Zara’s eyes rounded, and she faltered,
“And shall I have to go through all that?”
The Crow was nonplussed. Had not her husband, then, told her, what every one else knew? Upon what terms could they possibly be? And before he was aware of it, he had blurted out, “Good Lord!”
Then, recollecting himself, he said,
“Why, yes. Tristram will say I have been frightening you. It is not so very bad, after all—only to smile and look gracious and shake hands. They will be all ready to think you perfect, if you do that. Even though there are a lot of beastly radicals about, Old England still bows down to a beautiful woman!”
Zara did not answer. She had heard about her beauty in most European languages, since she was sixteen. It was the last thing which mattered, she thought.
Then the Crow turned the conversation, as they walked on to the next stand.
Did she know that Lady Ethelrida had commanded that all the ladies were to get up impromptu fancy dresses for to-night, her birthday dinner, and all the men would be in hunt coats? he asked. Large parties were coming from the only two other big houses near, and they would dance afterward in the picture gallery. “A wonderful new band that came out in London this season is coming down,” he ended with; and, then, as she replied she had heard, he asked her what she intended to be. “It must be something with your hair down—you must give us the treat of that.”
“I have left it all to Lady Ethelrida and my sisters-in-law,” she said. “We are going to contrive things the whole afternoon, after lunch.”
Tristram came up behind them then, and the Crow stopped.
“I was telling your wife she must give us the pleasure of seeing her hair down, to-night, for the Tomfools’ dinner, but I can’t get a promise from her. We will have to appeal to you to exert your lordly authority. Can’t be deprived of a treat like that!”
“I am afraid I have no influence or authority,” Tristram answered shortly, for with a sudden pang he thought of the only time he had seen the glorious beauty of it, her hair, spread like a cloak around her, as she had turned and ordered him out of her room at Dover. She remembered the circumstance, too, and it hurt her equally, so that they walked along silently, staring in front of them, and each suffering pain; when, if they had had a grain of sense, they would have looked into each other’s eyes, read the truth, and soon been in each other’s arms. But they had not yet “dree’d their weird.” And Fate, who mocks at fools, would not yet let them be.
So the clouds gathered overhead, as in their hearts, and it came on to pour with rain; and the ladies made a hurried rush to the house.
The hostess did not stand near Francis Markrute during the shooting. Some shy pleasure made her avoid him for the moment. She wanted to hug the remembrance of her great joy of the morning, and the knowledge that to-morrow, Sunday, after lunch, would bring her a like pleasure. And for the time being there was the delight of thinking over what he had said, the subtlety of his gift, and the manner of its giving.