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The Reason Why
by Elinor Glyn
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"By Jove!" said Lord Tancred, "you ought to be in the House of Lords, Francis! You'd wake them up!"

The financier looked down at his plate; he always lowered his eyes when he felt things. No one must ever read what was really passing in his soul, and when he felt, it was the more difficult to conceal, he reasoned.

"I am not a snob, my friend," he said, after a mouthful of salad. "I have no worship for aristocracy in the abstract; I am a student, a rather careful student of systems and their results, and, incidentally, a breeder of thoroughbred live stock, too, which helps one's conclusions: and above all I am an interested watcher of the progress of evolution."

"You are abominably clever," said Lord Tancred.

"Think of your uncle, the Duke of Glastonbury," the financier went on. "He fulfills his duties in every way, a munificent landlord, and a sound, level-headed politician: what other country or class could produce such as he?"

"Oh, the Duke's all right," his nephew agreed. "He is a bit hard up like a number of us at times, but he keeps the thing going splendidly, and my cousin Ethelrida helps him. She is a brick. But you know her, of course, don't you think so?"

"The Lady Ethelrida seems to me a very perfect young woman," Francis Markrute said, examining his claret through the light. "I wish I knew her better. We have few occasions of meeting; she does not go out very much into general society, as you know."

"Oh, I'll arrange that, if it would interest you. I thought you were perfectly cynical about and even rather bored with women," Lord Tancred said.

"I think I told you—was it only yesterday?—that I understood it might be possible for a woman to count—I have not time for the ordinary parrot-chatterers one meets. There are three classes of the species female: those for the body, those for the brain, and those for both. The last are dangerous. The other two merely occupy certain moods in man. Fortunately for us the double combination is rare."

Lord Tancred longed to ask under which head Francis Markrute placed his niece, but, of course, he restrained himself. He, personally, felt sure she would be of the combination; that was her charm. Yes, as he thought over things, that was the only really dangerous kind, and he had so seldom met it! Then his imagination suddenly pictured Laura Highford with her tiny mouth and pointed teeth. She had a showy little brain, absolutely no heart, and the senses of a cat or a ferret. What part of him had she appealed to? Well, thank God, that was over and done with, and he was perfectly free to make his discoveries in regard to Zara, his future wife!

"I tell you what, Francis," he said presently, after the conversation had drifted from these topics and cigars and liqueurs had come, "I would like my cousin Ethelrida to meet Countess Shulski pretty soon. I don't know why, but I believe the two would get on."

"There is no use suggesting any meetings until my niece returns from Paris," the financier said. "She will be in a different mood by then. She had not, when she came to England, quite put off her mourning; she will then have beautiful clothes, and be more acquiescent in every way. Now she would be antagonistic. See her this afternoon and be sensible; make up your mind to postpone things, until her return. And even then be careful until she is your wife!"

Lord Tancred looked disappointed. "It is a long time," he said.

"Let me arrange to give a dinner at my house, at which perhaps the Duke and Lady Ethelrida would honor me by being present, and your mother and sisters and any other member of your family you wish, let us say, on the night of my niece's return" (he drew a small calendar notebook from his pocket). "That will be Wednesday, the 18th, and we will fix the wedding for Wednesday the 25th, a week later. That gets you back from your honeymoon on the 1st of November; you can stay with me that night, and if your uncle is good enough to include me in the invitation to his shoot we can all three go down to Montfitchet on the following day. Is all this well? If so I will write it down."

"Perfectly well," agreed the prospective bridegroom—and having no notebook or calendar, he scribbled the reminder for himself on his cuff. Higgins, his superb valet, knew a good deal of his lordship's history from his lordship's cuffs!

"I don't think I shall wait for tea-time, Francis," he said, when they got out of the restaurant, into the hall. "I think I'll go now, and get it over, if she will be in. Could I telephone and ask?"

He did so and received the reply from Turner that Countess Shulski was at home, but could not receive his lordship until half-past four o'clock.

"Damn!" said that gentleman as he put the receiver down, and Francis Markrute turned away to hide his smile.

"You had better go and buy an engagement ring, hadn't you?" he said. "It won't do to forget that."

"Good Lord, I had forgotten!" gasped Tristram.

"Well, I have lots of time to do it now, so I'll go to the family jewelers, they are called old-fashioned, but the stones are so good."

So they said good-bye, the young man speeding westwards in a taxi, the lion hunter's excitement thrilling in his veins.

The financier returned to his stately office and passed through his obsequious rows of clerks to his inner sanctum. Then he lit another cigar and gave orders that he was not to be disturbed for a quarter of an hour. He reposed in a comfortable chair and allowed himself to dream. All his plans were working; there must be no rush. Great emergencies required rush, but to build to the summit of one's ambitions, one must use calm and watchful care.



CHAPTER VIII

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 handsome face.

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 beginning.

"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 permission."

"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. bergere 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 shaking hands.

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

"Yours,

"Tancred."

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 sympathetic.

Yes, her ladyship was at home, and he was shown up into his cousin's own sitting-room.

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 ciselee, 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 him!

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 bachelor?"

"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!"



CHAPTER IX

Society was absolutely flabbergasted when it read in the Morning Post the announcement of Lord Tancred's engagement! No one had heard a word about it. There had been talk of his going to Canada, and much chaff upon that subject—so ridiculous, Tancred emigrating! But of a prospective bride the most gossip-loving busybody at White's had never heard! It fell like a bombshell. And Lady Highford, as she read the news, clenched her pointed teeth, and gave a little squeal like a stoat.

So he had drifted beyond her, after all! He had often warned her he would, at the finish of one of those scenes she was so fond of creating. It was true then, when he had told her before Cowes that everything must be over. She had thought his silence since had only been sulking! But who was the creature? "Countess Shulski." Was it a Polish or Hungarian name? "Daughter of the late Maurice Grey." Which Grey was that? "Niece of Francis Markrute, Esquire, of Park Lane." Here was the reason—money! How disgusting men were! They would sell their souls for money. But the woman should suffer for this, and Tristram, too, if she could manage it!

Then she wept some tears of rage. He was so adorably good looking and had been such a feather in her cap, although she had never been really sure of him. It was a mercy her conduct had always been of such an immaculate character—in public—no one could say a word. And now she must act the dear, generous, congratulating friend.

So she had a dose of sal volatile and dressed, with extra care, to lunch at Glastonbury House. There she might hear all the details; only Ethelrida was so superior, and uninterested in news or gossip.

There was a party of only five assembled, when she arrived—she was always a little late. The Duke and Lady Ethelrida, Constance Radcliffe, and two men: an elderly politician, and another cousin of the family. She could certainly chatter about Tristram, and hear all she could.

They were no sooner seated than she began:

"Is not this wonderful news about your nephew, Duke? No one expected it of him just now, though I as one of his best friends have been urging him to marry, for the last two years. Dear Lady Tancred must be so enchanted."

"I am sure you gave him good counsel," said the Duke, screwing his eyeglass which he wore on a long black ribbon into his whimsical old blue eye. "But Tristram's a tender mouth, and a bit of a bolter—got to ride him on the snaffle, not the curb."

Lady Highford looked down at her plate, while she gave an answer quite at variance with her own methods.

"Snaffle or curb, no one would ever try to guide Lord Tancred! And what is the charming lady like? You all know her, of course?"

