At this moment Lady Ethelrida again caught sight of Zara. She was silent at the instant, and a look of superb pride and disdain was on her face. Almost before she was aware of it Ethelrida had exclaimed:
“Your niece looks like an empress, a wonderful, Byzantine, Roman empress!”
Francis Markrute glanced at her, sideways, with his clever eyes; had she ever heard anything of Zara’s parentage, he wondered for a second, and then he smiled at himself for the thought. Lady Ethelrida was not likely to have spoken so in that case—she would not be acting up to her group.
“There are certain reasons why she should,” he said. “I cannot answer for the part of her which comes from her father, Maurice Grey, a very old English family, I believe, but on her mother’s side she could have the passions of an artist and the pride of a Caesar: she is a very interesting case.”
“May I know something of her?” Ethelrida said, “I do so want them to be happy. Tristram is one of the simplest and finest characters I have ever met. He will love her very much, I fear.”
“Why do you say you fear?”
Lady Ethelrida reddened a little; a soft, warm flush came into her delicate face and made it look beautiful: she never spoke of love—to men.
“Because a great love is a very powerful and sometimes a terrible thing, if it is not returned in like measure. And, oh, forgive me for saying so, but the Countess Shulski does not look as if—she loved Tristram—much.”
Francis Markrute did not speak for an instant, then he turned and gazed straight into her eyes gravely, as he said:
“Believe me, I would not allow your cousin to marry my niece if I were not truly convinced that it will be for the eventual great happiness of them both. Will you promise me something, Lady Ethelrida? Will you help me not to permit any one to interfere between them for some time, no matter how things may appear? Give them the chance of settling everything themselves.”
Ethelrida looked back at him, with a seriousness equal to his own as she answered, “I promise.” And inwardly the sense of some unknown undercurrent that might grow into a rushing torrent made itself felt, stronger than before.
Meanwhile Lady Coltshurst, who could just see Zara’s profile all the time when she put up those irritating, longhandled glasses of hers, now gave her opinion of the bride-elect to Lord Charles Montfitchet, her neighbor on the left hand.
“I strongly disapprove of her, Charles. Either her hair is dyed or her eyes are blackened; that mixture is not natural, and if, indeed, it should be in this case then I consider it uncanny and not what one would wish for in the family.”
“Oh, I say, my lady!” objected Lord Charles, “I think she is the most stunning-looking young woman I’ve seen in a month of Sundays!”
Lady Coltshurst put up her glasses again and glared: