“That won’t matter,” he said, with his fine smile. “It will be good for my niece. I meant something quite different.”
But what he meant, he would not say.
And so the evening passed smoothly. The girls, and all the young men and the Crow, and Young Billy, and giddy, irresponsible people like that, had gathered at one end of the room; they were arranging some especial picnic for the morrow, as only some of them were going to shoot. And into their picnic plans they drew Zara, and barred Tristram out, with chaff.
“You are only an old, married man now, Tristram,” they teased him with. “But Lady Tancred is young and comes with us!”
“And I will take care of her,” announced Lord Elterton, looking sentimental—much to Tristram’s disgust.
Ethelrida seemed to have collected a lot of rotters, he thought to himself, although it was the same party he had so enjoyed last year!
“Lady Thornby and Lady Melton and Lily Opie and her sister are going out to the shooters’ lunch,” Laura said sweetly. “As you are going to be deprived of your lovely wife, Tristram, I will come, too.”
And so, finally good nights were said and the ladies retired to their rooms; and Zara could not think why she no longer found the atmosphere of hers peaceful and delightful, as she had done before she went down.
For the first time in her life she felt she hated a woman.
And Tristram, her husband, when he came up an hour or so later, wondered if she were asleep. Laura had been perfectly sweet, and he felt greatly soothed. Poor old Laura! He supposed she had really cared for him rather, and perhaps he had behaved casually, even though she had been impossible, in the past. But how had he ever even for five minutes fancied himself in love with her? Why, she looked quite old to-night! and he had never remarked before how thin and fluffed out her hair was. Women ought certainly to have beautifully thick hair.
And then all the pretenses of any healing of his aches fell from him, and he went and stood by the door that separated him from his loved one, and he stretched out his arms and said aloud, “Darling, if only you could understand how happy I would make you—if you would let me! But I can’t even break down this hateful door as I want to, because of my vow.”
And then for most of the rest of the night he tossed restlessly in his bed.
The next day did not look at all promising as regards the weather, but still the shooters, Tristram among them, started early for their sport. And after the merriest breakfast at little tables in the great dining-room the intending picnickers met in conclave to decide as to what they should do.
“It is perfectly sure to rain,” Jimmy Danvers said. “There is no use attempting to go to Lynton Heights. Why don’t we take the lunch to Montfitchet Tower and eat it in the big hall? There we wouldn’t get wet.”