Part 5 out of 6
At dessert I am going to hand one of the gold cups in which we are going
to put a glass of some of the Duke's original old Chartreuse, to the
bridal pair, as if to drink their health; and then, when they have drunk
it, I am going to be overcome at the mistake of having given them a
love-potion, just as in the real story! You can't tell--it may bring
"Queen Anne, you wonder!" said the Crow.
"It is such a deliciously incongruous idea, you see," Lady Anningford
went on. "All of us in long pre-mediaeval garments, with floating hair,
and all of you in modern hunt coats! I should like to have seen Tristram
in gold chain armor."
The Crow grunted approval.
"Ethelrida is going to arrange that they go in to dinner together. She
is going to say it will be their last chance before they get to _King
Mark_. Won't it all be perfect?"
"Well, I suppose you know best," the Crow said, with his wise old head
on one side. "But they are at a ticklish pass in their careers, I tell
you. The balance might go either way. Don't make it too hard for them,
out of mistaken kindness."
"You are tiresome, Crow!" retorted Lady Anningford. "I never can do a
thing I think right without your warning me over it. Do leave it to me."
So, thus admonished, Colonel Lowerby went on with his luncheon.
Zara's eyes looked more stormy than ever, when her husband chanced to
see them. He was sitting nearly opposite her, and he wondered what on
earth she was thinking about. He was filled with a concentrated
bitterness from the events of the morning. Her utter indifference over
the Laura incident had galled him unbearably, although he told himself,
as he had done before, the unconscionable fool he was to allow himself
to go on being freshly wounded by each continued proof of her disdain of
him. Why, when he knew a thing, should he not be prepared for it? He had
a strong will; he _would_ overcome his emotion for her. He could, at
least, make himself treat her, outwardly with the same apparent insolent
indifference, as she treated him.
He made a firm resolve once again, he would not speak to her at all, any
more than he had done the last three days in Paris. He would accept the
position until the Wrayth rejoicings were over, and then he would
certainly make arrangements to go and shoot lions, or travel, or
something. There should be no further "perhaps" about it. Life, with the
agonizing longing for her, seeing her daily and being denied, was more
than could be borne.
There was something about Zara's type, the white, exquisite beauty of
her skin, her slenderly voluptuous shape, the stormy suggestion of
hidden passion in her slumberous eyes, which had always aroused
absolutely mad emotions in men. Tristram, who was a normal Englishman,
self-contained and reserved, and too completely healthy to be
highly-strung, felt undreamed-of sensations rise in him when he looked
at her, which was as rarely as possible. He understood now what was
meant by an obsession--all the states of love he had read of in French
novels and dismissed as "tommyrot." She did not only affect him with a
thrilling physical passion. It was an obsession of the mind as well. He
suffered acutely; as each day passed it seemed as if he could not bear
any more, and the next always brought some further pain.
They had actually only been married for ten days! and it seemed an
eternity of anguish to both of them, for different reasons.
Zara's nature was trying to break through the iron bands of her life
training. Once she had admitted to herself that she loved her husband,
her suffering was as deep as his, only that she was more practiced in
the art of suppressing all emotion. But it was no wonder that they both
looked pale and stern, and quite unbridal.
The sportsmen started immediately after lunch again, and the ladies
returned to their delightful work; and, when they all assembled for tea,
everything was almost completed. Zara had been unable to resist the
current of light-hearted gayety which was in the air, and now felt
considerably better; so she allowed Lord Elterton to sit beside her
after tea and pour homage at her feet, with the expression of an empress
listening to an address of loyalty from some distant colony; and the
Crow leant back in his chair and chuckled to himself, much to Lady
"What in the world is it, Crow?" she said. "When you laugh like that, I
always know some diabolically cynical idea is floating in your head,
and it is not good for you. Tell me at once what you mean!"
But Colonel Lowerby refused to be drawn, and presently took Tristram off
into the billiard-room.
It was arranged that all the men, even the husbands, were to go down
into the great white drawing-room first, so that the ladies might have
the pleasure of making an entrance _en bande_, to the delight of every
one. And when this group of Englishmen, so smart in their scarlet hunt
coats, were assembled at the end, by the fireplace, footmen opened the
big double doors, and the groom of the chambers announced,
"Her Majesty, _Queen Guinevere_, and the Ladies of her Court."
And Ethelrida advanced, her fair hair in two long plaits, with her
mother's all-round diamond crown upon her head, and clothed in some
white brocade garment, arranged with a blue merino cloak, trimmed with
ermine and silver. She looked perfectly regal, and as nearly beautiful
as she had ever done; and to the admiring eyes of Francis Markrute, she
seemed to outshine all the rest.
Then, their names called as they entered, came Enid and Elaine, each
fair and sweet; and Vivien and Ettarre; then Lynette walking alone, with
her saucy nose in the air and her flaxen curls spread out over her cream
robe, a most bewitching sight.
Several paces behind her came the _Three Fair Queens_, all in
wonderfully contrived garments, and misty, floating veils; and lastly,
quite ten paces in the rear, walked _Isolt_, followed by her
_Brangaine_. And when the group by the fireplace caught sight of her,
they one and all drew in their breath.
For Zara had surpassed all expectations. The intense and blatant blue of
her long clinging robe, which would have killed the charms of nine women
out of ten, seemed to enhance the beauty of her pure white skin and
marvelous hair. It fell like a red shining cloak all round her, kept in
only by a thin fillet of gold, while her dark eyes gleamed with a new
excitement. She had relaxed her dominion of herself, and was allowing
the natural triumphant woman in her to have its day. For once in her
life she forgot everything of sorrow and care, and permitted herself to
rejoice in her own beauty and its effect upon the world before her.
"Jee-hoshaphat!" was the first articulate word that the company heard,
from the hush which had fallen upon them; and then there was a chorus of
general admiration, in which all the ladies had their share. And only
the Crow happened to glance at Tristram, and saw that his face was white
Then the two parties, about twenty people in all, began to arrive from
the other houses, and delighted exclamations of surprise at the splendor
of the impromptu fancy garments were heard all over the room, and soon
dinner was announced, and they went in.
"My Lord Tristram," Ethelrida had said to her cousin, "I beg of you to
conduct to my festal board your own most beautiful _Lady Isolt_.
Remember, on Monday you leave us for the realm of _King Mark_, so make
the most of your time!" And she turned and led forward Zara, and placed
her hand in his; she, and they all, were too preoccupied with excitement
and joy to see the look of deep pain in his eyes.
He held his wife's hand, until the procession started, and neither of
them spoke a word. Zara, still exalted with the spirit of the night,
felt only a wild excitement. She was glad he could see her beauty and
her hair, and she raised her head and shook it back, as they started,
with a provoking air.
But Tristram never spoke; and by the time they had reached the
banqueting-hall, some of her exaltation died down, and she felt a chill.
Her hair was so very long and thick that she had to push it aside, to
sit down, and in doing so a mesh flew out and touched his face; and the
Crow, who was watching the whole drama intently, noticed that he
shivered and, if possible, grew more pale. So he turned to his own
servant, behind his chair, who with some of the other valets, was
helping to wait, and whispered to him, "Go and see that Lord Tancred is
handed brandy, at once, before the soup."
And so the feast began.
On Zara's other hand sat the Duke, and on Tristram's, Brangaine--for so
she and Ethelrida had arranged for their later plan; and after the
brandy, which Tristram dimly wondered why he should have been handed, he
pulled himself together, and tried to talk; and Zara busied herself with
the Duke. She quite came out of her usual silence, and laughed, and
looked so divinely attractive that the splendid old gentleman felt it
all going to his head; and his thoughts wondered bluntly, how soon, if
he were his nephew, he would take her away after dinner and make love to
her all to himself! But these modern young fellows had not half the
mettle that he had had!
So at last dessert-time came, with its toasts for the _Queen Guinevere_.
And the bridal pair had spoken together never a word; and Lady
Anningford, who was watching them, began to fear for the success of her
plan. However, there was no use turning back now. So, amidst jests of
all sorts in keeping with the spirit of Camelot and the Table Round, at
last _Brangaine_ rose and, taking the gold cup in front of her, said,
"I, _Brangaine_, commissioned by her Lady Mother, to conduct the _Lady
Isolt_ safely to _King Mark_, under the knightly protection of the _Lord
Tristram_, do now propose to drink their health, and ye must all do
likewise, Lords and Ladies of Arthur's court." And she sipped her own
glass, while she handed the gold cup to the Duke, who passed it on to
the pair; and Tristram, because all eyes were upon him, forced himself
to continue the jest. So he rose and, taking Zara's hand, while he bowed
to the company, gave her the cup to drink, and then took it himself,
while he drained the measure. And every one cried, amidst great
excitement, "The health and happiness of _Tristram_ and _Isolt_!"
Then, when the tumult had subsided a little, _Brangaine_ gave a
"Mercy me! I am undone!" she cried. "They have quaffed of the wrong cup!
That gold goblet contained a love-potion distilled from rare plants by
the Queen, and destined for the wedding wine of _Isolt_ and _King Mark_!
And now the _Lord Tristram_ and she have drunk it together, by
misadventure, and can never be parted more! Oh, misery me! What have I
And amidst shouts of delighted laughter led by the Crow--in frozen
silence, Tristram held his wife's hand.
But after a second, the breeding in them both, as on their wedding
evening before the waiters, again enabled them to continue the comedy;
and they, too, laughed, and, with the Duke's assistance, got through the
rest of dinner, until they all rose and went out, two and two, the men
leading their ladies by the hand, as they had come in.
And if the cup had indeed contained a potion distilled by the Irish
sorceress Queen, the two victims could not have felt more passionately
But Tristram's pride won the day for him, for this one time, and not by
a glance or a turn of his head did he let his bride see how wildly her
superlative attraction had kindled the fire in his blood. And when the
dancing began, he danced with every other lady first, and then went off
into the smoking-room, and only just returned in time to be made to lead
out his "_Isolt_" in a final quadrille--not a valse. No powers would
have made him endure the temptation of a valse!
And even this much, the taking of her hand, her nearness, the sight of
the exquisite curves of her slender figure, and her floating hair,
caused him an anguish unspeakable, so that when the rest of the company
had gone, and good nights were said, he went up to his room, changed his
coat, and strode away alone, out into the night.
Every one was so sleepy and tired on Sunday morning, after their night
at Arthur's Court, that only Lady Ethelrida and Laura Highford, who had
a pose of extreme piety always ready at hand, started with the Duke and
Young Billy for church. Francis Markrute watched them go from his
window, which looked upon the entrance, and he thought how stately and
noble his fair lady looked; and he admired her disciplined attitude, no
carousal being allowed to interfere with her duties. She was a rare and
perfect specimen of her class.
His lady fair! For he had determined, if fate plainly gave him the
indication, to risk asking her to-day to be his fair lady indeed. A man
must know when to strike, if the iron is hot.
