Part 4 out of 6
of care. Her self-protective, watchful instincts could rest for a while;
these new relations were truly, not only seemingly, so kind. The only
person she immediately and instinctively disliked was Lady Highford who
had gushed and said one or two bitter-sweet things which she had not
clearly nor literally understood, but which, she felt, were meant to be
And her husband, Tristram! It was plain to be seen every one loved
him--from the old Duke, to the old setter by the fire. And how was it
possible for them all to love a man, when--and then her thoughts
unconsciously turned to _if_--he were capable of so base a thing as his
marriage with her had been? Was it possible there could be any mistake?
On the first opportunity she would question her uncle; and although she
knew that gentleman would only tell her exactly as much as he wished her
to know, that much would be the truth.
Dinner was to be at half-past eight. She ought to be punctual, she knew;
but it was all so wonderful, and refined, and old-world, in her charming
room, she felt inclined to dawdle and look around.
It was a room as big as her mother's had been, in the gloomy castle near
Prague, but it was full of cozy touches--beyond the great gilt state
bed, which she admired immensely--and with which she instinctively felt
only the English--and only such English--know how to endow their
Then she roused herself. She _must_ dress. Fortunately her hair did not
take any time to twist up.
"_Miladi_ is a dream!" Henriette exclaimed when at last she was ready.
"_Milor_ will be proud!"
And he was.
She sent Henriette to knock at his door--his door in the passage--not
the one between their rooms!--just on the stroke of half-past eight. He
was at that moment going to send Higgins on a like errand! and his sense
of humor at the grotesqueness of the situation made him laugh a bitter
The two servants as the messengers!--when he ought to have been in there
himself, helping to fix on her jewels, and playing with her hair, and
perhaps kissing exquisite bits of her shoulders when the maid was not
looking, or fastening her dress!
Well, the whole thing was a ghastly farce that must be got through; he
would take up politics, and be a wonderful landlord to the people at
Wrayth; and somehow, he would get through with it, and no one should
ever know, from him, of his awful mistake.
He hardly allowed himself to tell her she looked very beautiful as they
walked along the great corridor. She was all in deep sapphire-blue
gauze, with no jewels on at all but the Duke's splendid brooch.
That was exquisite of her, he appreciated that fine touch. Indeed, he
appreciated everything about her--if she had known.
People were always more or less on time in this house, and after the
silent hush of admiration caused by the bride's entrance they all began
talking and laughing, and none but Lady Highford and another woman were
And as Zara walked along the white drawing-room, on the old Duke's arm,
she felt that somehow she had got back to a familiar atmosphere, where
she was at rest after long years of strife.
Lady Ethelrida had gone in with the bridegroom--to-night everything was
done with strict etiquette--and on her left hand she had placed the
bride's uncle. The new relations were to receive every honor, it seemed.
And Francis Markrute, as he looked round the table, with the perfection
of its taste, and saw how everything was going on beautifully, felt he
had been justified in his schemes.
Lady Anningford sat beyond Tristram, and often these two talked, so Lady
Ethelrida had plenty of time, without neglecting him, to converse with
her other interesting guest.
"I am so glad you like our old home, Mr. Markrute," she said. "To-morrow
I will show you a number of my favorite haunts. It seems sad, does it
not, as so many people assert, that the times are trending to take all
these dear, old things away from us, and divide them up?"
"It will be a very bad day for England when that time comes," the
financier said. "If only the people could study evolution and the
meaning of things there would not be any of this nonsensical class
hatred. The immutable law is that no one long retains any position
unless he, or she, is suitable for it. Nothing endures that is not
harmonious. It is because England is now out of harmony, that this
seething is going on. You and your race have been fitted for what you
have held for hundreds of years; that is why you have stayed: and your
influence, and such as you, have made England great."
"Then how do you account for the whole thing being now out of joint?"
Lady Ethelrida asked. "As my father and I and, as far as I know, numbers
of us have remained just the same, and have tried as well as we can to
do our duty to every one."
"Have you ever studied the Laws of Lycurgus, Lady Ethelrida?" he asked.
And she shook her sleek, fine head. "Well, they are worth glancing at,
when you have time," he went on. "An immense value was placed upon
discipline, and as long as it lasted in its iron simplicity the Spartans
were the wonder of the then known world. But after their conquest of
Athens, when luxury poured in and every general wanted something for
himself and forgot the good of the state, then their discipline went to
pieces, and, so--the whole thing. And that, applied in a modern way, is
what is happening to England. All classes are forgetting their
discipline, and, without fitting themselves for what they aspire to,
they are trying to snatch from some other class. And the whole thing is
rotten with mawkish sentimentality, and false prudery, and abeyance of
"Yes," said Lady Ethelrida, much interested.
"Lycurgus went to the root of things," the financier continued, "and
made the people morally and physically healthy, and ruthlessly expunged
the unfit--not like our modern nonsense, which encourages science to
keep, among the prospective parents for the future generation, all the
most diseased. Moral and physical balance and proportion were the ideas
of the Spartans. They would not have even been allowed to compete in the
games, if they were misshapen. And the analogy is, no one unfitted for a
part ought to aspire to it, for the public good. Any one has a right to
scream, if he does not obtain it when he is fitted for it."
"Yes, I see," said Lady Ethelrida. "Then what do you mean when you say
every class is trying to snatch something from some other class? Do you
mean from the class above it? Or what? Because unless we, for
instance--technically speaking--snatched from the King from whom could
The financier smiled.
"I said purposely, 'some other class,' instead of 'some class above it,'
for this reason: it is because a certain and ever-increasing number of
your class, if I may say so, are snatching--not, indeed, from the
King--but from all classes _beneath them_, manners and morals, and
absence of tenue, and absence of pride--things for which their class was
not fitted. They had their own vices formerly, which only hurt each
individual and not the order, as a stain will spoil the look of a bit of
machinery but will not upset its working powers like a piece of grit.
What they put into the machine now is grit. And the middle classes are
snatching what they think is gentility, and ridiculous pretenses to
birth and breeding; and the lower classes are snatching everything they
can get from the pitiful fall of the other two, and shouting that all
men are equal, when, if you come down to the practical thing, the
foreman of some ironworks, say--where the opinions were purely
socialistic, in the abstract--would give the last joined stoker a sound
trouncing for aspirations in his actual work above his capabilities;
because he would know that if the stoker were then made foreman the
machinery could not work. The stokers of life should first fit
themselves to be foremen before they shout."
Then, as Lady Ethelrida looked very grave, and Francis Markrute was
really a whimsical person, and seldom talked so seriously to women, he
went on, smiling,
"The only really perfect governments in the world are those of the Bees,
and Ants, because they are both ruled with ruthless discipline and no
sentiment, and every individual knows his place!"
"I read once, somewhere, that it has been discovered," said Lady
Ethelrida gently--she never laid down the law--"that the reason why the
wonderful Greeks came to an end was not really because their system of
government was not a good one, but because the mosquitoes came and gave
them malaria, and enervated them and made them feeble, and so they could
not stand against the stronger peoples of the North. Perhaps," she went
on, "England has got some moral malarial mosquitoes and the scientists
have not yet discovered the proper means for their annihilation."
Here Tristram who overheard this interrupted:
"And it would not be difficult to give the noisome insects their English
names, would it, Francis? Some of them are in the cabinet."
And the three laughed. But Lady Ethelrida wanted to hear something more
from her left-hand neighbor, so she said,
"Then the inference to be drawn from what you have said is--we should
aim at making conditions so that it is possible for every individual to
have the chance to make himself practically--not theoretically--fit for
anything his soul aspires to. Is that it?"
"Absolutely in a nutshell, dear lady," Francis Markrute said, and for a
minute he looked into her eyes with such respectful, intense admiration
that Lady Ethelrida looked away.
In the white drawing-room, afterwards, Lady Highford was particularly
gushing to the new bride. She came with a group of other women to
surround her, and was so playful and charming to all her friends! She
must be allowed to sit next to Zara, because, she said, "Your husband
and I are such very dear, old friends. And how lovely it is to think
that now he will be able to reopen Wrayth! Dear Lady Tancred is so
glad," she purred.
Zara just looked at her politely. What a done-up ferret woman! she
thought. She had met many of her tribe. At the rooms at Monte Carlo, and
in another class and another race, they were the kind who played in the
smallest stakes themselves, and often snatched the other people's money.
"I have never heard my husband speak of you," she said presently, when
she had silently borne a good deal of vitriolic gush. "You have perhaps
been out of England for some time?"
And Lady Anningford whispered to Ethelrida, "We need not worry to be
ready to defend her, pet! She can hold her own!" So they moved on to the
group of the girls.
But at the end of their conversation, though Zara had used her method of
silence in a considerable degree and made it as difficult as she could
for Lady Highford, still, that artist in petty spite had been able to
leave behind her some rankling stings. She was a mistress of innuendo.
So that when the men came in, and Tristram, from the sense of "not
funking things" which was in him, deliberately found Laura and sat down
upon a distant sofa with her, Zara suddenly felt some unpleasant feeling
about her heart. She found that she desired to watch them, and that, in
spite of what any one said to her, her attention wandered back to the
distant sofa in some unconscious speculation and unrest.
And Laura was being exceedingly clever. She scented with the cunning of
her species that Tristram was really unhappy, whether he was in love
with his hatefully beautiful wife or not. Now was her chance; not by
reproaches, but by sympathy, and, if possible, by planting some venom
towards his wife in his heart.
"Tristram, dear boy, why did you not tell me? Did you not know I would
have been delighted at anything--if it pleased you?" And she looked
down, and sighed. "I always made it my pleasure to understand you, and
to promote whatever seemed for your good."
And in his astonishment at this attitude Tristram forgot to recall the
constant scenes and reproaches, and the paltry little selfishnesses of
which he had been the victim during the year their--friendship--had
lasted. He felt somehow soothed. Here was some one who was devoted to
him, even if his wife were not!
"You are a dear, Laura," he said.
"And now you must tell me if you are really happy--Tristram." She
lingered over his name. "She is so lovely--your wife--but looks very
cold. And I know, dear" (another hesitation over the word), "I know you
don't like women to be cold."
