Why I tie about thy wrist
Julia, this silken twist
'Tis to show thee how in part
Thou my pretty captive art,
quoted Sir Tristram Beresford, looking admiringly across the breakfast-table at his young wife.
Even at this time in the morning, and clad in a simple loose sacque, she was appealingly beautiful.
But a little pale and distrait today, thought Sir Tristram; perhaps she had slept badly. As he spoke
she gave a little start.
'I was not attending; what did you say?' she asked.
'I was only quoting Herrick, my dear-as being relevant to your new ornament.' His eyes
went to her wrist, about which was tightly bound a piece of black velvet ribbon, hiding the white
skin for some two inches. Lady Beresford's pale face flushed, then paled again.
'I---' she began, then bit her lip, and seemed unable to go on. Sir Tristram waited
patiently. She rose from the table, walked to the window, and stood looking out unseeingly.
Then she turned to face her husband.
'Tristram,' she said, 'I have something to ask of you. Never inquire of me why I wear
this ribbon. I shall wear it always-you will never see me without it-but I cannot tell you why-I
Sir Tristram was a kindly man, much in love with his wife, and prepared to make every
allowance for woman's fancies. When their two daughters had been born Nicola had had strange
whims-it was all part of the fascinating panorama of femininity. He went to her and patted her
'What you do not wish to tell me I shall not ask, now or at any other time, my love,' he
said. 'Now pray do sit down and finish your breakfast.'
Lady Beresford obeyed him, though without much appetite. After a few mouthfuls she
laid down her knife.
'Has the post come yet?' she asked nervously.
'Not yet, my dear.'
'Oh, I thought, as I was up so late, it would have been here by now.' Sir Tristram was not
unduly curious about his wife's interest in the post. They were on a visit, this October of 1693, to
Lady Beresford's sister, Lady Macgill, at Gill Hall, in the County Down, southern Ireland. It was
natural that she should want letters from home, where their two children had remained in the
charge of nurses.
Lady Beresford sipped her chocolate abstractedly, then laid down her cup and rang the
handbell which was beside her on the table. In a moment her maid appeared.
'Have the letters come yet, Bridget?' she asked.
'No, my lady, not yet.'
'Bring them to me as soon as they arrive.'
When the girl had left the room Sir Tristram looked humorously at his wife.
'Really, my love, I shall begin to think you are expecting a communication from some
gallant, if you continue to show this anxiety,' he said.
'Don't joke!' she flashed at him. 'If you knew----'
'If I knew what?' he asked gently. 'Won't you tell me, my dear? What is it you expect
to hear in a letter today?'
His wife's head drooped, and her fingers strayed to the black-bound wrist.
'I expect,' she said in a low voice, 'I expect to hear of Lord Tyrone's death.'
'Of Tyrone's death? Your old playfellow? But, my dear Nicola, why should you
anticipate his death? Surely he is only the same age as yourself. You have always told me you
were brought up by the same guardian as if you had been twins.'
'We were born in the same year,' she replied. 'Nevertheless, I know that he is dead. And
that he died on Tuesday.'
Sir Tristram came round the table and sat by his wife's side, with his arm about her
'My sweet Nicola, this is not like you. You have never been superstitious-in fact I think
our good chaplain believes you to be rather too worldly for your soul's welfare.'
'Yes,' she answered tonelessly, 'I have never been a true church-woman. I was brought
up to think freely of spiritual matters. But now you will see, I shall be different.'
'You've been dreaming, my love. That is all. Get dressed now, and we'll go for a ride in
the Park. The exercise will restore you.'
At this moment the door opened, and Sir Tristram, seeing his servant, said: 'Oh, Patrick,
see that the horses are brought round in half an hour, will you?'
'Yes, sir. The letters have arrived, sir.'
He laid them on the table, and Lady Beresford eagerly snatched at them. Among them
was one sealed with black wax.
'It is the Tyrone crest!' she cried hysterically. 'You'll see, he is dead. Open it, Tristram,
for I cannot!'