He had carefully prepared all the avenues; and had made himself of great
importance to the Duke, allowing his masterly brain to be seen in
glimpses, and convincing His Grace of his possible great usefulness to
the party to which he belonged. He did not look for continued opposition
in that quarter, once he should have assured himself that Lady Ethelrida
loved him. That he loved her, with all the force of his self-contained
nature, was beyond any doubt. Love, as a rule, recks little of the
suitability of the object, when it attacks a heart; but in some few
cases--that is the peculiar charm--Francis Markrute had waited until he
was forty-six years old, firmly keeping to his ideal, until he found
her, in a measure of perfection, of which even he had not dared to
dream. His theory, which he had proved in his whole life, was that
nothing is beyond the grasp of a man who is master of himself and his
emotions. But even his iron nerves felt the tension of excitement, as
luncheon drew to an end, and he knew in half an hour, when most of the
company were safely disposed of, he should again find his way to his
Ethelrida did not look at him. She was her usual, charmingly-gracious
self to her neighbors, solicitous of Tristram's headache. He had only
just appeared, and looked what he felt--a wreck. She was interested in
some news in the Sunday papers, which had arrived; and in short, not a
soul guessed how her gentle being was uplifted, and her tender heart
beating with this, the first real emotion she had ever experienced.
Even the Crow, so thrilled with his interest in the bridal pair, had not
scented anything unusual in his hostess's attitude towards one of her
"I think Mr. Markrute is awfully attractive, don't you, Crow?" said Lady
Anningford, as they started for their walk. To go to Lynton Heights
after lunch on Sunday was almost an invariable custom at Montfitchet. "I
can't say what it is, but it is something subtle and extraordinary, like
that in his niece--what do you think?"
Colonel Lowerby paused, struck from her words by the fact that he had
been too preoccupied to have noticed this really interesting man.
"Why, 'pon my soul--I haven't thought!" he said, "but now you speak of
it, I do think he is a remarkable chap."
"He is so very quiet," Lady Anningford went on, "and, whenever he
speaks, it is something worth listening to; and if you get on any
subject of books, he is a perfect encyclopaedia. He gives me the
impression of all the forces of power and will, concentrated in a man. I
wonder who he really is? Not that it matters a bit in these days. Do you
think there is any Jew in him? It does not show in his type, but when
foreigners are very rich there generally is."
"Sure to be, as he is so intelligent," the Crow growled. "If you notice,
numbers of the English families who show brains have a touch of it in
the background. So long as the touch is far enough away, I have no
objection to it myself--prefer folks not to be fools."
"I believe I have no prejudices at all," said Lady Anningford. "If I
like people, I don't care what is in their blood."
"It is all right till you scratch 'em. Then it comes out; but if, as I
say, it is far enough back, the Jew will do the future Tancred race a
power of good, to get the commercial common sense of it into them--knew
Maurice Grey, her father, years ago, and he was just as indifferent to
money and material things, as Tristram is himself. So the good will come
from the Markrute side, we will hope."
"I rather wonder, Crow--if there ever will be any more of the Tancred
race. I thought last night we had a great failure, and that nothing will
make that affair prosper. I don't believe they ever see one another from
one day to the next! It is extremely sad."
"I told you they had come to a ticklish point in their careers," the
Crow permitted himself to remind his friend, "and, 'pon my soul, I could
not bet you one way or another how it will go. 'I hae me doots,' as the
Meanwhile, Ethelrida, on the plea of letters to write, had retired to
her room; and there, as the clock struck a quarter past three, she
awaited--what? She would not own to herself that it was her fate. She
threw dust in her own eyes, and called it a pleasant talk!
She looked absurdly young for her twenty-six years, just a dainty slip
of a patrician girl, as she sat there on her chintz sofa, with its fresh
pattern of lilacs and tender green. Everything was in harmony, even to
her soft violet cloth dress trimmed with fur.
And again as the hour for the trysting chimed, her lover that was to be,
entered the room.
"This is perfectly divine," he said, as he came in, while the roguish
twinkle of a schoolboy, who has outwitted his mates sparkled in his fine
eyes. "All those good people tramping for miles in the cold and damp,
while we two sensible ones are going to enjoy a nice fire and a friendly
Thus he disarmed her nervousness, and gave her time.
"May I sit by you, my Lady Ethelrida?" he said; and as she smiled, he
took his seat, but not too near her--nothing must be the least hurried
or out of place.
So for about a quarter of an hour they talked of books--their
favorites--hers, all so simple and chaste, his, of all kinds, so long as
they showed style, and were masterpieces of taste and balance. Then, as
a great piece of wood fell in the open grate and made a volley of
sparks, he leaned forward a little and asked her if he might tell her
that for which he had come, the history of a man.
The daylight was drawing in, and they had an hour before them.
"Yes," said Ethelrida, "only let us make up the fire first, and only
turn on that one soft light," and she pointed to a big gray china owl
who carried a simple shade of white painted with lilacs on his back.
"Then we need not move again, because I want extremely to hear it--the
history of a man."
He obeyed her commands, and also drew the silk blinds.
"Now, indeed, we are happy; at least, I am," he said.
Lady Ethelrida leant back on her muslin embroidered cushion and prepared
herself to listen with a rapt face.
Francis Markrute stood by the fire for a while, and began from there:
"You must go right back with me to early days, Sweet Lady," he said, "to
a palace in a gloomy city and to an artiste--a ballet-dancer--but at the
same time a great _musicienne_ and a good and beautiful woman, a woman
with red, splendid hair, like my niece. There she lived in a palace in
this city, away from the world with her two children; an Emperor was her
lover and her children's father; and they all four were happy as the day
was long. The children were a boy and a girl, and presently they began
to grow up, and the boy began to think about life and to reason things
out with himself. He had, perhaps, inherited this faculty from his
grandfather, on his mother's side, who was a celebrated poet and
philosopher and a Spanish Jew. So his mother, the beautiful dancer, was
half Jewess, and, from her mother again, half Spanish noble; for this
philosopher had eloped with the daughter of a Spanish grandee, and she
was erased from the roll. I go back this far not to weary you, but that
you may understand what forces in race had to do with the boy's
character. The daughter again of this pair became an artist and a
dancer, and being a highly educated, as well as a superbly beautiful
woman--a woman with all Zara's charm and infinitely more chiseled
features--she won the devoted love of the Emperor of the country in
which they lived. I will not go into the moral aspect of the affair. A
great love recks not of moral aspects. Sufficient to say, they were
ideally happy while the beautiful dancer lived. She died when the boy
was about fifteen, to his great and abiding grief. His sister, who was a
year or two younger than he, was then all he had to love, because
political and social reasons in that country made it very difficult,
about this time, for him often to see his father, the Emperor.
"The boy was very carefully educated, and began early, as I have told
you, to think for himself and to dream. He dreamed of things which might
have been, had he been the heir and son of the Empress, instead of the
child of her who seemed to him so much the greater lady and queen, his
own mother, the dancer; and he came to see that dreams that are based
upon regrets are useless and only a factor in the degradation, not the
uplifting of a man. The boy grew to understand that from that sweet
mother, even though the world called her an immoral woman, he had
inherited something much more valuable to himself than the Imperial
crown--the faculty of perception and balance, physical and moral, to
which the family of the Emperor, his father, could lay no claim. From
them, both he and his sister had inherited a stubborn, indomitable
pride. You can see it, and have already remarked it, in Zara--that
"So when the boy grew to be about twenty, he determined to carve out a
career for himself, to create a great fortune, and so make his own
little kingdom, which should not be bound by any country or race. He had
an English tutor--he had always had one--and in his studies of
countries and peoples and their attributes, the English seemed to him to
be much the finest race. They were saner, more understanding, more full
of the sense of the fitness of things, and of the knowledge of life and
how to live it wisely.
"So the boy, with no country, and no ingrained patriotism for the place
of his birth, determined he, being free and of no nation, should, when
he had made this fortune, migrate there, and endeavor to obtain a place
among those proud people, whom he so admired in his heart. That was his
goal, in all his years of hard work, during which time he grew to
understand the value of individual character, regardless of nation or of
creed; and so, when finally he did come to this country, it was not to
seek, but to command." And here Francis Markrute, master of vast wealth
and the destinies of almost as many human souls as his father, the
Emperor, had been, raised his head. And Lady Ethelrida, daughter of a
hundred noble lords, knew her father, the Duke, was no prouder than he,
the Spanish dancer's son. And something in her fine spirit went out to
him; and she, there in the firelight with the soft owl lamp silvering
her hair, stretched out her hand to him; and he held it and kissed it
tenderly, as he took his seat by her side.
"My sweet and holy one," he said. "And so you understand!"
"Yes, yes!" said Ethelrida. "Oh, please go on"--and she leaned back
against her pillow, but she did not seek to draw away her hand.
"There came a great grief, then, in the life of the boy who was now a
grown man. His sister brought disgrace upon herself, and died under
extremely distressful circumstances, into which I need not enter here;
and for a while these things darkened and embittered his life." He
paused a moment, and gazed into the fire, a look of deep sorrow and
regret on his sharply-cut face, and Ethelrida unconsciously allowed her
slim fingers to tighten in his grasp. And when he felt this gentle
sympathy, he stroked her hand.
"The man was very hard then, sweet lady," he went on. "He regrets it
now, deeply. The pure angel, who at this day rules his life, with her
soft eyes of divine mercy and gentleness, has taught him many lessons;
and it will be his everlasting regret that he was hard then. But it was
a great deep wound to his pride, that quality which he had inherited
from his father, and had not then completely checked and got in hand.
Pride should be a factor for noble actions and a great spirit, but not
for overbearance toward the failings of others. He knows that now. If
this lady, whom he worships, should ever wish to learn the whole details
of this time, he will tell her even at any cost to his pride, but for
the moment let me get on to pleasanter things."
And Ethelrida whispered, "Yes, yes," so he continued:
"All his life from a boy's to a man's, this person we are speaking of
had kept his ideal of the woman he should love. She must be fine and
shapely, and noble and free; she must be tender and devoted, and
gracious and good. But he passed all his early manhood and grew to
middle age, before he even saw her shadow across his path. He looked up
one night, eighteen months ago, at a court ball, and she passed him on
the arm of a royal duke, and unconsciously brushed his coat with her
soft dove's wing; and he knew that it was she, after all those years, so
he waited and planned, and met her once or twice; but fate did not let
him advance very far, and so a scheme entered his head. His niece, the
daughter of his dead sister, had also had a very unhappy life; and he
thought she, too, should come among these English people, and find
happiness with their level ways. She was beautiful and proud and good,
so he planned the marriage between his niece and the cousin of the lady
he worshiped, knowing by that he should be drawn nearer his star, and
also pay the debt to his dead sister, by securing the happiness of her
child; but primarily it was his desire to be nearer his own worshiped
star, and thus it has all come about." He paused, and looked full at her
face, and saw that her sweet eyes were moist with some tender, happy
tears. So he leaned forward, took her other hand, and kissed them both,
placing the soft palms against his mouth for a second; then he whispered
hoarsely, his voice at last trembling with the passionate emotion he
"Ethelrida--darling--I love you with my soul--tell me, my sweet lady,
will you be my wife?"