"We will not discuss my wife," he said. "Tell me what you have been
doing, Laura. Let me see, when did I see you last--in June?"
And the venom came to boiling-point in Laura's adder gland. He could not
even remember when he had said good-by to her! It was in July, after the
Eton and Harrow match!
"Yes, in June," she said sadly, turning her eyes down. "And you might
have told me, Tristram. It came as such a sudden shock. It made me
seriously ill. You must have known, and were probably engaged--even
Tristram sat mute; for how could he announce the truth?
"Oh, don't let us talk of these things, Laura. Let us forget those old
times and begin again--differently. You will be a dear friend to me
always, I am sure. You always were--" and then he stopped abruptly. He
felt this was too much lying! and he hated doing such things.
"Of course I will, dar--Tristram," Laura said, and appeared much moved.
And from where Zara was trying to talk to the Duke she saw the woman
shiver and look down provokingly and her husband stretch his long limbs
out; and a sudden, unknown sensation of blinding rage came over her, and
she did not hear a syllable of the Duke's speech.
Meanwhile Lady Anningford had retired to a seat in a window with the
"Is it all right, Crow?" she asked, and one of his peculiarities was to
understand her--as Lady Ethelrida understood the Duke--and and not ask
"Will be--some day--I expect--unless they get drowned in the current
"Isn't she mysterious, Crow? I am sure she has some tragic history. Have
you heard anything?"
"Husband murdered by another man in a row at Monte Carlo."
"I don't know for a fact, but I gather--not. You may be certain, Queen
Anne, that when a woman is as quiet and haughty as Lady Tancred looks,
and her manners are as cold and perfectly sure of herself as hers are,
she has not done anything she is ashamed of, or regrets."
"Then what can be the cause of the coolness between them? Look at
Tristram now! I think it is horrid of him--sitting like that talking to
Laura, don't you?"
"A viper, Laura," growled the Crow. "She's trying to get him again in
"I cannot imagine why women cannot leave other women's husbands alone.
They are hateful creatures, most of them."
"Natural instinct of the chase," said Colonel Lowerby.
But Lady Anningford flashed.
"You are a cynic, Crow."
* * * * *
"And you will really show me your favorite haunts to-morrow, Lady
Ethelrida?" Francis Markrute was saying to his hostess. He had contrived
insidiously to detach her conversation from a group to himself, and drew
her unconsciously towards a seat where they would be uninterrupted. "One
judges so of people by their tastes in haunts."
Lady Ethelrida never spoke of herself as a rule. She was not in the
habit of getting into those--abstract to begin with, and personal to go
on with--thrilling conversations with men, which most of the modern
young women delight in, and which were the peculiar joy of Lily Opie.
It was because for some unacknowledged reason the financier personally
pleased her that she now drifted where he wished.
"Mine are very simple, I fear, nothing for you to investigate," she said
"So I should have thought--" and he again as he had done at dinner
permitted himself to look into her eyes, and going on after an
imperceptible pause he said softly, "simple, and pure, and sweet ...I
always think of you, Lady Ethelrida, as the embodiment of sane things,
balanced things--perfection." And his last word was almost a caress.
"I am most ordinary," she said; and she wondered why she was not angry
with him, which she quite well could have been.
"It is only perfect balance in all things, if we but know it, which
appeals to the sane eye," he went on, pulling himself up. "All weariness
and satiety are caused in emotion; in pleasure in persons, places, or
things; by the want of proportion in them somewhere which, like all
simple things, is the hardest to find."
"Do you make theories about everything, Mr. Markrute?" she asked, and
there was a smile in her eye.
"It is a wise thing to do sometimes; it keeps one from losing one's
Lady Ethelrida did not answer. She felt deliciously moved. She had often
said to her friend, Anne Anningford, when they had been talking, that
she did not like elderly men; she disliked to see their hair getting
thin, and their chins getting fat, and their little habits and
mannerisms growing pronounced. But here she found herself tremendously
interested in one who, from all accounts, must be quite forty-five if
not older, though it was true his brown colorless hair was excessively
thick, and he was slight of build everywhere.
Now she felt she must turn the conversation to less personal things, so:
"Zara looks very lovely to-night," she said.
"Yes," replied the financier, with an air of detaching himself
unwillingly from a thrilling topic, which was, indeed, what he felt.
"Yes, and I hope some day they will be exceedingly happy."
"Why do you say some day?" Lady Ethelrida asked quickly. "I hoped they
were happy now."
"Not very, I am afraid," he said. "But you remember our compact at
dinner? They will be ideally so if they are left alone," and he glanced
casually at Tristram and Laura.
Ethelrida looked, too, following his eyes.
"Yes," she said. "I wish I had not asked her--" and then she stopped
abruptly, and grew a deep pink. She realized what the inference in her
speech was, and if Mr. Markrute had never heard anything about the silly
affair between her cousin and Lady Highford what would he think! What
might she not have done!
"That won't matter," he said, with his fine smile. "It will be good for
my niece. I meant something quite different."
But what he meant, he would not say.
And so the evening passed smoothly. The girls, and all the young men and
the Crow, and Young Billy, and giddy, irresponsible people like that,
had gathered at one end of the room; they were arranging some especial
picnic for the morrow, as only some of them were going to shoot. And
into their picnic plans they drew Zara, and barred Tristram out, with
"You are only an old, married man now, Tristram," they teased him with.
"But Lady Tancred is young and comes with us!"
"And I will take care of her," announced Lord Elterton, looking
sentimental--much to Tristram's disgust.
Ethelrida seemed to have collected a lot of rotters, he thought to
himself, although it was the same party he had so enjoyed last year!
"Lady Thornby and Lady Melton and Lily Opie and her sister are going out
to the shooters' lunch," Laura said sweetly. "As you are going to be
deprived of your lovely wife, Tristram, I will come, too."
And so, finally good nights were said and the ladies retired to their
rooms; and Zara could not think why she no longer found the atmosphere
of hers peaceful and delightful, as she had done before she went down.
For the first time in her life she felt she hated a woman.
And Tristram, her husband, when he came up an hour or so later, wondered
if she were asleep. Laura had been perfectly sweet, and he felt greatly
soothed. Poor old Laura! He supposed she had really cared for him
rather, and perhaps he had behaved casually, even though she had been
impossible, in the past. But how had he ever even for five minutes
fancied himself in love with her? Why, she looked quite old to-night!
and he had never remarked before how thin and fluffed out her hair was.
Women ought certainly to have beautifully thick hair.
And then all the pretenses of any healing of his aches fell from him,
and he went and stood by the door that separated him from his loved one,
and he stretched out his arms and said aloud, "Darling, if only you
could understand how happy I would make you--if you would let me! But I
can't even break down this hateful door as I want to, because of my
And then for most of the rest of the night he tossed restlessly in his
The next day did not look at all promising as regards the weather, but
still the shooters, Tristram among them, started early for their sport.
And after the merriest breakfast at little tables in the great
dining-room the intending picnickers met in conclave to decide as to
what they should do.
"It is perfectly sure to rain," Jimmy Danvers said. "There is no use
attempting to go to Lynton Heights. Why don't we take the lunch to
Montfitchet Tower and eat it in the big hall? There we wouldn't get
"Quite right, Jimmy," agreed the Crow, who, with Lady Anningford, was to
chaperon the young folk. "I'm all for not getting wet, with my rheumatic
shoulder, and I hear you and Young Billy are a couple of firstclass
"Then," interrupted Lady Betty enthusiastically, "we can cook our own
lunch! Oh, how delightful! We will make a fire in the big chimney. Uncle
Crow, you are a pet!"
"I will go and give orders for everything at once," Lady Ethelrida
agreed delightedly. "Jimmy, what a bright boy to have thought of the
And by twelve o'clock all was arranged. Now, it had been settled the
night before that Mr. Markrute should shoot with the Duke and the rest
of the more serious men; but early in the morning that astute financier
had sent a note to His Grace's room, saying, if it were not putting out
the guns dreadfully, he would crave to be excused as he was expecting a
telegram of the gravest importance concerning the new Turkish loan,
which he would be obliged to answer by a special letter, and he was
uncertain at what time the wire would come. He was extremely sorry, but,
he added whimsically, the Duke must remember he was only a poor,
At which His Grace had smiled, as he thought of his guest's vast
millions, in comparison to his own.
Thus it was that just before twelve o'clock when the young party were
ready to start for their picnic. Mr. Markrute, having written his letter
and despatched it by express to London, chanced upon Lady Ethelrida in a
place where he felt sure he should find her, and, expressing his
surprise that they were not already gone, he begged to be allowed to
come with them. He, too, was an excellent cook, he assured her, and
would be really of use. And they all laughingly started.
And if she could have seen the important letter concerning the new
Turkish loan, she would have found it contained a pressing reminder to
Bumpus to send down that night certain exquisitely bound books!
* * * * *
Above all, the young ladies had demanded they should have no servants at
their picnic--everything, even the fire, was to be made by themselves.
Jimmy was to drive the donkey-cart, with Lady Betty, to take all the
food. The only thing they permitted was that the pots and pans and the
wood for the fire might be sent on.
And they were all so gay and looked so charming and suitably clad, in
their rough, short, tweed frocks.
Zara, who walked demurely by Lord Elterton, had never seen anything of
the sort. She felt like a strange, little child at its first party.
Before he had started in the morning Tristram had sent her a note (he
could not stand the maid and valet as verbal messengers--it made him
laugh too bitterly), it was just a few lines:
"You asked me to tell you anything special about our customs, so this is
to say, just put on some thick, short, ordinary suit, and mind you have
a pair of thick boots."
And it was signed "Tancred"--not "Tristram."
She gave a little quiver as she read it, and then asked and found his
lordship had already gone down. She was to breakfast later with the
non-shooters. She would not see him, then, for the entire day. And that
odious woman with whom he was so friendly would have him all to herself!
