“Please come in,” her voice said, and she was conscious that she was trembling from head to foot.
So he obeyed her, shutting the door firmly after him and advancing to the fireplace. She had been lying upon the sofa wrapped in a soft blue tea-gown, and her hair hung in the two long plaits, which she always unwound when she could to take its weight from her head. She rose from her reclining position and sat in the corner; and after glancing at her for a second, Tristram turned his eyes away, and leaning on the mantelpiece, began in a cold grave voice:
“I have to ask you to do me a favor. It is to help me through to-morrow and the few days after, as best you can, by conforming to our ways. It has been always the custom in the family, when a Tancred brought home his bride, to have all sorts of silly rejoicings. There will be triumphal arches in the park, and collections of village people, a lunch for the principal tenants, speeches, and all sorts of boring things. Then we shall have to dine alone in the state dining-room, with all the servants watching us, and go to the household and tenants’ ball in the great hall. It will all be ghastly, as you can see.” He paused a moment, but he did not change the set tone in his voice when he spoke again, nor did he look at her. He had now come to the hardest part of his task.
“All these people—who are my people,” he went on, “think a great deal of these things, and of us—that is—myself, as their landlord, and you as my wife. We have always been friends, the country folk at Wrayth and my family, and they adored my mother. They are looking forward to our coming back and opening the house again—and—and—all that—and—” here he paused a second time, it seemed as if his throat were dry, for suddenly the remembrance of his dreams as he looked at Tristram Guiscard’s armor, which he had worn at Agincourt, came back to him—his dreams in his old oak-paneled room—of their home-coming to Wrayth; and the mockery of the reality hit him in the face.
Zara clasped her hands, and if he had glanced at her again, he would have seen all the love and anguish which was convulsing her shining in her sad eyes.
He mastered the emotion which had hoarsened his voice, and went on in an even tone: “What I have to ask is that you will do your share—wear some beautiful clothes, and smile, and look as if you cared; and if I feel that it will be necessary to take your hand or even kiss you, do not frown at me, or think I am doing it from choice—I ask you, because I believe you are as proud as I am,—I ask you, please, to play the game.”
And now he looked up at her, but the terrible emotion she was suffering had made her droop her head. He would not kiss her or take her hand—from choice—that was the main thing her woman’s heart had grasped, the main thing, which cut her like a knife.
“You can count upon me,” she said, so low he could hardly hear her; and then she raised her head proudly, and looked straight in front of her, but not at him, while she repeated more firmly: “I will do in every way what you wish—what your mother would have done. I am no weakling, you know, and as you said, I am as proud as yourself.”