On their arrival at home they met with fitting welcome and reverence. The doors of the town house were thrown open wide, and in the hall the servants stood in line, the housekeeper at the head with her keys at her girdle, the little jet-black negro page grinning beneath his turban with joy to see his lady again, he worshipping her as a sort of fetich, after the manner of his race. 'Twas his duty to take heed to the pet dogs, and he stood holding by their little silver chains a smart-faced pug and a pretty spaniel. His lady stopped a moment to pat them and to speak to him a word of praise of their condition; and being so favoured, he spoke also, rolling his eyes in his delight at finding somewhat to impart.
"Yesterday, ladyship, when I took them out," he said, "a gentleman marked them, knowing whose they were. He asked me when my lady came again to town, and I answered him to-day. 'Twas the fair gentleman in his own hair."
"'Twas Sir John Oxon, your ladyship," said the lacquey nearest to him.
Her ladyship left caressing her spaniel and stood upright. Little Nero was frightened, fearing she was angered; she stood so straight and tall, but she said nothing and passed on.
At the top of the staircase she turned to Mistress Anne with a laugh.
"Thy favourite again, Anne," she said. "He means to haunt me, now we are alone. 'Tis thee he comes after."
CHAPTER XIII--Wherein a deadly war begins
The town and the World of Fashion greeted her on her return with open arms. Those who looked on when she bent the knee to kiss the hand of Royalty at the next drawing-room, whispered among themselves that bereavement had not dimmed her charms, which were even more radiant than they had been at her presentation on her marriage, and that the mind of no man or woman could dwell on aught as mournful as widowhood in connection with her, or, indeed, could think of anything but her brilliant beauty. 'Twas as if from this time she was launched into a new life. Being rich, of high rank, and no longer an unmarried woman, her position had a dignity and freedom which there was no creature but might have envied. As the wife of Dunstanwolde she had been the fashion, and adored by all who dared adore her; but as his widow she was surrounded and besieged. A fortune, a toast, a wit, and a beauty, she combined all the things either man or woman could desire to attach themselves to the train of; and had her air been less regal, and her wit less keen of edge, she would have been so beset by flatterers and toadies that life would have been burdensome. But this she would not have, and was swift enough to detect the man whose debts drove him to the expedient of daring to privately think of the usefulness of her fortune, or the woman who manoeuvred to gain reputation or success by means of her position and power.