These thoughts flashed into her mind before she was aware of it, and
then she crushed them out--furious with herself. For of what possible
matter could her husband's doings be to her? And yet, as she started,
she found herself hoping it would rain, so that the five ladies who
intended joining the guns in the farmhouse, for luncheon at two, would
be unable to go. For just as she had come into the saloon where some of
the party were writing letters that morning she had heard Lady Highford
say to Mrs. Harcourt, in her high voice, "Yes, indeed, we mean to finish
the discussion this afternoon after luncheon.--Dear Tristram! There is a
long wait at the Fulton beat; we shall have plenty of time alone." And
then she had turned round, and seemed confused at seeing her--Zara--and
gushed more than the night before.
But she did not get the satisfaction of perceiving the bride turn a
hair, though as Zara walked on to the end of the room she angrily found
herself wondering who was this woman, and what had she been to Tristram?
What was she _now_?
Lord Elterton had already fallen in love. He was a true _cavalier_
servant; he knew, like the financier, as a fine art, how to manipulate
the temperaments of most women. He prided himself upon it. Indeed, he
spent the greater part of his life doing nothing else. Exquisite
gentleness and sympathy was his method. There were such heaps of rough,
rude brutes about that one would always have a chance by being the
contrast; and husbands, he reasoned, were nearly always brutes--after a
while--in the opinion of their wives! He had hardly ever known this plan
to fail with the most devoted wife. So although Lady Tancred had only
been married a week he hoped to render her not quite indifferent to
himself in some way. He had seen at once that she and Tristram were not
on terms of passionate love, and there was something so piquant about
flirting with a bride! He divided women as a band into about four
divisions. The quite impossible, the recalcitrant, the timid, and the
bold. For the impossible he did not waste powder and shot. For the
recalcitrant he used insidious methods of tickling their fancies, as he
would tickle a trout. For the timid he was tender and protective; and
for the bold subtly indifferent: but always gentle and nice!
He was not sure yet in which of the four divisions he should have to
place his new attraction--probably the second--but he frankly admitted
he had never before had any experience with one of her type. Her strange
eyes thrilled him: he felt, when she turned the deep slate, melting
disks upon him, his heart went "down into his bloomin' boots," as Jimmy
Danvers would have described the sensation. So he began with extreme
gentleness and care.
"You have not been long in this country, Lady Tancred, have you? One can
see it--you are so exquisitely _chic_. And how perfectly you speak
English! Not the slightest accent. It is delicious. Did you learn it
when very young?"
"My father was an Englishman," said Zara, disarmed from her usual
chilling reserve by the sympathy in his voice. "I always spoke it until
I was thirteen, and since then, too. It is a nice, honest language, I
"You speak numbers of others, probably?" Lord Elterton went on,
"Yes, about four or five. It is very easy when one is moving in the
countries, and certain languages are very much alike. Russian is the
"How clever you are!"
"No, I am not a bit. But I have had time to read a good deal--" and then
Zara stopped. It was so against her habit to give personal information
to any one like this.
Lord Elterton saw the little check, and went on another tack. "I have
been an idle fellow and am not at all learned," he said. "Tristram and I
were at Eton together in the same house, and we were both dunces; but he
did rather well at Oxford, and I went straight into the Guards."
Zara longed to ask about Tristram. She had not even heard before that he
had been to Oxford! And it struck her suddenly how ridiculous the whole
thing was. She had sold herself for a bargain; she had asked no
questions of any one; she had intended to despise the whole family and
remain entirely aloof; and now she found every one of her intentions
being gradually upset. But as yet she did not admit for a second to
herself that she was falling in love. It would be such a perfectly
impossible thing to do in any case, when now he was absolutely
indifferent to her and showed it in every way. It made the whole thing
all the more revolting--to have pretended he loved her on that first
night! Yes, with certain modifications of classes and races men were all
perfectly untrustworthy, if not brutes, and a woman, if she could relax
her vigilance, as regards the defense of her person and virtue, could
not afford to unbend a fraction as to her emotions!
And all the time she was thinking this out she was silent, and Lord
Elterton watched her, thrilled with the attraction of the unobtainable.
He saw plainly she had forgotten his very presence, and, though piqued,
he grew the more eager.
"I would love to know what you were thinking of," he said softly; and
then with great care he pulled a bramble aside so that it should not
touch her. They had turned into a lane beyond the kitchen garden and the
Zara started. She had, indeed, been far away!
"I was thinking--" she said, and then she paused for a suitable lie but
none came, so she grew confused, and stopped, and hesitated, and then
she blurted out, "I was thinking was it possible there could ever be any
one whom one could believe?"
Lord Elterton looked at her. What a strange woman!
"Yes," he said simply, "you can believe me when I tell you I have never
been so attracted by any one in my life."
"Oh! for that!" she answered contemptuously. _"Mon Dieu!_ how often I
have heard of that!"
This was not what he had expected. There was no empty boast about the
speech, as there would have been if Laura Highford had uttered it--she
was fond of demonstrating her conquests and power in words. There was
only a weariness as of something banal and tiring. He must be more
"Yes, I quite understand," he said sympathetically. "You must be bored
with the love of men."
"I have never seen any love of men. Do men know love?" she asked, not
with any bitterness--only as a question of fact. What had Tristram been
about? Lord Elterton thought. Here he had been married to this divine
creature for a whole week, and she was plainly asking the question from
her heart. And Tristram was no fool in a general way, he knew. There was
some mystery here, but whatever it was there was the more chance for
him! So he went on very tactfully, trying insidiously to soothe her, so
that at last when they had arrived Zara had enjoyed her walk.
Montfitchet Tower was all that remained of the old castle destroyed by
Cromwell's Ironsides. It was just one large, square room, a sort of
great hall. It had stood roofless for many years and then been covered
in by the old Duke's father, and contained a splendid stone chimney
piece of colossal proportions. It had also been floored, and had the
raised place still, where the family had eaten "above the salt." The
rest of the old castle was a complete ruin, and at the Restoration the
new one had been rebuilt about a mile further up the park.
Lady Ethelrida had collected several pieces of rough oak furniture to
put into this great room which in height reached three stories up, and
the supports of the mantelpieces of the upper floors could be seen on
the blackened stone walls. It was here she gave her school treats and
tenants' summer dances, because there was a great stretch of green,
turfy lawn beyond, down to the river, where they could play their games.
And on a wet day it was an ideal picnic place.
A bright wood fire was already blazing on top of the ashes that for many
years had never been cleared out, and a big jack swung in front of
it--for appearance sake! What fun every one seemed to be having, Zara
thought, as from an oak bench she watched them all busy as bees over
their preparations for the repast. She had helped to make a salad, and
now sat with the Crow, and surveyed the rest.
Jimmy Danvers had turned up his sleeves and was thoroughly in earnest
over his part; and he and Young Billy had gathered some brown bracken,
and put it sprouting from a ham, to represent, they said, the peacock.
For, they explained, a banquet in a baronial hall had to have a peacock,
as well as a boar's head, and an ox roasted whole!
And suddenly Zara thought of her last picnic, with Mimo and Mirko in the
Neville Street attic, when the poor little one had worn the paper cap,
and had taken such pleasure in the new rosy cups. And the Crow who was
watching her closely, wondered why this gay scene should make the lovely
bride look so pitifully sad. "How _Maman_ would have loved all this!"
she was thinking, "with her gay, tender soul, and her delight in
make-believe and joyous picnics." And her father--he had known all these
sorts of people; they were his own class, and yet he had come to live in
the great, gloomy castle, out of his own land, and expected his
exquisite, young wife to stay there alone, most of the time. The hideous
cruelty of men!
And there was her Uncle Francis, in quite a new character!--helping Lady
Ethelrida to lay the table, as happily as a boy. Would she herself ever
be happy, she wondered, ever have a time free from some agonizing strain
or care? And then, from sorrow her expression changed to one of strange
slumberous resentment at fate.
"Queen Anne," said the Crow, as they sat down to luncheon, "there is
some tragedy hanging over that young woman. She has been suffering like
the devil for at least ten minutes, and forgot I was even beside her and
pretending to talk. You and Lady Ethelrida have two not altogether
unkind hearts. Can't you find out what it is, and comfort her?"
After luncheon, which had been carried through with all the proper
ceremonies of the olden time according to Jimmy Danvers and Young
Billy's interpretation of them, it came on to pour with rain; so these
masters of the revels said that now the medieval dances should begin,
and accordingly they turned on the gramophone that stood in the corner
to amuse the children at the school treats. And Mary and her admirer,
Lord Henry Burns, and Emily and a Captain Hume, and Lady Betty and Jimmy
Danvers, gayly took the floor, while Young Billy offered himself to the
bride, as he said he as the representative of the Lord of the Castle had
a right to the loveliest lady; and, with his young, stolid
self-confidence, he pushed Lord Elterton aside.
Zara had not danced for a very long time--four years at least--and she
had not an idea of the two-steps and barn-dances and other sorts of
whirling capers that they invented; but she did her best, and gradually
something of the excitement of the gay young spirits spread to her, and
she forgot her sorrows and began to enjoy herself.
"You don't ever dance, I suppose, Mr. Markrute?" Lady Ethelrida asked,
as she stopped, with the gallant old Crow, flushed and smiling by the
dais, where the financier and Lady Anningford sat. "If you ever do, I,
as the Lady of the Castle, ask you to 'tread a measure' with me!"
"No one could resist such, an invitation," he answered, and put his arm
around her for a valse.
"I do love dancing," she said, as they went along very well. She was so
surprised that this "grave and reverend signor," as she called him,
should be able to valse!
"So do I," said Francis Markrute--"under certain circumstances. This is
one of them." And then he suddenly held her rather tight, and laughed.
"Think of it all!" he went on. "Here we are, in thick boots and country
clothes capering about like savages round their fire, and, for all sorts
of reasons, we all love it!"
"It is just the delicious exercise with me," said Lady Ethelrida.
"And it has nothing at all to do with that reason with me," returned her
And Lady Ethelrida quivered with some sort of pleasure and did not ask
him what his reason was. She thought she knew, and her eyes sparkled.
