The girl retired for a few minutes, and reappeared in a cloak and veil like those of her new companions, but of comparatively cheap materials. As we passed the threshold, Eveena gently and tacitly but decisively assigned to her protegee her own place beside me, and put her right hand in my left. The agitation with which it manifestly trembled, though neither strange nor unpleasing, added to the extreme embarrassment I felt; and I had placed her next to Eunane in the carriage and taken my seat beside Eveena, whom I never permitted to resign her own, before a single spoken word had passed in this extraordinary courtship, or sanctioned the brief and practical ceremony of marriage.
I was alone in my own room that evening when a gentle scratching on the window-crystal entreated admission. I answered without looking up, assuming that Eveena alone would seek me there. But hers were not the lips that were earnestly pressed on my hand, nor hers the voice that spoke, trembling and hesitating with stronger feeling than it could utter in words—
“I do thank you from my heart. I little thought you would wish to make me so happy. I shrank from showing you the letter lest you should think I dared to hope.... It is not only Velna; it is such strange joy and comfort to be held fast by one who cares—to feel safe in hands as kind as they are strong. You said you could love none save Eveena; but, Clasfempta, your way of not loving is something better, gentler, more considerate than any love I ever hoped or heard of.”
I could read only profound sincerity and passionate gratitude in the clear bright eyes, softened by half-suppressed tears, that looked up from where she knelt beside me. But the exaggeration was painfully suggestive, confirming the ugly view Enva had given yesterday of the life that seemed natural and reasonable to her race, and made ordinary human kindness appear something strange and romantic by contrast.
“Surely, Eunane, every man wishes those around him happy, if it do not cost too much to make them so?”
“No, indeed! Oftener the master finds pleasure in punishing and humiliating, the favourite in witnessing her companions’ tears and terror. They like to see the household grateful for an hour’s amusement, crouching to caprice, incredulously thankful for barest justice. One book much read in our schools says that ’cruelty is a stronger, earlier, and more tenacious human instinct than sympathy;’ and another that ’half the pleasure of power lies in giving pain, and half the remainder in being praised for sparing it.’ ... But that was not all: Eveena was as eager to be kind as you were.”
“Much more so, Eunane.”
“Perhaps. What seemed natural to her was strange to you. But it was your thought to put Velna on equal terms with us; taking her out of mere kindness, to give her the dowry of a Prince’s favourite. That surprised Eveena, and it puzzled me. But I think I half understand you now, and if I do.... When Eveena told us how you saved her and defied the Regent, and Eive asked you about it, you said so quietly, ’There are some things a man cannot do.’ Is buying a girl cheap, because she is not a beauty, one of those things?”