"Why, no," said His Grace. "The uncle, Mr. Markrute, dined here the other night. He's been very useful to the Party, in a quiet way and seems a capital fellow—but Ethelrida and I have never met the niece. Of course, no one has been in town since the season, and she was not here then. We only came up, like you, for Flora's wedding, and go down to-morrow."

"This is thrilling!" said Lady Highford. "An unknown bride! Have you not even heard what she is like—young or old? A widow always sounds so attractive!"

"I am told that she is perfectly beautiful," said Lady Ethelrida from the other side of the table—there had been a pause—"and Tristram seems so happy. She is quite young, and very rich."

She had always been amiably friendly and indifferent to Laura Highford. It was Ethelrida's way to have no likes and dislikes for the general circle of her friends; her warm attachment was given to so very few, and the rest were just all of a band. Perhaps if she felt anything definite it was a tinge on the side of dislike for Laura. Thinking to please Tristram at the time she had asked her to this, her birthday party, when they had met at Cowes in August, and now she was faced with the problem how to put her off, since Tristram and his bride would be coming. She saw the glint in the light hazel eyes as she described the fiance and her kind heart at once made her determine to turn the conversation. After all, it was perfectly natural for poor Laura to have been in love with Tristram—no one could be more attractive—and, of course, it must hurt her—this marriage. She would reserve the "putting off," until they left the dining-room and she could speak to her alone. So with her perfect tact and easy grace she diverted the current of conversation to the political situation, and luncheon went on.

But this was not what Lady Highford had come for. She wanted to hear everything she could about her rival, in order to lay her plans; and the moment Ethelrida was engaged with the politician and the Duke had turned to Mrs. Radcliffe, she tackled the cousin, in a lower voice.

He, Jimmy Danvers, had only read what she had, that morning. He had seen Tristram at the Turf on Tuesday after lunch—the day before yesterday—and he had only talked of Canada—and not a word of a lady then. It was a bolt from the blue. "And when I telephoned to the old boy this morning," he said, "and asked him to take me to call upon his damsel to-day, he told me she had gone to Paris and would not be back until a week before the wedding!"

"How very mysterious!" piped Laura. "Tristram is off to Paris, too, then, I suppose?"

"He did not say; he seemed in the deuce of a hurry and put the receiver down."

"He is probably only doing it for money, poor darling boy!" she said sympathetically. "It was quite necessary for him."

"Oh, that's not Tristram's measure," Sir James Danvers interrupted. "He'd never do anything for money. I thought you knew him awfully well," he added, surprised. Apprehension of situations was not one of his strong qualities.

"Of course I do!" Laura snapped out and then laughed. "But you men! Money would tempt any of you!"

"You may bet your last farthing, Lady Highford, Tristram is in love—crazy, if you ask me—he'd not have been so silent about it all otherwise. The Canada affair was probably because she was playing the poor old chap,—and now she's given in; and that, of course, is chucked."

Money, as the motive, Lady Highford could have borne, but, to hear about love drove her wild! Her little pink and white face with its carefully arranged childish setting suddenly looked old and strained, while her eyes grew yellow in the light.

"They won't be happy long, then!" she said. "Tristram could not be faithful to any one."

"I don't think he's ever been in love before, so we can't judge," the blundering cousin continued, now with malice prepense. "He's had lots of little affairs, but they have only been 'come and go.'"

Lady Highford crumbled her bread and then turned to the Duke—there was nothing further to be got out of this quarter. Finally luncheon came to an end, and the three ladies went up to Ethelrida's sitting-room. Mrs. Radcliffe presently took her leave to catch a train, so the two were left alone.

"I am so looking forward to your party, dear Ethelrida," Lady Highford cooed. "I am going back to Hampshire to-morrow, but at the end of the month I come up again and will be with you in Norfolk on the 2nd."

"I was just wondering," said Lady Ethelrida, "if, after all, you would not be bored, Laura? Your particular friends, the Sedgeworths, have had to throw us over—his father being dead. It will be rather a family sort of collection, and not so amusing this year, I am afraid. Em and Mary, Tristram and his new bride,—and Mr. Markrute, the uncle—and the rest as I told you."

"Why, my dear child, it sounds delightful! I shall long to meet the new Lady Tancred! Tristram and I are such dear friends, poor darling boy! I must write and tell him how delighted I am with the news. Do you know where he is at the moment?"

"He is in London, I believe. Then you really will stick to us and not be bored? How sweet of you!" Lady Ethelrida said without a change in her level voice while her thoughts ran: "It is very plucky of Laura; or, she has some plan! In any case I can't prevent her coming now, and perhaps it is best to get it over. But I had better warn Tristram, surprises are so unpleasant."

Then, after a good deal of gush about "dear Lady Tancred's" prospective happiness in having a daughter-in-law, and "dear Tristram," Lady Highford's motor was announced, and she went.

And when she had gone Lady Ethelrida sat down and wrote her cousin a note. Just to tell him in case she did not see him before she went back to the country to-morrow that her list, which she enclosed, was made up for her November party, but if he would like any one else for his bride to meet, he was to say so. She added that some friends had been to luncheon, and among them Laura Highford, who had said the nicest things and wished him every happiness.

Lady Ethelrida was not deceived about these wishes, but she could do no more.

The Duke came into her room, just as she was finishing, and warmed himself by her wood fire.

"The woman is a cat, Ethelrida," he said without any preamble. These two understood each other so well, they often seemed to begin in the middle of a sentence, of which no outsider could grasp the meaning.

"I am afraid she is, Papa. I have just been writing to Tristram, to let him know she still insists upon coming to the shoot. She can't do anything there, and they may as well get it over. She will have to be civil to the new Lady Tancred in our house."

"Whew!" whistled the Duke, "you may have an exciting party. You had better go and leave our cards to-day on the Countess Shulski, and another of mine, as well, for the uncle. We'll have to swallow the whole lot, I suppose."

"I rather like Mr. Markrute, Papa," Ethelrida said. "I talked to him the other night for the first time; he is extremely intelligent. We ought not to be so prejudiced, perhaps, just because he is a foreigner, and in the City. I've asked him on the 2nd, too—you don't mind? I will leave the note to-day; Tristram particularly wished it."

"Then we'll have to make the best of it, pet. I daresay you are right, and one ought not to be prejudiced about anything, in these days."

And then he patted his daughter's smoothly brushed head, and went out again.

Lady Ethelrida drove in the ducal carriage (the Duke insisted upon a carriage, in London), to Park Lane, and was handing her cards to her footman to leave, when Francis Markrute himself came out of the door.

His whole face changed; it seemed to grow younger. He was a fairly tall man, and distinguished looking. He came forward and said: "How do you do," through the brougham window.

Alas! his niece had left that morning en route for Paris—trousseaux and feminine business, but he was so delighted to have had this chance of a few words with her—Lady Ethelrida.

"I was leaving a note to ask you to come and shoot with my father at Montfitchet, Mr. Markrute," she said, "on the 2nd of November. Tristram says he hopes they will be back from the honeymoon in time to join us, too."

"I shall be delighted, and my niece will be delighted at your kindness in calling so soon."

Then they said a few more polite things and the financier finished by:—"I am taking the great liberty of having the book, which I told you about, rebound—it was in such a tattered condition, I was ashamed to send it to you—do not think I had forgotten. I hope you will accept it?"