And the Lady Ethelrida did not answer, but allowed herself to be drawn
into his arms.
And so in the firelight, with the watchful gray owl, the two rested
When Lady Ethelrida came down to tea, her sweet face was prettily
flushed, for she was quite unused to caresses and the kisses of a man.
Her soft gray eyes were shining with a happiness of which she had not
dreamed, and above all things, she was filled with the exquisite emotion
of having a secret!--a secret of which even her dear friend Anne was
ignorant--a blessed secret, just shared between her lover and herself.
And Lady Anningford, who had no idea that she had spent the afternoon
with the financier, but believed she had religiously written letters
alone, wondered to herself what on earth made Ethelrida look so joyous
and not the least fatigued, as most of the others were. She really got
prettier, she thought, as she grew older, and was always the greatest
dear in the whole world. But, to look as happy as that and have a face
so flushed, was quite mysterious and required the opinion of the Crow!
So she dragged Colonel Lowerby off to a sofa, and began at once:
"Crow, do look at Ethelrida's face! Did you ever see one so idiotically
blissful, except when she has been kissed by the person she loves?"
"Well, how do you know that is not the case with our dear Ethelrida?"
grunted the Crow. "She did not come out for a walk. You had better count
up, and see who else stayed at home!"
So Lady Anningford began laughingly. The idea was too impossible, but
she must reason it out.
"There was Lord Melton but Lady Melton stayed behind, too, and the
Thornbys--all impossible. There was no one else except Tristram, who I
know was in the smoking-room, with a fearful headache, and Mr.
Markrute, who was with the Duke."
"Was he with the Duke?" queried the Crow.
"Crow!" almost gasped Lady Anningford. "Do you mean to tell me that you
think Ethelrida would have her face looking like that about a foreigner!
My dear friend, you must have taken leave of your seven senses--" and
then she paused, for several trifles came back to her recollection,
connected with these two, which, now that the Crow had implanted a
suspicion in her breast, began to assume considerable proportions.
Ethelrida had talked of most irrelevant matters always during their
good-night chats, unless the subject happened to be Zara, and she had
never once mentioned Mr. Markrute personally or given any opinion about
him; and yet, as Anne had seen, they had often talked. There must be
something in it, but that was not enough to account for Ethelrida's
face. A pale, rather purely colorless complexion like hers did not
suddenly change to bright scarlet cheeks, without some practical means!
And, as Anne very well knew, kisses were a very practical means! But her
friend Ethelrida would never allow any man to kiss her, unless she had
promised to marry him. Now, if it had been Lily Opie, she could not have
been so sure, though she hoped she could be sure of any nice girl; but
about Ethelrida she could take her oath. It followed, as Ethelrida had
been quite pale at lunch and was not a person who went to sleep over
fires, something extraordinary must have happened--but what?
"Crow, dear, I have never been so thrilled in my life," she said, after
her thoughts had come to this stage. "The lurid tragedy of the honeymoon
pair cannot compare in interest to anything connected with my sweet
Ethelrida, for me, so it is your duty to put that horribly wise, cynical
brain of yours to work and unravel me this mystery. Look, here is Mr.
Markrute coming in--let us watch his face!"
But, although they subjected the financier to the keenest good-natured
scrutiny, he did not show a sign or give them any clue. He sat down
quietly, and began talking casually to the group by the tea-table, while
he methodically spread his bread and butter with blackberry jam. Such
delicious schoolroom teas the company indulged in, at the hospitable
tea-table of Montfitchet! He did not seem to be even addressing
Ethelrida. What could it be?
"I believe we have made a mistake after all, Crow," Lady Anningford said
disappointedly. "Look--he is quite unmoved."
The Crow gave one of his chuckles, while he answered slowly, between his
sips of tea:
"A man doesn't handle millions in the year, and twist and turn about
half the governments of Europe, if he can't keep his face from showing
what he doesn't mean you to see! Bless your dear heart, Mr. Francis
Markrute is no infant!" and the chuckle went on.
"You may think yourself very wise, Crow, and so you are," Lady
Anningford retorted severely, "but you don't know anything about love.
When a man is in love, even if he were Machiavelli himself, it would be
bound to show in his eye--if one looked long enough."
"Then your plan, my dear Queen Anne, is to look," the Crow said,
smiling. "For my part, I want to see how the other pair have got on.
They are my pets; and I don't consider they have spent at all a suitable
honeymoon Sunday afternoon--Tristram, with a headache in the
smoking-room, and the bride, taking a walk and being made love to by
Arthur Elterton, and Young Billy, alternately. The kid is as wild about
her as Tristram himself, I believe!"
"Then you still think Tristram is in love with her, do you, Crow?" asked
Anne, once more interested in her original thrill. "He did not show the
smallest signs of it last night then, if so; and how he did not seize
her in his arms and devour her there and then, with all that lovely hair
down and her exquisite shape showing the outline so in that dress--I
can't think! He must be as cold as a stone, and I never thought him so
before, did you?"
"No, and he isn't either, I tell you what, my dear girl, there is
something pretty grim keeping those two apart, I am sure. She is the
kind of woman who arouses the fiercest passions; and Tristram is in the
state that, if something were really to set alight his jealousy, he
might kill her some day."
"Crow--how terrible!" gasped Anne, and then seeing that her friend's
face was serious, and not chaffing, she, too, looked grave. "Then what
on earth is to be done?" she asked.
"I don't know, I have been thinking it over ever since I came in. I
found him in the smoking-room, staring in front of him, not even
pretending to read, and looking pretty white about the gills; and when
he saw it was only me, and I asked him if his head were worse, and
whether he had not better have a brandy and soda, he simply said: 'No,
thanks, the whole thing is a d---- rotten show.' I've known him since he
was a blessed baby you know, so he didn't mind me for a minute. Then he
recollected himself, and said, yes, he would have a drink; and when he
poured it out, he only sipped it, and then forgot about it, jumped up,
and blurted out he had some letters to write, so I left him. I am
awfully sorry for the poor chap, I can tell you. If it is not fate, but
some caprice of hers, she deserves a jolly good beating, for making him
suffer like that."
"Couldn't you say something to her, Crow, dear? We are all so awfully
fond of Tristram, and there does seem some tragedy hanging over them
that ought to be stopped at once. Couldn't you, Crow?"
But Colonel Lowerby shook his head.
"It is too confoundedly ticklish," he grunted. "It might do some good,
and it might just do the other thing. It is too dangerous to interfere."
"Well, you have made me thoroughly uncomfortable," Lady Anningford said.
"I shall get hold of him to-night, and see what I can do."
"Then, mind you are careful, Queen Anne--that is all that I can say,"
and at that moment, the Duke joining them, the tete-a-tete broke up.
Zara had not appeared at tea. She said she was very tired, and would
rest until dinner. If she had been there, her uncle had meant to take
her aside into one of the smaller sitting-rooms, and tell her the piece
of information he deemed it now advisable for her to know; but as she
did not appear, or Tristram, either, he thought after all they might be
together, and his interference would be unnecessary. But he decided, if
he saw the same frigid state of things at dinner, he would certainly
speak to her after it; and relieved from duty, he went once more to
find his lady love in her sitting-room.
"Francis!" she whispered, as he held her next his heart for a moment.
"You must not stay ten minutes, for Lady Anningford or Lady Melton is
sure to come in--Anne, especially, who has been looking at me with such
reproachful eyes, for having neglected her all this, our last
"I care not for a thousand Annes, Ethelrida mine!" he said softly, as he
kissed her. "If she does come, will it matter? Would you rather she did
not guess anything yet, my dearest?"
"Yes--" said Ethelrida, "--I don't want any one to know, until you have
told my father,--will you do so to-night--or wait until to-morrow? I--I
can't--I feel so shy--and he will be so surprised." She did not add her
secret fear that her parent might be very angry.
They had sat down upon the sofa now, under the light of their kindly
gray owl; and Francis Markrute contented himself with caressing his
lady's hair, as he answered:
"I thought of asking the Duke, if I might stay until the afternoon
train, as I had something important to discuss with him, and then wait
and see him quietly, when all the others have gone, if that is what you
would wish, my sweet. I will do exactly as you desire about all things.
I want you to understand that. You are to have your own way in
everything in life."
"You know very well that I should never want it, if it differed from
yours, Francis." What music he found in his name! "You are so very wise,
it will be divine to let you guide me!" Which tender speech showed that
the gentle Ethelrida had none of the attitude of the modern bride.
And thus it was arranged. The middle-aged, but boyishly-in-love, fiance
was to tackle his future father-in-law in the morning's light; and
to-night, let the household sleep in peace!
So, after a blissful interlude, as he saw in spite of the joy they found
together, his Ethelrida was still slightly nervous of Lady Anningford's
entrance, he got up to say good night, as alas! this would probably be
the last chance they would have alone before he left.
"And you will not make me wait too long, my darling," he implored, "will
you? You see, every moment away from you, will now be wasted. I do not
know how I have borne all these years alone!"
And she promised everything he wished, for Francis Markrute, at
forty-six, had far more allurements than an impetuous young lover. Not a
tenderness, a subtlety of flattery and homage, those things so dear to a
woman's heart, were forgotten by him. He really worshiped Ethelrida and
his fashion of showing his feeling was in all ways to think first of
what she would wish; which proved that if her attitude were unmodern, as
far as women were concerned, his was even more so, among men!
Tristram had gone out for another walk alone, after the Crow had left
him. He wanted to realize the details of the coming week, and settle
with himself how best to get through with them.
He and Zara were to start in their own motor at about eleven for Wrayth,
which was only forty miles across the border into Suffolk. They would
reach it inside of two hours easily, and arrive at the first triumphal
arch of the park before one; and so go on through the shouting
villagers to the house, where in the great banqueting hall, which still
remained, a relic of Henry IV's time, joined on to the Norman keep, they
would have to assist at a great luncheon to the principal tenants, while
the lesser fry feasted in a huge tent in the outer courtyard.
Here, endless speeches would have to be made and listened to, and joy
simulated, and a general air of hilarity kept up; and the old
housekeeper would have prepared the large rooms in the Adam wing for
their reception; and they would not be free to separate, until late at
night, for there would be the servants' and employes' ball, after a
tete-a-tete dinner in state, where their every action would be watched
and commented upon by many curious eyes. Yes, it was a terrible ordeal
to go through, under the circumstances; and no wonder he wanted the
cold, frosty evening air to brace him up!
