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Zara had, at first, thought she would not go out with the shooters. She
felt numb, as if she could not pluck up enough courage to make
conversation with any one. She had received a letter from Mimo, by the
second post, with all details of what he had heard of Mirko. Little
Agatha, the Morleys' child, was to return home the following day; and
Mirko himself had written an excited little letter to announce this
event, which Mimo enclosed. He seemed perfectly well then, only at the
end, as she would see, he had said he was dreaming of _Maman_ every
night; and Mimo knew that this must mean he was a little feverish again,
so he had felt it wiser to telegraph. Mirko had written out the score of
the air which _Maman_ always came and taught him, and he was longing to
play it to his dear Papa and his Ch�risette, the letter ended with.
And the pathos of it all caused Zara a sharp pain. She did not dare to
look ahead, as far as her little brother was concerned. Indeed, to look
ahead, in any case, meant nothing very happy.
She was just going up the great staircase at about a quarter to eleven,
with the letter in her hand, when she met Tristram coming from his room,
with his shooting boots on, ready to start. He stopped and said
coldly--they had not spoken a word yet that day--
"You had better be quick putting your things on. My uncle always starts
Then his eye caught the foreign writing on the letter, and he turned
brusquely away, although, as he reasoned with himself a moment
afterwards, it was ridiculous of him to be so moved, because she would
naturally have a number of foreign correspondents. She saw him turn
away, and it angered her in spite of her new mood. He need not show his
dislike so plainly, she thought. So she answered haughtily,
"I had not intended to come. I am tired; and I do not know this sport,
or whether it will please me. I should feel for the poor birds, I
"I am sorry you are tired," he answered, contrite in an instant. "Of
course, you must not come if you are. They will be awfully disappointed.
But never mind. I will tell Ethelrida."
"It is nothing--my fatigue, I mean. If you think your cousin will mind,
I will come." And she turned, without waiting for him to answer, and
went on to her room.
And Tristram, after going back to his for something he had forgotten,
presently went on down the stairs, a bitter smile on his face, and at
the bottom met--Laura Highford.
She looked up into his eyes, and allowed tears to gather in hers. She
had always plenty at her command.
"Tristram," she said with extreme gentleness, "you were cross with me
yesterday afternoon, because you thought I was saying something about
your wife. But don't you know, can't you understand, what it is to me to
see you devoted to another woman? You may be changed, but I am always
the same, and I--I--" And here she buried her face in her hands and went
into a flood of tears.
Tristram was overcome with confusion and horror. He loathed scenes.
Good heavens! If any one should come along!
"Laura, for goodness' sake! My dear girl, don't cry!" he exclaimed. He
felt he would say anything to comfort her, and get over the chance of
some one seeing this hateful exhibition.
But she continued to sob. She had caught sight of Zara's figure on the
landing above, and her vengeful spirit desired to cause trouble, even at
a cost to herself. Zara had been perfectly ready, all but her hat, and
had hurried exceedingly to be in time, and thus had not been five
minutes after her husband.
"Tristram!" wailed Laura, and, putting up her hands, placed them on his
shoulders. "Darling, just kiss me once--quickly--to say good-bye."
And it was at this stage that Zara came full upon them, from a turn in
the stairs. She heard Tristram say disgustedly, "No, I won't," and saw
Lady Highford drop her arms; and in the three steps that separated them,
her wonderful iron self-control, the inheritance of all her years of
suffering, enabled her to stop as if she had seen nothing, and in an
ordinary voice ask if they were to go to the great hall.
"The woman," as she called Laura, should not have the satisfaction of
seeing a trace of emotion in her, or Tristram either. He had answered
immediately, "Yes," and had walked on by her side, in an absolutely
How dare Laura drag him into a disgraceful and ridiculous scene like
this! He could have wrung her neck. What must Zara think? That he was
simply a cad! He could not offer a single explanation, either; indeed,
she had demanded none. He did blurt out, after a moment,
"Lady Highford was very much upset about something. She is hysterical."
"Poor thing!" said Zara indifferently, and walked on.
But when they got into the hall, where most of the company were, she
suddenly felt her knees giving way under her, and hurriedly sank down on
an oak chair.
She felt sick with jealous pain, even though she had plainly seen that
Tristram was no willing victim. But upon what terms could they be, or
have been, for Lady Highford so to lose all sense of shame?
Tristram was watching her anxiously. She must have seen the humiliating
exhibition. It followed, then, she was perfectly indifferent, or she
would have been annoyed. He wished that she had reproached him, or said
something--anything--but to remain completely unmoved was too maddening.
Then the whole company, who were coming out, appeared, and they started.
Some of the men were drawing lots to see if they should shoot in the
morning or in the afternoon. The party was primarily for Lady
Ethelrida's birthday, and the shoot merely an accessory.
Zara walked by the Crow, who was not shooting at all. She was wearied
with Lord Elterton; wearied with every one. The Crow was sententious and
amused her, and did not expect her to talk.
"You have never seen your husband shoot yet, I expect, Lady Tancred,
have you?" he asked her; and when she said, "No," he went on, "Because
you must watch him. He is a very fine shot."
She did not know anything about shooting, only that Tristram looked
particularly attractive in his shooting clothes, and that English
sportsmen were natural, unceremonious creatures, whom she was beginning
to like very much. She wished she could open her heart to this quaint,
kind old man, and ask him to explain things to her; but she could not,
and presently they got to a safe place and watched.
Tristram happened to be fairly near them; and, yes, he was a good
shot--she could see that. But, at first, the thud of the beautiful
pheasants falling to the ground caused her to wince--she, who had looked
upon the shattered face of Ladislaus, her husband, with only a quiver of
disgust! But these creatures were in the glory of their beauty and the
joy of life, and had preyed upon the souls of no one.
