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In the white drawing-room, afterwards, Lady Highford was particularly
gushing to the new bride. She came with a group of other women to
surround her, and was so playful and charming to all her friends! She
must be allowed to sit next to Zara, because, she said, "Your husband
and I are such very dear, old friends. And how lovely it is to think
that now he will be able to reopen Wrayth! Dear Lady Tancred is so
glad," she purred.
Zara just looked at her politely. What a done-up ferret woman! she
thought. She had met many of her tribe. At the rooms at Monte Carlo, and
in another class and another race, they were the kind who played in the
smallest stakes themselves, and often snatched the other people's money.
"I have never heard my husband speak of you," she said presently, when
she had silently borne a good deal of vitriolic gush. "You have perhaps
been out of England for some time?"
And Lady Anningford whispered to Ethelrida, "We need not worry to be
ready to defend her, pet! She can hold her own!" So they moved on to the
group of the girls.
But at the end of their conversation, though Zara had used her method of
silence in a considerable degree and made it as difficult as she could
for Lady Highford, still, that artist in petty spite had been able to
leave behind her some rankling stings. She was a mistress of innuendo.
So that when the men came in, and Tristram, from the sense of "not
funking things" which was in him, deliberately found Laura and sat down
upon a distant sofa with her, Zara suddenly felt some unpleasant feeling
about her heart. She found that she desired to watch them, and that, in
spite of what any one said to her, her attention wandered back to the
distant sofa in some unconscious speculation and unrest.
And Laura was being exceedingly clever. She scented with the cunning of
her species that Tristram was really unhappy, whether he was in love
with his hatefully beautiful wife or not. Now was her chance; not by
reproaches, but by sympathy, and, if possible, by planting some venom
towards his wife in his heart.
"Tristram, dear boy, why did you not tell me? Did you not know I would
have been delighted at anything--if it pleased you?" And she looked
down, and sighed. "I always made it my pleasure to understand you, and
to promote whatever seemed for your good."
And in his astonishment at this attitude Tristram forgot to recall the
constant scenes and reproaches, and the paltry little selfishnesses of
which he had been the victim during the year their--friendship--had
lasted. He felt somehow soothed. Here was some one who was devoted to
him, even if his wife were not!
"You are a dear, Laura," he said.
"And now you must tell me if you are really happy--Tristram." She
lingered over his name. "She is so lovely--your wife--but looks very
cold. And I know, dear" (another hesitation over the word), "I know you
don't like women to be cold."
"We will not discuss my wife," he said. "Tell me what you have been
doing, Laura. Let me see, when did I see you last--in June?"
And the venom came to boiling-point in Laura's adder gland. He could not
even remember when he had said good-by to her! It was in July, after the
Eton and Harrow match!
"Yes, in June," she said sadly, turning her eyes down. "And you might
have told me, Tristram. It came as such a sudden shock. It made me
seriously ill. You must have known, and were probably engaged--even
Tristram sat mute; for how could he announce the truth?
"Oh, don't let us talk of these things, Laura. Let us forget those old
times and begin again--differently. You will be a dear friend to me
always, I am sure. You always were--" and then he stopped abruptly. He
felt this was too much lying! and he hated doing such things.
"Of course I will, dar--Tristram," Laura said, and appeared much moved.
And from where Zara was trying to talk to the Duke she saw the woman
shiver and look down provokingly and her husband stretch his long limbs
out; and a sudden, unknown sensation of blinding rage came over her, and
she did not hear a syllable of the Duke's speech.
Meanwhile Lady Anningford had retired to a seat in a window with the
"Is it all right, Crow?" she asked, and one of his peculiarities was to
understand her--as Lady Ethelrida understood the Duke--and and not ask
"Will be--some day--I expect--unless they get drowned in the current
"Isn't she mysterious, Crow? I am sure she has some tragic history. Have
you heard anything?"
"Husband murdered by another man in a row at Monte Carlo."
"I don't know for a fact, but I gather--not. You may be certain, Queen
Anne, that when a woman is as quiet and haughty as Lady Tancred looks,
and her manners are as cold and perfectly sure of herself as hers are,
she has not done anything she is ashamed of, or regrets."
"Then what can be the cause of the coolness between them? Look at
Tristram now! I think it is horrid of him--sitting like that talking to
Laura, don't you?"
"A viper, Laura," growled the Crow. "She's trying to get him again in
"I cannot imagine why women cannot leave other women's husbands alone.
They are hateful creatures, most of them."
"Natural instinct of the chase," said Colonel Lowerby.
But Lady Anningford flashed.
"You are a cynic, Crow."