At the end of his troubled thoughts he had come to the conclusion that
there was only one thing to be done--he must speak to her to-night, tell
her what to expect, and ask her to play her part. "She is fortunately
game, even if cold as stone," he said to himself, "and if I appeal to
her pride, she will help me out." So he came back into the house, and
went straight up to her room. He had been through too much suffering and
anguish of heart, all night and all day, to be fearful of temptation. He
felt numb, as he knocked at the door and an indifferent voice called
out, "Come in!"
He opened it a few inches and said: "It is I--Tristram--I have something
I must say to you--May I come in?--or would you prefer to come down to
one of the sitting-rooms? I dare say we could find one empty, so as to
"Please come in," her voice said, and she was conscious that she was
trembling from head to foot.
So he obeyed her, shutting the door firmly after him and advancing to
the fireplace. She had been lying upon the sofa wrapped in a soft blue
tea-gown, and her hair hung in the two long plaits, which she always
unwound when she could to take its weight from her head. She rose from
her reclining position and sat in the corner; and after glancing at her
for a second, Tristram turned his eyes away, and leaning on the
mantelpiece, began in a cold grave voice:
"I have to ask you to do me a favor. It is to help me through to-morrow
and the few days after, as best you can, by conforming to our ways. It
has been always the custom in the family, when a Tancred brought home
his bride, to have all sorts of silly rejoicings. There will be
triumphal arches in the park, and collections of village people, a lunch
for the principal tenants, speeches, and all sorts of boring things.
Then we shall have to dine alone in the state dining-room, with all the
servants watching us, and go to the household and tenants' ball in the
great hall. It will all be ghastly, as you can see." He paused a moment,
but he did not change the set tone in his voice when he spoke again, nor
did he look at her. He had now come to the hardest part of his task.
"All these people--who are my people," he went on, "think a great deal
of these things, and of us--that is--myself, as their landlord, and you
as my wife. We have always been friends, the country folk at Wrayth and
my family, and they adored my mother. They are looking forward to our
coming back and opening the house again--and--and--all that--and--" here
he paused a second time, it seemed as if his throat were dry, for
suddenly the remembrance of his dreams as he looked at Tristram
Guiscard's armor, which he had worn at Agincourt, came back to him--his
dreams in his old oak-paneled room--of their home-coming to Wrayth; and
the mockery of the reality hit him in the face.
Zara clasped her hands, and if he had glanced at her again, he would
have seen all the love and anguish which was convulsing her shining in
her sad eyes.
He mastered the emotion which had hoarsened his voice, and went on in an
even tone: "What I have to ask is that you will do your share--wear some
beautiful clothes, and smile, and look as if you cared; and if I feel
that it will be necessary to take your hand or even kiss you, do not
frown at me, or think I am doing it from choice--I ask you, because I
believe you are as proud as I am,--I ask you, please, to play the game."
And now he looked up at her, but the terrible emotion she was suffering
had made her droop her head. He would not kiss her or take her
hand--from choice--that was the main thing her woman's heart had
grasped, the main thing, which cut her like a knife.
"You can count upon me," she said, so low he could hardly hear her; and
then she raised her head proudly, and looked straight in front of her,
but not at him, while she repeated more firmly: "I will do in every way
what you wish--what your mother would have done. I am no weakling, you
know, and as you said, I am as proud as yourself."
He dared not look at her, now the bargain was made, so he took a step
towards the door, and then turned and said:
"I thank you--I shall be grateful to you. Whatever may occur, please
believe that nothing that may look as if it was my wish to throw us
together, as though we were really husband and wife, will be my fault;
and you can count upon my making the thing as easy for you as I can--and
when the mockery of the rejoicings are over--then we can discuss our
And though Zara was longing to cry aloud in passionate pain, "I love
you! I love you! Come back and beat me, if you will, only do not go
coldly like that!" she spoke never a word. The strange iron habit of her
life held her, and he went sadly from the room.
And when he had gone, she could control herself no longer and, forgetful
of coming maid and approaching dinner, she groveled on the white
bearskin rug before the fire, and gave way to passionate tears--only to
recollect in a moment the position of things. Then she got up and shook
with passion against fate, and civilization, and custom--against the
whole of life. She could not even cry in peace. No! She must play the
game! So her eyes had to be bathed, the window opened, and the icy air
breathed in, and at last she had quieted herself down to the look of a
person with a headache, when the dressing-gong sounded, and her maid
came into the room.
This, the last dinner at Montfitchet, passed more quietly than the rest.
The company were perhaps subdued, from their revels of the night before;
and every one hates the thought of breaking up a delightful party and
separating on the morrow, even when it has only been a merry gathering
And two people were divinely happy, and two people supremely sad, and
one mean little heart was full of bitterness and malice unassuaged. So
after dinner was over, and they were all once more in the white
drawing-room, the different elements assorted themselves.
Lady Anningford took Tristram aside and began, with great tact and much
feeling, to see if he could be cajoled into a better mood; and finally
got severely snubbed for her trouble, which hurt her more because she
realized how deep must be his pain than from any offense to herself.
Then Laura caught him and implanted her last sting:
"You are going away to-morrow, Tristram,--into your new life--and when
you have found out all about your wife--and her handsome friend--you may
remember that there was one woman who loved you truly--" and then she
moved on and left him sitting there, too raging to move.
After this, his uncle had joined him, had talked politics, and just at
the end, for the hearty old gentleman could not believe a man could
really be cold or indifferent to as beautiful a piece of flesh and blood
as his new niece, he had said:
"Tristram, my dear boy,--I don't know whether it is the modern
spirit--or not--but, if I were you, I'd be hanged if I would let that
divine creature, your wife, out of my sight day or night!--When you get
her alone at Wrayth, just kiss her until she can't breathe--and you'll
find it is all right!"
With which absolutely sensible advice, he had slapped his nephew on the
back, fixed in his eyeglass, and walked off; and Tristram had stood
there, his blue eyes hollow with pain, and had laughed a bitter laugh,
and gone to play bridge, which he loathed, with the Meltons and Mrs.
Harcourt. So for him, the evening had passed.
And Francis Markrute had taken his niece aside to give her his bit of
salutary information. He wished to get it over as quickly as possible,
and had drawn her to a sofa rather behind a screen, where they were not
too much observed.
"We have all had a most delightful visit, I am sure, Zara," he had said,
"but you and Tristram seem not to be yet as good friends as I could
He paused a moment, but as usual she did not speak, so he went on:
"There is one thing you might as well know, I believe you have not
realized it yet, unless Tristram has told you of it himself."
She looked up now, startled--of what was she ignorant then?
"You may remember the afternoon I made the bargain with you about the
marriage," Francis Markrute went on. "Well, that afternoon Tristram,
your husband, had refused my offer of you and your fortune with scorn.
He would never wed a rich woman he said, or a woman he did not know or
love, for any material gain; but I knew he would think differently when
he had seen how beautiful and attractive you were, so I continued to
make my plans. You know my methods, my dear niece."
Zara's blazing and yet pitiful eyes were all his answer.
"Well, I calculated rightly. He came to dinner that night, and fell
madly in love with you, and at once asked to marry you himself, while he
insisted upon your fortune being tied up entirely upon you, and any
children that you might have, only allowing me to pay off the mortgages
on Wrayth for himself. It would be impossible for a man to have behaved
more like a gentleman. I thought now, in case you had not grasped all
this, you had better know." And then he said anxiously, "Zara--my dear
child--what is the matter?" for her proud head had fallen forward on her
breast, with a sudden deadly faintness. This, indeed, was the filling of
His voice pulled her together, and she sat up; and to the end of his
life, Francis Markrute will never like to remember the look in her eyes.
"And you let me go on and marry him, playing this cheat? You let me go
on and spoil both our lives! What had I ever done to you, my uncle, that
you should be so cruel to me? Or is it to be revenged upon my mother for
the hurt she brought to your pride?"
If she had reproached him, stormed at him, anything, he could have borne
it better; but the utter lifeless calm of her voice, the hopeless look
in her beautiful white face, touched his heart--that heart but newly
unwrapped and humanized from its mummifying encasements by the
omnipotent God of Love. Had he, after all, been too coldly calculating
about this human creature of his own flesh and blood? Was there some
insurmountable barrier grown up from his action? For the first moment in
his life he was filled with doubt and fear.
"Zara," he said, anxiously, "tell me, dear child, what you mean? I let
you go on in the 'cheat,' as you call it, because I knew you never would
consent to the bargain, unless you thought it was equal on both sides. I
know your sense of honor, dear, but I calculated, and I thought rightly,
that, Tristram being so in love with you, he would soon undeceive you,
directly you were alone. I never believed a woman could be so cold as to
resist his wonderful charm--Zara--what has happened?--'Won't you tell
But she sat there turned to stone. She had no thought to reproach him.
Her heart and her spirit seemed broken, that was all.
"Zara--would you like me to do anything? Can I explain anything to him?
Can I help you to be happy? I assure you it hurts me awfully, if this
will not turn out all right--Zara," for she had risen a little
unsteadily from her seat beside him. "You cannot be indifferent to him
for ever--he is too splendid a man. Cannot I do anything for you, my
Then she looked at him, and her eyes in their deep tragedy seemed to
burn out of her deadly white face.
"No, thank you, my uncle,--there is nothing to be done--everything is
now too late." Then she added in the same monotonous voice, "I am very
tired, I think I will wish you a good night." And with immense dignity,
she left him; and making her excuses with gentle grace to the Duke and
Lady Ethelrida, she glided from the room.
And Francis Markrute, as he watched her, felt his whole being wrung with
emotion and pain.
"My God!" he said to himself. "She is a glorious woman, and it will--it
must--come right--even yet."
And then he set his brain to calculate how he could assist them, and
finally his reasoning powers came back to him, and he comforted himself
with the deductions he made.
She was going away alone with this most desirable young man into the
romantic environment of Wrayth. Human physical passion, to say the least
of it, was too strong to keep them apart for ever, so he could safely
leave the adjusting of this puzzle to the discretion of fate.
And Zara, freed at last from eye of friend or maid, collapsed on to the
white bearskin in front of the fire again, and tried to think. So she
had been offered as a chattel and been refused! Here her spirit burnt
with humiliation. Her uncle, she knew, always had used her merely as a
pawn in some game--what game? He was not a snob; the position of uncle
to Tristram would not have tempted him alone; he never did anything
without a motive and a deep one. Could it be that he himself was in love
with Lady Ethelrida? She had been too preoccupied with her own affairs
to be struck with those of others, but now as she looked back, he had
shown an interest which was not in his general attitude towards women.