"I thought you only meant to lend it to me because it is out of print and I cannot buy it. I am so sorry you have had this trouble," Lady Ethelrida said, a little stiffly. "Bring it to the shoot. It will interest me to see it but you must not give it to me." And then she smiled graciously; and he allowed her to say good-bye, and drive on. And as he turned into Grosvenor Street he mused,

"I like her exquisite pride; but she shall take the book—and many other things—presently."

* * * * *

Meanwhile Zara Shulski had arrived at Bournemouth. She had started early in the morning, and she was making a careful investigation of the house. The doctor appeared all that was kind and clever, and his wife gentle and sweet. Mirko could not have a nicer home, it seemed. Their little girl was away at her grandmother's for the next six weeks, they said, but would be enchanted to have a little boy companion. Everything was arranged satisfactorily. Zara stayed the night, and next day, having wired to Mimo to meet her at the station, she returned to London.

They talked in the Waterloo waiting-room; poor Mimo seemed so glad and happy. He saw her and her small bag into a taxi. She was going back to her uncle's, and was to take Mirko down next day, and, on the following one, start for Paris.

"But I can't go back to Park Lane without seeing Mirko, now," she said. "I did not tell my uncle what train I was returning by. There is plenty of time so I will go and have tea with you at Neville Street. It will be like old times, we will get some cakes and other things on the way, and boil the kettle on the fire."

So Mimo gladly got in with her and they started. He had a new suit of clothes and a new felt hat, and looked a wonderfully handsome foreign gentleman; his manner to women was always courteous and gallant. Zara smiled and looked almost happy, as they arranged the details of their surprise tea party for Mirko.

At that moment there passed them in Whitehall a motorcar going very fast, the occupant of which, a handsome young man, caught the most fleeting glimpse of them—hardly enough to be certain he recognized Zara. But it gave him a great start and a thrill.

"It cannot be she," he said to himself, "she went to Paris yesterday; but if it is—who is the man?"

He altered his plans, went back to his rooms, and sat moodily down in his favorite chair—an unpleasant, gnawing uncertainty in his heart.



CHAPTER X

Mirko, crouched up by the smoldering fire, was playing the Chanson Triste on his violin when the two reached the studio. He had a wonderful talent—of that there was no doubt—but his health had always been too delicate to stand any continuous study. Nor had the means of the family ever been in a sufficiently prosperous condition, in later years, to procure a really good master. But the touch and soul of the strange little fellow sounded in every wailing note. He always played the Chanson Triste when he was sad and lonely. He had been nearly seven when his mother died, and he remembered her vividly. She had so loved Tschaikovsky's music, and this piece especially. He had played it to her—from ear then—the afternoon she lay dying, and for him, as for them all, it was indissolubly connected with her memory. The tears were slowly trickling down Mirko's cheeks. He was going to be taken away from his father, his much loved Cherisette would not be near him, and he feared and hated strangers.

He felt he was talking to his mother with his bow. His mother who was in heaven, with all the saints and angels. What could it be like up there? It was perhaps a forest, such as Fontainebleau, only there were sure to be numbers of birds which sang like the nightingales in the Borghese Gardens—there would be no canaries! The sun always shone and Maman would wear a beautiful dress of blue gauze with wings, and her lovely hair, which was fair, not red like Cherisette's, would be all hanging down. It surely was a very desirable place, and quite different from the Neville Street lodging. Why could he not get there, out of the cold and darkness? Cherisette had always taught him that God was so good and kind to little boys who had crippled backs. He would ask God with all the force of his music, to take him there to Maman.

The sound of the familiar air struck a chill note upon Mimo and Zara, as they came up the stairs; it made them hasten their steps—they knew very well what mood it meant with the child.

He was so far away, in his passionate dream-prayer, that he did not hear them coming until they opened the door; and then he looked up, his beautiful dark eyes all wet with tears which suddenly turned to joy when he saw his sister.

"Cherisette adoree!" he cried, and was soon in her arms, soothed and comforted and caressed. Oh, if he could always be with her, he really, after all, would wish for no other heaven!

"We are going to have such a picnic!" Zara told him. "Papa and I have brought a new tablecloth, and some pretty cups and saucers, and spoons, and knives, and forks—and see! such buns! English buns for you to toast, Mirko mio! You must be the little cook, while I lay the table."

And the child clapped his hands with glee and helped to take the papers off; he stroked the pretty roses on the china with his delicate, little forefinger—he had Mimo's caressing ways with everything he admired and loved. He had never broken his toys, as other children do; accidental catastrophes to them had always caused him pain and weeping. And these bright, new flowery cups should be his special care, to wash, and dry, and guard.

He grew merry as a cricket, and his laughter pealed over the paper cap Mimo made for him and the towel his sister had for an apron. They were to be the servants, and Mimo a lordly guest.

And soon the table was laid, and the buns toasted and buttered; Zara had even bought a vase of the same china, in which she placed a bunch of autumn red roses, to match those painted on it and this was a particular joy.

"The Apache," which had not yet found a purchaser, stood on one easel, and from it the traveling rug hung to the other, concealing all unsightly things, and yesterday Mimo had bought from the Tottenham Court Road a cheap basket armchair with bright cretonne cushions. And really, with the flowers and the blazing fire when they sat down to tea it all looked very cozy and home-like.

What would her uncle or Lord Tancred have thought, could they have seen those tempestuous eyes of Zara's glistening and tender—and soft as a dove's!

After tea she sat in the basket chair, and took Mirko in her arms, and told him all about the delightful, new home he was going to, the kind lady, and the beautiful view of the sea he would get from his bedroom windows; how pretty and fresh it all looked, how there were pine woods to walk in, and how she would—presently—come down to see him. And as she said this her thoughts flew to her own fate—what would her "presently" be? And she gave a little, unconscious shiver almost of fear.

"What hast thou, Cherisette?" said Mirko. "Where were thy thoughts then?—not here?"

"No, not here, little one. Thy Cherisette is going also to a new home; some day thou must visit her there."

But when he questioned and implored her to tell him about it she answered vaguely, and tried to divert his thoughts, until he said:

"It is not to Maman in heaven, is it, dear Cherisette? Because there, there would be enough place for us both—and surely thou couldst take me too?"

* * * * *

When she got back to Park Lane, and entered her uncle's library he was sitting at the writing table, the telephone in his hand. He welcomed her with his eyes and went on speaking, while she took a chair.

"Yes, do come and dine.—May you see her if by chance she did not go to Paris?" He looked up at Zara, who frowned. "No—she is very tired and has gone to her room for the evening.—She has been in the country to-day, seeing some friends.—No—not to-morrow—she goes to the country again, and to Paris the following night—To the station? I will ask her, but perhaps she is like me, and dislikes being seen off," then a laugh,—and then, "All right—well, come and dine at eight—good-bye." The financier put the receiver down and looked at his niece, a whimsical smile in his eyes.

"Well," he said, "your fiance is very anxious to see you, it seems. What do you say?"

"Certainly not!" she flashed. "I thought it was understood; he shall not come to the train. I will go by another if he insists."

"He won't insist; tell me of your day?"

She calmed herself—her face had grown stormy.

"I am quite satisfied with the home you have chosen for Mirko and will take him there to-morrow. All the clothes have come that you said I might order for him, and I hope and think he will be comfortable and happy. He has a very beautiful, tender nature, and a great talent. If he could only grow strong, and more balanced! Perhaps he will, in this calm, English air."

