Marion was entertaining Lady Lily in the White Drawing Room when Caolin entered discreetly as ever to tell her that Lord Ravenswode was here and wished to speak to her.

“He… demands to speak to you, madam. I can tell him you are not receiving visitors if you wish. His mood is… impolite.”

Marion and Lily both smiled knowingly. If Caolin, a well trained butler, described his Lordship’s mood as ‘impolite’ he probably meant downright obnoxious.

“You’d better show him in, but stay nearby in case his impoliteness boils over into rudeness,” Marion answered. She braced herself, glad that Lily was present as moral support.

Lord Ravenswode stormed into the room, his mood as black as his name implied, his face thunderously red, close to turning purple with rage.

“Where is my wife?” he demanded. “Is she here with you?”

Marion took a moment or two to answer him, simply because the question surprised her so much.

“Why would your wife be here?” she asked.

“You are her friend,” he answered.

“Hardly. I met her once at my tea party a few weeks ago and I have had no opportunity to meet her again, since.”

“At the least, you are a foreigner, like her. She might have come here for ‘sanctuary’.”

“Lord Ravenswode, this house is not a sanctuary for anyone, and I can assure you that I have not seen or heard from your wife. Do I understand that you have… misplaced… her?”

“She has left my house,” he answered, too enraged to realise that the conversation had been turned around and now he was the one being questioned. “She is gone, and so are the jewels I gave her… and those locked in the vault.”

“Really?” Lady Lily did her best not to smile as she looked Lord Ravenswode in the eye. A theory was forming in her mind, but she wasn’t going to be the one to mention it in front of his Lordship.

“Perhaps she has taken them to be cleaned,” Marion suggested, carefully hiding her real thoughts behind a mental wall and making sure to keep a straight face as she said it.

“Cleaned!” Lord Ravenswode looked at her as if she had said something extremely rude. Of course, the lady of any Oldblood House was not responsible for cleaning jewels. That was a silly notion to begin with, and Marion knew it. She just couldn’t resist saying it.

“That’s the only reason I can think of for her taking them,” Marion continued, still keeping her face impassive, but at a tremendous expense of effort. “Why don’t you try some of the goldsmiths in the Capitol?”

Lord Ravenswode was speechless, now. He spluttered for a few syllables and then stormed out of the drawing room. Caolin followed and opened the front door moments before his Lordship strode out, almost tripping on the steps.

Marion and Lily didn’t see that bit. They were both laughing into the silk cushions on the white sofa. Caolin returned to the Drawing room and waited until they had composed themselves before reporting that his Lordship – after he had regained his balance, declared that he was going to the Citadel to report the matter to the Castellan, and if that did not give him satisfaction he would take his complaint to the Panopticon itself.

“He intends to complain to the High Council about his wife and his jewels going missing?” Lily asked in astonishment. “Which is he most concerned about?”

“I could not say, madam,” Caolin answered quite truthfully. “Of course, even if I had any insight into that I should have to refrain from comment.”

“My ducats, my daughter!” Marion quoted. Lady Lily burst out laughing again. She had seen a production of The Merchant of Venice on her last visit to Liverpool. She fully understood the reference to the moneylender Shylock whose daughter eloped with his fortune in her bags.

“I will bring more tea,” said Caolin, who was not aware of the works of Shakespeare at all. He bowed to Lady Lily and his own mistress and backed out of the room. The door wasn’t quite closed when they heard him laugh out loud in the hallway.

Lily and Marion laughed again in the privacy of the drawing room, finally composing themselves only when Caolin returned with a tray of tea and hand-made violet macaroons that Mistress Calitha had experimented with making.

“Do you suppose that’s what she’s really done?” Marion asked when they were alone again and had sampled the macaroons. “Run away with his jewels?”

“Isn’t she some kind of aristocrat on her world?” Lily queried. “Surely Lord Ravenswode’s personal stock of gold and diamonds isn’t worth her effort?”

“I assumed that was why HE married her,” Marion answered. “I certainly didn’t imagine him as the romantic sort who swept her off her feet.”

The very impossibility of Lord Ravenswode being romantic sobered them both up and prevented another fit of laughter as they thought about the possible reasons for Lady Ravenswode, also known as the Duchess of New Ashher, or to most of Marion’s social circle as ‘that strange and unfriendly woman’ to have left her new home so abruptly.

“There isn’t any legitimate reason,” Marion concluded. “She has left him and taken his jewels as compensation for the miserable time she must have been having since she married him.”

“He won’t like that,” Lily predicted. “Not one little bit.”

Lily stayed the whole day, and was there in the evening when Kristoph came home from the Citadel and the business of the High Council and relaxed with a single malt in the main drawing room. The ladies joined him and related their encounter with Lord Ravenswode. He, for his part, shared what had happened in the Citadel.

“He went to the Castellan, first. Pól told him that according to The Married Woman’s Shared Property Act of RE178654 the jewels were as much his wife’s as his and she could not be arrested for stealing them. Nor could she be prevented from boarding a shuttle to Polafrey if she chose to do so. As his wife she was a Gallifreyan citizen and permitted to travel within the seven planets at her leisure. He couldn’t confirm if she had done so. Or wouldn’t. Pól is not exactly a friend of his Lordship. I can’t see him bothering too much about his complaint.”

