Susy read on the scroll beneath it: "The Hon'ble Diana Lefanu, fifteenth Countess of Altringham" and heard Strefford say: "Do you remember? It hangs where you noticed the empty space above the mantel-piece, in the Vandyke room. They say Reynolds stipulated that it should be put with the Vandykes."
Who would help him in his distress? The Altringhams were still in Scotland, and he knew well that, though Lady Altringham was fond of him, and though Lord Altringham liked him, there was no assistance to be had there of the kind that he needed. His dearly intimate distinguished friends in Norfolk, with whom he had been always "George," would not care if they heard that he had been crucified.
Lady Altringham was not the least in love with Captain Hotspur, was bound to him by no tie whatsoever, would suffer no loss in the world should Cousin George come to utter and incurable ruin; but she was a woman of energy, and, as she liked the man, she was zealous in his friendship.
If he had not heard such persistent rumours of her re-marriage to Lord Altringham he might have tried to see her again; but, aware of the danger and the hopelessness of a meeting, he was, on the whole, glad to have a reason for avoiding it. Such, at least, he honestly supposed to be his state of mind until he found himself, as on this occasion, free to follow out his thought to its end.
With an inward shrug of discouragement she said to herself that probably nothing would ever really amuse her again; then, as she listened, she began to understand that her disappointment arose from the fact that Strefford, in reality, could not live without these people whom he saw through and satirized, and that the rather commonplace scandals he narrated interested him as much as his own racy considerations on them; and she was filled with terror at the thought that the inmost core of the richly-decorated life of the Countess of Altringham would be just as poor and low-ceilinged a place as the little room in which he and she now sat, elbow to elbow yet so unapproachably apart.
She knew the rumour was abroad that she and Nick were to be divorced, and that Lord Altringham was "devoted" to her. She neither confirmed nor denied the report: she just let herself be luxuriously carried forward on its easy tide. But although it was now three months since Nick had left the Palazzo Vanderlyn she had not yet written to him nor he to her.
He had written to a third friend to make an appointment for the evening, and this appointment he was bound to keep. He would very much rather have stayed at his club and played billiards with the navy captain, even though he might again have lost his shillings. The third friend was that Mrs. Morton to whom Lord Altringham had once alluded. "I supposed that it was coming," said Mrs.
She had even decided to which dressmaker she would go for her chinchilla cloak-for she meant to have one, and down to her feet, and softer and more voluminous and more extravagantly sumptuous than Violet's or Ursula's... not to speak of silver foxes and sables... nor yet of the Altringham jewels. She knew all this by heart; had always known it.
On such an occasion as this Sir Harry was all smiles, and quite willing to hear a little town gossip. "Come with the Altringhams, have you? I'm told Altringham has just sold all his horses. What's the meaning of that?" "The old story, Sir Harry. He has weeded his stable, and got the buyers to think that they were getting the cream.
Lady Altringham was very hard on him, threatening him at one time with the Earl's displeasure, and absolute refusal of his company.
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