“I cannot bear your modern slang, Charles, but ‘stunning,’ used literally, is quite appropriate. She does stun one; that is exactly it. I fear poor Tristram with such a type can look forward to very little happiness, or poor Jane to any likelihood that the Tancred name will remain free from scandal.”
Lord Charles grew exasperated and retaliated.
“By George! A demure mouse can cause scandal to a name, with probably more certainty than this beauty!”
There was a member of Lady Coltshurst’s husband’s family whom she herself, having no children, had brought out, and who had been perilously near the Divorce Court this very season: and she was a dull, colorless little thing.
Her ladyship turned the conversation abruptly, with an annihilating glance. And fortunately, just then Zara rose, and the ladies filed out of the room: and so this trying dinner was over.
Nothing could exceed Zara’s dignity, when they reached the drawing-room above. They at first stood in a group by the fire in the larger room, and Emily and Mary tried to get a word in and say something nice in their frank girlish way. They admired their future sister-in-law so immensely, and if Zara had not thought they were all acting a part, as she herself was, she would have been touched at their sweetness. As it was she inwardly froze more and more, while she answered with politeness; and Lady Ethelrida, watching quietly for a while, grew further puzzled.
It was certainly a mask this extraordinary and beautiful young woman was wearing, she felt, and presently, when Lady Coltshurst who had remained rather silently aloof, only fixing them all in turn with her long eyeglasses, drew the girls aside to talk to her by asking for news of their mother’s headache, Ethelrida indicated she and Zara might sit down upon the nearest, stiff, French sofa; and as she clasped her thin, fine hands together, holding her pale gray gloves which she did not attempt to put on again, she said gently:
“I hope we shall all make you feel you are so welcome, Zara—may I call you Zara? It is such a beautiful name I think.”
The Countess Shulski’s strange eyes seemed to become blacker than ever—a startled, suspicious look grew in them, just such as had come into the black panther’s on a day when Francis Markrute whistled a softly caressing note outside its bars: what did this mean?
“I shall be very pleased if you will,” she said coldly.
Lady Ethelrida determined not to be snubbed. She must overcome this barrier if she could, for Tristram’s sake.
“England and our customs must seem so strange to you,” she went on. “But we are not at all disagreeable people when you know us!” And she smiled encouragingly.
“It is easy to be agreeable when one is happy,” Zara said. “And you all seem very happy here—sans souci. It is good.”