They were the same height, and he saw her look; and as they went on, he
"I have brought you down the book we spoke of, you know, and you will
take it from me, won't you? Just as a remembrance of this day and how
you made me young for an hour!"
They stopped by one of the benches at the side and sat down, and Lady
Ethelrida answered softly,
"Yes, if--you wish me to--"
Lord Elterton had now dislodged Young Billy and was waltzing with Zara
himself: his whole bearing was one of intense devotion, and she was
actually laughing and looking up in his face, still affected by the
general hilarity, when the door of the wooden porch that had been built
on as an entrance opened noiselessly, and some of the shooters peeped
into the room. It had been too impossibly wet to go on, and they had
sent the ladies back in the motors and had come across the park on their
way home, and, hearing the sound of music, had glanced in. Tristram was
in front of the intruders and just chanced to catch his bride's look at
her partner, before either of them saw they were observed.
He felt frightfully jealous. He had never before seen her so smiling, to
begin with, and never at all at himself. He longed to kick Arthur
Elterton! Confounded impertinence!--And what tommyrot--dancing like
this, in the afternoon with boots on! And when they all stopped and
greeted the shooters, and crowded round the fire, he said, in a tone of
rasping sarcasm--in reply to Jimmy Danvers' announcement that they were
back in the real life of a castle in the Middle Ages:
"Any one can see that! You have even got My Lady's fool. Look at
Arthur--with mud on his boots--jumping about!"
And Lord Elterton felt very flattered. He knew his old friend was
jealous, and if he were jealous then the charming, cold lady must have
been unbelievingly nice to him, and that meant he was getting on!
"You are jealous because your lovely bride prefers me, Young Lochinvar,"
and he laughed as he quoted:
"'For so faithful in love and so dauntless in war--
There ne'er was a gallant like Young Lochinvar!'"
And Zara saw that Tristram's eyes flashed blue steel, and that he did
not like the chaff at all. So, just out of some contrariness--he had
been with Lady Highford all day so why should she not amuse herself,
too; indeed, why should either of them care what the other did--so just
out of contrariness she smiled again at Lord Elterton and said:
"'Then tread we a measure, my Lord Lochinvar.'"
And off they went.
And Tristram, with his face more set than the Crusader ancestor's in
Wrayth Church, said to his uncle, Lord Charles, "We are all wet through:
let us come along."
And he turned round and went out.
And as he walked, he wondered to himself how much she must know of
English poetry to have been able to answer Arthur like that. If only
they could be friends and talk of the books he, too, loved! And then he
realized more strongly than ever the impossibility of the situation--he,
who had been willing to undertake it with the joyous self-confidence
with which he had started upon a lion hunt!
He felt he was getting to the end of his tether; it could not go on. Her
words that night at Dover, had closed down all the possible sources he
could have used for her melting.
And a man cannot in a week break through a thousand years of inherited
Before the Canada scheme had presented itself he had rather thought of
joining with a friend for another trip to the Soudan: it might not be
too late still, when they had got over the Wrayth ordeal, the tenants'
dinners, and the speeches, and the cruel mockery of it all. He would
see--perhaps--what could be done, but to go on living in this daily
torture he would not submit to, for the "loving her less" had not yet
And when he had left, although she would not own it to herself, Zara's
joy in the day was gone.
The motors came to fetch them presently, and they all went back to the
Castle to dress and have tea.
Tristram's face was still stony and he had sat down in a sofa by Laura,
when a footman brought a telegram to Zara. He watched her open it, with
concentrated interest. Whom were these mysterious telegrams from? He saw
her face change as it had done in Paris, only not so seriously; and then
she crushed up the paper into a ball and threw it in the fire. The
telegram had been: "Very slightly feverish again," and signed "Mimo."
"Now I remember where I have seen your wife before," said Laura. And
Tristram said absently,
"In the waiting-room at Waterloo station--and yet--no, it could not have
been she, because she was quite ordinarily dressed, and she was talking
very interestedly to a foreign man." She watched Tristram's face and saw
she had hit home for some reason; so she went on, enchanted: "Of course
it could not have been she, naturally; but the type is so peculiar that
any other like it would remind one, would it not?"
"I expect so," he said. "It could not have been Zara, though, because
she was in Paris until just before the wedding."
"I remember the occasion quite well. It was the day after the engagement
was announced, because I had been up for Flora's wedding, and was going
down into the country."
Then in a flash it came to him that that was the very day he himself had
seen Zara in Whitehall, the day when she had not gone to Paris. And
rankling, uncomfortable suspicions overcame him again.
Laura felt delighted. She did not know why he should be moved at her
announcement; but he certainly was, so it was worth while rubbing it in.
"Has she a sister, perhaps? Because--now I come to think of it--the
resemblance is extraordinary. I remember I was rather interested at the
time because the man was so awfully handsome and as you know, dear boy,
I always had a passion for handsome men!"
"My wife was an only child," Tristram answered. What was Laura driving
"Well, she has a double then," she laughed. "I watched them for quite
ten minutes, so I am sure. I was waiting for my maid, who was to meet
me, and I could not leave for fear of missing her."
"How interesting!" said Tristram coldly. He would not permit himself to
demand a description of the man.
"Perhaps after all it was she, before she went to Paris, and I may be
mistaken about the date," Laura went on. "It might have been her
brother--he was certainly foreign--but no, it could not have been a
brother." And she looked down and smiled knowingly.
Tristram felt gradually wild with the stings her words were planting,
and then his anger rebounded upon herself. Little natures always
miscalculate the effect of their actions, as factors in their desires,
for their ultimate ends.
Laura only longed--after hurting Tristram as a punishment--to get him
back again; but she was not clever enough to know that to make him mad
with jealousy about his wife was not the way.
"I don't understand what you wish to insinuate, Laura," he said in a
contemptuous voice; "but whatever it is, it is having no effect upon me.
I absolutely adore my wife, and know everything she does or does not
"Oh! the poor, angry darling, there, there!" she laughed, spitefully,
"and was It jealous! Well, It shan't be teased. But what a clever
husband, to know all about his wife! He should be put in a glass case in
a museum!" And she got up and left him alone.
Tristram would like to have killed some one--he did not know whom--this
foreign man, "Mimo," most likely: he had not forgotten the name!
If his pride had permitted him he would have gone up to Zara, who had
now retired to her room, and asked straight out for an explanation. He
would if he had been sensible have simply said he was unhappy, and he
would have asked her to reassure him. It would all have been perfectly
simple and soon ended if treated with common sense. But he was too
obstinate, and too hurt, and too passionately in love. The bogey of his
insulted Tancred pride haunted him always, and, like all foolish things,
caused him more suffering than if it had been a crime.
So once more the pair dressed to go down to the ducal dinner, with
deeper estrangement in their hearts. And when Tristram was ready
to-night, he went out into the corridor and pretended to look at the
pictures. He would have no more servants' messages!--and there he was,
with a bitter smile on his face, when Lady Anningford, coming from her
room beyond, stopped to talk. She wondered at his being there--a very
different state of things to her own with her dear old man, she
remembered, who, after the wedding day, for weeks and weeks would hardly
let her out of his sight!
Then Henriette peeped out of the door and saw that the message she was
being sent upon was in vain, and went back; and immediately Zara
Her dress was pale gray to-night--with her uncle's pearls--and both Lady
Anningford and Tristram noticed that her eyes were slumberous and had in
them that smoldering fierceness of pain. And remembering the Crow's
appeal Lady Anningford slipped her hand within her arm, and was very
gentle and friendly as they went down to the saloon.
Now if the evening passed with pain and unrest for the bride and
bridegroom, it had quite another aspect for Francis Markrute and Lady
Ethelrida! He was not placed by his hostess to-night at dinner, but when
the power of manipulating circumstances with skill is in a man, and the
desire to make things easy to be manipulated is in a woman, they can
spend agreeable and numerous moments together.
So it fell about that without any apparent or pointed detachment from
her other guests Lady Ethelrida was able to sit in one of the embrasures
of the windows in, the picture gallery, whither the party had migrated
to-night, and talk to her interesting new friend--for that he was growing
into a friend she felt. He seemed so wonderfully understanding, and was
so quiet and subtle and undemonstrative, and, underneath, you could feel
his power and strength.
It had been his insidious suggestion, spread among the company, which
had caused them to be in the picture gallery to-night, instead of in one
of the great drawing-rooms. For in a very long narrow room it was much
easier to separate people, he felt.
"Of course this was not built at the time the house was, in about 1670,"
Lady Ethelrida said. "It was added by the second Duke, who was
Ambassador to Versailles in the time of Louis XV, and who thought he
would like a 'galerie des glaces' in imitation of the one there. And
then, when the walls were up, he died, and it was not decorated until
thirty-five years later, in the Regent's time, and it was turned into a
picture gallery then."
"People's brands of individuality in their houses are so interesting,"
Francis Markrute said. "I believe Wrayth is a series of human fancies,
from the Norman Castle upwards, is it not? I have never been there."
"Oh! Wrayth is much more interesting than this," she answered. "Parts of
it are so wonderfully old; there are stone floors in the upper rooms in
one of the inner courtyards. They did not suffer, you see, from the
hateful Puritans, because the then Tancred was only an infant when the
civil war began; and his mother was a Frenchwoman, and they stayed in
France all the time, and only came back when Charles II returned. He
married a Frenchwoman, too. She was a wonderful person and improved many
things. Wrayth has two long galleries and a chapel of Henry the
Seventh's time, and numbers of staircases in unexpected places, and then
a fine suite of state rooms, built on by Adam, and then the most awful
Early-Victorian imitation Gothic wing and porch which one of those
dreadful people, who spoilt such numbers of places, added in 1850."
"It sounds wonderful," said the financier.
"Lots of it is very shabby, of course, because Tristram's father was
always very hard up; and nothing much had been done either in the
grandfather's time--except the horrible wing. But with enough money to
get it right again, I cannot imagine anything more lovely than it could
"It will be a great amusement to them in the coming year to do it all,
then. Zara has the most beautiful taste, Lady Ethelrida. When you know
her better I think you will like my niece."