Francis Markrute's face changed, as it always did with the mention and discussion of Mirko—whose presence in the world was an ever-rankling proof of his loved sister's disgrace. All his sense of justice—and he was in general a just man—could never reconcile him to the idea of ever seeing or recognizing the child. "The sins of the fathers"—was his creed and he never forgot the dying Emperor's words. He had lost sight of his niece for nearly two years after his sister's death. She had wished for no communication with him, believing then that he had left her mother to die without forgiveness, and it was not until he happened to read in a foreign paper the casual mention of Count Shulski's murder, and so guessed at Zara's whereabouts, that a correspondence had been opened again, and he was able to explain that he had been absent in Africa and had not received any letters.

He then offered her his protection and a home, if she would sever all connection with the two, Mimo and Mirko, and she had indignantly refused. And it was only when they were in dire poverty, and he had again written asking his niece to come and stay with him for a few weeks, this time with no conditions attached, that she had consented, thinking that perhaps she would be able in some way to benefit them.

But now that she looked at him she felt keenly how he had trapped her, all the same.

"We will not discuss your brother's nature," he said, coldly. "I will keep my side of the bargain scrupulously, for all material things; that is all you can expect of me. Now let us talk of yourself. I have ventured to send some sables for your inspection up to your sitting room; it will be cold traveling. I hope you will select what you wish. And remember, I desire you to order the most complete trousseau in Paris, everything that a great lady could possibly want for visits and entertainments; and you must secure a good maid there, and return with all the apanages of your position."

She bowed, as at the reception of an order. She did not thank him.

"I will not give you any advice what to get," he went on. "Your own admirable taste will direct you. I understand that in the days of your late husband you were a beautifully dressed woman, so you will know all the best places to go to. But please to remember, while I give you unlimited resources for you to do what I wish, I trust to your honor that you will bestow none of them upon the—man Sykypri. The bargain is about the child; the father is barred from it in every way."

Zara did not answer, she had guessed this, but Mirko's welfare was of first importance. With strict economy Mimo could live upon what he possessed, if alone and if he chose to curtail his irresponsible generosities.

"Do I understand I have your word of honor about this?" her uncle demanded.

Her empress' air showed plainly now. She arose from the chair and stood haughtily drawn up:

"You know me and whether my spoken word 'is required or no," she said, "but if it will be any satisfaction to you to have it I give it!"

"Good—Then things are settled, and, I hope, to the happiness of all parties."

"Happiness!" she answered bitterly. "Who is ever happy?" Then she turned to go, but he arrested her.

"In two or three years' time you will admit to me that you know of four human beings who are ideally happy." And with this enigmatic announcement ringing in her ears, she went on up the stairs to her sitting-room.

Who were the four people? Herself and himself and Mimo and Mirko? Was it possible that after all his hardness towards them he meant to be eventually kind? Or was the fourth person not Mimo, but her future husband? Then she smiled grimly. It was not very likely he would be happy—a beast, like the rest of men, who, marrying her only for her uncle's money, having been ready to marry her for that when he had never even seen her—was yet full enough of the revolting quality of his sex to be desirous now to kiss her and clasp her in his arms!

As far as she was concerned he would have no happiness!

And she herself—what would the new life mean? It appeared a blank—an abyss. A dark curtain seemed to overhang and cover it. All she could feel was that Mirko was being cared for, that she was keeping her word to her adored mother. She would fulfill to the letter her uncle's wishes as to her suitable equipments, but beyond that she refused to think.

All the evening, when she had finished her short, solitary dinner, she played the piano in her sitting-room, her white fingers passing from one divine air to another, until at last she unconsciously drifted to the Chanson Triste, and Mirko's words came back to her:

"There, there would be enough place for us both"—Who knows—that might be the end of it!

And the two men heard the distant wail of the last notes as they came out of the dining-room, and, while it made the financier uncomfortable, it caused Tristram a sharp stab of pain.



CHAPTER XI

The next three weeks passed for Lord Tancred in continuously growing excitement. He had much business to see to for the reopening of Wrayth which had been closed for the past two years. He had decided to let Zara choose her own rooms, and decorate them as she pleased, when she should get there. But the big state apartments, with their tapestry and pictures, would remain untouched.

It gave him infinite pleasure—the thought of living at his old house once again—and it touched him to see the joy of the village and all the old keepers and gardeners who had been pensioned off! He found himself wondering all sorts of things—if he would have a son some day soon, to inherit it all. Each wood and broad meadow seemed to take on new interest and significance from this thought.

His home was so very dear to him though he had drilled himself into a seeming indifference. The great, round tower of the original Norman keep was still there, connected with the walls of the later house, a large, wandering edifice built at all periods from that epoch upwards, and culminating in a shocking early-Victorian Gothic wing and porch.

"I think we shall pull that wretched bit down some time," he said to himself. "Zara must have good taste—she could not look so well in her clothes, if she had not."

His thoughts were continually for her, and what she would be likely to wish; and, in the evening, when he sat alone in his own sanctum after a hard day with electricians and work-people, he would gaze into the blazing logs and dream.

The new electric light was not installed yet, and only the big, old lamps lit the shadowy oak panelling. There in a niche beside the fireplace was the suit of armor which another Tristram Guiscard had worn at Agincourt. What little chaps they had been in those days in comparison with himself and his six feet two inches! But they had been great lords, his ancestors, and he, too, would be worthy of the race. There were no wars just now to go to and fight for his country—but he would fight for his order, with his uncle, the Duke, that splendid, old specimen of the hereditary legislator. Francis Markrute who was a good judge had said that he had made some decent speeches in the House of Lords already, and he would go on and do his best, and Zara would help him. He wondered if she liked reading and poetry. He was such a magnificently healthy sportsman he had always been a little shy of letting people know his inner and gentler tastes. He hoped so much she would care for the books he did. There was a deep strain of romance in his nature, undreamed of by such women as Laura Highford, and these evenings—alone, musing and growing in love with a phantom—drew it forth.

His plan was to go to Paris—to the Ritz—for the honeymoon. Zara who did not know England would probably hate the solemn servants staring at her in those early days if he took her to Orton, one of the Duke's places which he had offered him for the blissful week. Paris was much better—they could go to the theater there—because he knew it would not all be plain sailing by any means! And every time he thought of that aspect, his keen, blue eyes sparkled with the instinct of the chase and he looked the image of the Baron Tancred who, carved in stone, with his Crusader's crossed feet, reposed in state in the church of Wrayth.

A lissom, wiry, splendid English aristocrat, in perfect condition and health, was Tristram Guiscard, twenty-fourth Baron Tancred, as he lounged in his chair before the fire and dreamed of his lady and his fate.

And when they were used to one another—at the end of the week—there would be the party at Montfitchet where he would have the joy and pride of showing his beautiful wife—and Laura would be there;—he suddenly thought of her. Poor old Laura! she had been awfully nice about it and had written him the sweetest letter. He would not have believed her capable of it—and he felt so kindly disposed towards her—little as she deserved it if he had only known!

Then when these gayeties were over, he and Zara would come here to Wrayth! And he could not help picturing how he would make love to her in this romantic setting; and perhaps soon she, too, would love him. When he got thus far in his picturings he would shut his eyes, stretch out his long limbs, and call to Jake, his solemn bulldog, and pat his wrinkled head.

