At length it occurred to her that time was passing, and the hour for tea must be near at hand. She sat up on the bed, threw off her light sack, and unbuttoned her boots. Going to the glass, she saw that her hair was in disorder, and partly fallen down, and that one cheek was stamped with the creases of the pillow. She pulled off her gloves, and looked critically at her hands.
“It’ll never do to go down this way!” determined she. “I must make myself decent.”
In half an hour more she was finished, and took a parting peep at herself in the mirror. Cold water and a soft sponge had taken from her face all traces of travel and emotion. Her dark, crisp hair was arranged in marvelous convolutions, and from the white tip of each ear, peeping out beneath, hung an Etruscan gold ear-ring, given her by Aunt Margaret. Her cheeks were pale, but not colorless; her eyes glowed like a tiger’s. She was dressed in a black demi-toilet, relieved with glimpses of yellow here and there; an oblong piece cut out in front revealed, through softened edges of lace, the clear, smooth flesh of the neck and bosom. The dream of a perfume hovered about her, and touched the air as she moved. Her wide sleeve fell open, as she raised her arm, disclosing the white curves, which were remarkably full and firm for one of her age.
She gave a little laugh as she stood there that made the ear-rings quiver, and parted her lips enough to show that her small white teeth were set edge to edge.
“It can’t do any harm,” was passing through her mind. “If I’m to be his sister, he ought to like me. It’s no use making him detest me. If he loves Sophie so much, what harm can it do for him to be pleased with my beauty? Besides, haven’t I a right to my own good looks?”
She kissed her fingers to her reflection, and made a deep courtesy. As she did so, she caught sight of the little petal-less rose-stalk which had fallen out of her traveling-dress on to the floor. She picked it up, and, after turning it idly in her fingers for a moment, she yielded to a sudden fancy, and fastened it into the bosom of her dress; so that this symbol of a body from which the soul had departed formed the central and crowning ornament of the voluptuous and lovely woman.
“There!” ejaculated she, with a smile which did not part her lips, but seemed to draw her dark eyebrows a little closer together.
“Strange I’m so quiet!” she mused, as she walked slowly to the door. “What an ordeal I have to go through! I must sit down with Sophie, and papa, and—him: listen to all the particulars, ask all the proper and necessary questions, smile and laugh; and it would be well, I suppose, to rally the lovers archly on the ardor of their affection, and the suddenness of the consummation. Better still, I can laughingly allude to my own prior claim—suggest that I feel hurt at being distanced and left out in the cold by that demure little younger sister of mine! Oh, yes!” exclaimed Cornelia, clapping her hands together, “that will cap the climax; what fun!”