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There was a good deal of running into each other's rooms before dressing
for dinner among the ladies at Montfitchet, that night. They had, they
felt, to exchange views about the new bride! And the opinions were
favorable, on the whole; unanimous, as to her beauty and magnetic
attraction; divided, as to her character; but fiercely and venomously
antagonistic in one mean, little heart.
Emily and Mary and Lady Betty Burns clustered together in the latter's
room. "We think she is perfectly lovely, Betty," Emily said, "but we
don't know her as yet. She is rather stiff, and frightens us just a
little. Perhaps she is shy. What do you think?"
"She looks just like the heroines in some of the books that Mamma does
not let me read and I am obliged to take up to bed with me. Don't you
know, Mary--especially the one I lent you--deeply, mysteriously tragic.
You remember the one who killed her husband and then went off with the
Italian Count; and then with some one else. It was frightfully
"Good gracious! Betty," exclaimed Emily. "How dreadful! You don't think
our sister-in-law looks like that?"
"I really don't know," said Lady Betty, who was nineteen and wrote lurid
melodramas--to the waste of much paper and the despair of her mother. "I
don't know. I made one of my heroines in my last play have just those
passionate eyes--and she stabbed the villain in the second act!"
"Yes, but," said Mary, who felt she must defend Tristram's wife, "Zara
isn't in a play and there is no villain, and--why, Betty, no one has
tragedies in real life!"
Lady Betty tossed her flaxen head, while she announced a prophecy, with
an air of deep wisdom which positively frightened the other two girls.
"You mark my words, both of you, Emily and Mary--they will have some
tragedy before the year is out! And I shall put it all in my next play."
And with this fearful threat ringing in their ears Tristram's two
sisters walked in a scared fashion to their room.
"Betty is wonderful, isn't she, darling?" Mary said. "But, Em, you don't
think there is any truth in it, do you? Mother would be so horribly
shocked if there was anything like one of Betty's plays in the family,
wouldn't she? And Tristram would never allow it either!"
"Of course not, you goosie," answered Emily. "But Betty is right in one
way--Zara has got a mysterious face, and--and, Mary--Tristram seemed
somehow changed, I thought; rather sarcastic once or twice."
And then their maid came in and put a stop to their confidences.
* * * * *
"She is the most wonderful person I have ever met, Ethelrida," Lady
Anningford was just then saying, as she and the hostess stopped at her
door and let Lady Thornby and the young Countess of Melton go on.--"She
is wickedly beautiful and attractive, and there is something odd about
her, too, and it touches me; and I don't believe she is really wicked a
bit. Her eyes are like storm clouds. I have heard her first husband was
a brute. I can't think who told me but it came from some one at one of
"We don't know much about her, any of us," Lady Ethelrida said, "but
Aunt Jane asked us all in the beginning to trust Tristram's judgment: he
is awfully proud, you know. And besides, her uncle, Mr. Markrute, is so
nice. But, Anne--" and Lady Ethelrida paused.
"Well, what, dear? Tristram is awfully in love with her, isn't he?" Lady
"Yes," said Lady Ethelrida, "but, Anne, do you really think Tristram
looks happy? I thought when he was not speaking his face seemed rather
"The Crow came down in the train with them," Lady Anningford announced.
"I'll hear the whole exact impression of them after dinner and tell you.
The Crow is always right."
"She is so very attractive, I am sure, to every man who sees her, Anne.
I hope Lord Elterton won't begin and make Tristram jealous. I wish I had
not asked him. And then there is Laura--It was awful taste, I think, her
insisting upon coming, don't you?--Anne, if she seems as if she were
going to be horrid you will help me to protect Zara, won't you?--And now
we really must dress."
* * * * *
In another room Mrs. Harcourt was chatting with her sister and Lady
"She is perfectly lovely, Laura," Miss Opie said. "Her hair must reach
down to the ground and looks as if it would not come off, and her skin
isn't even powdered--I examined it, on purpose, in a side light. And
those eyes! Je-hoshaphat! as Jimmy Danvers says."
"Poor, darling Tristram!" Laura sighed sentimentally while she inwardly
registered her intense dislike of "the Opie girl." "He looks melancholy
enough--for a bridegroom; don't you think so, Kate?" and she lowered her
eyes, with a glance of would-be meaning, as though she could say more,
if she wished. "But no wonder, poor dear boy! He loathed the marriage;
it was so fearfully sudden. I suppose the Markrute man had got him in
"You don't say so!" Mrs. Harcourt gasped. She was a much simpler person
than her sister. "Jimmy assured me that Lord Tancred was violently in
love with her, and that was it."