How her mother had loved him, this wonderful brother! It was her abiding
grief always, his unforgiveness,--and perhaps, although it seemed
impossible to her, Lady Ethelrida was attracted by him, too. Yes, that
must be it. It was to be connected with the family, to make his position
stronger in the Duke's eyes, that he had done this cruel thing. But,
would it have been cruel if she herself had been human and different? He
had called her from struggling and poverty, had given her this splendid
young husband, and riches and place,--no, there was nothing cruel in it,
as a calculated action. It should have given her her heart's desire. It
was she, herself, who had brought about things as they were, because of
her ignorance, that was the cruelty, to have let her go away with
Tristram, in ignorance.
Then the aspect of the case that she had been offered to him and
refused! scourged her again; then the remembrance that he had taken her,
for love. And what motive could he imagine she had had? This struck her
for the first time--how infinitely more generous he had been--for he had
not allowed, what he must have thought was pure mercenariness and desire
for position on her part to interfere with his desire for her
personally. He had never turned upon her, as she saw now he very well
could have done, and thrown this in her teeth. And then she fell to
bitter sobbing, and so at last to sleep.
And when the fire had died out, towards the gray dawn, she woke again
shivering and in mortal fright, for she had dreamed of Mirko, and that
he was being torn from her, while he played the _Chanson Triste_. Then
she grew fully awake and remembered that this was the beginning of the
new day--the day she should go to her husband's home; and she had
accused him of all the base things a man could do, and he had behaved
like a gentleman; and it was she who was base, and had sold herself for
her brother's life, sold what should never be bartered for any life,
but only for love.
Well, there was nothing to be done, only to "play the game"--the
hackneyed phrase came back to her; he had used it, so it was sacred.
Yes, all she could do for him now was, to "play the game"--everything
else was--too late.
People left by all sorts of trains and motors in the morning; but there
were still one or two remaining, when the bride and bridegroom made
their departure, in their beautiful new car with its smart servants,
which had come to fetch them, and take them to Wrayth.
And, just as the Dover young ladies on the pier had admired their
embarkation, with its _apanages_ of position and its romantic look, so
every one who saw them leave Montfitchet was alike elated. They were
certainly an ideal pair.
Zara had taken the greatest pains to dress herself in her best. She
remembered Tristram had admired her the first evening they had arrived
for this visit, when she had worn sapphire blue, so now she put on the
same colored velvet and the sable coat--yes, he liked that best, too,
and she clasped some of his sapphire jewels in her ears and at her
throat. No bride ever looked more beautiful or distinguished, with her
gardenia complexion and red burnished hair, all set off by the velvet
and dark fur.
But Tristram, after the first glance, when she came down, never looked
at her--he dared not. So they said their farewells quietly; but there
was an extra warmth and tenderness in Ethelrida's kiss, as, indeed,
there was every reason that there should be. If Zara had known! But the
happy secret was still locked in the lovers' breasts.
"Of course it must come all right, they look so beautiful!" Ethelrida
exclaimed unconsciously, waving her last wave on the steps, as the motor
"Yes, it must indeed," whispered Francis, who was beside her, and she
turned and looked into his face.
"In twenty minutes, all the rest will be gone except the Crow, and
Emily, and Mary, and Lady Anningford, who are staying on; and oh,
Francis, how shall I get through the morning, knowing you are with
"I will come to your sitting-room just before luncheon time, my
dearest," he whispered back reassuringly. "Do not distress yourself--it
will be all right."
And so they all went back into the house, and Lady Anningford, who now
began to have grave suspicions, whispered to the Crow:
"I believe you are perfectly right, Crow. I am certain Ethelrida is in
love with Mr. Markrute! But surely the Duke would never permit such a
thing! A foreigner whom nobody knows anything of!"
"I never heard that there was any objection raised to Tristram marrying
his niece. The Duke seemed to welcome it, and some foreigners are very
good chaps," the Crow answered sententiously, "especially Austrians and
Russians; and he must be one of something of that sort. He has no
apparent touch of the Latin race. It's Latins I don't like."
"Well, I shall probably hear all about it from Ethelrida herself, now
that we are alone. I am so glad I decided to stay with the dear girl
until Wednesday, and you will have to wait till then, too, Crow."
"As ever, I am at your orders," he grunted, and lighting a cigar, he
subsided into a great chair to read the papers, while Lady Anningford
went on to the saloon. And presently, when all the departing guests
were gone, Ethelrida linked her arm in that of her dear friend, and drew
her with her up to her sitting-room.
"I have heaps to tell you, Anne!" she said, while she pushed her gently
into a big low chair, and herself sank into the corner of her sofa.
Ethelrida was not a person who curled up among pillows, or sat on rugs,
or little stools. All her movements, even in her most intimate moments
of affection with her friend, were dignified and reserved.
"Darling, I am thrilled," Lady Anningford responded, "and I guess it is
all about Mr. Markrute--and oh, Ethelrida, when did it begin?"
"He has been thinking of me for a long time, Anne--quite eighteen
months--but I--" she looked down, while a tender light grew in her face,
"I only began to be interested the night we dined with him--it is a
little more than a fortnight ago--the dinner for Tristram's engagement.
He said a number of things not like any one else, then, and he made me
think of him afterwards--and I saw him again at the wedding--and since
he has been here--and do you know, Anne, I have never loved any one
before in my life!"
"Ethelrida, you darling, I know you haven't!" and Anne bounded up and
gave her a hug. "And I knew you were perfectly happy, and had had a
blissful afternoon when you came down to tea yesterday. Your whole face
was changed, you pet!"
"Did I look so like a fool, Anne?" Ethelrida cried.
Then Lady Anningford laughed happily, as she answered with a roguish
"It was not exactly that, darling, but your dear cheeks were scarlet,
as though they had been exquisitely kissed!"
"Oh!" gasped Ethelrida, flaming pink, as she laughed and covered her
face with her hands.
"Perhaps he knows how to make love nicely--I am no judge of such
things--in any case, he makes me thrill. Anne, tell me, is that--that
curious sensation as though one were rather limp and yet quivering--is
that just how every one feels when they are in love?"
"Ethelrida, you sweet thing!" gurgled Anne.
Then Ethelrida told her friend about the present of books, and showed
them to her, and of all the subtlety of his ways, and how they appealed
"And oh, Anne, he makes me perfectly happy and sure of everything; and I
feel that I need never decide anything for myself again in my life!"
Which, taking it all round, was a rather suitable and fortunate
conviction for a man to have implanted in his lady love's breast, and
held out the prospect of much happiness in their future existence
"I think he is very nice looking," said Anne, "and he has the most
perfect clothes. I do like a man to have that groomed look, which I must
say most Englishmen have, but Tristram has it, especially, and Mr.
Markrute, too. If you knew the despair my old man is to me with his
indifference about his appearance. It is my only crumpled rose leaf,
with the dear old thing."
"Yes," agreed Ethelrida, "I like them to be smart--and above all, they
must have thick hair. Anne, have you noticed Francis' hair? It is so
nice, it grows on his forehead just as Zara's does. If he had been bald
like Papa, I could not have fallen in love with him!"
So once more the fate of a man was decided by his hair!
And during this exchange of confidences, while Emily and Mary took a
brisk walk with the Crow and young Billy, Francis Markrute faced his
lady's ducal father in the library.
He had begun without any preamble, and with perfect calm; and the Duke,
who was above all a courteous gentleman, had listened, first with silent
consternation and resentment, and then with growing interest.
Francis Markrute had manipulated infinitely more difficult situations,
when the balance of some of the powers of Europe depended upon his
nerve; but he knew, as he talked to this gallant old Englishman, that he
had never had so much at stake, and it stimulated him to do his best.
He briefly stated his history, which Ethelrida already knew; he made no
apology for his bar sinister; indeed, he felt none was needed. He knew,
and the Duke knew, that when a man has won out as he had done, such
things fade into space. And then with wonderful taste and discretion he
had but just alluded to his vast wealth, and that it would be so
perfectly administered through Lady Ethelrida's hands, for the good of
her order and of mankind.
And the Duke, accustomed to debate and the watching of methods in men,
could not help admiring the masterly reserve and force of this man.
And, finally, when the financier had finished speaking, the Duke rose
and stood before the fire, while he fixed his eyeglass in his eye.
"You have stated the case admirably, my dear Markrute," he said, in his
distinguished old voice. "You leave me without argument and with merely
my prejudices, which I dare say are unjust, but I confess they are
strongly in favor of my own countrymen and strongly against this
union--though, on the other hand, my daughter and her happiness are my
first consideration in this world. Ethelrida was twenty-six yesterday,
and she is a young woman of strong and steady character, unlikely to be
influenced by any foolish emotion. Therefore, if you have been fortunate
enough to find favor in her eyes--if the girl loves you, in short, my
dear fellow, then I have nothing to say.--Let us ring and have a glass
And presently the two men, now with the warmest friendship in their
hearts for one another, mounted the staircase to Lady Ethelrida's room,
and there found her still talking to Anne.
Her sweet eyes widened with a question as the two appeared at the door,
and then she rushed into her father's arms and buried her face in his
coat; and with his eyeglass very moist, the old Duke kissed her
fondly--as he muttered.
"Why, Ethelrida, my little one. This is news! If you are happy, darling,
that is all I want!"
So the whole dreaded moment passed off with rejoicing, and presently
Lady Anningford and the fond father made their exit, and left the lovers
"Oh, Francis, isn't the world lovely!" murmured Ethelrida from the
shelter of his arms. "Papa and I have always been so happy together, and
now we shall be three, because you understand him, too, and you won't
make me stay away from him for very long times, will you, dear?"
"Never, my sweet. I thought of asking the Duke, if you would wish it, to
let me take the place from him in this county, which eventually comes to
you, and I will keep on Thorpmoor, my house in Lincolnshire, merely for
the shooting. Then you would feel you were always in your own home, and
perhaps the Duke would spend much time with us, and we could come to him
here, in an hour; but all this is merely a suggestion--everything shall
be as you wish."
"Francis, you are good to me," she said.
"Darling," he whispered, as he kissed her hair, "it took me forty-six
years to find my pearl of price."
Then they settled all kinds of other details: how he would give Zara,
for her own, the house in Park Lane, which would not be big enough now
for them; and he would purchase one of those historic mansions, looking
on The Green Park, which he knew was soon to be in the market.
Ethelrida, if she left the ducal roof for the sake of his love, should
find a palace worthy of her acceptance waiting for her.
He had completely recovered his balance, upset a little the night before
by the uncomfortable momentary fear about his niece.
She and Tristram had arranged to come up to Park Lane for two nights
again at the end of the week, to say good-bye to the Dowager Lady
Tancred, who was starting with her daughters for Cannes. If he should
see then that things were still amiss, he would tell Tristram the whole
history of what Zara had thought of him. Perhaps that might throw some
light on her conduct towards him, and so things could be cleared up. But
he pinned his whole faith on youth and propinquity to arrange matters
before then, and dismissed it from his mind.