And Zara, in Paris, was more tranquil in mind than was her wont. Mirko had not made much difficulty about going to Bournemouth. Everything was so pretty, the day she took him there, the sun shining gayly and the sea almost as blue as the Mediterranean, and Mrs. Morley, the doctor's wife, had been so gentle and sweet, and had drawn him to her heart at once, and petted him, and talked of his violin. The doctor had examined his lungs and said they certainly might improve with plenty of the fine air if he were very carefully fed and tended, and not allowed to catch cold.

The parting with poor Mimo had been very moving. They had said good-bye to him in the Neville Street lodging, as Zara thought it was wiser not to risk a scene at the station. The father and son had kissed and clasped one another and both wept, and Mimo had promised to come to see him soon, soon!

Then there had been another painful wrench when she herself left Bournemouth. She had put off her departure until the afternoon of the following day. Mirko had tried to be as brave as he could; but the memory of the pathetic little figure, as she saw it waving a hand to her from the window, made those rare tears brim up and splash on her glove, as she sat in the train.

In her short life with its many moments of deep anguish she had seldom been able to cry; there were always others to be thought of first, and an iron self-control was one of her inheritances from her grandfather, the Emperor, just as that voluptuous, undulating grace, and the red, lustrous hair, came from the beautiful opera dancer and great artiste, her grandmother.

She had cautioned Mrs. Morley, if she should often hear Mirko playing the Chanson Triste, to let her know, and she would come to him. It was a sure indication of his state of mind. And Mrs. Morley, who had read in the Morning Post the announcement of her approaching marriage, asked her where she could be found, and Zara had stiffened suddenly and said—at her uncle's house in Park Lane, the letters to be marked "To be forwarded immediately."

And when she had gone, Mrs. Morley had told her sister who had come in to tea how beautiful Countess Shulski was and how very regal looking, "but she had on such plain, almost shabby, black clothes, Minnie dear, and a small black toque, and then the most splendid sable wrap—those very grand people do have funny tastes, don't they? I should have liked a pretty autumn costume of green velveteen, and a hat with a wing or a bird."

The financier had insisted upon his niece wearing the sable wrap—and somehow, in spite of all things, the beautiful, dark, soft fur had given her pleasure.

And now, three weeks later, she was just returning from Paris, her beauty enriched by all that money and taste could procure. It was the eighteenth of October, exactly a week before her wedding.

She had written to Mimo from Paris, and told him she was going to be married; that she was doing so because she thought it was best for them all; and he had written back enchanted exclamations of surprise and joy, and had told her she should have his new picture, the London fog—so dramatic with its two meeting figures—for his wedding gift. Poor Mimo, so generous, always, with all he had!

Mirko was not to be told until she was actually married.

She had written to her uncle and asked him as a great favor that she might only arrive the very day of the family dinner party, he could plead for her excess of trousseau business, or what he liked. She would come by the nine o'clock morning train, so as to be in ample time for dinner; and it would be so much easier for every one, if they could get the meeting over, the whole family together, rather than have the ordeal of private presentations.

And Francis Markrute had agreed, while Lord Tancred had chafed.

"I shall meet her at the station, whatever you say, Francis!" he had exclaimed. "I am longing to see her."

And as the train drew up at Victoria, Zara caught sight of him there on the platform, and in spite of her dislike and resentment she could not help seeing that her fiance was a wonderfully good-looking man.

She herself appeared to him as the loveliest thing he had ever seen in his life, with her perfect Paris clothes, and air of distinction. If he had thought her attractive before he felt ecstatic in his admiration now.

Francis Markrute hurried up the platform and Tristram frowned, but the financier knew it might not be safe to leave them to a tete-a-tete drive to the house! Zara's temper might not brook it, and he had rushed back from the city, though he hated rushing, in order to be on the spot to make a third.

"Welcome, my niece!" he said, before Lord Tancred could speak. "You see, we have both come to greet you."

She thanked them politely, and turned to give an order to her new French maid—and some of the expectant, boyish joy died out of Tristram's face, as he walked beside her to the waiting motor.

They said the usual things about the crossing—it had been smooth and pleasant—so fortunate for that time of the year—and she had stayed on deck and enjoyed it. Yes, Paris had been charming; it was always a delightful spot to find oneself in.

Then Tristram said he was glad she thought that, because, if she would consent, he would arrange to go there for the honeymoon directly after the wedding. She inclined her head in acquiescence but did not speak. The matter appeared one of complete indifference to her.

In spite of his knowledge that this would be her attitude and he need not expect anything different Tristram's heart began to sink down into his boots, by the time they reached the house, and Francis Markrute whispered to his niece as they came up the steps:

"I beg of you to be a little more gracious—the man has some spirit, you know!"

So when they got into the library, and she began to pour out the tea for them, she made conversation. But Tristram's teeth were set, and a steely light began to grow in his blue eyes.

She looked so astonishingly alluring there in her well-fitting, blue serge, traveling dress, yet he might not even kiss her white, slender hand! And there was a whole week before the wedding! And after it?—would she keep up this icy barrier between them? If so—but he refused to think of it!

He noticed that she wore his engagement ring only, on her left hand, and that the right one was ringless, nor had she a brooch or any other jewel. He felt glad—he would be able to give her everything. His mother had been so splendid about the family jewels, insisting upon handing them over, and even in the short time one or two pieces had been reset, the better to please the presumably modern taste of the new bride of the Tancreds. These, and the wonderful pearls, her uncle's gift, were waiting for her, up in her sitting-room.

"I think I will go and rest now until dinner," she said, and forced a smile as she moved towards the door.

It was the first time Tristram had ever seen her smile, and it thrilled him. He had the most frantic longing to take her in his arms and kiss her, and tell her he was madly in love with her, and wanted her never to be out of his sight.

But he let her pass out, and, turning round, he found Francis Markrute pouring out some liqueur brandy from a wonderful, old, gold-chased bottle, which stood on a side-table with its glasses. He filled two, and handed one to Tristram, while he quoted Doctor Johnson with an understanding smile:

"'Claret for boys, port for men, but brandy for heroes!' By Jove! my dear boy," he said, "you are a hero!"



CHAPTER XII

Lady Tancred unfortunately had one of her very bad headaches, and an hour before dinner, in fact before her son had left the Park Lane house, a telephone message came to say she was dreadfully sorry, it would be impossible for her to come. It was Emily who spoke to Francis Markrute, himself.

"Mother is so disappointed," she said, "but she really suffers so dreadfully. I am sure Countess Shulski will forgive her, and you, too. She wants to know if Countess Shulski will let Tristram bring her to-morrow morning, without any more ceremony, to see her and stay to luncheon."

Thus it was settled and this necessitated a change in the table arrangements.

Lady Ethelrida would now sit on the host's right hand, and Lady Coltshurst, an aunt on the Tancred side, at his left, while Zara would be between the Duke and her fiance, as originally arranged. Emily Guiscard would have Sir James Danvers and Lord Coltshurst as neighbors, and Mary her uncle, the Duke's brother, a widower, Lord Charles Montfitchet, and his son, "Young Billy," the Glastonbury heir—Lady Ethelrida was the Duke's only child.

At a quarter before eight Francis Markrute went up to his niece's sitting-room. She was already dressed in a sapphire-blue velvet masterpiece of simplicity. The Tancred presents of sapphires and diamonds lay in their open cases on the table with the splendid Markrute yards of pearls. She was standing looking down at them, the strangest expression of cynical resignation upon her face.

