So, alternately trying to reason the thing out, and growing wild with passion and suspicion and pain, he at last went back to the house expecting he would have to go through the ordeal of luncheon alone; but as the silver gong sounded she came slowly down the stairs.
And except that she was very pale and blue circles surrounded her heavy eyes, her face wore a mask, and she was perfectly calm.
She made no apology, nor allusion to her outburst; she treated the incident as though it had never been! She held a letter in her hand, which had come by the second post while they were out. It was written by her uncle from London, the night before, and contained his joyous news.
Tristram looked at her and was again dumbfounded. She was certainly a most extraordinary woman. And some of his rage died down and he decided he would not, after all, demand an explanation of her now; he would let the whole, hideous rejoicings be finished first and then, in London, he would sternly investigate the truth. And not the least part of his pain was the haunting uncertainty as to what her words could mean, as regarded himself. If by some wonderful chance it were some passion in the past and she now loved him, he feared he could forgive her—he feared even his pride would not hold out over the mad happiness it would be to feel her unresisting and loving, lying in his arms!
So with stormy eyes and forced smiles the pair sat down to luncheon, and Zara handed him the epistle she carried in her hand. It ran:
“MY DEAR NIECE:
“I have to inform you of a piece of news that is a great gratification to myself, and I trust will cause you, too, some pleasure.
“Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet has done me the honor to accept my proposal for her hand, and the Duke, her father, has kindly given his hearty consent to my marriage with his daughter, which is to take place as soon as things can be arranged with suitability. I hope you and Tristram will arrive in time to accompany me to dinner at Glastonbury House on Friday evening, when you can congratulate my beloved fiance, who holds you in affectionate regard.
“I am, my dear niece, always your devoted uncle,
When Tristram finished reading he exclaimed:
“Good Lord!” For, quite absorbed in his own affairs, he had never even noticed the financier’s peregrinations! Then as he looked at the letter again he said meditatively:
“I expect they will be awfully happy—Ethelrida is such an unselfish, sensible, darling girl—”
And it hurt Zara even in her present mood, for she felt the contrast to herself in his unconscious tone.
“My uncle never does anything without having calculated it will turn out perfectly,” she said bitterly—“only sometimes it can happen that he plays with the wrong pawns.”
And Tristram wondered what she meant. He and she had certainly been pawns in one of the Markrute games, and now he began to see this object, just as Zara had done. Then the thought came to him.—Why should he not now ask her straight out—why she had married him? It was not from any desire for himself, nor his position, he knew that: but for what?