Meanwhile, the pair in question were speeding along to Wrayth.
Of all the ordeals of the hours which Tristram had had to endure since
his wedding, these occasions, upon which he had to sit close beside her
in a motor, were the worst. An ordinary young man, not in love with her,
would have found something intoxicating in her atmosphere--and how much
more this poor Tristram, who was passionately obsessed.
Fortunately, she liked plenty of window open and did not object to
smoke; but with the new air of meekness which was on her face and the
adorably attractive personal scent of the creature, nearly two hours
with her, under a sable rug, was no laughing matter.
At the end of the first half hour of silence and nearness, her husband
found he was obliged to concentrate his mind by counting sheep jumping
over imaginary stiles to prevent himself from clasping her in his arms.
It was the same old story, which has been chronicled over and over
again. Two young, human, natural, normal people fighting against iron
bars. For Zara felt the same as he, and she had the extra anguish of
knowing she had been unjust, and that the present impossible situation
was entirely her own doing.
And how to approach the subject and confess her fault? She did not know.
Her sense of honor made her feel she must, but the queer silent habit of
her life was still holding her enchained. And so, until they got into
his own country, the strained speechlessness continued, and then he
looked out and said:
"We must have the car opened now--please smile and bow as we go through
the villages when any of the old people curtsey to you; the young ones
won't do it, I expect, but my mother's old friends may."
So Zara leaned forward, when the footman had opened the landaulette top,
and tried to look radiant.
And the first act of this pitiful comedy began.
Every sort of emotion convulsed the new Lady Tancred's heart, as they
began to get near the park, with the village nestling close to its gates
on the far side. So this was the home of her love and her lord; and they
ought to be holding hands, and approaching it and the thought of their
fond life together there with full hearts,--well, her heart was full
enough, but only of anguish and pain. For Tristram, afraid of the
smallest unbending, maintained a freezing attitude of contemptuous
disdain, which she could not yet pluck up enough courage to break
through to tell him she knew how unjust and unkind she had been.
And presently they came through cheering yokels to the South Lodge, the
furthest away from the village, and so under a triumphant arch of
evergreens, with banners floating and mottoes of "God Bless the Bride
and Bridegroom" and "Health and Long Life to Lord and Lady Tancred." And
now Tristram did take her hand and, indeed, put his arm round her as
they both stood up for a moment in the car, while raising his hat and
waving it gayly he answered graciously:
"My friends, Lady Tancred and I thank you so heartily for your kind
wishes and welcome home."
Then they sat down, and the car went on, and his face became rigid
again, as he let go her hand.
And at the next arch by the bridge, the same thing, only more
elaborately carried out, began again, for here were all the farmers of
the hunt, of which Tristram was a great supporter, on horseback; and the
cheering and waving knew no end. The cavalcade of mounted men followed
them round outside the Norman tower and to the great gates in the
smaller one, where the portcullis had been.
Here all the village children were, and the old women from the
almshouse, in their scarlet frieze cloaks and charming black bonnets;
and every sort of wish for their happiness was shouted out. "Bless the
beautiful bride and bring her many little lords and ladies, too," one
old body quavered shrilly, above the din, and this pleasantry was
greeted with shouts of delight. And for that second Tristram dropped his
lady's hand as though it had burnt him, and then, recollecting himself,
picked it up again. They were both pale with excitement and emotion,
when they finally reached the hall-door in the ugly, modern Gothic wing
and were again greeted by all the household servants in rows, two of
them old and gray-haired, who had stayed on to care for things when the
house had been shut up. There was Michelham back at his master's old
home, only promoted to be groom of the chambers, now, with a smart
younger butler under him.
Tristram was a magnificent orderer, and knew exactly how things ought to
And the stately housekeeper, in her black silk, stepped forward, and in
the name of herself and her subordinates, bade the new mistress welcome,
and hoping she was not fatigued, presented her with a bouquet of white
roses. "Because his lordship told us all, when he was here making the
arrangements, that your ladyship was as beautiful as a white rose!"
And tears welled up in Zara's eyes and her voice trembled, as she
thanked them and tried to smile.
"She was quite overcome, the lovely young lady," they told one another
afterwards, "and no wonder. Any woman would be mad after his lordship.
It is quite to be understood."
How they all loved him, the poor bride thought, and he had told them she
was a beautiful white rose. He felt like that about her then, and she
had thrown it all away. Now he looked upon her with loathing and
disdain, and no wonder either--there was nothing to be done.
Presently, he took her hand again and placed it on his arm, as they
walked through the long corridor, to the splendid hall, built by the
brothers Adam, with its stately staircase to the gallery above.
"I have prepared the state rooms for your ladyship, pending your
ladyship's choice of your own," Mrs. Anglin said. "Here is the boudoir,
the bedroom, the bathroom, and his lordship's dressing-room--all en
suite--and I hope your ladyship will find them as handsome, as we old
servants of the family think they are!"
And Zara came up to the scratch and made a charming little speech.
When they got to the enormous bedroom, with its windows looking out on
the French garden and park, all in exquisite taste, furnished and
decorated by the Adams themselves, Tristram gallantly bent and kissed
her hand, as he said:
"I will wait for you in the boudoir, while you take off your coat. Mrs.
Anglin will show you the toilet-service of gold, which was given by
Louis XIV to a French grandmother and which the Ladies Tancred always
use, when they are at Wrayth. I hope you won't find the brushes too
hard," and he laughed and went out.
And Zara, overcome with the state and beauty and tradition of it all,
sat down upon the sofa for a moment to try to control her pain. She was
throbbing with rage and contempt at herself, at the remembrance that
she, in her ignorance, her ridiculous ignorance, had insulted this
man--this noble gentleman, who owned all these things--and had taunted
him with taking her for her uncle's wealth.
How he must have loved her in the beginning to have been willing to give
her all this, after seeing her for only one night. She writhed with
anguish. There is no bitterness as great as the bitterness of loss
caused by oneself.
Tristram was standing by the window of the delicious boudoir when she
went in. Zara, who as yet knew very little of English things, admired
the Adam style; and when Mrs. Anglin left them discreetly for a moment,
she told him so, timidly, for something to say.
"Yes, it is rather nice," he said stiffly, and then went on: "We shall
have to go down now to this fearful lunch, but you had better take your
sable boa with you. The great hall is so enormous and all of stone, it
may be cold. I will get it for you," and he went back and found it lying
by her coat on the chair, and brought it, and wrapped it round her
casually, as if she had been a stone, and then held the door for her to
go out. And Zara's pride was stung, even though she knew he was doing
exactly as she herself would have done, so that instead of the meek
attitude she had unconsciously assumed, for a moment now she walked
beside him with her old mien of head in the air, to the admiration of
Mrs. Anglin, who watched them descend the stairs.
"She is as haughty-looking as our own ladyship," she thought to herself.
"I wonder how his lordship likes that!"
The great hall was a survival of the time of Henry IV with its dais to
eat above the salt, and a magnificent stone fireplace, and an oak screen
and gallery of a couple of centuries later. The tables were laid down
each side, as in the olden time, and across the dais; and here, in the
carved oak "Lord" and "Lady" chairs, the bride and bridegroom sat with a
principal tenant and his wife on either side of them, while the powdered
footmen served them with lunch.
And all the time, when one or two comic incidents happened, she longed
to look at Tristram and laugh; but he maintained his attitude of cold
reserve, only making some genial stereotyped remark, when it was
necessary for the public effect.
And presently the speeches began, and this was the most trying moment of
all. For the land-steward, who proposed their healths, said such nice
things; and Zara realized how they all loved her lord, and her anger at
herself grew and grew. In each speech from different tenants there was
some intimate friendly allusion about herself, too, linking her always
with Tristram; and these parts hurt her particularly.
Then Tristram rose to answer them in his name and hers. He made a
splendid speech, telling them that he had come back to live among them
and had brought them a beautiful new Lady--and here he turned to her a
moment and took and kissed her hand--and how he would always think of
all their interests in every way; and that he looked upon them as his
dear old friends; and that he and Lady Tancred would always endeavor to
promote their welfare, as long as the radicals--here he laughed, for
they were all true blue to a man--would let them! And when voices
shouted, "We want none of them rats here," he was gay and chaffed them;
and finally sat down amidst yells of applause.
Then an old apple-cheeked farmer got up from far down the table and made
a long rambling harangue, about having been there, man and boy, and his
forbears before him, for a matter of two hundred years; but he'd take
his oath they had none of them ever seen such a beautiful bride brought
to Wrayth as they were welcoming now; and he drank to her ladyship's
health, and hoped it would not be long before they would have another
and as great a feast for the rejoicings over the son and heir!
At this deplorable bit of bucolic wit and hearty taste, Tristram's face
went stern as death; and he bit his lips, while his bride became the
color of the red roses on the table in front of her.
Thus the luncheon passed. And amidst countless hand-shakes of affection,
accelerated by port wine and champagne, the bride and bridegroom,
followed by the land-steward and a chosen few, went to receive and
return the same sort of speeches among the lesser people in the tent.
Here the allusions to marital felicity were even more glaring, and Zara
saw that each time Tristram heard them, an instantaneous gleam of bitter
sarcasm would steal into his eyes. So, worn out at last with the heat in
the tent and the emotions of the day, at about five, the bridegroom was
allowed to conduct his bride to tea in the boudoir of the state rooms.
Thus they were alone, and now was Zara's time to make her confession, if
it ever should come.
Tristram's resolve had held him, nothing could have been more gallingly
cold and disdainful than had been his treatment of her, so perfect, in
its acting for 'the game,' and, so bitter, in the humiliation of the
between times. She would tell him of her mistake. That was all. She must
guard herself against showing any emotion over it.
They each sank down into chairs beside the fire with sighs of relief.
"Good Lord!" he said, as he put his hand to his forehead. "What a
hideous mockery the whole thing is, and not half over yet! I am afraid
you must be tired. You ought to go and rest until dinner--when, please
be very magnificent and wear some of the jewels--part of them have come
down from London on purpose, I think, beyond those you had at
"Yes, I will," she answered, listlessly, and began to pour out the tea,
while he sat quite still staring into the fire, a look of utter
weariness and discouragement upon his handsome face.
Everything about the whole thing was hurting him so, all the pleasure he
had taken in the improvements and the things he had done, hoping to
please her; and now, as he saw them about, each one stabbed him afresh.
She gave him his cup without a word. She had remembered from Paris his
tastes in cream and sugar; and then as the icy silence continued, she
could bear it no longer.