"But I do now," she exclaimed. "Only I do wish she did not look so sad.
May I ask it because of our bargain? "--and she paused with gentle
timidity--"Will you tell me?--do you know of any special reason to-day
to make her unhappy? I saw her face at dinner to-night, and all the
while she talked there was an anxious, haunted look in her eyes."
Francis Markrute frowned for a moment; he had been too absorbed in his
own interests to have taken in anything special about his niece. If
there were something of the sort in her eyes it could only have one
source--anxiety about the health of the boy Mirko. He himself had not
heard anything. Then his lightning calculations decided him to tell Lady
Ethelrida nothing of this. Zara's anxiety would mean the child's
illness, and illness, Doctor Morley had warned him, could have only one
end. He wished the poor little fellow no harm, but, on the other hand,
he had no sentiment about him. If he were going to die then the disgrace
would be wiped away and need never be spoken about. So he answered
"There is something which troubles her now and then. It will pass
presently. Take no notice of it."
So Lady Ethelrida, as mystified as ever, turned the conversation.
"May I give you the book to-morrow morning before we go to shoot?" the
financier asked after a moment. "It is your birthday, I believe, and all
your guests on that occasion are privileged to lay some offering at your
feet. I wanted to do so this afternoon after tea, but I was detained
playing bridge with your father. I have several books coming to-morrow
that I do so want you to have."
"It is very kind of you. I would like to show you my sitting-room, in
the south wing. Then you could see that they would have a comfortable
"When may I come?"
This was direct, and Lady Ethelrida felt a piquant sensation of
interest. She had never in her life made an assignation with a man. She
thought a moment.
"They will start only at eleven to-morrow, because the first covert is
at a corner of the park, quite near, and if it is fine we are all coming
out with you until luncheon which we have in the house; then you go to
the far coverts in the motors. When, I wonder, would be best?"--It
seemed so nice to leave it to him.
"You breakfast downstairs at half-past nine, like this morning?"
"Yes, I always do, and the girls will and almost every one, because it
is my birthday."
"Then if I come exactly at half-past ten will you be there?"
"I will try. But how will you know the way?"
"I have a bump of locality which is rather strong, and I know the
windows from the outside. You remember you showed them to me to-day as
we walked to the tower."
Lady Ethelrida experienced a distinct feeling of excitement over this
"There is a staircase--but no!"--and she laughed--"I shall tell you no
more. It will be a proof of your sagacity to find the clue to the
"I shall be there," he said, and once again he looked into her sweet,
gray eyes; and she rose with a slightly faster movement than usual and
drew him to where there were more of her guests.
Meanwhile Lord Elterton was losing no time in his pursuit of Zara. He
had been among the first to leave the dining-room, several paces in
front of Tristram and the others, and instantly came to her and
suggested a tour of the pictures. He quite agreed with the
financier--these long, narrow rooms were most useful!
And Zara, thankful to divert her mind, went with him willingly, and soon
found herself standing in front of an immense canvas given by the
Regent, of himself, to the Duke's grandfather, one of his great friends.
"I have been watching you all through dinner," Lord Elterton said, "and
you looked like a beautiful storm: your dress the gray clouds, and your
eyes the thunder ones--threatening."
"One feels like a storm sometimes," said Zara.
"People are so tiresome, as a rule; you can see through them in half an
hour. But no one could ever guess about what you were thinking."
"No one would want to--if they knew."
"Is it so terrible as that?" And he smiled--she must be diverted. "I
wish I had met you long ago, because, of course, I cannot tell you all
the things I now want to--Tristram would be so confoundedly
jealous--like he was this afternoon. It is the way of husbands."
Zara did not reply. She quite agreed to this, for of the jealousy of
husbands she had experience!
"Now if I were married," Lord Elterton went on, "I would try to make my
wife so happy, and would love her so much she would never give me cause
to be jealous."
"Love!" said Zara. "How you talk of love--and what does it mean?
Gratification to oneself, or to the loved person?"
"Both," said Lord Elterton, and looked down so devotedly into her eyes
that the old Duke, who was near, with Laura, thought it was quite time
the young man's innings should be over!
So he joined them.
"Come with me, Zara, while I show you some of Tristram's ancestors on
his mother's side."
And he placed her arm in his gallantly, and led her away to the most
"Well, 'pon my soul!" he said, as they went along. "Things are vastly
changed since my young days. Here, Tristram--" and he beckoned to his
nephew who was with Lady Anningford--"come here and help me to show your
wife some of your forbears." And then he went on with his original
speech. "Yes, as I was saying, things are vastly changed since I brought
Ethelrida's dear mother back here, after our honeymoon!--a month in
those days! I would have punched any other young blood's head, who had
even looked at her! And you philander off with that fluffy, little
empty-pate, Laura, and Arthur Elterton makes love to your bride! A
pretty state of things, 'pon my soul!" And he laughed reprovingly.
Tristram smiled with bitter sarcasm as he answered, "You were absurdly
old-fashioned, Uncle. But perhaps Aunt Corisande was different to the
Zara did not speak. The black panther's look, on its rare day of
slumberous indifference when it condescends to come to the front of the
cage, grew in her eyes, but the slightest touch could make her snarl.
"Oh! you must not ever blame the women," the Duke--this _preux
chevalier_--said. "If they are different it is the fault of the men.
I took care that my duchess wanted me! Why, my dear boy, I was jealous
of even her maid, for at least a year!"
And Tristram thought to himself that he went further than that and was
jealous of even the air Zara breathed!
"You must have been awfully happy, Uncle," he said with a sigh.
But Zara spoke never a word. And the Duke saw that there was something
too deeply strained between them, for his kindly meant _persiflage_
to do any good; so he turned to the pictures, and drew them into lighter
things; and the moment he could, Tristram rejoined Lady Anningford by
one of the great fires.
Laura Highford, left alone with Lord Elterton up at the end of the long
picture gallery, felt she must throw off some steam. She could not keep
from the subject which was devouring her; she knew now she had made an
irreparable mistake in what she had said to Tristram in the afternoon,
and how to repair it she did not know at present, but she must talk to
"You will have lots of chance before a year is out, Arthur," she said
with a bitter smile. "You need not be in such a hurry! That marriage
won't last more than a few months--they hate each other already."
"You don't say so!" said Lord Elterton, feigning innocence. "I thought
they were a most devoted couple!"--Laura would be a safe draw, and
although he would not believe half he should hear, out of the bundle of
chaff he possibly could collect some grains of wheat which might come in
"Devoted couple!" she laughed. "Tristram is by no means the first with
her. There is a very handsome foreign gentleman, looking like Romeo, or
"Or any other 'O,'" put in Lord Elterton.
"Exactly--in whom she is much more interested. Poor Tristram! He has
plenty to discover, I fear."
"How do you come to know about it? You are a wonder, Lady
Highford--always so full of interesting information!"
"I happened to see them at Waterloo together--evidently just arrived
from somewhere--and Tristram thought she was safe in Paris! Poor dear!"
"You have told him about it, of course?"--anxiously.
"I did just give him a hint."
"That was wise." And Lord Elterton smiled blandly and she did not see
the twinkle in his eye. "He was naturally grateful?" he asked
"Not now, perhaps, but some day he will be!"
Laura's light hazel eyes flashed, and Lord Elterton laughed again as he
"There certainly is a poor spirit in the old boy if he doesn't feel
under a lifelong obligation to you for your goodness. I should, if it
were me.--Look, though, we shall have to go now; they are beginning to
say good night."
And as they found the others he thought to himself, "Well, men may be
poachers like I am, but I am hanged if they are such weasels as women!"
Lady Anningford joined Lady Ethelrida that night in her room, after they
had seen Zara to hers, and they began at once upon the topic which was
thrilling them all.
"There is something the matter, Ethelrida, darling," Lady Anningford
said. "I have talked to Tristram for a long time to-night, and, although
he was bravely trying to hide it, he was bitterly miserable; spoke
recklessly of life one minute, and resignedly the next; and then asked
me, with an air as if in an abstract discussion, whether Hector and
Theodora were really happy--because she had been a widow. And when I
said, 'Yes, ideally so,' and that they never want to be dragged away
from Bracondale, he said, so awfully sadly, 'Oh, I dare-say; but then
they have children.' It is too pitiful to hear him, after only a week!
What can it be? What can have happened in the time?"
"It is not since, Anne," Ethelrida said, beginning to unfasten her
dress. "It was always like that. She had just the look in her eyes the
night we all first met her, at Mr. Markrute's at dinner--that strange,
angry, pained, sorrowful look, as though she were a furnace of
resentment against some fate. I remember an old colored picture we had
on a screen--it is now in the housekeeper's room--it was one of those
badly-drawn, lurid scenes of prisoners being dragged off to Siberia in
the snow, and there was a woman in it who had just been separated from
her husband and baby and who had exactly the same expression. It used to
haunt me as a child, and Mamma had it taken out of the old nursery. And
Zara's eyes haunt me now in the same way."
"She never had any children, I suppose?" asked Lady Anningford.
"Never that I heard of--and she is so young; only twenty-three now."
"Well, it is too tragic! And what is to be done? Can't you ask the
uncle? He must know."
"I did, to-night, Anne--and he answered, so strangely, that 'yes, there
was something which at times troubled her, but it would pass.'"
"Good gracious!" said Anne. "It can't be a hallucination. She is not
crazy, is she? That would be worse than anything."
"Oh, no!" cried Ethelrida, aghast. "It is not that in the least, thank
"Then perhaps there are some terrible scenes, connected with her first
husband's murder, which she can't forget. The Crow told me Count Shulski
was shot at Monte Carlo, in a fray of some sort."
"That must be it, of course!" said Ethelrida, much relieved. "Then she
will get over it in time. And surely Tristram will be able to make her
love him, and forget them. I do feel better about it now, Anne, and
shall be able to sleep in peace."
So they said good night, and separated--comforted.
