“Betty is wonderful, isn’t she, darling?” Mary said. “But, Em, you don’t think there is any truth in it, do you? Mother would be so horribly shocked if there was anything like one of Betty’s plays in the family, wouldn’t she? And Tristram would never allow it either!”
“Of course not, you goosie,” answered Emily. “But Betty is right in one way—Zara has got a mysterious face, and—and, Mary—Tristram seemed somehow changed, I thought; rather sarcastic once or twice.”
And then their maid came in and put a stop to their confidences.
* * * * *
“She is the most wonderful person I have ever met, Ethelrida,” Lady Anningford was just then saying, as she and the hostess stopped at her door and let Lady Thornby and the young Countess of Melton go on.—“She is wickedly beautiful and attractive, and there is something odd about her, too, and it touches me; and I don’t believe she is really wicked a bit. Her eyes are like storm clouds. I have heard her first husband was a brute. I can’t think who told me but it came from some one at one of the Embassies.”
“We don’t know much about her, any of us,” Lady Ethelrida said, “but Aunt Jane asked us all in the beginning to trust Tristram’s judgment: he is awfully proud, you know. And besides, her uncle, Mr. Markrute, is so nice. But, Anne—” and Lady Ethelrida paused.
“Well, what, dear? Tristram is awfully in love with her, isn’t he?” Lady Anningford asked.
“Yes,” said Lady Ethelrida, “but, Anne, do you really think Tristram looks happy? I thought when he was not speaking his face seemed rather sad.”
“The Crow came down in the train with them,” Lady Anningford announced. “I’ll hear the whole exact impression of them after dinner and tell you. The Crow is always right.”
“She is so very attractive, I am sure, to every man who sees her, Anne. I hope Lord Elterton won’t begin and make Tristram jealous. I wish I had not asked him. And then there is Laura—It was awful taste, I think, her insisting upon coming, don’t you?—Anne, if she seems as if she were going to be horrid you will help me to protect Zara, won’t you?—And now we really must dress.”
* * * * *
In another room Mrs. Harcourt was chatting with her sister and Lady Highford.
“She is perfectly lovely, Laura,” Miss Opie said. “Her hair must reach down to the ground and looks as if it would not come off, and her skin isn’t even powdered—I examined it, on purpose, in a side light. And those eyes! Je-hoshaphat! as Jimmy Danvers says.”
“Poor, darling Tristram!” Laura sighed sentimentally while she inwardly registered her intense dislike of “the Opie girl.” “He looks melancholy enough—for a bridegroom; don’t you think so, Kate?” and she lowered her eyes, with a glance of would-be meaning, as though she could say more, if she wished. “But no wonder, poor dear boy! He loathed the marriage; it was so fearfully sudden. I suppose the Markrute man had got him in his power.”