She pointed to a Louis XVI. bergere which stood opposite, and herself took a small armchair at the other side of the fire.
So they sat down, she gazing into the blazing coals and he gazing at her. She was facing the gloomy afternoon light, though she did not think out these things like her uncle, so he had a clear and wonderful picture of her. “How could so voluptuous looking a creature be so icily cold?” he wondered. Her wonderful hair seemed burnished like dark copper, in the double light of fire and day, and that gardenia skin looked fit to eat. He was thrilled with a mad desire to kiss her; he had never felt so strong an emotion towards a woman in his life.
“Your uncle tells me you are going away to-morrow, and that you will be away until a week before our wedding. I wish you were not going to be, but I suppose you must—for clothes and things.”
“Yes, I must.”
He got up; he could not sit still, he was too wildly excited; he stood leaning on the mantelpiece, quite close to her, for a moment, his eyes devouring her with the passionate admiration he felt. She glanced up, and when she saw their expression her jet brows met, while a look of infinite disgust crept over her face.
So it had come—so soon! He was just like all men—a hateful, sensual beast. She knew he desired to kiss her—to kiss a person he did not know! Her experience of life had not encouraged her to make the least allowance for the instinct of man. For her, that whole side of human beings was simply revolting. In the far back recesses of her mind she knew and felt that caresses and such things might be good if one loved—passionately loved—but in the abstract, just because of the attraction of sex, they were hideous. No man had ever had the conceded tip of her little finger, although she had been forced to submit to unspeakable exhibitions of passion from Ladislaus, her husband.
For her, Tristram appeared a satyr, but she was no timid nymph, but a fierce panther ready to defend herself!
He saw her look and drew back—cooled.
The thing was going to be much more difficult than he had even thought; he must keep himself under complete control, he knew now. So he turned away to the window and glanced out on the wet park.
“My mother called upon you to-day, I believe,” he said. “I asked her not to expect you to be at home. It was only to show you that my family will welcome you with affection.”
“It is very good of them.”
“The announcement of the engagement will be in the Morning Post to-morrow. Do you mind?”
“Why should I mind?” (her voice evinced surprise). “Since it is true, the formalities must take place.”
“It seems as if it could not be true. You are so frightfully frigid,” he said with faint resentment.
“I cannot help how I am,” she said in a tone of extreme hauteur. “I have consented to marry you. I will go through with all the necessary ceremonies, the presentations to your family, and such affairs; but I have nothing to say to you: why should we talk when once these things are settled? You must accept me as I am, or leave me alone—that is all”—and then her temper made her add, in spite of her uncle’s warning, “for I do not care!”