And Ethelrida wondered. “What can make you so unhappy, you beautiful thing, with Tristram to love you, and youth and health and riches?”
And Zara thought, “This appears a sweet and most frank lady, but how can I tell? I know not the English. It is perhaps because she is so well bred that she is enabled to act so nicely.”
“You have not yet seen Wrayth, have you?” Ethelrida went on. “I am sure you will be interested in it, it is so old.”
“Wr—ayth—?” Zara faltered. She had never heard of it! What was Wrayth?
“Perhaps I do not pronounce it as you are accustomed to think of it,” Ethelrida said kindly. She was absolutely startled at the other’s ignorance. “Tristram’s place, I mean. The Guiscards have owned it ever since the Conqueror gave it to them after the Battle of Hastings, you know. It is the rarest case of a thing being so long in one family, even here in England, and the title has only gone in the male line, too, as yet. But Tristram and Cyril are the very last. If anything happened to them it would be the end. Oh! we are all so glad Tristram is going to be married!”
Zara’s eyes now suddenly blazed at the unconscious insinuation in this speech. Any one who has ever watched a caged creature of the cat tribe and seen how the whole gamut of emotions—sullen endurance, suspicion, resentment, hate and rage, as well as contentment and happiness—can appear in its orbs without the slightest aid from lids or eyebrows, without the smallest alteration in mouth or chin, will understand how Zara’s pools of ink spoke while their owner remained icily still.
She understood perfectly the meaning of Ethelrida’s speech. The line of the Tancreds should go on through her! But never, never! That should never be! If they were counting upon that they were counting in vain. The marriage was never intended to be anything but an empty ceremony, for mercenary reasons. There must be no mistake about this. What if Lord Tancred had such ideas, too? And she quivered suddenly and caught in her breath with the horror of this thought.
And who was Cyril? Zara had no knowledge of Cyril, any more than of Wrayth! But she did not ask.
If Francis Markrute had heard this conversation he would have been very much annoyed with himself, and would have blamed himself for stupidity. He, of course, should have seen that his niece was sufficiently well coached, in all the details that she should know, not to be led into these pitfalls.
Ethelrida felt a sensation of a sort of petrified astonishment. There is a French word, ahuri, which expresses her emotion exactly, but there is no English equivalent. Tristram’s fiance was evidently quite ignorant of the simplest facts about him, or his family, or his home! Her eyes had blazed at Ethelrida’s last speech, with a look of self-defence and defiance. And yet Tristram was evidently passionately in love with her. How could such things be? It was a great mystery. Ethelrida was thrilled and interested.