"Your gift is magnificent, Uncle Francis," she said, without thanking him. "Which do you wish me to wear? Yours—or his?"

"Lord Tancred's, he has specially asked that you put his on to-night," the financier replied. "These are only his first small ones; the other jewels are being reset for you. Nothing can be kinder or more generous than the whole family has been. You see this brooch, with the large drop sapphire and diamond, is from the Duke."

She inclined her head without enthusiasm, and took her own small pearls from her ears, and replaced them by the big sapphire and diamond earrings; a riviere of alternate solitaire sapphires and diamonds she clasped round her snowy throat.

"You look absolutely beautiful," her uncle exclaimed with admiration. "I knew I could perfectly trust to your taste—the dress is perfection."

"Then I suppose we shall have to go down," she said quietly.

She was perfectly calm, her face expressionless; if there was a tempestuous suggestion in her somber eyes she generally kept the lids lowered. Inwardly, she felt a raging rebellion. This was the first ceremony of the sacrifice, and although in the abstract her fine senses appreciated the jewels and all her new and beautiful clothes and apanages, they in no way counterbalanced the hateful degradation.

To her it was a hideous mockery—the whole thing; she was just a chattel, a part of a business bargain. She could not guess her uncle's motive for the transaction (he had a deep one, of course), but Lord Tancred's was plain and purely contemptible. Money! For had not the whole degrading thing been settled before he had ever seen her? He was worse than Ladislaus who, at all events, had been passionately in love, in his revolting, animal way.

She knew nothing of the English customs, nor how such a thing as the arrangement of this marriage, as she thought it was, was a perfectly unknown impossibility, as an idea. She supposed that the entire family were aware of the circumstances, and were willing to accept her only for her uncle's wealth—she already hated and despised them all. Her idea was, "noblesse oblige," and that a great and ancient house should never stoop to such depths.

Francis Markrute looked at her when she said, "I suppose we shall have to go down," with that icy calm. He felt faintly uneasy.

"Zara, it is understood you will be gracious? and brusquer no one?"

But all the reply he received was a glance of scorn. She had given her word and refused to discuss that matter.

And so they descended the stairs just in time to be standing ready to receive Lord and Lady Coltshurst who were the first to be announced. He was a spare, unintelligent, henpecked, elderly man, and she, a stout, forbidding-looking lady. She had prominent, shortsighted eyes, and she used longhandled glasses; she had also three chins, and did not resemble the Guiscards in any way, except for her mouth and her haughty bearing.

Zara's manner was that of an empress graciously receiving foreigners in a private audience!

The guests now arrived in quick succession. Lord Charles and his son, "Young Billy," then Tristram and his sisters, and Jimmy Danvers, and, lastly, the Duke and Lady Ethelrida.

They were all such citizens of the world there was no awkwardness, and the old Duke had kissed his fair, prospective niece's hand when he had been presented, and had said that some day he should claim the privilege of an old man and kiss her cheek. And Zara had smiled for an instant, overcome by his charm, and so she had put her fingers on his arm, and they had gone down to dinner; and now they were talking suavely.

Francis Markrute had a theory that certain human beings are born with moral antennae—a sort of extra combination beyond the natural of the senses of sight, smell, hearing and understanding—which made them apprehend situations and people even when these chanced to be of a hitherto unknown race or habit. Zara was among those whose antennae were highly developed. She had apprehended almost instantaneously that whatever their motives were underneath, her future husband's family were going to act the part of receiving her for herself. It was a little ridiculous, but very well bred, and she must fall in with it when with them collectively like this.

Before they had finished the soup the Duke was saying to himself that she was the most attractive creature he had ever met in his life, and no wonder Tristram was mad about her; for Tristram's passionate admiration to-night could not have been mistaken by a child!

And yet Zara had never smiled, but that once—in the drawing-room.

Lady Ethelrida from where she sat could see her face through a gap in the flowers. The financier had ordered a tall arrangement on purpose: if Zara by chance should look haughtily indifferent it were better that her expression should escape the observation of all but her nearest neighbors. However, Lady Ethelrida just caught the picture of her through an oblique angle, against a background of French panelling.

And with her quiet, calm judgment of people she was wondering what was the cause of that strange look in her eyes? Was it of a stag at bay? Was it temper, or resentment, or only just pain? And Tristram had said their color was slate gray; for her part she saw nothing but pools of jet ink!

"There is some tragic story hidden here," she thought, "and Tristram is too much in love to see it." But she felt rather drawn to her new prospective cousin, all the same.

Francis Markrute seemed perfectly happy—his manner as a host left nothing to be desired; he did not neglect the uninteresting aunt, who formed golden opinions of him; but he contrived to make Lady Ethelrida feel that he wished only to talk to her; not because she was an attractive, young woman, but because he was impressed with her intelligence, in the abstract. It made things very easy.

The Duke asked Zara if she knew anything about English politics.

"You will have to keep Tristram up to the mark," he said, "he has done very well now and then, but he is a rather lazy fellow." And he smiled.

"'Tristram,'" she thought. "So his name is 'Tristram'!" She had actually never heard it before, nor troubled herself to inquire about it. It seemed incredible, it aroused in her a grim sense of humor, and she looked into the old Duke's face for a second and wondered what he would say if she announced this fact, and he caught the smile, cynical though it was, and continued:

"I see you have noticed his laziness! Now it will really be your duty to make him a first-rate fighter for our cause. The Radicals will begin to attack our very existence presently, and we must all come up to the scratch."

"I know nothing as yet of your politics," Zara said. "I do not understand which party is which, though my uncle says one consists of gentlemen, and the other of the common people. I suppose it is like in other countries, every one wanting to secure what some one above him has got, without being fitted for the administration of what he desires to snatch."

"That is about it," smiled the Duke.

"It would be reasonable, if they were all oppressed here, as in France before the great revolution, but are they?"

"Oh! dear, no!" interrupted Tristram. "All the laws are made for the lower classes. They have compensations for everything, and they have openings to rise to the top of the tree if they wish to. It is wretched landlords like my uncle and myself who are oppressed!" and he smiled delightedly, he was so happy to hear her talk.

"When I shall know I shall perhaps find it all interesting," she continued to the Duke.

"Between us we shall have to instruct you thoroughly, eh, Tristram, my boy? And then you must be a great leader, and have a salon, as the ladies of the eighteenth century did: we want a beautiful young woman to draw us all together."

"Well, don't you think I have found you a perfect specimen, Uncle!" Tristram exclaimed; and he raised his glass and kissed the brim, while he whispered:

"Darling, my sweet lady—I drink to your health."

But this was too much for Zara—he was overdoing the part—and she turned and flashed upon him a glance of resentment and contempt.

Beyond the Duke sat Jimmy Danvers, and then Emily Guiscard and Lord Coltshurst, and the two young people exchanged confidences in a low voice.

"I say, Emily, isn't she a corker?" Sir James said. "She don't look a bit English, though, she reminds me of a—oh, well, I'm not good at history or dates, but some one in the old Florentine time. She looks as if she could put a dagger into one or give a fellow a cup of poison, without turning a hair."

"Oh, Jimmy! how horrid," exclaimed Emily. "She does not seem to me to have a cruel face, she only looks peculiar and mysterious, and—and—unsmiling. Do you think she loves Tristram? Perhaps that is the foreign way—to appear so cold."