* * * * *
"And you will really show me your favorite haunts to-morrow, Lady
Ethelrida?" Francis Markrute was saying to his hostess. He had contrived
insidiously to detach her conversation from a group to himself, and drew
her unconsciously towards a seat where they would be uninterrupted. "One
judges so of people by their tastes in haunts."
Lady Ethelrida never spoke of herself as a rule. She was not in the
habit of getting into those--abstract to begin with, and personal to go
on with--thrilling conversations with men, which most of the modern
young women delight in, and which were the peculiar joy of Lily Opie.
It was because for some unacknowledged reason the financier personally
pleased her that she now drifted where he wished.
"Mine are very simple, I fear, nothing for you to investigate," she said
"So I should have thought--" and he again as he had done at dinner
permitted himself to look into her eyes, and going on after an
imperceptible pause he said softly, "simple, and pure, and sweet ...I
always think of you, Lady Ethelrida, as the embodiment of sane things,
balanced things--perfection." And his last word was almost a caress.
"I am most ordinary," she said; and she wondered why she was not angry
with him, which she quite well could have been.
"It is only perfect balance in all things, if we but know it, which
appeals to the sane eye," he went on, pulling himself up. "All weariness
and satiety are caused in emotion; in pleasure in persons, places, or
things; by the want of proportion in them somewhere which, like all
simple things, is the hardest to find."
"Do you make theories about everything, Mr. Markrute?" she asked, and
there was a smile in her eye.
"It is a wise thing to do sometimes; it keeps one from losing one's
Lady Ethelrida did not answer. She felt deliciously moved. She had often
said to her friend, Anne Anningford, when they had been talking, that
she did not like elderly men; she disliked to see their hair getting
thin, and their chins getting fat, and their little habits and
mannerisms growing pronounced. But here she found herself tremendously
interested in one who, from all accounts, must be quite forty-five if
not older, though it was true his brown colorless hair was excessively
thick, and he was slight of build everywhere.
Now she felt she must turn the conversation to less personal things, so:
"Zara looks very lovely to-night," she said.
"Yes," replied the financier, with an air of detaching himself
unwillingly from a thrilling topic, which was, indeed, what he felt.
"Yes, and I hope some day they will be exceedingly happy."
"Why do you say some day?" Lady Ethelrida asked quickly. "I hoped they
were happy now."
"Not very, I am afraid," he said. "But you remember our compact at
dinner? They will be ideally so if they are left alone," and he glanced
casually at Tristram and Laura.
Ethelrida looked, too, following his eyes.
"Yes," she said. "I wish I had not asked her--" and then she stopped
abruptly, and grew a deep pink. She realized what the inference in her
speech was, and if Mr. Markrute had never heard anything about the silly
affair between her cousin and Lady Highford what would he think! What
might she not have done!
"That won't matter," he said, with his fine smile. "It will be good for
my niece. I meant something quite different."
But what he meant, he would not say.
And so the evening passed smoothly. The girls, and all the young men and
the Crow, and Young Billy, and giddy, irresponsible people like that,
had gathered at one end of the room; they were arranging some especial
picnic for the morrow, as only some of them were going to shoot. And
into their picnic plans they drew Zara, and barred Tristram out, with
"You are only an old, married man now, Tristram," they teased him with.
"But Lady Tancred is young and comes with us!"
"And I will take care of her," announced Lord Elterton, looking
sentimental--much to Tristram's disgust.
Ethelrida seemed to have collected a lot of rotters, he thought to
himself, although it was the same party he had so enjoyed last year!
"Lady Thornby and Lady Melton and Lily Opie and her sister are going out
to the shooters' lunch," Laura said sweetly. "As you are going to be
deprived of your lovely wife, Tristram, I will come, too."
And so, finally good nights were said and the ladies retired to their
rooms; and Zara could not think why she no longer found the atmosphere
of hers peaceful and delightful, as she had done before she went down.
For the first time in her life she felt she hated a woman.
And Tristram, her husband, when he came up an hour or so later, wondered
if she were asleep. Laura had been perfectly sweet, and he felt greatly
soothed. Poor old Laura! He supposed she had really cared for him
rather, and perhaps he had behaved casually, even though she had been
impossible, in the past. But how had he ever even for five minutes
fancied himself in love with her? Why, she looked quite old to-night!
and he had never remarked before how thin and fluffed out her hair was.
Women ought certainly to have beautifully thick hair.
And then all the pretenses of any healing of his aches fell from him,
and he went and stood by the door that separated him from his loved one,
and he stretched out his arms and said aloud, "Darling, if only you
could understand how happy I would make you--if you would let me! But I
can't even break down this hateful door as I want to, because of my
And then for most of the rest of the night he tossed restlessly in his
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