But the object of their solicitude did not attempt to get into her bed
when she had dismissed her maid. She sat down in one of the big gilt
William-and-Mary armchairs, and clasped her hands tightly, and tried to
Things were coming to a crisis with her. Destiny had given her another
cross to bear, for suddenly this evening, as the Duke spoke of his wife,
she had become conscious of the truth about herself: she was in love
with her husband. And she herself had made it impossible that he could
ever come back to her. For, indeed, the tables were turned, with one of
those ironical twists of Fate.
And she questioned herself--Why did she love him? She had reproached him
on her wedding night, when he had told her he loved her, because in her
ignorance she felt then it could only be a question of sense. She had
called him an animal! she remembered; and now she had become an animal
herself! For she could prove no loftier motive for her emotion towards
him than he had had for her then: they knew one another no better. It
had not been possible for her passion to have arisen from the reasons
she remembered having hurled at him as the only ones from which true
love could spring, namely, knowledge, and tenderness, and devotion. It
was all untrue; she understood it now. Love--deep and tender--could leap
into being from the glance of an eye.
They were strangers to each other still, and yet this cruel, terrible
thing called love had broken down all the barriers in her heart, melted
the disdainful ice, and turned it to fire. She felt she wanted to caress
him, and take away the stern, hard look from his face. She wanted to be
gentle, and soft, and loving--to feel that she belonged to him. And she
passionately longed for him to kiss her and clasp her to his heart.
Whether he had consented originally to marry her for her uncle's money
or not, was a matter, now, of no further importance. He had loved her
after he had seen her, at all events, and she had thrown it all away.
Nothing but a man's natural jealousy of his possessions remained.
"Oh, why did I not know what I was doing!" she moaned to herself, as she
rocked in the chair. "I must have been very wicked in some former life,
to be so tortured in this!"
But it was too late now. She had burnt her ships, and nothing remained
to her but her pride. Since she had thrown away joy she could at least
keep that and never let him see how she was being punished.
And to-night it was her turn to look in anguish at the closed door, and
to toss in restless pain of soul, on her bed.
A bombshell, in the shape of Lady Betty Burns, burst into the bedroom of
Emily and Mary next morning, while the two girls were sitting up in
their great bed at about eight o'clock, reading their letters and
sipping their tea.
"May I come in, darlings?" a voice full of purpose said, and a flaxen
head peeped in.
"Why, Betty, of course!" both girls answered and, in a blue silk
dressing-gown and a long fair plait of hair hanging down, Lady Betty
None of the Council of Three, going to deliver secret sentence, could
have advanced with more dignity or consciousness of the solemnity of the
occasion. Emily and Mary were thrilled.
"Be prepared!" she said dramatically, while she climbed to the foot of
the bed and sat down. "It is just what I told you. She's been the
heroine of a murder--if she did not do it herself!"
"Heavens! Betty, who?" almost screamed the girls.
"Your sister-in-law! I had to come at once to tell you, darlings. Last
night, Aunt Muriel (the young Lady Melton was her uncle's second wife
and chaperoning her to the party) would drag me into her room, and I
could not get to you. You would have been asleep when I at last escaped,
so I determined to come the first thing this morning and tell you my
Four round eyes of excited horror fixed themselves upon her, so with
deep importance of voice and manner, Lady Betty went on:
"I sat with Captain Hume in the picture gallery, just before we went to
bed. Believe me, I have not been able to sleep all night from it, dears!
Well, we had been speaking of that fighting scene by Teniers in a beer
house, you know, the one which hangs by the big Snuyders. The moon--no,
it could not have been the moon. It must have been the arc light over
the entrance which shines in from the angle. Anyway, it felt as if it
were the moon, when I drew aside the blind; and it struck my heart with
a cold foreboding, as he said such things, fights, happened now
sometimes, and he was at Monte Carlo when Count Shulski was shot; and,
though it was hushed up by the authorities and no one hardly heard of it
much, still it made a stir. And," continued Lady Betty, now rising
majestically and pointing an accusing forefinger at Emily and Mary,
"Countess Shulski was your sister-in-law's name!"
"Oh, hush, Betty!" said Emily, almost angrily. "You must not say such
things. There might have been a lot of Count Shulskis. Foreigners are
But Lady Betty shook her head with tragic sorrow and dignity, much at
variance with her sweet little childish turned-up nose.
"Alas, darlings, far be it from me to bring the terrible conviction home
to you!" Great occasions like this required a fine style, she felt. "Far
be it from me! But Captain Hume went on to say, that, of course, was the
reason of Lady Tancred's dreadfully mysterious and remorseful look."
"It is perfectly impossible, Betty," Mary cried excitedly. "But even if
her husband were shot, it does not prove she had anything to do with
"Of course it does!" said Lady Betty, forgetting for a moment her style.
"There's always a scene of jealousy, in which the husband stabs the
other man, and then falls dead himself. Unless," and this new bright
thought came to her, "she were a political spy!"
"Oh, Betty!" they both exclaimed at once. And then Emily said gravely,
"Please do tell us exactly what Captain Hume really said. Remember, it
is our brother's wife you are speaking of, not one of the heroines in
Thus admonished, Lady Betty got back on to the bed, and gradually came
down to facts, which were meager enough. For Captain Hume had instantly
pulled himself up, it appeared; and he had merely said that, as her
first husband had been killed in a row, Lady Tancred had cause to have
tragedy imprinted upon her face.
"Betty, dearest," Emily then said, "please, please don't tell anything
of your exciting story to any one else, will you? Because people are so
At this, Lady Betty bounced off again offendedly.
"You are an ungrateful pair," she flashed. "Before I brave meeting Jimmy
Danvers in the passage again, in my dressing-gown, to come and tell you
delicious things, I'll be hanged!"
And it was with difficulty that Emily and Mary mollified her, and got
her to re-seat herself on the bed and have a bit of their
bread-and-butter. She had fled to announce her thrilling news before her
own tea had come.
"I do think men look perfectly horrid with their hair unbrushed in the
morning, don't you, Em?" she said, presently, as she munched, while
Mary poured her out some tea into the emptied sugar-basin and handed it
to her. "Henry's fortunate, because his is curly"--Here Mary
blushed--"and I believe Jimmy Danvers gets his valet to glue his down
before he goes to bed. But you should see what Aunt Muriel has to put up
with, when Uncle Aubrey comes in to talk to her, while I am there. The
front, anyhow, and a lock sticking up in the back! There is one thing I
am determined about. Before I'm married, I shall insist upon knowing how
my husband stands the morning light."
"I thought you said just now Jimmy's was quite decent and glued down,"
Emily retorted slyly.
"Pouff!" said Lady Betty, with superb calm. "I have not made up my mind
at all about Jimmy. He is dying to ask me, I know; but there is Bobby
Harland, too. However, this morning--"
"You've seen Jimmy this morning, Betty!" Mary exclaimed.
"Well, how could I help it, girls?" Lady Betty went on, feeling that she
was now a heroine. "I had to come to you. It was my bounden duty; and
it's miles away, for Aunt Muriel always will have me in the
dressing-room next her, when she takes me to stay out, and Uncle Aubrey
across the passage; and it makes him so cross. But that's not it. I
mean, it is not my fault, if the Duke has only arranged three new
bathrooms down the bachelors' wing, and people are obliged to be waiting
about for their turn, and I had to pass the entrance to that passage,
and it happened to be Jimmy's, and he was just going in, when he saw me
and rushed along, and said 'Good morning,' not a bit put out! I thought
it would look silly to run, so I said 'Good morning,' too; and then we
both giggled, and I came on. But I am rather glad after all, because
now I've seen him; and he looks better--like that--than I am sure Bobby
would have done, so perhaps, after all, I'll marry him! And you will be
my bridesmaids, darlings, and now I must run!"
Upon such slender threads--the brushing of his hair--how often does the
fate of man hang! If he but knew!
Almost every one was punctual for breakfast. They all came in with their
gifts for Lady Ethelrida; and there was much chaffing and joking, and
delightful little shrieks of surprise, as the parcels were opened.
Every soul loved Lady Ethelrida, from the lordly Groom of the Chambers
to the humblest pantry boy and scullery maid; and it was their delight
every year to present her, from them all, with a huge trophy of flowers,
while the post brought countless messages and gifts of remembrance from
absent friends. No one could have been more sweet and gracious than her
ladyship was; and underneath, her gentle heart was beating with an extra
excitement, when she thought of her rendezvous at half-past ten o'clock.
Would he--she no longer thought of him as Mr. Markrute--would he be able
to find the way?
"I must go and give some orders now," she said, about a quarter past
ten, to the group which surrounded her, when they had all got up and
were standing beside the fire. "And we all assemble in the hall at
eleven." And so she slipped away.
Francis Markrute, she noticed, had retired some moments before.
"Heinrich," he had said to his Austrian valet, the previous evening, as
he was helping him on with his coat for dinner, "I may want to know the
locality of the Lady Ethelrida's sitting-room early to-morrow. Make it
your business to become friendly with her ladyship's maid, so that I
can have a parcel of books, which will arrive in the morning, placed
safely there at any moment I want to, unobserved. Unpack the books,
leaving their tissue papers still upon them, and bring them in when you
call me. I will give you further orders then for their disposal. You
It was as well to be prepared for anything, he thought, which was most
fortunate, as it afterwards turned out. He had meant to make her ask him
to her sitting-room in any case, and his happiness was augmented, as
they had talked in the picture gallery, when she did it of her own
Lady Ethelrida stood looking out of her window, in her fresh,
white-paneled, lilac-chintzed bower. Her heart was actually thumping
now. She had not noticed the books, which were carefully placed in a
pile down beside her writing table. Would he ever get away from her
father, who seemed to have taken to having endless political discussions
with him? Would he ever be able to come in time to talk for a moment,
before they must both go down? She had taken the precaution to make
herself quite ready to start--short skirt, soft felt hat, thick boots
Would he? But as half-past ten chimed from the Dresden clock on the
mantelpiece, there was a gentle tap at the door, and Francis Markrute
He knew in an instant, experienced fowler that he was, that his bird was
fluttered with expectancy, and it gave him an exquisite thrill. He was
perfectly cognizant of the value of investing simple circumstances with
delightful mystery, at times; and he knew, to the Lady Ethelrida, this
trysting with him had become a momentous thing.
