“Zara,” he said, anxiously, “tell me, dear child, what you mean? I let you go on in the ‘cheat,’ as you call it, because I knew you never would consent to the bargain, unless you thought it was equal on both sides. I know your sense of honor, dear, but I calculated, and I thought rightly, that, Tristram being so in love with you, he would soon undeceive you, directly you were alone. I never believed a woman could be so cold as to resist his wonderful charm—Zara—what has happened?—’Won’t you tell me, child?”
But she sat there turned to stone. She had no thought to reproach him. Her heart and her spirit seemed broken, that was all.
“Zara—would you like me to do anything? Can I explain anything to him? Can I help you to be happy? I assure you it hurts me awfully, if this will not turn out all right—Zara,” for she had risen a little unsteadily from her seat beside him. “You cannot be indifferent to him for ever—he is too splendid a man. Cannot I do anything for you, my niece?”
Then she looked at him, and her eyes in their deep tragedy seemed to burn out of her deadly white face.
“No, thank you, my uncle,—there is nothing to be done—everything is now too late.” Then she added in the same monotonous voice, “I am very tired, I think I will wish you a good night.” And with immense dignity, she left him; and making her excuses with gentle grace to the Duke and Lady Ethelrida, she glided from the room.
And Francis Markrute, as he watched her, felt his whole being wrung with emotion and pain.
“My God!” he said to himself. “She is a glorious woman, and it will—it must—come right—even yet.”
And then he set his brain to calculate how he could assist them, and finally his reasoning powers came back to him, and he comforted himself with the deductions he made.
She was going away alone with this most desirable young man into the romantic environment of Wrayth. Human physical passion, to say the least of it, was too strong to keep them apart for ever, so he could safely leave the adjusting of this puzzle to the discretion of fate.
And Zara, freed at last from eye of friend or maid, collapsed on to the white bearskin in front of the fire again, and tried to think. So she had been offered as a chattel and been refused! Here her spirit burnt with humiliation. Her uncle, she knew, always had used her merely as a pawn in some game—what game? He was not a snob; the position of uncle to Tristram would not have tempted him alone; he never did anything without a motive and a deep one. Could it be that he himself was in love with Lady Ethelrida? She had been too preoccupied with her own affairs to be struck with those of others, but now as she looked back, he had shown an interest which was not in his general attitude towards women. How her mother had loved him, this wonderful brother! It was her abiding grief always, his unforgiveness,—and perhaps,