He rose from his chair with a quiet smile as she entered the room. So she had come! He had not relied upon his knowledge of a woman’s temperament in vain.
She was very pale. The extra whiteness showed even on her gardenia skin, and her great eyes gleamed sullenly from beneath her lowering brows of ink.
“If the terms are for the certain happiness of Mirko I consent,” she said.
The four men—the two railway magnates, Francis Markrute, and Lord Tancred—had all been waiting a quarter of an hour before the drawing-room fire when the Countess Shulski sailed into the room. She wore an evening gown of some thin, black, transparent, woolen stuff, which clung around her with the peculiar grace her poorest clothes acquired. Another woman would have looked pitifully shabby in such a dress, but her distinction made it appear to at least three of the men as the robe of a goddess. Francis Markrute was too annoyed at the delay of her coming to admire anything; but even he, as he presented his guests to her, could not help remarking that he had never seen her look more wonderful, nor more contemptuously regal.
They had had rather a stormy scene in the library, half an hour before. Her words had been few, but their displeasure had been unconcealed. She would agree to the bare bargain, if so be this strange man were willing, but she demanded to know the reason of his willingness.
And when she was told it was a business matter between the two men, and that she would be given a large fortune, she expressed no more surprise than a disdainful curl of the lips.
For her, all men were either brutes—or fools like poor Mimo.
If she had known that Lord Tancred had already refused her hand and that her uncle was merely counting upon his own unerring knowledge of human nature—and Lord Tancred’s nature in particular—she might have felt humiliated, instead of full of impotent rage.
The young man, for his part, had arrived exactly on the stroke of eight, a rare effort of punctuality for him. Some underneath excitement to see his friend Markrute’s niece had tingled in his veins from the moment he had left the house.
What sort of a woman could it be who would be willing to marry a perfect stranger for the sake of his title and position? The quarter-of-an-hour’s wait had not added to his calm. So when the door had eventually opened for her entry he had glanced up with intense interest, and had then drawn in his breath as she advanced up the room. The physical part of the lady at all events was extremely delectable.
But when he was presented and his eyes met hers he was startled by the look of smoldering, somber hate he saw in them.
What could it all mean? Francis must have been romancing. Why should she look at him like that, if she were willing to marry him? He was piqued and interested.