“Oh! Wrayth is much more interesting than this,” she answered. “Parts of it are so wonderfully old; there are stone floors in the upper rooms in one of the inner courtyards. They did not suffer, you see, from the hateful Puritans, because the then Tancred was only an infant when the civil war began; and his mother was a Frenchwoman, and they stayed in France all the time, and only came back when Charles II returned. He married a Frenchwoman, too. She was a wonderful person and improved many things. Wrayth has two long galleries and a chapel of Henry the Seventh’s time, and numbers of staircases in unexpected places, and then a fine suite of state rooms, built on by Adam, and then the most awful Early-Victorian imitation Gothic wing and porch which one of those dreadful people, who spoilt such numbers of places, added in 1850.”
“It sounds wonderful,” said the financier.
“Lots of it is very shabby, of course, because Tristram’s father was always very hard up; and nothing much had been done either in the grandfather’s time—except the horrible wing. But with enough money to get it right again, I cannot imagine anything more lovely than it could be.”
“It will be a great amusement to them in the coming year to do it all, then. Zara has the most beautiful taste, Lady Ethelrida. When you know her better I think you will like my niece.”
“But I do now,” she exclaimed. “Only I do wish she did not look so sad. May I ask it because of our bargain? “—and she paused with gentle timidity—“Will you tell me?—do you know of any special reason to-day to make her unhappy? I saw her face at dinner to-night, and all the while she talked there was an anxious, haunted look in her eyes.”
Francis Markrute frowned for a moment; he had been too absorbed in his own interests to have taken in anything special about his niece. If there were something of the sort in her eyes it could only have one source—anxiety about the health of the boy Mirko. He himself had not heard anything. Then his lightning calculations decided him to tell Lady Ethelrida nothing of this. Zara’s anxiety would mean the child’s illness, and illness, Doctor Morley had warned him, could have only one end. He wished the poor little fellow no harm, but, on the other hand, he had no sentiment about him. If he were going to die then the disgrace would be wiped away and need never be spoken about. So he answered slowly:
“There is something which troubles her now and then. It will pass presently. Take no notice of it.”
So Lady Ethelrida, as mystified as ever, turned the conversation.
“May I give you the book to-morrow morning before we go to shoot?” the financier asked after a moment. “It is your birthday, I believe, and all your guests on that occasion are privileged to lay some offering at your feet. I wanted to do so this afternoon after tea, but I was detained playing bridge with your father. I have several books coming to-morrow that I do so want you to have.”