Her wonderful face, which interested Colonel Lowerby so, was again
abstracted. Something had brought back that hateful moment to her
memory; she could hear F�to, the dancer's shrieks, and see the blood;
and she shivered suddenly and clasped her hands.
"Do you mind seeing the birds come down?" the Crow asked kindly.
"I do not know," she said. "I was thinking of some other shooting."
"Because," the Crow went on, "the women who rage against sport forget
one thing,--the birds would not exist at all, if it were not for
preserving them for this very reason. They would gradually be trapped
and snared and exterminated; whereas, now they have a royal time, of
food and courtship and mating, and they have no knowledge of their
coming fate, and so live a life of splendor up to the last moment."
"How much better! Yes, indeed, I will never be foolish about them again.
I will think of that." Then she exclaimed, "Oh, that was wonderful!" for
Tristram got two rocketters at right and left, and then another with
his second gun. His temper had not affected his eye, it seemed.
"Tristram is one of the best all-round sportsmen I know," the Crow
announced, "and he has one of the kindest hearts. I have known him since
he was a toddler. His mother was one of the beauties, when I first put
on a cuirass."
Zara tried to control her interest, and merely said, "Yes?"
"Are you looking forward to the reception at Wrayth on Monday? I always
wonder how a person unaccustomed to England would view all the speeches
and dinners, the bonfire, and triumphal arches, and those things of a
home-coming. Rather an ordeal, I expect."
Zara's eyes rounded, and she faltered,
"And shall I have to go through all that?"
The Crow was nonplussed. Had not her husband, then, told her, what every
one else knew? Upon what terms could they possibly be? And before he was
aware of it, he had blurted out, "Good Lord!"
Then, recollecting himself, he said,
"Why, yes. Tristram will say I have been frightening you. It is not so
very bad, after all--only to smile and look gracious and shake hands.
They will be all ready to think you perfect, if you do that. Even though
there are a lot of beastly radicals about, Old England still bows down
to a beautiful woman!"
Zara did not answer. She had heard about her beauty in most European
languages, since she was sixteen. It was the last thing which mattered,
Then the Crow turned the conversation, as they walked on to the next
Did she know that Lady Ethelrida had commanded that all the ladies were
to get up impromptu fancy dresses for to-night, her birthday dinner, and
all the men would be in hunt coats? he asked. Large parties were coming
from the only two other big houses near, and they would dance afterward
in the picture gallery. "A wonderful new band that came out in London
this season is coming down," he ended with; and, then, as she replied
she had heard, he asked her what she intended to be. "It must be
something with your hair down--you must give us the treat of that."
"I have left it all to Lady Ethelrida and my sisters-in-law," she said.
"We are going to contrive things the whole afternoon, after lunch."
Tristram came up behind them then, and the Crow stopped.
"I was telling your wife she must give us the pleasure of seeing her
hair down, to-night, for the Tomfools' dinner, but I can't get a promise
from her. We will have to appeal to you to exert your lordly authority.
Can't be deprived of a treat like that!"
"I am afraid I have no influence or authority," Tristram answered
shortly, for with a sudden pang he thought of the only time he had seen
the glorious beauty of it, her hair, spread like a cloak around her, as
she had turned and ordered him out of her room at Dover. She remembered
the circumstance, too, and it hurt her equally, so that they walked
along silently, staring in front of them, and each suffering pain; when,
if they had had a grain of sense, they would have looked into each
other's eyes, read the truth, and soon been in each other's arms. But
they had not yet "dree'd their weird." And Fate, who mocks at fools,
would not yet let them be.
So the clouds gathered overhead, as in their hearts, and it came on to
pour with rain; and the ladies made a hurried rush to the house.
The hostess did not stand near Francis Markrute during the shooting.
Some shy pleasure made her avoid him for the moment. She wanted to hug
the remembrance of her great joy of the morning, and the knowledge that
to-morrow, Sunday, after lunch, would bring her a like pleasure. And for
the time being there was the delight of thinking over what he had said,
the subtlety of his gift, and the manner of its giving.
Nothing so goes to the head of a woman of refined sensibilities as the
intoxicating flattery of thought-out action in a man, when it is to lay
homage at her feet, and the man is a grave and serious person, who is no
worshiper of women.
Ethelrida trod on air, and looked unusually sweet and gracious.
And Francis Markrute watched her quietly, with great tenderness in his
heart, and not the faintest misgiving. "Slow and sure" was his motto,
and thus he drew always the current of success and contentment.
His only crumpled roseleaf was the face of his niece, which rather
haunted him. There seemed no improvement in the relations of the pair,
in spite of Zara having had ample cause to feel jealous about Lady
Highford since their arrival. Elinka, too, had had strange and
unreasonable turns in her nature, that is what had made her so
attractive. What if Zara and this really fine young Englishman, with
whom he had mated her, should never get on? Then he laughed, when he
thought of the impossibility of his calculations finally miscarrying. It
was, of course, only a question of time. However, he would tell her
before she left for her "home-coming" at Wrayth on Monday, what he
thought it was now safe and advisable that she should know, namely,
that on her husband's side the marriage had been one of headlong desire
for herself, after having refused the bargain before he had seen her.
That would give her some bad moments of humiliation, he admitted, which
perhaps she had not deserved, though it would certainly bring her to her
knees and so, to Tristram's arms.
But for once, being really quite preoccupied with his own affairs and a
little unbalanced by love as well, he miscalculated the force of a
woman's pride. Zara's one idea now was to hide from Tristram the state
of her feelings, believing, poor, bruised, wounded thing, that he no
longer cared for her, believing that she herself had extinguished the
torch of love.
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