“I don’t think I shall wait for tea-time, Francis,” he said, when they got out of the restaurant, into the hall. “I think I’ll go now, and get it over, if she will be in. Could I telephone and ask?”
He did so and received the reply from Turner that Countess Shulski was at home, but could not receive his lordship until half-past four o’clock.
“Damn!” said that gentleman as he put the receiver down, and Francis Markrute turned away to hide his smile.
“You had better go and buy an engagement ring, hadn’t you?” he said. “It won’t do to forget that.”
“Good Lord, I had forgotten!” gasped Tristram.
“Well, I have lots of time to do it now, so I’ll go to the family jewelers, they are called old-fashioned, but the stones are so good.”
So they said good-bye, the young man speeding westwards in a taxi, the lion hunter’s excitement thrilling in his veins.
The financier returned to his stately office and passed through his obsequious rows of clerks to his inner sanctum. Then he lit another cigar and gave orders that he was not to be disturbed for a quarter of an hour. He reposed in a comfortable chair and allowed himself to dream. All his plans were working; there must be no rush. Great emergencies required rush, but to build to the summit of one’s ambitions, one must use calm and watchful care.
Countess Shulski was seated in her uncle’s drawing-room when Lord Tancred was announced.
It was rather a severe room, purely French, with very little furniture, each piece a priceless work of art. There were no touches of feminine influence, no comfortable sofas as in the morning-room or library, all was stiff, and dignified, and in pure style.
She had chosen to receive him there, on purpose. She wished the meeting to be short and cold. He came forward, a look of determination upon his handsome face.
Zara rose as he advanced, and bowed to him. She did not offer to shake hands, and he let his, which he had half outstretched, drop. She did not help him at all; she remained perfectly silent, as usual. She did not even look at him, but straight out of the window into the pouring rain, and it was then he saw that her eyes were not black but slate.
“You understand why I have come, of course?” he said by way of a beginning.
“Yes,” she replied and said nothing more.
“I want to marry you, you know,” he went on.
“Really!” she said.
“Yes, I do.” And he set his teeth—certainly she was difficult!
“That is fortunate for you, since you are going to do so.”
This was not encouraging; it was also unexpected.
“Yes, I am,” he answered, “on the 25th of October, with your permission.”
“I have already consented.” And she clasped her hands.
“May I sit down beside you and talk?” he asked.