communication at my new office today that smells of dire news and sudden journeys.”
“Oh, Godfrey dearest, do stop sounding like a Prague fortune-teller!—it is most un-English—and let me have this mysterious missive! Surely it has nothing to do with your assignment to untangle the affairs of Bavaria and the late mad King Ludwig? Who is it from? Who has obtained your new office address so swiftly? What is wanted?”
Godfrey withdrew a long narrow sheet of yellow paper from the inner breast pocket of his suit coat. “It arrived at my office because it came first to the Rothschilds’ bank and was forwarded to me.”
“Unopened, I hope,” I put in. I would never trust a banker to leave any piece of paper unturned.
“Unopened, and addressed not to me, but to thee, dear wife.”
He held it out, knowing that Irene would leap like a gazelle to any communication not yet read, and therefore mysterious.
Even as she rose to pounce upon the paper, Godfrey pulled it back out of reach. “You have not asked who it is from.”
“Who is it from?!” she demanded, reaching for the missive.
“Miss Elizabeth Jane Cochrane.”
“Oh!” I cried, dismayed. “Has that forward girl not enough to do on her own uncivil shores that she should bother us again?”
“Bother Irene,” Godfrey corrected, ever the barrister and, as such, a bear for accurate details. “We are not among the addressees, you and I, Nell.”
“How improper to leave you out, Godfrey. I predict that Miss Elizabeth will never marry with that attitude!”
“Certainly she will never find her name embroidered on a piece of your fancy work.”
His comment, however artless, immediately reminded me of a certain gentleman who appeared only last summer to be getting along quite well with the forward American female we discussed, one better known by her quickly-becoming-notorious nom de plume of Nellie Bly, the brash American girl reporter.
While I fell into uneasy silence, Irene was only the more intrigued. “What can Pink have to tell me that is urgent enough to require a transatlantic wire? Give me the thing, Godfrey! You have teased me quite enough to make it interesting.”
She snatched at the envelope in his hand, winning a prize she immediately took to the lamp on the piano, the better to read it as twilight stole across our garden and shadowed the interior of the house.
That same shadow fell over my heart.
Pink Cochrane had burst into our lives and enterprises uninvited, and I confess that her energy and astounding cheek, eitheran American characteristic or a journalistic one, seemed to sap me of will and hope, especially when I discovered that in my absence she had made quite an impression on a special friend of mine, indeed, one of the very few good friends of mine, Quentin Stanhope.
While I stewed with my eyes glued to my embroidery so no one should notice my distraction, Irene was being strangely quiet by the piano.
“Well?” Godfrey asked at last. He was loosening his collar and obviously ached to go upstairs to change into less formal and thus more comfortable clothing for the evening.
Irene said nothing.
She simply sat there, haloed by the lamp that grew brighter behind her as the daylight faded, staring at the folded yellow paper the envelope had contained.
She certainly was well able to read the message, yet her eyes remained fixed on the page. She was deaf to Godfrey’s voice, and blind to our presence, though we were growing more mystified by the moment.
“Irene?” I said.
I could have been asking the Guarneri for an answer.
Godfrey leaned forward, peering at her. “Irene? Irene! Good God, what is it?”
I stood, forgetting to set aside my embroidery work. Lucifer dashed from under the piano and immediately snagged it for a plaything. So bizarre had the atmosphere in the room become that Casanova the parrot shifted feet on his perch and began whistling a dirge!
“Irene!” Godfrey repeated, standing as well.