Lord Elterton looked at her. What a strange woman!
“Yes,” he said simply, “you can believe me when I tell you I have never been so attracted by any one in my life.”
“Oh! for that!” she answered contemptuously. "Mon Dieu! how often I have heard of that!”
This was not what he had expected. There was no empty boast about the speech, as there would have been if Laura Highford had uttered it—she was fond of demonstrating her conquests and power in words. There was only a weariness as of something banal and tiring. He must be more careful.
“Yes, I quite understand,” he said sympathetically. “You must be bored with the love of men.”
“I have never seen any love of men. Do men know love?” she asked, not with any bitterness—only as a question of fact. What had Tristram been about? Lord Elterton thought. Here he had been married to this divine creature for a whole week, and she was plainly asking the question from her heart. And Tristram was no fool in a general way, he knew. There was some mystery here, but whatever it was there was the more chance for him! So he went on very tactfully, trying insidiously to soothe her, so that at last when they had arrived Zara had enjoyed her walk.
Montfitchet Tower was all that remained of the old castle destroyed by Cromwell’s Ironsides. It was just one large, square room, a sort of great hall. It had stood roofless for many years and then been covered in by the old Duke’s father, and contained a splendid stone chimney piece of colossal proportions. It had also been floored, and had the raised place still, where the family had eaten “above the salt.” The rest of the old castle was a complete ruin, and at the Restoration the new one had been rebuilt about a mile further up the park.
Lady Ethelrida had collected several pieces of rough oak furniture to put into this great room which in height reached three stories up, and the supports of the mantelpieces of the upper floors could be seen on the blackened stone walls. It was here she gave her school treats and tenants’ summer dances, because there was a great stretch of green, turfy lawn beyond, down to the river, where they could play their games.
And on a wet day it was an ideal picnic place.
A bright wood fire was already blazing on top of the ashes that for many years had never been cleared out, and a big jack swung in front of it—for appearance sake! What fun every one seemed to be having, Zara thought, as from an oak bench she watched them all busy as bees over their preparations for the repast. She had helped to make a salad, and now sat with the Crow, and surveyed the rest.
Jimmy Danvers had turned up his sleeves and was thoroughly in earnest over his part; and he and Young Billy had gathered some brown bracken, and put it sprouting from a ham, to represent, they said, the peacock. For, they explained, a banquet in a baronial hall had to have a peacock, as well as a boar’s head, and an ox roasted whole!