Francis Markrute guessed the ladies’ lonely moments would be most difficult to pass, so he had curtailed the enjoyment of the port and old brandy and cigars to the shortest possible dimensions, Tristram aiding him. His one desire was to be near his fiance.
The overmastering magnetic current which seemed to have drawn him from the very first moment he had seen her now had augmented into almost pain. She had been cruelly cold and disdainful at dinner whenever she had spoken to him, her contempt showing plainly in her eyes, and it had maddened and excited him; and when the other men had all drunk the fiances’ health and wished them happiness he had gulped down the old brandy, and vowed to himself, “Before a year is out I will make her love me as I love her, so help me God!”
And then they all had trooped up into the drawing-room just as Ethelrida was saying,
“The northern property, Morndale, is not half so pretty as Wrayth—”
But when she saw them enter she rose and ceded her place to Tristram who gladly sank into the sofa beside his lady.
He was to have no tete-a-tete, however, for Jimmy Danvers who felt it was his turn to say something to the coming bride came now, and leant upon the mantelpiece beside them.
“I am going to be the most severe ‘best man’ next Wednesday, Countess,” he said. “I shall see that Tristram is at St. George’s a good half-hour before the time, and that he does not drop the ring; you trust to me!” And he laughed nervously, Zara’s face was so unresponsive.
“Countess Shulski does not know the English ceremony, Jimmy,” Tristram interrupted quickly, “nor what is a ‘best man.’ Now, if we were only across the water we would have a rehearsal of the whole show as we did for Darrowood’s wedding.”
“That must have been a joke,” said Jimmy.
“It was very sensible there; there was such a lot of fuss, and bridesmaids, and things; but we are going to be quite quiet, aren’t we, Zara? I hate shows; don’t you?”
“Immensely,” was all she answered.
Then Sir James, who felt thoroughly crushed, after one or two more fatuous remarks moved away, and Zara arose in her character of hostess, and spoke to Lady Coltshurst.
Tristram crossed over to the Duke and rapidly began a political discussion, but while his uncle appeared to notice nothing unusual, and entered into it with interest, his kind, old heart was wrung with the pain he saw his favorite nephew was suffering.
“Mr. Markrute, I am troubled,” Lady Ethelrida said, as she walked with the host to look at an exquisite Vigee le Brun across the room. “Your niece is the most interesting personality I have ever met; but, underneath, something is making her unhappy, I am sure. Please, what does it mean? Oh, I know I have promised what I did at dinner, but are you certain it is all right? And can they ever be really at peace together?”