At that moment Sir James Danvers caught the glance which Zara gave her fiance for his toast.

"Je-hoshaphat!" he exclaimed! But he realized that Emily had not seen, so he stopped abruptly.

"Yes—one can never be sure of things with foreigners," he said, and he looked down at his plate. That poor devil of a Tristram was going to have a thorny time in the future, he thought, and he was to be best man at the wedding; it would be like giving the old chap over to a tigress! But, by Jove!—such a beautiful one would be worth being eaten by—he added to himself.

And during one of Francis Markrute's turnings to his left-hand neighbor Lord Coltshurst said to Lady Ethelrida:

"I think Tristram's choice peculiarly felicitous, Ethelrida, do not you? But I fear her ladyship"—and he glanced timidly at his wife—"will not take this view. She has a most unreasonable dislike for young women with red hair. 'Ungovernable temperaments,' she affirms. I trust she won't prejudice your Aunt Jane."

"Aunt Jane always thinks for herself," said Lady Ethelrida. She announced no personal opinion about Tristram's fiance, nor could Lord Coltshurst extort one from her.

As the dinner went on she felt a growing sense that they were all on the edge of a volcano.

Lady Ethelrida never meddled in other people's affairs, but she loved Tristram as a brother and she felt a little afraid. She could not see his face, from where she sat—the table was a long one with oval ends—but she, too, had seen the flash from Zara which had caused Jimmy Danvers to exclaim: "Jehoshaphat!"

The host soon turned back from duty to pleasure, leaving Lady Coltshurst to Lord Charles Montfitchet. The conversation turned upon types.

Types were not things of chance, Francis Markrute affirmed; if one could look back far enough there was always a reason for them.

"People are so extremely unthinking about such a number of interesting things, Lady Ethelrida," he said, "their speculative faculties seem only to be able to roam into cut and dried channels. We have had great scientists like Darwin investigating our origin, and among the Germans there are several who study the atavism of races, but in general even educated people are perfectly ignorant upon the subject, and they expect little Tommy Jones and Katie Robinson, or Jacques Dubois and Marie Blanc, to have the same instincts as your cousin, Lord Tancred, and you, for instance. Whatever individual you are dealing with, you should endeavor to understand his original group. In moments of great excitement when all acquired control is in abeyance the individual always returns to the natural action of his group."

"How interesting!" said Lady Ethelrida. "Let us look round the table and decide to what particular group each one of us belongs."

"Most of you are from the same group," he said meditatively. "Eliminating myself and my niece, Sir James Danvers has perhaps had the most intermixtures."

"Yes," said Lady Ethelrida, and she laughed. "Jimmy's grandmother was the daughter of a very rich Manchester cotton spinner; that is what gives him his sound common sense. I am afraid Tristram and the rest of us except Lord Coltshurst have not had anything sensible like that in us for hundreds of years, so what would be your speculation as to the action of our group?"

"That you would have high courage and fine senses, and highly-strung, nervous force, and chivalry and good taste, and broad and noble aims in the higher half and that in the lower portion you would run to the decadence of all those things—the fine turned to vices—yet even so I would not look for vulgarity, or bad taste, or cowardice in any of you."

"No," said Lady Ethelrida—"I hope not. Then, according to your reasoning it is very unjust of us when we say, as perhaps you have heard it said, that Lady Darrowood is to blame when she is noisy and assertive and treats Lord Darrowood with bad taste?"

"Certainly—she only does those things when she is excited and has gone back to her group. When she is under her proper control she plays the part of an English marchioness very well. It is the prerogative of a new race to be able to play a part; the result of the cunning and strength which have been required of the immediate forbears in order to live at all under unfavorable conditions. Now, had her father been a Deptford ox-slaughterer instead of a Chicago pig-sticker she could never have risen to the role of a marchioness at all. This is no new country; it does not need nor comprehend bluff, and so produces no such type as Lady Darrowood."

At this moment Lady Ethelrida again caught sight of Zara. She was silent at the instant, and a look of superb pride and disdain was on her face. Almost before she was aware of it Ethelrida had exclaimed:

"Your niece looks like an empress, a wonderful, Byzantine, Roman empress!"

Francis Markrute glanced at her, sideways, with his clever eyes; had she ever heard anything of Zara's parentage, he wondered for a second, and then he smiled at himself for the thought. Lady Ethelrida was not likely to have spoken so in that case—she would not be acting up to her group.

"There are certain reasons why she should," he said. "I cannot answer for the part of her which comes from her father, Maurice Grey, a very old English family, I believe, but on her mother's side she could have the passions of an artist and the pride of a Caesar: she is a very interesting case."

"May I know something of her?" Ethelrida said, "I do so want them to be happy. Tristram is one of the simplest and finest characters I have ever met. He will love her very much, I fear."

"Why do you say you fear?"

Lady Ethelrida reddened a little; a soft, warm flush came into her delicate face and made it look beautiful: she never spoke of love—to men.

"Because a great love is a very powerful and sometimes a terrible thing, if it is not returned in like measure. And, oh, forgive me for saying so, but the Countess Shulski does not look as if—she loved Tristram—much."

Francis Markrute did not speak for an instant, then he turned and gazed straight into her eyes gravely, as he said:

"Believe me, I would not allow your cousin to marry my niece if I were not truly convinced that it will be for the eventual great happiness of them both. Will you promise me something, Lady Ethelrida? Will you help me not to permit any one to interfere between them for some time, no matter how things may appear? Give them the chance of settling everything themselves."

Ethelrida looked back at him, with a seriousness equal to his own as she answered, "I promise." And inwardly the sense of some unknown undercurrent that might grow into a rushing torrent made itself felt, stronger than before.

Meanwhile Lady Coltshurst, who could just see Zara's profile all the time when she put up those irritating, longhandled glasses of hers, now gave her opinion of the bride-elect to Lord Charles Montfitchet, her neighbor on the left hand.

"I strongly disapprove of her, Charles. Either her hair is dyed or her eyes are blackened; that mixture is not natural, and if, indeed, it should be in this case then I consider it uncanny and not what one would wish for in the family."

"Oh, I say, my lady!" objected Lord Charles, "I think she is the most stunning-looking young woman I've seen in a month of Sundays!"

Lady Coltshurst put up her glasses again and glared:

"I cannot bear your modern slang, Charles, but 'stunning,' used literally, is quite appropriate. She does stun one; that is exactly it. I fear poor Tristram with such a type can look forward to very little happiness, or poor Jane to any likelihood that the Tancred name will remain free from scandal."

Lord Charles grew exasperated and retaliated.

"By George! A demure mouse can cause scandal to a name, with probably more certainty than this beauty!"

There was a member of Lady Coltshurst's husband's family whom she herself, having no children, had brought out, and who had been perilously near the Divorce Court this very season: and she was a dull, colorless little thing.

Her ladyship turned the conversation abruptly, with an annihilating glance. And fortunately, just then Zara rose, and the ladies filed out of the room: and so this trying dinner was over.



CHAPTER XIII

Nothing could exceed Zara's dignity, when they reached the drawing-room above. They at first stood in a group by the fire in the larger room, and Emily and Mary tried to get a word in and say something nice in their frank girlish way. They admired their future sister-in-law so immensely, and if Zara had not thought they were all acting a part, as she herself was, she would have been touched at their sweetness. As it was she inwardly froze more and more, while she answered with politeness; and Lady Ethelrida, watching quietly for a while, grew further puzzled.

