She looked up into his eyes, and allowed tears to gather in hers. She had always plenty at her command.
“Tristram,” she said with extreme gentleness, “you were cross with me yesterday afternoon, because you thought I was saying something about your wife. But don’t you know, can’t you understand, what it is to me to see you devoted to another woman? You may be changed, but I am always the same, and I—I—” And here she buried her face in her hands and went into a flood of tears.
Tristram was overcome with confusion and horror. He loathed scenes. Good heavens! If any one should come along!
“Laura, for goodness’ sake! My dear girl, don’t cry!” he exclaimed. He felt he would say anything to comfort her, and get over the chance of some one seeing this hateful exhibition.
But she continued to sob. She had caught sight of Zara’s figure on the landing above, and her vengeful spirit desired to cause trouble, even at a cost to herself. Zara had been perfectly ready, all but her hat, and had hurried exceedingly to be in time, and thus had not been five minutes after her husband.
“Tristram!” wailed Laura, and, putting up her hands, placed them on his shoulders. “Darling, just kiss me once—quickly—to say good-bye.”
And it was at this stage that Zara came full upon them, from a turn in the stairs. She heard Tristram say disgustedly, “No, I won’t,” and saw Lady Highford drop her arms; and in the three steps that separated them, her wonderful iron self-control, the inheritance of all her years of suffering, enabled her to stop as if she had seen nothing, and in an ordinary voice ask if they were to go to the great hall.
“The woman,” as she called Laura, should not have the satisfaction of seeing a trace of emotion in her, or Tristram either. He had answered immediately, “Yes,” and had walked on by her side, in an absolutely raging temper.
How dare Laura drag him into a disgraceful and ridiculous scene like this! He could have wrung her neck. What must Zara think? That he was simply a cad! He could not offer a single explanation, either; indeed, she had demanded none. He did blurt out, after a moment,
“Lady Highford was very much upset about something. She is hysterical.”
“Poor thing!” said Zara indifferently, and walked on.
But when they got into the hall, where most of the company were, she suddenly felt her knees giving way under her, and hurriedly sank down on an oak chair.
She felt sick with jealous pain, even though she had plainly seen that Tristram was no willing victim. But upon what terms could they be, or have been, for Lady Highford so to lose all sense of shame?
Tristram was watching her anxiously. She must have seen the humiliating exhibition. It followed, then, she was perfectly indifferent, or she would have been annoyed. He wished that she had reproached him, or said something—anything—but to remain completely unmoved was too maddening.