"You see, I found the way," he said softly, and he allowed something of
the joy and tenderness he felt to come into his voice.
And Lady Ethelrida answered a little nervously that she was glad, and
then continued quickly that she must show him her bookcases, because
there was so little time.
"Only one short half-hour--if you will let me stay so long," he pleaded.
In his hand he carried the original volume he had spoken about, a very
old edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets, from which he had carefully had
one or two removed. It was exquisitely bound and tooled, and had her
monogram worked into a beautiful little medallion--a work of art. He
handed it to her first.
"This I ventured to have ordered for you long ago," he said. "Six weeks
it is nearly, and I so feared until yesterday that you would not let me
give it to you. It does not mean for your birthday: it is our original
bond of acquaintance."
"It is too beautiful," said Lady Ethelrida, looking down.
"And over there by your writing table"--he had carefully ascertained
this locality from Heinrich--"you will find the books that are my
birthday gift, if you will give me the delight of accepting them."
She went forward with a little cry of surprise and pleasure, while,
instantaneously, the wonder of how he should know where they would be
presented itself to her mind.
They were about six volumes. A Heine, a couple of de Musset's, and then
three volumes of selected poems, from numbers of the English poets.
Lady Ethelrida picked them up delightedly. They, too, were works of art,
in their soft mauve morocco bindings, _chiffre_, with her monogram like
the other, and tooled with gold.
"How enchanting!" she said. "And look! They match my room. How could you
have guessed--?" And then she broke off and again looked down.
"You told me, the night I dined with you at Glastonbury House, that you
loved mauve as a color and that violets were your favorite flower. How
could I forget?" And he permitted himself to come a step nearer to her.
She did not move away. She turned over the leaves of the English volume
rather hurriedly. The paper was superlatively fine and the print a gem
of art. And then she looked up, surprised.
"I have never seen this collection before," she said wonderingly. "All
the things one loves under the same cover!" And then she turned to the
title-page to see which edition it was; and she found that, as far as
information went, it was blank. Simply,
"To The Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet
was inscribed upon it in gold. A deep pink flush grew on her delicate
face, and she dared not raise her eyes.
It would be too soon yet to tell her everything that was in his heart,
he reasoned. All could be lost by one false step. So, with his masterly
self-control, he resisted all temptation to fold her in his arms, and
"I thought it would be nice to have, as you say, 'all the bits one
loves' put together; and I have a very intelligent friend at my
book-binder's, who, when I had selected them, had them all arranged and
printed for me, and bound as I thought you might wish. It will gratify
me greatly, if it has pleased you."
"Pleased me!" she said, and now she looked up; for the sudden conviction
came to her, that to have this done took time and a great deal of money;
and except once or twice before, casually, she had never met him until
the evening, when, among a number of her father's political friends, he
had dined at their London house. When could he have given the order and
what could this mean? He read her thoughts.
"Yes," he said simply. "From the very first moment I ever saw you, Lady
Ethelrida, to me you seemed all that was true and beautiful, the
embodiment of my ideal of womanhood. I planned these books then, two
days after I dined with you at Glastonbury House; and, if you had
refused them, it would have caused me pain."
Ethelrida was so moved by some new, sudden and exquisite emotion that
she could not reply for a moment. He watched her with growing and
passionate delight, but he said nothing. He must give her time.
"It is too, too nice of you," she said softly, and there was a little
catch in her breath. "No one has ever thought of anything so exquisite
for me before, although, as you saw this morning, every one is so very
kind. How shall I thank you, Mr. Markrute? I do not know."
"You must not thank me at all, you gracious lady," he said. "And now I
must tell you that the half-hour is nearly up, and we must go down.
But--may I--will you let me come again, perhaps to-morrow afternoon? I
want to tell you, if it would interest you, the history of a man."
Ethelrida had turned to look at the clock, also, and had collected
herself. She was too single-minded to fence now, or to push this new,
strange joy out of her life, so she said,
"When the others go out for a walk, then, after lunch, yes, you may
And without anything further, they left the room. At the turn in the
corridor to the other part of the house, he bent suddenly; and with deep
homage kissed her hand, then let her pass on, while he turned to the
right and disappeared towards the wing, where was his room.
Zara had, at first, thought she would not go out with the shooters. She
felt numb, as if she could not pluck up enough courage to make
conversation with any one. She had received a letter from Mimo, by the
second post, with all details of what he had heard of Mirko. Little
Agatha, the Morleys' child, was to return home the following day; and
Mirko himself had written an excited little letter to announce this
event, which Mimo enclosed. He seemed perfectly well then, only at the
end, as she would see, he had said he was dreaming of _Maman_ every
night; and Mimo knew that this must mean he was a little feverish again,
so he had felt it wiser to telegraph. Mirko had written out the score of
the air which _Maman_ always came and taught him, and he was longing to
play it to his dear Papa and his Cherisette, the letter ended with.
And the pathos of it all caused Zara a sharp pain. She did not dare to
look ahead, as far as her little brother was concerned. Indeed, to look
ahead, in any case, meant nothing very happy.
She was just going up the great staircase at about a quarter to eleven,
with the letter in her hand, when she met Tristram coming from his room,
with his shooting boots on, ready to start. He stopped and said
coldly--they had not spoken a word yet that day--
"You had better be quick putting your things on. My uncle always starts
Then his eye caught the foreign writing on the letter, and he turned
brusquely away, although, as he reasoned with himself a moment
afterwards, it was ridiculous of him to be so moved, because she would
naturally have a number of foreign correspondents. She saw him turn
away, and it angered her in spite of her new mood. He need not show his
dislike so plainly, she thought. So she answered haughtily,
"I had not intended to come. I am tired; and I do not know this sport,
or whether it will please me. I should feel for the poor birds, I
"I am sorry you are tired," he answered, contrite in an instant. "Of
course, you must not come if you are. They will be awfully disappointed.
But never mind. I will tell Ethelrida."
"It is nothing--my fatigue, I mean. If you think your cousin will mind,
I will come." And she turned, without waiting for him to answer, and
went on to her room.
And Tristram, after going back to his for something he had forgotten,
presently went on down the stairs, a bitter smile on his face, and at
the bottom met--Laura Highford.
She looked up into his eyes, and allowed tears to gather in hers. She
had always plenty at her command.
"Tristram," she said with extreme gentleness, "you were cross with me
yesterday afternoon, because you thought I was saying something about
your wife. But don't you know, can't you understand, what it is to me to
see you devoted to another woman? You may be changed, but I am always
the same, and I--I--" And here she buried her face in her hands and went
into a flood of tears.
Tristram was overcome with confusion and horror. He loathed scenes.
Good heavens! If any one should come along!
"Laura, for goodness' sake! My dear girl, don't cry!" he exclaimed. He
felt he would say anything to comfort her, and get over the chance of
some one seeing this hateful exhibition.
But she continued to sob. She had caught sight of Zara's figure on the
landing above, and her vengeful spirit desired to cause trouble, even at
a cost to herself. Zara had been perfectly ready, all but her hat, and
had hurried exceedingly to be in time, and thus had not been five
minutes after her husband.
"Tristram!" wailed Laura, and, putting up her hands, placed them on his
shoulders. "Darling, just kiss me once--quickly--to say good-bye."
And it was at this stage that Zara came full upon them, from a turn in
the stairs. She heard Tristram say disgustedly, "No, I won't," and saw
Lady Highford drop her arms; and in the three steps that separated them,
her wonderful iron self-control, the inheritance of all her years of
suffering, enabled her to stop as if she had seen nothing, and in an
ordinary voice ask if they were to go to the great hall.
"The woman," as she called Laura, should not have the satisfaction of
seeing a trace of emotion in her, or Tristram either. He had answered
immediately, "Yes," and had walked on by her side, in an absolutely
How dare Laura drag him into a disgraceful and ridiculous scene like
this! He could have wrung her neck. What must Zara think? That he was
simply a cad! He could not offer a single explanation, either; indeed,
she had demanded none. He did blurt out, after a moment,
"Lady Highford was very much upset about something. She is hysterical."
"Poor thing!" said Zara indifferently, and walked on.
But when they got into the hall, where most of the company were, she
suddenly felt her knees giving way under her, and hurriedly sank down on
an oak chair.
She felt sick with jealous pain, even though she had plainly seen that
Tristram was no willing victim. But upon what terms could they be, or
have been, for Lady Highford so to lose all sense of shame?
Tristram was watching her anxiously. She must have seen the humiliating
exhibition. It followed, then, she was perfectly indifferent, or she
would have been annoyed. He wished that she had reproached him, or said
something--anything--but to remain completely unmoved was too maddening.
Then the whole company, who were coming out, appeared, and they started.
Some of the men were drawing lots to see if they should shoot in the
morning or in the afternoon. The party was primarily for Lady
Ethelrida's birthday, and the shoot merely an accessory.
Zara walked by the Crow, who was not shooting at all. She was wearied
with Lord Elterton; wearied with every one. The Crow was sententious and
amused her, and did not expect her to talk.
"You have never seen your husband shoot yet, I expect, Lady Tancred,
have you?" he asked her; and when she said, "No," he went on, "Because
you must watch him. He is a very fine shot."
She did not know anything about shooting, only that Tristram looked
particularly attractive in his shooting clothes, and that English
sportsmen were natural, unceremonious creatures, whom she was beginning
to like very much. She wished she could open her heart to this quaint,
kind old man, and ask him to explain things to her; but she could not,
and presently they got to a safe place and watched.
Tristram happened to be fairly near them; and, yes, he was a good
shot--she could see that. But, at first, the thud of the beautiful
pheasants falling to the ground caused her to wince--she, who had looked
upon the shattered face of Ladislaus, her husband, with only a quiver of
disgust! But these creatures were in the glory of their beauty and the
joy of life, and had preyed upon the souls of no one.
Her wonderful face, which interested Colonel Lowerby so, was again
abstracted. Something had brought back that hateful moment to her
memory; she could hear Feto, the dancer's shrieks, and see the blood;
and she shivered suddenly and clasped her hands.