"Jimmy always was a fool," Lady Highford said, and as they went on to
their rooms Lily Opie whispered,
"Kate, Laura Highford is an odious cat, and I don't believe a word about
Mr. Markrute and the getting Lord Tancred into his power. That is only
to make a salve for herself. The Duke would never have Mr. Markrute here
if there was anything fishy about him. Why, ducky, you know it is the
only house left in England, almost, where they have only US!"
* * * * *
Tristram was ready for dinner in good time but he hesitated about
knocking at his wife's door. If she did not let him know she was ready
he would send Higgins to ask for her maid.
His eyes were shining with the pride he felt in her. She had indeed come
up to the scratch. He had not believed it possible that she could have
been so gracious, and he had not even guessed that she would condescend
to speak so much. And all his old friends had been so awfully nice
about her and honestly admiring; except Arthur Elterton--_he_ had
admired rather too much!
And then this exaltation somewhat died down. It was after all but a very
poor, outside show, when, in reality, he could not even knock at her
He wished now he had never let his pride hurl forth that ultimatum on
the wedding night, because he would have to stick to it! He could not
make the slightest advance, and it did not look as if she meant to do
so. Tristram in an ordinary case when his deep feelings were not
concerned would have known how to display a thousand little tricks for
the allurement of a woman, would have known exactly how to cajole her,
to give her a flower, and hesitate when he spoke her name--and a number
of useful things--but he was too terribly in earnest to be anything but
a real, natural man; that is, hurt from her coldness and diffident of
himself, and iron-bound with pride.
And Zara at the other side of the door felt almost happy. It was the
first evening in her life she had ever dressed without some heavy burden
of care. Her self-protective, watchful instincts could rest for a while;
these new relations were truly, not only seemingly, so kind. The only
person she immediately and instinctively disliked was Lady Highford who
had gushed and said one or two bitter-sweet things which she had not
clearly nor literally understood, but which, she felt, were meant to be
And her husband, Tristram! It was plain to be seen every one loved
him--from the old Duke, to the old setter by the fire. And how was it
possible for them all to love a man, when--and then her thoughts
unconsciously turned to _if_--he were capable of so base a thing as his
marriage with her had been? Was it possible there could be any mistake?
On the first opportunity she would question her uncle; and although she
knew that gentleman would only tell her exactly as much as he wished her
to know, that much would be the truth.
Dinner was to be at half-past eight. She ought to be punctual, she knew;
but it was all so wonderful, and refined, and old-world, in her charming
room, she felt inclined to dawdle and look around.
It was a room as big as her mother's had been, in the gloomy castle near
Prague, but it was full of cozy touches--beyond the great gilt state
bed, which she admired immensely--and with which she instinctively felt
only the English--and only such English--know how to endow their
Then she roused herself. She _must_ dress. Fortunately her hair did not
take any time to twist up.
"_Miladi_ is a dream!" Henriette exclaimed when at last she was ready.
"_Milor_ will be proud!"
And he was.
She sent Henriette to knock at his door--his door in the passage--not
the one between their rooms!--just on the stroke of half-past eight. He
was at that moment going to send Higgins on a like errand! and his sense
of humor at the grotesqueness of the situation made him laugh a bitter
The two servants as the messengers!--when he ought to have been in there
himself, helping to fix on her jewels, and playing with her hair, and
perhaps kissing exquisite bits of her shoulders when the maid was not
looking, or fastening her dress!
Well, the whole thing was a ghastly farce that must be got through; he
would take up politics, and be a wonderful landlord to the people at
Wrayth; and somehow, he would get through with it, and no one should
ever know, from him, of his awful mistake.
He hardly allowed himself to tell her she looked very beautiful as they
walked along the great corridor. She was all in deep sapphire-blue
gauze, with no jewels on at all but the Duke's splendid brooch.
That was exquisite of her, he appreciated that fine touch. Indeed, he
appreciated everything about her--if she had known.
People were always more or less on time in this house, and after the
silent hush of admiration caused by the bride's entrance they all began
talking and laughing, and none but Lady Highford and another woman were
And as Zara walked along the white drawing-room, on the old Duke's arm,
she felt that somehow she had got back to a familiar atmosphere, where
she was at rest after long years of strife.
Lady Ethelrida had gone in with the bridegroom--to-night everything was
done with strict etiquette--and on her left hand she had placed the
bride's uncle. The new relations were to receive every honor, it seemed.
And Francis Markrute, as he looked round the table, with the perfection
of its taste, and saw how everything was going on beautifully, felt he
had been justified in his schemes.
Lady Anningford sat beyond Tristram, and often these two talked, so Lady
Ethelrida had plenty of time, without neglecting him, to converse with
her other interesting guest.
