With which absolutely sensible advice, he had slapped his nephew on the back, fixed in his eyeglass, and walked off; and Tristram had stood there, his blue eyes hollow with pain, and had laughed a bitter laugh, and gone to play bridge, which he loathed, with the Meltons and Mrs. Harcourt. So for him, the evening had passed.
And Francis Markrute had taken his niece aside to give her his bit of salutary information. He wished to get it over as quickly as possible, and had drawn her to a sofa rather behind a screen, where they were not too much observed.
“We have all had a most delightful visit, I am sure, Zara,” he had said, “but you and Tristram seem not to be yet as good friends as I could wish.”
He paused a moment, but as usual she did not speak, so he went on:
“There is one thing you might as well know, I believe you have not realized it yet, unless Tristram has told you of it himself.”
She looked up now, startled—of what was she ignorant then?
“You may remember the afternoon I made the bargain with you about the marriage,” Francis Markrute went on. “Well, that afternoon Tristram, your husband, had refused my offer of you and your fortune with scorn. He would never wed a rich woman he said, or a woman he did not know or love, for any material gain; but I knew he would think differently when he had seen how beautiful and attractive you were, so I continued to make my plans. You know my methods, my dear niece.”
Zara’s blazing and yet pitiful eyes were all his answer.
“Well, I calculated rightly. He came to dinner that night, and fell madly in love with you, and at once asked to marry you himself, while he insisted upon your fortune being tied up entirely upon you, and any children that you might have, only allowing me to pay off the mortgages on Wrayth for himself. It would be impossible for a man to have behaved more like a gentleman. I thought now, in case you had not grasped all this, you had better know.” And then he said anxiously, “Zara—my dear child—what is the matter?” for her proud head had fallen forward on her breast, with a sudden deadly faintness. This, indeed, was the filling of her cup.
His voice pulled her together, and she sat up; and to the end of his life, Francis Markrute will never like to remember the look in her eyes.
“And you let me go on and marry him, playing this cheat? You let me go on and spoil both our lives! What had I ever done to you, my uncle, that you should be so cruel to me? Or is it to be revenged upon my mother for the hurt she brought to your pride?”
If she had reproached him, stormed at him, anything, he could have borne it better; but the utter lifeless calm of her voice, the hopeless look in her beautiful white face, touched his heart—that heart but newly unwrapped and humanized from its mummifying encasements by the omnipotent God of Love. Had he, after all, been too coldly calculating about this human creature of his own flesh and blood? Was there some insurmountable barrier grown up from his action? For the first moment in his life he was filled with doubt and fear.