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Countess Shulski was seated in her uncle's drawing-room when Lord
Tancred was announced.
It was rather a severe room, purely French, with very little furniture,
each piece a priceless work of art. There were no touches of feminine
influence, no comfortable sofas as in the morning-room or library, all
was stiff, and dignified, and in pure style.
She had chosen to receive him there, on purpose. She wished the meeting
to be short and cold. He came forward, a look of determination upon his
Zara rose as he advanced, and bowed to him. She did not offer to shake
hands, and he let his, which he had half outstretched, drop. She did not
help him at all; she remained perfectly silent, as usual. She did not
even look at him, but straight out of the window into the pouring rain,
and it was then he saw that her eyes were not black but slate.
"You understand why I have come, of course?" he said by way of a
"Yes," she replied and said nothing more.
"I want to marry you, you know," he went on.
"Really!" she said.
"Yes, I do." And he set his teeth--certainly she was difficult!
"That is fortunate for you, since you are going to do so."
This was not encouraging; it was also unexpected.
"Yes, I am," he answered, "on the 25th of October, with your
"I have already consented." And she clasped her hands.
"May I sit down beside you and talk?" he asked.
She pointed to a Louis XVI. _berg�re_ which stood opposite, and herself
took a small armchair at the other side of the fire.
So they sat down, she gazing into the blazing coals and he gazing at
her. She was facing the gloomy afternoon light, though she did not think
out these things like her uncle, so he had a clear and wonderful picture
of her. "How could so voluptuous looking a creature be so icily cold?"
he wondered. Her wonderful hair seemed burnished like dark copper, in
the double light of fire and day, and that gardenia skin looked fit to
eat. He was thrilled with a mad desire to kiss her; he had never felt so
strong an emotion towards a woman in his life.
"Your uncle tells me you are going away to-morrow, and that you will be
away until a week before our wedding. I wish you were not going to be,
but I suppose you must--for clothes and things."
"Yes, I must."
He got up; he could not sit still, he was too wildly excited; he stood
leaning on the mantelpiece, quite close to her, for a moment, his eyes
devouring her with the passionate admiration he felt. She glanced up,
and when she saw their expression her jet brows met, while a look of
infinite disgust crept over her face.
So it had come--so soon! He was just like all men--a hateful, sensual
beast. She knew he desired to kiss her--to kiss a person he did not
know! Her experience of life had not encouraged her to make the least
allowance for the instinct of man. For her, that whole side of human
beings was simply revolting. In the far back recesses of her mind she
knew and felt that caresses and such things might be good if one
loved--passionately loved--but in the abstract, just because of the
attraction of sex, they were hideous. No man had ever had the conceded
tip of her little finger, although she had been forced to submit to
unspeakable exhibitions of passion from Ladislaus, her husband.
For her, Tristram appeared a satyr, but she was no timid nymph, but a
fierce panther ready to defend herself!
He saw her look and drew back--cooled.
The thing was going to be much more difficult than he had even thought;
he must keep himself under complete control, he knew now. So he turned
away to the window and glanced out on the wet park.
"My mother called upon you to-day, I believe," he said. "I asked her not
to expect you to be at home. It was only to show you that my family will
welcome you with affection."
"It is very good of them."
"The announcement of the engagement will be in the _Morning Post_
to-morrow. Do you mind?"
"Why should I mind?" (her voice evinced surprise). "Since it is true,
the formalities must take place."
"It seems as if it could not be true. You are so frightfully frigid," he
said with faint resentment.
"I cannot help how I am," she said in a tone of extreme hauteur. "I have
consented to marry you. I will go through with all the necessary
ceremonies, the presentations to your family, and such affairs; but I
have nothing to say to you: why should we talk when once these things
are settled? You must accept me as I am, or leave me alone--that is
all"--and then her temper made her add, in spite of her uncle's warning,
"for I do not care!"
He turned now; he was a little angry and nearly flared up, but the sight
of her standing there, magnificently attractive, stopped him. This was
merely one of the phases of the game; he should not allow himself to be
worsted by such speeches.
"I expect you don't, but I do," he said. "I am quite willing to take you
as you are, or will be."
"Then that is all that need be said," she answered coldly. "Arrange with
my uncle when you wish me to see your family on my return; I will carry
out what he settles. And now I need not detain you, and will say
good-bye." And bowing to him she walked towards the door.
"I am sorry you feel you want to go so soon," he said, as he sprang
forward to open it for her, "but good-bye." And he let her pass without
When he was alone in the room he realized that he had not given her the
engagement ring, which still reposed in his pocket!
He looked round for a writing table, and finding one, sat down and wrote
her a few words.
"I meant to give you this ring. If you don't like sapphires it can be
changed. Please wear it, and believe me to be
He put the note with the little ring-case, inclosed both in a large
envelope, and then he rang the bell.
"Send this up to the Countess Shulski," he said to the footman who
presently came. "And is my motor at the door?"
