who knew when to be direct. "I have only met her three times, as you
know, but I have fallen in love, and she is going away next week, and
there is only one Paris in the world."
"You can do a great deal of mischief in a week," Mrs. McBride said,
looking at him again critically. "I ought not to help you, but I can't
resist you--there! What can we devise?"
It is possible the probability of Theodora's father making a fourth may
have had something thing to do with her complaisance. Anyway, it was
decided that if feasible the four should spend a day at Versailles.
They should go in their two automobiles in time for breakfast at the
Réservoirs. They would start, Theodora in Mrs. McBride's with her, and
Captain Fitzgerald with Lord Bracondale, and each couple could spend the
afternoon as they pleased, dining again at the Réservoirs and whirling
back to Paris in the moonlight. A truly rural and refreshing programme,
good for the soul of man.
"And I can rely upon you to get rid of the husband?" said Lord
Bracondale, finally. "I do not see the poetry of the affair with his
bald head and mutton-chop whiskers as an accessory."
"Leave that to Captain Fitzgerald and myself," Mrs. McBride said,
proudly. "I have a scheme that Mr. Brown shall spend the day with
Clutterbuck R. Tubbs, examining some new machinery they are both
interested in. Leave it to me!" The part of Deus ex machina was always
a rôle the widow loved.
Then they descended to an agreeable lunch in the restaurant, with a
numerous party of her friends as usual, and Lord Bracondale felt
afterwards full of joy and hope, to continue his sinful path
The days that intervened before Theodora saw him again were uneventful
and full of blankness. The walks in the Bois appeared more tedious than
ever in the morning, the drives in the Acacias more exasperating. It was
a continual alertness to see if she caught sight of a familiar face, but
she never did. Fate was against them, as she sometimes is when she means
to compensate soon after by some glorious day of the gods. And although
Lord Bracondale called at her hotel and walked where he thought he
should see her, and even drove in the Acacias, they had no meeting.
Josiah did not feel himself sufficiently strong to stand the air of
theatres, and they went nowhere in the evenings. He was keeping himself
for his own dinner-party, which was to take place at the Madrid on the
Captain Fitzgerald had arranged it, and besides Mrs. McBride several of
his friends were coming, and a special band of wonderfully talented
Tziganes, who were delighting Paris that year, had been engaged to play
to them. If only the weather should remain fine all would be well.
A surprise awaited Theodora on Saturday morning. A friendly note from
Mrs. McBride arrived, asking her if she would spend the day with her at
Versailles, as she had asked her husband to do her a favor and lunch
with Mr. Clutterbuck R. Tubbs.
Theodora awaited Josiah's presence at the premier déjeuner, which they
took in their salon, with absolute excitement. He came in, a pompous
smile on his face.
"Good-day, my love," he said, blandly. "That charming widow writes me
this morning, asking if I will do her a favor, and take her friend, Mr.
Clutterbuck Tubbs, to examine that machinery for the separation of fats
we both have an interest in, and he suggests I should lunch with him, as
he is very anxious to have my opinion upon the merits of it."
"Yes," said Theodora.
"She also says," referring to the letter in his hand, "she will take
charge of you for the day, and take you to Versailles, which I know you
wish to go to. She wants an answer at once, as she will call for you at
twelve o'clock if we accept."
"I have heard from her, too," said Theodora. "What shall you answer,
Josiah?" and she looked out of the window.
"Oh, I may as well go, I think. There is money in the invention, or that
old gimlet-eye would not be so keen about it; I talked the matter over
with him at Armenonville the other night."
"Then shall you write or shall I?" said Theodora, as evenly as she
could. "Her servant is waiting."