"Do you mind seeing the birds come down?" the Crow asked kindly.
"I do not know," she said. "I was thinking of some other shooting."
"Because," the Crow went on, "the women who rage against sport forget
one thing,--the birds would not exist at all, if it were not for
preserving them for this very reason. They would gradually be trapped
and snared and exterminated; whereas, now they have a royal time, of
food and courtship and mating, and they have no knowledge of their
coming fate, and so live a life of splendor up to the last moment."
"How much better! Yes, indeed, I will never be foolish about them again.
I will think of that." Then she exclaimed, "Oh, that was wonderful!" for
Tristram got two rocketters at right and left, and then another with
his second gun. His temper had not affected his eye, it seemed.
"Tristram is one of the best all-round sportsmen I know," the Crow
announced, "and he has one of the kindest hearts. I have known him since
he was a toddler. His mother was one of the beauties, when I first put
on a cuirass."
Zara tried to control her interest, and merely said, "Yes?"
"Are you looking forward to the reception at Wrayth on Monday? I always
wonder how a person unaccustomed to England would view all the speeches
and dinners, the bonfire, and triumphal arches, and those things of a
home-coming. Rather an ordeal, I expect."
Zara's eyes rounded, and she faltered,
"And shall I have to go through all that?"
The Crow was nonplussed. Had not her husband, then, told her, what every
one else knew? Upon what terms could they possibly be? And before he was
aware of it, he had blurted out, "Good Lord!"
Then, recollecting himself, he said,
"Why, yes. Tristram will say I have been frightening you. It is not so
very bad, after all--only to smile and look gracious and shake hands.
They will be all ready to think you perfect, if you do that. Even though
there are a lot of beastly radicals about, Old England still bows down
to a beautiful woman!"
Zara did not answer. She had heard about her beauty in most European
languages, since she was sixteen. It was the last thing which mattered,
Then the Crow turned the conversation, as they walked on to the next
Did she know that Lady Ethelrida had commanded that all the ladies were
to get up impromptu fancy dresses for to-night, her birthday dinner, and
all the men would be in hunt coats? he asked. Large parties were coming
from the only two other big houses near, and they would dance afterward
in the picture gallery. "A wonderful new band that came out in London
this season is coming down," he ended with; and, then, as she replied
she had heard, he asked her what she intended to be. "It must be
something with your hair down--you must give us the treat of that."
"I have left it all to Lady Ethelrida and my sisters-in-law," she said.
"We are going to contrive things the whole afternoon, after lunch."
Tristram came up behind them then, and the Crow stopped.
"I was telling your wife she must give us the pleasure of seeing her
hair down, to-night, for the Tomfools' dinner, but I can't get a promise
from her. We will have to appeal to you to exert your lordly authority.
Can't be deprived of a treat like that!"
"I am afraid I have no influence or authority," Tristram answered
shortly, for with a sudden pang he thought of the only time he had seen
the glorious beauty of it, her hair, spread like a cloak around her, as
she had turned and ordered him out of her room at Dover. She remembered
the circumstance, too, and it hurt her equally, so that they walked
along silently, staring in front of them, and each suffering pain; when,
if they had had a grain of sense, they would have looked into each
other's eyes, read the truth, and soon been in each other's arms. But
they had not yet "dree'd their weird." And Fate, who mocks at fools,
would not yet let them be.
So the clouds gathered overhead, as in their hearts, and it came on to
pour with rain; and the ladies made a hurried rush to the house.
The hostess did not stand near Francis Markrute during the shooting.
Some shy pleasure made her avoid him for the moment. She wanted to hug
the remembrance of her great joy of the morning, and the knowledge that
to-morrow, Sunday, after lunch, would bring her a like pleasure. And for
the time being there was the delight of thinking over what he had said,
the subtlety of his gift, and the manner of its giving.
Nothing so goes to the head of a woman of refined sensibilities as the
intoxicating flattery of thought-out action in a man, when it is to lay
homage at her feet, and the man is a grave and serious person, who is no
worshiper of women.
Ethelrida trod on air, and looked unusually sweet and gracious.
And Francis Markrute watched her quietly, with great tenderness in his
heart, and not the faintest misgiving. "Slow and sure" was his motto,
and thus he drew always the current of success and contentment.
His only crumpled roseleaf was the face of his niece, which rather
haunted him. There seemed no improvement in the relations of the pair,
in spite of Zara having had ample cause to feel jealous about Lady
Highford since their arrival. Elinka, too, had had strange and
unreasonable turns in her nature, that is what had made her so
attractive. What if Zara and this really fine young Englishman, with
whom he had mated her, should never get on? Then he laughed, when he
thought of the impossibility of his calculations finally miscarrying. It
was, of course, only a question of time. However, he would tell her
before she left for her "home-coming" at Wrayth on Monday, what he
thought it was now safe and advisable that she should know, namely,
that on her husband's side the marriage had been one of headlong desire
for herself, after having refused the bargain before he had seen her.
That would give her some bad moments of humiliation, he admitted, which
perhaps she had not deserved, though it would certainly bring her to her
knees and so, to Tristram's arms.
But for once, being really quite preoccupied with his own affairs and a
little unbalanced by love as well, he miscalculated the force of a
woman's pride. Zara's one idea now was to hide from Tristram the state
of her feelings, believing, poor, bruised, wounded thing, that he no
longer cared for her, believing that she herself had extinguished the
torch of love.
There was an air of restrained excitement, importance and mystery among
the ladies at luncheon. They had got back to the house in time to have
their conclave before that meal, and everything was satisfactorily
settled. Lady Anningford, who had not accompanied them out shooting, had
thought out a whole scheme, and announced it upon their return amidst
They would represent as many characters as they could from the "Idylls
of the King," because the style would be such loose, hanging kinds of
garments, the maids could run up the long straight seams in no time. And
it would be so much more delightful, all to carry out one idea, than the
usual powdered heads and non-descript things people chose for such
impromptu occasions. It only remained to finally decide the characters.
She considered that Ethelrida should undoubtedly be _Guinevere_; but,
above all, Zara must be _Isolt_!
"Of course, of course!" they all cried unanimously, while Zara's eyes
went black. "_Tristram_ and _Isolt_! How splendid!"
"And I shall be _Brangaine_, and give the love potion," Lady Anningford
went on. "Although it does not come into the 'Idylls of the King,' it
should do so. It is just because Tennyson was so fearfully, respectably
Early Victorian! I have been looking all the real thing up in the 'Morte
d' Arthur' in the library, and in the beautiful edition of 'Tristram
and Yseult' in Ethelrida's room."
"How perfectly enchanting!" cried Lady Betty. "I must be the _Lady of
the Lake_--it is much the most dramatic part. And let us get the big
sword out of the armory for _Excalibur_! I can have it, and brandish it
as I enter the room."
"Oh, nonsense, Betty darling!" Ethelrida said. "You are the very picture
of _Lynette_, with your enchanting nose 'tiptilted like the tender petal
of a flower,' and your shameful treatment of poor Jimmy!"
And Lady Betty, after bridling a little, consented.
Then the other parts were cast. Emily should be _Enid_ and Mary,
_Elaine_, while Lady Melton, Lady Thornby and Mrs. Harcourt should be
the _Three Fair Queens_.
"I shall be _Ettarre_," said Lily Opie. "The others are all good and
dull; and I prefer her, because I am sure she wasn't! And certainly Lady
Highford must be _Vivien_! She is exactly the type, in one of her
Laura rather liked the idea of _Vivien_. It had _cachet_, she thought.
She was very fond of posing as a mysterious enchantress, the mystic
touch pleased her vanity.
So, of the whole party, only Zara did not feel content. Tristram might
think she had chosen this herself, as an advance towards him.
Then the discussion, as to the garments to be worn, began. Numbers of
ornaments and bits of tea-gowns would do. But with her usual practical
forethought, Lady Anningford had already taken time by the forelock, and
asked that one of the motors, going in to Tilling Green on a message,
should bring back all the bales of bright and light-colored merinos and
nunscloths the one large general shop boasted of.
And, amidst screams of delighted excitement from the girls, the immense
parcel was presently unpacked.
It contained marvels of white and creams, and one which was declared the
exact thing for _Isolt_. It was a merino of that brilliant violent shade
of azure, the tone which is advertised as "Rickett's Paris blue" for
washing clothes. It had been in the shop for years, and was unearthed
for this occasion--a perfect relic of later Victorian aniline dye.
"It will be simply too gorgeously wonderful, with just a fillet of gold
round her head, and all her adorable red hair hanging down," Lady
Anningford said to Ethelrida.
"We shan't have to wear a stitch underneath," Lady Betty announced
decidedly, while she pirouetted before a cheval glass--they were all in
Lady Anningford's room--with some stuff draped round her childish form.
"The gowns must have the right look, just long, straight things, with
hanging sleeves and perhaps a girdle. I shall have cream, and you, Mary,
as _Elaine_, must have white; but Emily had better have that mauve for
_Enid_, as she was married."
"Why must _Enid_ have mauve because she is married?" asked Emily, who
did not like the color.
"I don't know why," Lady Betty answered, "except that, if you are
married, you can't possibly have white, like Mary and me, who aren't.
People are quite different--after, and mauve is very respectable for
them," she went on. Grammar never troubled her little ladyship, when
giving her valuable opinion upon things and life.
"I think _Enid_ was a goose," said Emily, pouting.
"Not half as much as _Elaine_," said Mary. "She had secured her
_Geraint_, whereas _Elaine_ made a perfect donkey of herself over
_Lancelot_, who did not care for her."
"I like our parts much the best, Lily's and mine," said Lady Betty. "I
do give my Jim--Gareth?--a lively time, at all events! Just what I
should do, if it were in real life."
"What you do do, you mean, not what you would do, Minx!" said her aunt,
And at this stage the shooters were seen advancing across the park, and
the band of ladies, full of importance, descended to luncheon.
Lady Anningford sat next the Crow and told him what they had decided, in
strict confidence, of course.
"We shall have the most delightful fun, Crow. I have thought it all out.