Though I could not see her face, the instant change in her attitude, the eager movement of her hands, and the elastic spring that suddenly braced her form, expressed her feeling plainly enough.
“It must be done, I suppose,” I murmured rather to myself than to them, as Eunane timidly put out her hand and gratefully clasped Eveena’s. “Well, it is to be done for you, and you must do it.”
“How can I?” exclaimed Eunane in astonishment; and Eveena added, “It is for you; you only can name your terms, and it would be a strange slight to her to do so through us.”
“I cannot help that. I will not ‘act the lie’ by affecting any personal desire to win her, and I could not tell her the truth. Offer her the same terms that contented the rest; nay, if she enters my household, she shall not feel herself in a secondary or inferior position.”
This condition surprised even Eveena as much as my resolve to make her the bearer of the proposal that was in truth her own. But, however reluctant, she would as soon have refused obedience to my request as have withheld a kindness because it cost her an unexpected trial. Taking Eunane with her, she approached and addressed the girl. Whatever my own doubt as to her probable reception, however absurd in my own estimation the thing I was induced to do, there was no corresponding consciousness, no feeling but one of surprise and gratification, in the face on which I turned my eyes. There was a short and earnest debate; but, as I afterwards learned, it arose simply from the girl’s astonishment at terms which, extravagant even for the beauties of the day, were thrice as liberal as she had ventured to dream of. Eveena and Eunane were as well aware of this as herself; the right of beauty to a special price seemed to them as obvious as in Western Europe seems the right of rank to exorbitant settlements; but they felt it as impossible to argue the point as a solicitor would find it unsafe to expound to a gentleman the different cost of honouring Mademoiselle with his hand and being honoured with that of Milady. Velna’s remonstrances were suppressed; she rose, and, accompanied by Eveena and Eunane, approached a desk in one corner of the room, occupied by a lady past middle life. The latter, like all those of her sex who have adopted masculine independence and a professional career, wore no veil over her face, and in lieu of the feminine head-dress a band of metal around the head, depending from which a short fall of silken texture drawn back behind the ears covered the neck and upper edge of the dark robe. This lady took from a heap by her side a slip containing the usual form of marriage contract, and filled in the blanks. At a sign from Eveena, I had by this time approached close enough to hear the language of half-envious, half-supercilious wonder in which the schoolmistress congratulated her pupil on her signal conquest, and the terms she had obtained, as well as the maiden’s unaffected acknowledgment of her own surprise and conscious unworthiness. I could feel, despite the concealment of her form and face, Eveena’s silent expression of pained disgust with the one, and earnest womanly sympathy with the other. The document was executed in the usual triplicate.