It was, so he descended the stairs.
"To Glastonbury House," he ordered his chauffeur. Then he leaned back
against the cushions, no look of satisfaction upon his face.
Ethelrida might be having tea, and she was always so soothing and
Yes, her ladyship was at home, and he was shown up into his cousin's own
Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet had kept house for her father, the Duke of
Glastonbury, ever since she was sixteen when her mother had died, and
she acted as hostess at the ducal parties, with the greatest success.
She was about twenty-five now, and one of the sweetest of young women.
She was very tall, rather plain, and very distinguished.
Francis Markrute thought her beautiful. He was fond of analyzing types
and breeds, and he said there were those who looked as if they had been
poured into more or less fine or clumsy mould, and there were others who
were sharply carved as with a knife. He loved a woman's face to look
_cisel�e_, he said. That is why he did not entirely admire his niece,
for although the mould was of the finest in her case, her small nose was
not chiseled. Numbers of English and some Austrians were chiseled, he
affirmed--showing their race--but very few of other nations.
Now some people would have said the Lady Ethelrida was too chiseled--she
might grow peaky, with old age. But no one could deny the extreme
refinement of the young woman.
She was strikingly fair, with silvery light hair that had no yellow in
it; and kind, wise, gray eyes. Her figure in its slenderness was a thing
which dressmakers adored; there was so little of it that any frock could
be made to look well on it.
Lady Ethelrida did everything with moderation. She was not mad about any
sport or any fad. She loved her father, her aunt, her cousins of the
Tancred family, and her friend, Lady Anningford. She was, in short, a
fine character and a great lady.
"I have come to tell you such a piece of news, Ethelrida," Tristram said
as he sat down beside her on the chintz-covered sofa. Ethelrida's tastes
in furniture and decorations were of the simplest in her own room.
"Guess what it is!"
"How can I, Tristram? Mary is really going to marry Lord Henry?"
"Not that I know of as yet, but I daresay she will, some day. No, guess
again; it is about a marriage."
She poured him out some tea and indicated the bread and butter.
Tristram, she knew, loved her stillroom maid's brown bread and butter.
"A man, or a woman?" she asked, meditatively.
"A man--ME!" he said, with reckless grammar.
"You, Tristram!" Ethelrida exclaimed, with as much excitement as she
ever permitted herself. "You going to be married! But to whom?"
The thing seemed too preposterous; and her mind had instantly flown to
the name, Laura Highford, before her reason said, "How ridiculous--she
is married already!"--so she repeated again: "But to whom?"
"I am going to be married to a widow, a niece of Francis Markrute's; you
know him." Lady Ethelrida nodded. "She is the most wonderfully
attractive creature you ever saw, Ethelrida, a type not like any one
else. You'll understand in a minute, when you see her. She has stormy
black eyes--no, they are not really black; they are slate color--and red
hair, and a white face, and, by Jove! a figure! And do you know, my dear
child, I believe I am awfully in love with her!"
"You only 'believe,' Tristram! That sounds odd to be going to be married
upon!" Lady Ethelrida could not help smiling.
He sipped his tea and then jumped up. He was singularly restless to-day.
"She is the kind of woman a man would go perfectly mad about when he
knew her well. I shall, I know." Then, as he saw his cousin's humorous
expression, he laughed boyishly. "It does sound odd, I admit," he said,
"the inference is that I don't know her well--and that is just it,
Ethelrida, but only to you would I say it. Look here, my dear girl, I
have got to be comforted this afternoon. She has just flattened me out.
We are going to be married on the 25th of October, and I want you to be
awfully nice to her. I am sure she has had a rottenly unhappy life."
"Of course I will, Tristram dear," said Lady Ethelrida, "but remember, I
am completely in the dark. When did you meet her? Can't you tell me
something more? Then I will be as sympathetic as you please."
So Lord Tancred sat down on the sofa beside her again, and told her the
bare facts: that it was rather sudden, but he was convinced it was what
he wanted most to do in life; that she was young and beautiful, rich,
and very reserved, and rather cold; that she was going away, until a
week before the wedding; that he knew it sounded all mad, but his dear
Ethelrida was to be a darling, and to understand and not reason with
And she did not. She had gathered enough from this rather incoherent
recital to make her see that some very deep and unusual current must
have touched her cousin's life. She knew the Tancred character, so she
said all sorts of nice things to him, asked interested but not
indiscreet questions. And soon that irritated and baffled sense left
him, and he became calm.
"I want Uncle Glastonbury to ask Francis Markrute to the shoot on the
2nd of November, Ethelrida," he said, "and you will let me bring
Zara--she will be my wife by then--although I was asked only as a
"It is my party, not Papa's, you dear old goose, you know that," Lady
Ethelrida said. "Of course you shall bring your Zara and I myself will
write and ask Mr. Markrute. In spite of Aunt Jane's saying that he is a
cynical foreigner I like him!"
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