It was certainly a mask this extraordinary and beautiful young woman was wearing, she felt, and presently, when Lady Coltshurst who had remained rather silently aloof, only fixing them all in turn with her long eyeglasses, drew the girls aside to talk to her by asking for news of their mother's headache, Ethelrida indicated she and Zara might sit down upon the nearest, stiff, French sofa; and as she clasped her thin, fine hands together, holding her pale gray gloves which she did not attempt to put on again, she said gently:

"I hope we shall all make you feel you are so welcome, Zara—may I call you Zara? It is such a beautiful name I think."

The Countess Shulski's strange eyes seemed to become blacker than ever—a startled, suspicious look grew in them, just such as had come into the black panther's on a day when Francis Markrute whistled a softly caressing note outside its bars: what did this mean?

"I shall be very pleased if you will," she said coldly.

Lady Ethelrida determined not to be snubbed. She must overcome this barrier if she could, for Tristram's sake.

"England and our customs must seem so strange to you," she went on. "But we are not at all disagreeable people when you know us!" And she smiled encouragingly.

"It is easy to be agreeable when one is happy," Zara said. "And you all seem very happy here—sans souci. It is good."

And Ethelrida wondered. "What can make you so unhappy, you beautiful thing, with Tristram to love you, and youth and health and riches?"

And Zara thought, "This appears a sweet and most frank lady, but how can I tell? I know not the English. It is perhaps because she is so well bred that she is enabled to act so nicely."

"You have not yet seen Wrayth, have you?" Ethelrida went on. "I am sure you will be interested in it, it is so old."

"Wr—ayth—?" Zara faltered. She had never heard of it! What was Wrayth?

"Perhaps I do not pronounce it as you are accustomed to think of it," Ethelrida said kindly. She was absolutely startled at the other's ignorance. "Tristram's place, I mean. The Guiscards have owned it ever since the Conqueror gave it to them after the Battle of Hastings, you know. It is the rarest case of a thing being so long in one family, even here in England, and the title has only gone in the male line, too, as yet. But Tristram and Cyril are the very last. If anything happened to them it would be the end. Oh! we are all so glad Tristram is going to be married!"

Zara's eyes now suddenly blazed at the unconscious insinuation in this speech. Any one who has ever watched a caged creature of the cat tribe and seen how the whole gamut of emotions—sullen endurance, suspicion, resentment, hate and rage, as well as contentment and happiness—can appear in its orbs without the slightest aid from lids or eyebrows, without the smallest alteration in mouth or chin, will understand how Zara's pools of ink spoke while their owner remained icily still.

She understood perfectly the meaning of Ethelrida's speech. The line of the Tancreds should go on through her! But never, never! That should never be! If they were counting upon that they were counting in vain. The marriage was never intended to be anything but an empty ceremony, for mercenary reasons. There must be no mistake about this. What if Lord Tancred had such ideas, too? And she quivered suddenly and caught in her breath with the horror of this thought.

And who was Cyril? Zara had no knowledge of Cyril, any more than of Wrayth! But she did not ask.

If Francis Markrute had heard this conversation he would have been very much annoyed with himself, and would have blamed himself for stupidity. He, of course, should have seen that his niece was sufficiently well coached, in all the details that she should know, not to be led into these pitfalls.

Ethelrida felt a sensation of a sort of petrified astonishment. There is a French word, ahuri, which expresses her emotion exactly, but there is no English equivalent. Tristram's fiance was evidently quite ignorant of the simplest facts about him, or his family, or his home! Her eyes had blazed at Ethelrida's last speech, with a look of self-defence and defiance. And yet Tristram was evidently passionately in love with her. How could such things be? It was a great mystery. Ethelrida was thrilled and interested.

Francis Markrute guessed the ladies' lonely moments would be most difficult to pass, so he had curtailed the enjoyment of the port and old brandy and cigars to the shortest possible dimensions, Tristram aiding him. His one desire was to be near his fiance.

The overmastering magnetic current which seemed to have drawn him from the very first moment he had seen her now had augmented into almost pain. She had been cruelly cold and disdainful at dinner whenever she had spoken to him, her contempt showing plainly in her eyes, and it had maddened and excited him; and when the other men had all drunk the fiances' health and wished them happiness he had gulped down the old brandy, and vowed to himself, "Before a year is out I will make her love me as I love her, so help me God!"

And then they all had trooped up into the drawing-room just as Ethelrida was saying,

"The northern property, Morndale, is not half so pretty as Wrayth—"

But when she saw them enter she rose and ceded her place to Tristram who gladly sank into the sofa beside his lady.

He was to have no tete-a-tete, however, for Jimmy Danvers who felt it was his turn to say something to the coming bride came now, and leant upon the mantelpiece beside them.

"I am going to be the most severe 'best man' next Wednesday, Countess," he said. "I shall see that Tristram is at St. George's a good half-hour before the time, and that he does not drop the ring; you trust to me!" And he laughed nervously, Zara's face was so unresponsive.

"Countess Shulski does not know the English ceremony, Jimmy," Tristram interrupted quickly, "nor what is a 'best man.' Now, if we were only across the water we would have a rehearsal of the whole show as we did for Darrowood's wedding."

"That must have been a joke," said Jimmy.

"It was very sensible there; there was such a lot of fuss, and bridesmaids, and things; but we are going to be quite quiet, aren't we, Zara? I hate shows; don't you?"

"Immensely," was all she answered.

Then Sir James, who felt thoroughly crushed, after one or two more fatuous remarks moved away, and Zara arose in her character of hostess, and spoke to Lady Coltshurst.

Tristram crossed over to the Duke and rapidly began a political discussion, but while his uncle appeared to notice nothing unusual, and entered into it with interest, his kind, old heart was wrung with the pain he saw his favorite nephew was suffering.

"Mr. Markrute, I am troubled," Lady Ethelrida said, as she walked with the host to look at an exquisite Vigee le Brun across the room. "Your niece is the most interesting personality I have ever met; but, underneath, something is making her unhappy, I am sure. Please, what does it mean? Oh, I know I have promised what I did at dinner, but are you certain it is all right? And can they ever be really at peace together?"

Francis Markrute bent over, apparently to point to a bibelot which lay on a table under the picture, and he said in a low, vibrating tone.

"I give you my word there is some one, who is dead—whom I loved—who would come back and curse me now, if I should let this thing be, with a doubt in my heart as to their eventual happiness."

And Lady Ethelrida looked full at him and saw that the man's cold face was deeply moved and softened.

"If that is so then I will speculate no more," she said. "Listen! I will trust you!"

"You dear, noble English lady," the financier replied, "how truly I thank you!" And he let some of the emotion which he felt, gleam from his eyes, while he changed the conversation.

A few minutes after this, Lady Coltshurst announced it was time to go, and she would take the girls home. And the Duke's carriage was also waiting, and good nights were said, and the host whispered to Jimmy Danvers,

"Take Tancred along with you, too, please. My niece is overtired with the strain of this evening and I want her to go to bed at once." And to Tristram he said,

"Do not even say good night, like a dear fellow. Don't you see she is almost ready to faint? Just go quietly with the rest, and come for her to-morrow morning to take her to your mother."

So they all left as he wished, and he himself went back upstairs to the big drawing-room and there saw Zara standing like a marble statue, exactly as they had left her, and he went forward, and, bending, kissed her hand.

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