"Tristram," she said, in as level a voice as she could. At the sound of
his name he looked at her startled. It was the first time she had ever
She lowered her head and, clasping her hands, she went on constrainedly,
so overcome with emotion she dared not let herself go. "I want to tell
you something, and ask you to forgive me. I have learned the truth, that
you did not marry me just for my uncle's money. I know exactly what
really happened now. I am ashamed, humiliated, to remember what I said
to you. But I understood you had agreed to the bargain before you had
ever seen me. The whole thing seemed so awful to me--so revolting--I am
sorry for what I taunted you with. I know now that you are really a
His face, if she had looked up and seen it, had first all lightened with
hope and love; but as she went on coldly, the warmth died out of it, and
a greater pain than ever filled his heart. So she knew now, and yet she
did not love him. There was no word of regret for the rest of her
taunts, that he had been an animal, and the blow in his face! The
recollection of this suddenly lashed him again, and made him rise to his
feet, all the pride of his race flooding his being once more.
He put down his tea-cup on the mantelpiece untasted, and then said
"I married you because I loved you, and no man has ever regretted a
Then he turned round, and walked slowly from the room.
And Zara, left alone, felt that the end had come.
A pale and most unhappy bride awaited her bridegroom in the boudoir at a
few minutes to eight o'clock. She felt perfectly lifeless, as though she
had hardly enough will left even to act her part. The white satin of her
dress was not whiter than her face. The head gardener had sent up some
splendid gardenias for her to wear and the sight of them pained her, for
were not these the flowers that Tristram had brought her that evening of
her wedding day, not a fortnight ago, and that she had then thrown into
the grate. She pinned some in mechanically, and then let the maid clasp
the diamonds round her throat and a band of them in her hair. They were
so very beautiful, and she had not seen them before; she could not thank
him for them even--all conversation except before people was now at an
end. Then, for her further unhappiness, she remembered he had said:
"When the mockery of the rejoicings is over then we can discuss our
future plans." What did that mean? That he wished to separate from her,
she supposed. How could circumstance be so cruel to her! What had she
done? Then she sat down for a moment while she waited, and clenched her
hands. And all the passionate resentment her deep nature was capable of
surged up against fate, so that she looked more like the black panther
than ever, and her mood had only dwindled into a sullen smoldering
rage--while she still sat in the peculiar, concentrated attitude of an
animal waiting to spring--when Tristram opened the door, and came in.
The sight of her thus, looking so unEnglish, so barbaric, suddenly
filled him with the wild excitement of the lion hunt again. Could
anything be more diabolically attractive? he thought, and for a second,
the idea flashed across him that he would seize her to-night and treat
her as if she were the panther she looked, conquer her by force, beat
her if necessary, and then kiss her to death! Which plan, if he had
carried it out, in this case, would have been very sensible, but the
training of hundreds of years of chivalry toward women and things weaker
than himself was still in his blood. For Tristram, twenty-fourth Baron
Tancred, was no brute or sensualist, but a very fine specimen of his
fine, old race.
So, his heart beating with some uncontrollable excitement, and her heart
filled with smoldering rage, they descended the staircase, arm in arm,
to the admiration of peeping housemaids and the pride of her own maid.
And the female servants all rushed to the balustrade to get a better
view of the delightful scene which, they had heard whispered among them,
was a custom of generations in the family--that when the Lord of Wrayth
first led his lady into the state dining-room for their first dinner
alone he should kiss her before whoever was there, and bid her welcome
to her new home. And to see his lordship, whom they all thought the
handsomest young gentleman they had ever seen, kiss her ladyship, would
be a thrill of the most agreeable kind!
What would their surprise have been, could they have heard him say icily
to his bride as he descended the stairs:
"There is a stupid custom that I must kiss you as we go into the
dining-room, and give you this little golden key--a sort of ridiculous
emblem of the endowment of all the worldly goods business. The servants
are, of course, looking at us, so please don't start." Then he glanced
up and saw the rows of interested, excited faces; and that
devil-may-care, rollicking boyishness which made him so adored came over
him, and he laughed up at them, and waved his hand: and Zara's rage
turned to wild excitement, too. There would be the walk across the hall
of sixty paces, and then he would kiss her. What would it be like? In
those sixty paces her face grew more purely white, while he came to the
resolve that for this one second he would yield to temptation and not
only brush her forehead with his lips, as had been his intention, but
for once--just for this once--he would kiss her mouth. He was past
caring about the footmen seeing. It was his only chance.
So when they came to the threshold of the big, double doors he bent down
and drew her to him, and gave her the golden key. And then he pressed
his warm, young, passionate lips to hers. Oh! the mad joy of it! And
even if it were only from duty and to play the game, she had not
resisted him as upon that other occasion. He felt suddenly, absolutely
intoxicated, as he had done on the wedding night. Why, why must this
ghastly barrier be between them? Was there nothing to be done? Then he
looked at his bride as they advanced to the table, and he saw that she
was so deadly white that he thought she was going to faint. For
intoxication, affects people in different ways; for her, the kiss had
seemed the sweetness of death.
"Give her ladyship some champagne immediately," he ordered the butler,
and, still with shining eyes, he looked at her, and said gently, "for
we must drink our own healths."
But Zara never raised her lids, only he saw that her little nostrils
were quivering, and by the rise and fall of her beautiful bosom he knew
that her heart must be beating as madly as was his own--and a wild
triumph filled him. Whatever the emotion she was experiencing, whether
it was anger, or disdain, or one he did not dare to hope for, it was a
considerably strong one; she was, then, not so icily cold! How he wished
there were some more ridiculous customs in his family! How he wished he
might order the servants out of the room, and begin to make love to her
all alone. And just out of the devilment which was now in his blood he
took the greatest pleasure in "playing the game," and while the solemn
footmen's watchful eyes were upon them, he let himself go and was
charming to her; and then, each instant they were alone he made himself
freeze again, so that she could not say he was not keeping to the
bargain. Thus in wild excitement for them both the dinner passed. With
her it was alternate torture and pleasure as well, but with him, for the
first time since his wedding, there was not any pain. For he felt he was
affecting her, even if she were only "playing the game." And gradually,
as the time went on and dessert was almost come, the conviction grew in
Zara's brain that he was torturing her on purpose, overdoing the part
when the servants were looking; for had he not told her but three hours
before that he _had_ loved her--using the past tense--and no man
regretted a thing more! Perhaps--was it possible--he had seen when he
kissed her that she loved him! And he was just punishing her, and
laughing at his dominion over her in his heart; so her pride took fire
at once. Well, she would not be played with! He would see she could
keep to a bargain; and be icy, too, when the play was over. So when at
last the servants had left the room, before coffee was brought, she
immediately stiffened and fell into silence; and the two stared in front
of them, and back over him crept the chill. Yes, there was no use
deceiving himself. He had had his one moment of bliss, and now his
purgatory would begin again.
Thus the comedy went on. Soon they had to go and open the ball, and they
both won golden opinions from their first partners--hers, the stalwart
bailiff, and his, the bailiff's wife.
"Although she is a foreigner, Agnes," Mr. Burrs said to his life's
partner when they got home, "you'd hardly know it, and a lovelier lady I
have never seen."
"She couldn't be too lovely for his lordship," his wife retorted. "Why,
William, he made me feel young again!"
The second dance the bridal pair were supposed to dance together; and
then when they should see the fun in full swing they were supposed to
slip away, because it was considered quite natural that they might wish
to be alone.
"You will have to dance with me now, I am afraid, Zara," Tristram said,
and, without waiting for her answer, he placed his arm round her and
began the valse. And the mad intoxication grew again in both of them,
and they went on, never stopping, in a wild whirl of
delight--unreasoning, passionate delight--until the music ceased.
Then Zara who, by long years of suffering, was the more controlled,
pulled herself together first, and, with that ingrained instinct to
defend herself and her secret love, and to save his possible true
construction of her attitude, said stiffly:
"I suppose we can go now. I trust you think that I have 'played the
"Too terribly well," he said--stung back to reality. "It shows me what
we have irreparably lost." And he gave her his arm and, passed down the
lane of admiring and affectionate guests to their part of the house; and
at the door of the boudoir he left her without a word.
So, with the bride in lonely anguish in the great state bed, the night
of the home-coming passed, and the morrow dawned.
For thus the God of Pride makes fools of his worshipers.
* * * * *
It poured with rain the next day, but the same kind of thing went on for
the different grades of those who lived under the wing of the Tancred
name, and neither bride nor bridegroom failed in their roles, and the
icy coldness between them increased. They had drawn upon themselves an
atmosphere of absolute restraint and it seemed impossible to exchange
even ordinary conversation; so that at this, their second dinner, they
hardly even kept up a semblance before the household servants, and,
being free from feasting, Zara retired almost immediately the coffee had
come. One of the things Tristram had said to her before she left the
"To-morrow if it is fine you had better see the gardens and really go
over the house, if you wish. The housekeeper and the gardeners will
think it odd if you don't! How awful it is to have to conform to
convention!" he went on. "It would be good to be a savage again. Well,
perhaps I shall be, some day soon."
Then as she paused in her starting for the door to hear what he had
further to say, he continued:
"They let us have a day off to-morrow; they think, quite naturally, we
require a rest. So if you will be ready about eleven I will show you the
gardens and the parts my mother loved--it all looks pretty dreary this
time of the year, but it can't be helped."
"I will be ready," Zara said.
"Then there is the Address from the townspeople at Wrayth, on Thursday,"
he continued, while he walked toward the door to open it for her, "and
on Friday we go up to London to say good-bye to my mother. I hope you
have not found it all too impossibly difficult, but it will soon be over
"The whole of life is difficult," she answered, "and one never knows
what it is for, or why?" And then without anything further she went out
of the door, and so upstairs and through all the lonely corridors to the
boudoir. And here she opened the piano for the first time, and tried it;
and finding it good she sat a long time playing her favorite airs--but
not the _Chanson Triste_--she felt she could not bear that.
The music talked to her: what was her life going to be? What if, in the
end, she could not control her love? What if it should break down her
pride, and let him see that she regretted her past action and only
longed to be in his arms. For her admiration and respect for him were
growing each hour, as she discovered new traits in him, individually,
and began to understand what he meant to all these people whose lord he
was. How little she had known of England, her own father's country! How
ridiculously little she had really known of men, counting them all
brutes like Ladislaus and his friends, or feckless fools like poor
Mimo! What an impossible attitude was this one she had worn always of
arrogant ignorance! Something should have told her that these people
were not like that. Something should have warned her, when she first saw
him, that Tristram was a million miles above anything in the way of his
sex that she had yet known. Then she stopped playing, and deliberately
went over and looked in the glass. Yes, she was certainly beautiful, and
quite young. She might live until she were seventy or eighty, in the
natural course of events, and the whole of life would be one long,
dreary waste if she might not have her Love. After all, pride was not
worth so very much. Suppose she were very gentle to him, and tried to
please him in just a friendly way, that would not be undignified nor
seem to be throwing herself at his head. She would begin to-morrow, if
she could. Then she remembered Lady Ethelrida's words at the dinner
party--was it possible that was only three weeks ago this very
night--the words that she had spoken so unconsciously, when she had
showed so plainly the family feeling about Tristram and Cyril being the
last in the male line of Tancred of Wrayth. She remembered how she had
been angered and up in arms then, and now a whole education had passed
over her, and she fully understood and sympathized with their point of
And at this stage of her meditations her eyes grew misty as they gazed
into distance, and all soft; and the divine expression of the Sistine
Madonna grew in them, as it grew always when she held Mirko in her arms.
