In the white drawing-room, afterwards, Lady Highford was particularly gushing to the new bride. She came with a group of other women to surround her, and was so playful and charming to all her friends! She must be allowed to sit next to Zara, because, she said, “Your husband and I are such very dear, old friends. And how lovely it is to think that now he will be able to reopen Wrayth! Dear Lady Tancred is so glad,” she purred.
Zara just looked at her politely. What a done-up ferret woman! she thought. She had met many of her tribe. At the rooms at Monte Carlo, and in another class and another race, they were the kind who played in the smallest stakes themselves, and often snatched the other people’s money.
“I have never heard my husband speak of you,” she said presently, when she had silently borne a good deal of vitriolic gush. “You have perhaps been out of England for some time?”
And Lady Anningford whispered to Ethelrida, “We need not worry to be ready to defend her, pet! She can hold her own!” So they moved on to the group of the girls.
But at the end of their conversation, though Zara had used her method of silence in a considerable degree and made it as difficult as she could for Lady Highford, still, that artist in petty spite had been able to leave behind her some rankling stings. She was a mistress of innuendo. So that when the men came in, and Tristram, from the sense of “not funking things” which was in him, deliberately found Laura and sat down upon a distant sofa with her, Zara suddenly felt some unpleasant feeling about her heart. She found that she desired to watch them, and that, in spite of what any one said to her, her attention wandered back to the distant sofa in some unconscious speculation and unrest.
And Laura was being exceedingly clever. She scented with the cunning of her species that Tristram was really unhappy, whether he was in love with his hatefully beautiful wife or not. Now was her chance; not by reproaches, but by sympathy, and, if possible, by planting some venom towards his wife in his heart.
“Tristram, dear boy, why did you not tell me? Did you not know I would have been delighted at anything—if it pleased you?” And she looked down, and sighed. “I always made it my pleasure to understand you, and to promote whatever seemed for your good.”
And in his astonishment at this attitude Tristram forgot to recall the constant scenes and reproaches, and the paltry little selfishnesses of which he had been the victim during the year their—friendship—had lasted. He felt somehow soothed. Here was some one who was devoted to him, even if his wife were not!
“You are a dear, Laura,” he said.
“And now you must tell me if you are really happy—Tristram.” She lingered over his name. “She is so lovely—your wife—but looks very cold. And I know, dear” (another hesitation over the word), “I know you don’t like women to be cold.”