“What happened, then?” Lily asked, suspecting that there was more.

“Ravenswode marched into the Panopticon in the middle of a Treasury report and demanded a divorce.”

“He didn’t!” Lily was scandalised, and it took a lot to scandalise a lady as experienced as she was.

“He can’t,” Marion added. “There is no such thing as divorce in Gallifreyan law.”

“Indeed there is not. He was demanding that we change the law, right there and then, in order for him to divorce the woman who had run off with his property.”

“So that the Castellan could then pursue and arrest her for theft?”

“Unlikely, since we would have been bound to make a financial provision for the lady and she could claim it was still her property. But Gallifreyan law can’t be changed that easily. His petition was refused, of course. He was outraged. He rounded on me and accused me of obstructing him. He then reminded me that I, too, had a foreign wife with free access to all my assets.”

“Yes, but I don’t have any intention of running away with your assets,” Marion pointed out.

“I didn’t tell him that. He was reprimanded by Gold Usher for slandering your good name, and rightly so, and warned to conduct himself properly or face ejection from the Panopticon.”

“And did he?”

“No, he didn’t. He tried to bring a new petition, banning foreign marriage and again accusing me of obstruction because of my personal bias. At which point he was unanimously declared to be Out of Order and ejected. We could still hear him shouting in the ante-chamber before the Panopticon Guard escorted him out of the Citadel.”

Marion and Lily were laughing, now. They couldn’t help it.

“Think of poor Gold Usher, trying to uphold the dignity of the Panopticon and you two laughing about it,” Kristoph scolded them, though he, too, was finding it all thoroughly amusing.

“I understand he then went into every restaurant and café in the Capitol demanding to know where his wife was. Not surprisingly the Chancellery Guard arrested him for causing a public nuisance. They took him back to Ravenswode Manor and put him under house arrest for two days. He’s not happy about that, either, but one more infraction and he’ll be in a cell instead.”

“I wonder what DID happen to his wife,” Marion said when her laughter died.

“Oh, I know perfectly well what happened to her,” Kristoph answered. There was a twinkle in his eye. He poured himself another drink, agonisingly slowly before he began the second part of his tale.

“I asked the Celestial Intervention Agency to make inquiries,” he explained. “Yes, a rather frivolous use of their special skills, but after all, they owe me a favour or two.”

He paused again. The two women snapped.

“Kristoph de Lœngbærrow, stop pausing for dramatic effect and get on with this before we do something unbecoming to you,” Marion told him.

“It didn’t take long to find out what shuttles she took and which hyperspace ship she got onto at the space port at Polafrey. It isn’t actually illegal under Gallifreyan law to pay for passage out of our jurisdiction with cut diamonds, and I see no reason why it ought to be. She is, by now, in a neutral space port deciding which luxury planet with no extradition treaties to take a long holiday upon.”

He paused only long enough to take a breath before continuing.

“There are several interesting factors,” he said. “First, Lord Ravenswode is even poorer than he knows. The Celestial Intervention Agency found out that all of his offworld bank accounts have been emptied and his share portfolios liquidated. As his wife, Lady Marita could legally do so, and she did.”

“Oh dear, poor Shylock has lost ALL of his ducats,” Marion said. Kristoph recognised the literary reference immediately and smiled knowingly.

“It gets worse. It turns out that, although her name IS Marita Ginella Assher, she is NOT a Duchess of that high prefecture of Nerussia. It is merely her surname, just like the author Jack London or the composer John Ireland never actually owned either of those places. Marita is an actress – a moderately successful one. She had a part in a Nerussian soap opera for a while. - hence her attendance at social functions – much as you get celebrities at Royal Ascot and garden parties at Buckingham Palace.”

“So she lied to Lord Ravenswode?”

“Oh yes, indeed,” Kristoph confirmed. “Lied through her teeth. Should there be any doubt at all, the real Duchess of Assher is an old lady of five hundred and three who rarely attends social functions since her last stroke.”

“Oh dear.” Marion tried to sound calm as she heard the news, but it was too amusing. She laughed out loud. So did Lily.

“It’s his own fault,” Kristoph said. “He thought he was marrying into old money and royal blood. He should have checked her antecedents fully before making it official.”

“Does he know, yet?” Lily asked.

“No. Pól Braxietel asked if he might break the news to him. I never realised just how much he dislikes Ravenswode. I told him he could have the pleasure, though on reflection I almost wish I had kept the duty for myself. I rather want to see his face.”

“At times like this, I think it’s a shame that Gallifrey doesn’t have ‘reality TV’,” Marion managed to say before laughing again. “We could ALL enjoy the moment.”

“As I told mama last week,” Kristoph said. “Schadenfreude is quite distasteful.”

“But a lot of FUN,” Marion countered.

“Oh, lots of fun,” Kristoph admitted. “Quite the best fun I have had in a long time.”

He was still laughing softly when Rodan arrived in the drawing room, freshly bathed and dressed for dinner after being in riding clothes most of her day. She asked what the joke was, but Kristoph shook his head as he reached to lift her onto his knee.

“It’s a joke for the grown-ups, not really suitable for a little girl,” he admitted. “And one we ought to be ashamed of, really. Now let us change the subject. We have just enough time before dinner to hear about your day, little one.”