“Mother is so disappointed,” she said, “but she really suffers so dreadfully. I am sure Countess Shulski will forgive her, and you, too. She wants to know if Countess Shulski will let Tristram bring her to-morrow morning, without any more ceremony, to see her and stay to luncheon.”
Thus it was settled and this necessitated a change in the table arrangements.
Lady Ethelrida would now sit on the host’s right hand, and Lady Coltshurst, an aunt on the Tancred side, at his left, while Zara would be between the Duke and her fiance, as originally arranged. Emily Guiscard would have Sir James Danvers and Lord Coltshurst as neighbors, and Mary her uncle, the Duke’s brother, a widower, Lord Charles Montfitchet, and his son, “Young Billy,” the Glastonbury heir—Lady Ethelrida was the Duke’s only child.
At a quarter before eight Francis Markrute went up to his niece’s sitting-room. She was already dressed in a sapphire-blue velvet masterpiece of simplicity. The Tancred presents of sapphires and diamonds lay in their open cases on the table with the splendid Markrute yards of pearls. She was standing looking down at them, the strangest expression of cynical resignation upon her face.
“Your gift is magnificent, Uncle Francis,” she said, without thanking him. “Which do you wish me to wear? Yours—or his?”
“Lord Tancred’s, he has specially asked that you put his on to-night,” the financier replied. “These are only his first small ones; the other jewels are being reset for you. Nothing can be kinder or more generous than the whole family has been. You see this brooch, with the large drop sapphire and diamond, is from the Duke.”
She inclined her head without enthusiasm, and took her own small pearls from her ears, and replaced them by the big sapphire and diamond earrings; a riviere of alternate solitaire sapphires and diamonds she clasped round her snowy throat.
“You look absolutely beautiful,” her uncle exclaimed with admiration. “I knew I could perfectly trust to your taste—the dress is perfection.”
“Then I suppose we shall have to go down,” she said quietly.
She was perfectly calm, her face expressionless; if there was a tempestuous suggestion in her somber eyes she generally kept the lids lowered. Inwardly, she felt a raging rebellion. This was the first ceremony of the sacrifice, and although in the abstract her fine senses appreciated the jewels and all her new and beautiful clothes and apanages, they in no way counterbalanced the hateful degradation.
To her it was a hideous mockery—the whole thing; she was just a chattel, a part of a business bargain. She could not guess her uncle’s motive for the transaction (he had a deep one, of course), but Lord Tancred’s was plain and purely contemptible. Money! For had not the whole degrading thing been settled before he had ever seen her? He was worse than Ladislaus who, at all events, had been passionately in love, in his revolting, animal way.