Yes, there were things in life which mattered far, far more than pride.
And so, comforted by her resolutions, she at last went to bed.
And Tristram sat alone by the fire in his own sitting-room, and stared
at that other Tristram Guiscard's armor. And he, too, came to a
resolution, but not of the same kind. He would speak to Francis Markrute
when they arrived on Friday night and he could get him quietly alone. He
would tell him that the whole thing was a ghastly failure, but as he had
only himself to blame for entering into it he did not intend to reproach
any one. Only, he would frankly ask him to use his clever brain and
invent some plan that he and Zara could separate, without scandal, until
such time as he should grow indifferent, and so could come back and
casually live in the house with her. He was only a human man, he
admitted, and the present arrangement was impossible to bear. He was
past the anguish of the mockery of everything to-night--he was simply
numb. Then some waiting fiend made him think of Laura and her last
words. What if there were some truth in them after all? He had himself
seen the man twice, under the most suspicious circumstances. What if he
were her lover? How could Francis Markrute know of all her existence,
when he had said she had been an immaculate wife? And gradually, on top
of his other miseries, trifles light as air came and tortured him until
presently he had worked up a whole chain of evidence, proving the lover
theory to be correct!
Then he shook in his chair with rage, and muttered between his teeth:
"If I find this is true then I will kill him, and kill her, also!"
So near to savages are all human beings, when certain passions are
aroused. And neither bride nor bridegroom guessed that fate would soon
take things out of their hands and make their resolutions null and
The gardens at Wrayth were famous. The natural beauty of their position
and the endless care of generations of loving mistresses had left them a
monument of what nature can be trained into by human skill. They had
also in the eighteenth century by some happy chance escaped the hand of
Capability Brown. And instead of pulling about and altering the taste of
the predecessor the successive owners had used fresh ground for their
fancies. Thus the English rose-garden and the Dutch-clipped yews of
William-and-Mary's time were as intact as the Italian parterre.
But November is not the time to judge of gardens, and Tristram wished
the sun would come out. He waited for his bride at the foot of the Adam
staircase, and, at eleven, she came down. He watched her as she put one
slender foot before the other in her descent, he had not noticed before
how ridiculously inadequate they were--just little bits of baby feet,
even in her thick walking-boots. She certainly knew how to dress--and
adapt herself to the customs of a country. Her short, serge frock and
astrakhan coat and cap were just the things for the occasion; and she
looked so attractive and chic, with her hands in her monster muff, he
began to have that pain again of longing for her, so he said icily:
"The sky is gray and horrid. You must not judge of things as you will
see them to-day; it is all really rather nice in the summer."
"I am sure it is," she answered meekly, and then could not think of
anything else to say, so they walked on in silence through the courtyard
and round under a deep, arched doorway in the Norman wall to the
southern side of the Adam erection, with its pillars making the
centerpiece. The beautiful garden stretched in front of them. This
particular part was said to have been laid out from plans of Le Notre,
brought there by that French Lady Tancred who had been the friend of
Louis XIV. There were traces of her all over the house--Zara found
afterwards. It was a most splendid and stately scene even in the dull
November gloom, with the groups of statuary, and the _tapis vert_, and
the general look of Versailles. The vista was immense. She could see far
beyond, down an incline, through a long clearing in the park, far away
to the tower of Wrayth church.
"How beautiful it all is!" she said, with bated breath, and clasped her
hands in her muff. "And how wonderful to have the knowledge that your
family has been here always, and these splendid things are their
creation. I understand that you must be a very proud man."
This was almost the longest speech he had ever heard her make, in
ordinary conversation--the first one that contained any of her thoughts.
He looked at her startled for a moment, but his resolutions of the night
before and his mood of suspicion caused him to remain unmoved. He was
numb with the pain of being melted one moment with hope and frozen again
the next; it had come to a pass now that he would not let himself
respond. She could almost have been as gracious as she pleased, out in
this cold, damp air, and he would have remained aloof.
"Yes, I suppose I am a proud man," he said, "but it is not much good to
me; one becomes a cynic, as one grows older."
Then with casual indifference he began to explain to her all about the
gardens and their dates, as they walked along, just as though he were
rather bored but acting cicerone to an ordinary guest, and Zara's heart
sank lower and lower, and she could not keep up her little plan to be
gentle and sympathetic; she could not do more than say just "Yes," and
"No." Presently they came through a door to the hothouses, and she had
to be introduced to the head gardener, a Scotchman, and express her
admiration of everything, and eat some wonderful grapes; and here
Tristram again "played the game," and chaffed, and was gay. And so they
went out, and through a clipped, covered walk to another door in a wall,
which opened on the west side--the very old part of the house--and
suddenly she saw the Italian parterre. Each view as she came upon it she
tried to identify with what she had seen in the pictures in _Country
Life_, but things look so different in reality, with the atmospheric
effects, to the cold gray of a print. Only there was no mistake about
this--the Italian parterre; and a sudden tightness grew round her heart,
and she thought of Mirko and the day she had last seen him. And Tristram
was startled into looking at her by a sudden catching of her breath, and
to his amazement he perceived that her face was full of pain, as though
she had revisited some scene connected with sorrowful memories. There
was even a slight drawing back in her attitude, as if she feared to go
on, and meet some ghost. What could it be? Then the malevolent sprite
who was near him just now whispered: "It is an Italian garden, she has
seen such before in other lands; perhaps the man is an Italian--he
looks dark enough." So instead of feeling solicitous and gentle with
whatever caused her pain--for his manners were usually extremely
courteous, however cold--he said almost roughly:
"This seems to make you think of something! Well, let us get on and get
it over, and then you can go in!"
He would be no sympathetic companion for her sentimental musings--over
Her lips quivered for a moment, and he saw that he had struck home, and
was glad, and grew more furious as he strode along. He would like to
hurt her again if he could, for jealousy can turn an angel into a cruel
fiend. They walked on in silence, and a look almost of fear crept into
her tragic eyes. She dreaded so to come upon Pan and his pipes. Yes, as
they descended the stone steps, there he was in the far distance with
his back to them, forever playing his weird music for the delight of all
She forgot Tristram, forgot she was passionately preoccupied with him
and passionately in love, forgot even that she was not alone. She saw
the firelight again, and the pitiful, little figure of her poor, little
brother as he poured over the picture, pointing with his sensitive
forefinger to Pan's shape. She could hear his high, childish voice say:
"See, Cherisette, he, too, is not made as other people are! Look, and he
plays music, also. When I am with _Maman_ and you walk there you must
remember that this is me!"
And Tristram, watching her, knew not what to think. For her face had
become more purely white than usual, and her dark eyes were swimming
God! how she must have loved this man! In wild rage he stalked beside
her until they came quite close to the statue in the center of the
star, surrounded by its pergola of pillars, which in the summer were gay
with climbing roses.
Then he stepped forward, with a sharp exclamation of annoyance, for the
pipes of Pan had been broken and lay there on the ground.
Who had done this thing?
When Zara saw the mutilation she gave a piteous cry; to her, to the
mystic part of her strange nature, this was an omen. Pan's music was
gone, and Mirko, too, would play no more.
With a wail like a wounded animal's she slipped down on the stone bench,
and, burying her face in her muff, the tension of soul of all these days
broke down, and she wept bitter, anguishing tears.
Tristram was dumbfounded. He knew not what to do. Whatever was the
cause, it now hurt him horribly to see her weep--weep like this--as if
with broken heart.
For her suffering was caused by remembrance--remembrance that, absorbed
in her own concerns and heart-burnings over her love, she had forgotten
the little one lately; and he was far away and might now be ill, and
She sobbed and sobbed and clasped her hands, and Tristram could not bear
it any longer.
"Zara!" he said, distractedly. "For God's sake do not cry like this!
What is it? Can I not help you--Zara?" And he sat down beside her and
put his arm round her, and tried to draw her to him--he must comfort her
whatever caused her pain.
But she started up and ran from him; he was the cause of her
[Illustration: "'Zara!' he said distractedly.... 'Can I not help
"Do not!" she cried passionately, that southern dramatic part of her
nature coming out, here in her abandon of self-control. "Is it not
enough for me to know that it is you and thoughts of you which have
caused me to forget him!--Go! I must be alone!"--and like a fawn she
fled down one of the paths, and beyond a great yew hedge, and so
disappeared from view.
And Tristram sat on the stone bench, too stunned to move.
This was a confession from her, then--he realized, when his power came
back to him. It was no longer surmise and suspicion--there was some one
else. Some one to whom she owed--love. And he had caused her to forget
him! And this thought made him stop his chain of reasoning abruptly. For
what did that mean? Had he then, after all, somehow made her feel--made
her think of him? Was this the secret in her strange mysterious face
that drew him and puzzled him always? Was there some war going on in her
But the comforting idea which he had momentarily obtained from that
inference of her words went from him as he pondered, for nothing proved
that her thoughts of him had been of love.
So, alternately trying to reason the thing out, and growing wild with
passion and suspicion and pain, he at last went back to the house
expecting he would have to go through the ordeal of luncheon alone; but
as the silver gong sounded she came slowly down the stairs.
And except that she was very pale and blue circles surrounded her heavy
eyes, her face wore a mask, and she was perfectly calm.
She made no apology, nor allusion to her outburst; she treated the
incident as though it had never been! She held a letter in her hand,
which had come by the second post while they were out. It was written by
her uncle from London, the night before, and contained his joyous news.
Tristram looked at her and was again dumbfounded. She was certainly a
most extraordinary woman. And some of his rage died down and he decided
he would not, after all, demand an explanation of her now; he would let
the whole, hideous rejoicings be finished first and then, in London, he
would sternly investigate the truth. And not the least part of his pain
was the haunting uncertainty as to what her words could mean, as
regarded himself. If by some wonderful chance it were some passion in
the past and she now loved him, he feared he could forgive her--he
feared even his pride would not hold out over the mad happiness it would
be to feel her unresisting and loving, lying in his arms!
So with stormy eyes and forced smiles the pair sat down to luncheon, and
Zara handed him the epistle she carried in her hand. It ran:
"MY DEAR NIECE:
"I have to inform you of a piece of news that is a great gratification
to myself, and I trust will cause you, too, some pleasure.
"Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet has done me the honor to accept my proposal
for her hand, and the Duke, her father, has kindly given his hearty
consent to my marriage with his daughter, which is to take place as soon