“And I, too. Will you be staying in Britlingsea long?”
All at once, Annie made the first grown-up decision of her life. She would return to London tomorrow. She would wait in town for her husband. And she would ask him why he had married her.
“I shall be leaving tomorrow,” she said firmly. “On the early train.”
“Splendid,” he said. “I have a compartment reserved on the London train and would deem it an honor if you would share it with me, Lady Torrance.”
“Thank you. Miss Hammond—I mean, Mary—will you be coming, too?”
Was Miss Hammond about to accept? Or did the sudden pale look that the chancellor cast upon her stop her?
“No, Annie,” she said. “I still have work to do here.”
And that was that.
It was strange, Annie reflected on the train the next day, that although she and the chancellor chatted generally of this and that all the way to London, although she found him to be a charming companion, she was surprised that he did not seem to want to talk about women’s rights or, indeed, refer to Miss Hammond at all.
She hesitated a little when he offered to escort her to the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company on the following night. It was a special charity production, he said, of “The Pirates of Penzance.” All at once she accepted. He was a gentleman—which is more than could be said for her husband!
It was two more weeks before the marquess returned to London. And those two weeks had made a great difference to his wife. She had become accustomed to the house and the servants in St. James’s Square. She had discovered the pleasures of shopping and sightseeing by herself. And she had several very pleasant outings with the chancellor of the exchequer. He rarely discussed politics with her, and when she had asked him point-blank what he thought about women getting the vote, a subject that was beginning to interest her strongly, he turned the subject aside with, “It is too serious a matter to go into at the moment. I would prefer to talk about something else.”
He was comfortable company in that it was somehow like going out with no one. She was not aware of him as a man, only as a quiet, often witty escort whom she forgot about as soon as she had left him.
Marigold, of course, got wind of her friendship with Mr. Shaw-Bufford and promptly called to tell Annie that the whole of London was talking about them. But this Annie knew to be untrue. She had quickly made a few friends among the society women who had viewed her friendship with the chancellor with equanimity, and since all were high sticklers, Annie knew they would not hesitate to caution her if she were doing anything wrong.
She was quickly becoming accustomed to the life of an independent married woman. No Marigold around day and night to taunt and sneer, no Nanny or Miss Higgins to reprimand, no parents to make her feel rejected by their lack of interest. For it seemed as if her mother and father’s sudden burst of affection for her had died the day after she was married. The countess had not even considered it strange that the marquess should leave for France on his own. A woman was not supposed to question her husband’s mode of conduct. A good wife was a submissive wife. Any other attitude led to conflict.
It was something of a shock, therefore, when Annie walked into the breakfast room one morning to find her husband calmly eating toast and marmalade and reading the morning papers.
He was wearing a magnificent dressing gown, and his black hair was still tousled from sleep. He grinned at her amiably, remarked that it was a fine morning, and buried his head in his newspaper again.
Annie drank her coffee with angry little sips and glared at what she could see of her husband. “Did you enjoy your stay in Paris?” she asked at last, her voice thin and hard.
He put the paper down. “Very,” he remarked. “I didn’t spend the whole summer there, of course. I’ve been down to my