"I am so glad you like our old home, Mr. Markrute," she said. "To-morrow
I will show you a number of my favorite haunts. It seems sad, does it
not, as so many people assert, that the times are trending to take all
these dear, old things away from us, and divide them up?"
"It will be a very bad day for England when that time comes," the
financier said. "If only the people could study evolution and the
meaning of things there would not be any of this nonsensical class
hatred. The immutable law is that no one long retains any position
unless he, or she, is suitable for it. Nothing endures that is not
harmonious. It is because England is now out of harmony, that this
seething is going on. You and your race have been fitted for what you
have held for hundreds of years; that is why you have stayed: and your
influence, and such as you, have made England great."
"Then how do you account for the whole thing being now out of joint?"
Lady Ethelrida asked. "As my father and I and, as far as I know, numbers
of us have remained just the same, and have tried as well as we can to
do our duty to every one."
"Have you ever studied the Laws of Lycurgus, Lady Ethelrida?" he asked.
And she shook her sleek, fine head. "Well, they are worth glancing at,
when you have time," he went on. "An immense value was placed upon
discipline, and as long as it lasted in its iron simplicity the Spartans
were the wonder of the then known world. But after their conquest of
Athens, when luxury poured in and every general wanted something for
himself and forgot the good of the state, then their discipline went to
pieces, and, so--the whole thing. And that, applied in a modern way, is
what is happening to England. All classes are forgetting their
discipline, and, without fitting themselves for what they aspire to,
they are trying to snatch from some other class. And the whole thing is
rotten with mawkish sentimentality, and false prudery, and abeyance of
"Yes," said Lady Ethelrida, much interested.
"Lycurgus went to the root of things," the financier continued, "and
made the people morally and physically healthy, and ruthlessly expunged
the unfit--not like our modern nonsense, which encourages science to
keep, among the prospective parents for the future generation, all the
most diseased. Moral and physical balance and proportion were the ideas
of the Spartans. They would not have even been allowed to compete in the
games, if they were misshapen. And the analogy is, no one unfitted for a
part ought to aspire to it, for the public good. Any one has a right to
scream, if he does not obtain it when he is fitted for it."
"Yes, I see," said Lady Ethelrida. "Then what do you mean when you say
every class is trying to snatch something from some other class? Do you
mean from the class above it? Or what? Because unless we, for
instance--technically speaking--snatched from the King from whom could
The financier smiled.
"I said purposely, 'some other class,' instead of 'some class above it,'
for this reason: it is because a certain and ever-increasing number of
your class, if I may say so, are snatching--not, indeed, from the
King--but from all classes _beneath them_, manners and morals, and
absence of tenue, and absence of pride--things for which their class was
not fitted. They had their own vices formerly, which only hurt each
individual and not the order, as a stain will spoil the look of a bit of
machinery but will not upset its working powers like a piece of grit.
What they put into the machine now is grit. And the middle classes are
snatching what they think is gentility, and ridiculous pretenses to
birth and breeding; and the lower classes are snatching everything they
can get from the pitiful fall of the other two, and shouting that all
men are equal, when, if you come down to the practical thing, the
foreman of some ironworks, say--where the opinions were purely
socialistic, in the abstract--would give the last joined stoker a sound
trouncing for aspirations in his actual work above his capabilities;
because he would know that if the stoker were then made foreman the
machinery could not work. The stokers of life should first fit
themselves to be foremen before they shout."
Then, as Lady Ethelrida looked very grave, and Francis Markrute was
really a whimsical person, and seldom talked so seriously to women, he
went on, smiling,
"The only really perfect governments in the world are those of the Bees,
and Ants, because they are both ruled with ruthless discipline and no
sentiment, and every individual knows his place!"
"I read once, somewhere, that it has been discovered," said Lady
Ethelrida gently--she never laid down the law--"that the reason why the
wonderful Greeks came to an end was not really because their system of
government was not a good one, but because the mosquitoes came and gave
them malaria, and enervated them and made them feeble, and so they could
not stand against the stronger peoples of the North. Perhaps," she went
on, "England has got some moral malarial mosquitoes and the scientists
have not yet discovered the proper means for their annihilation."
Here Tristram who overheard this interrupted:
"And it would not be difficult to give the noisome insects their English
names, would it, Francis? Some of them are in the cabinet."
And the three laughed. But Lady Ethelrida wanted to hear something more
from her left-hand neighbor, so she said,
"Then the inference to be drawn from what you have said is--we should
aim at making conditions so that it is possible for every individual to
have the chance to make himself practically--not theoretically--fit for
anything his soul aspires to. Is that it?"
"Absolutely in a nutshell, dear lady," Francis Markrute said, and for a
minute he looked into her eyes with such respectful, intense admiration
that Lady Ethelrida looked away.
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