CHAPTER XI – A COUNTRY DRIVE.
Like all Martialists, I had been accustomed since my landing to wake with the first light of dawn; but the draught, though its earlier effects were anything but narcotic or stupifying, deepened and prolonged my sleep. It was not till the rays of sunlight came clear and full through the crystal roof of the peristyle, and the window of our bridal chamber, that my eyes unclosed. The first object on which they opened startled me into full waking recollection. Exactly where the sunbeams fell, just within reach of my hand, Eveena stood; the loveliest creature I ever beheld, a miniature type of faultless feminine grace and
beauty. By the standard of Terrestrial humanity she was tiny rather than small: so light, so perfect in proportion, form, and features, so absolutely beautiful, so exquisitely delicate, as to suggest the ideal Fairy Queen realised in flesh and blood, rather than any 长沙桑拿哪里最好 properly human loveliness. In the transparent delicacy of a complexion resembling that of an infant child of the fairest and most tenderly nurtured among the finest races of Europe, in the ideally perfect outline of face and features—the noble but even forehead—the smooth, straight, clearly pencilled eyebrows—the large almond-shaped eyes and drooping lids, with their long, dark, soft fringe—the little mouth and small, white, even regular teeth—the rosy lips, slightly compressed, save when parted in speech, smile, or eager attention—she exhibited in their most perfect but by no means fullest development the characteristics of Martial physiognomy; or rather the characteristic beauty of a family in which the finest traits of that physiognomy are unmixed with any of its meaner or harsher peculiarities. The hands, long, slight, and 长沙桑拿休闲娱乐会所 soft, the unsandalled feet, not less perfectly shaped, could only have belonged to the child of ancestors who for more than a hundred generations have never known hard manual toil, rough exposure, or deforming, cramping costume; even as every detail of her beauty bore witness to an immemorial inheritance of health unbroken by physical infirmity, undisturbed by violent passions, and developed by an admirable system of physical and mental discipline and culture. The absence of veil and sleeves left visible the soft rounded arms and shoulders, in whose complexion a tinge of pale rose seemed to shine through a skin itself of translucent white; the small head, and the perfection of the slender neck, with the smooth unbroken curve from the ear to the arm. Her long hair, fastened only by a silver band woven in and out behind the small 长沙桑拿论坛网 rounded ears, fell almost to her knee; and, as it caught the bright rays of the morning sun, I discerned for the first time the full beauty of that tinge of gold which varied the colour of the rich, soft, brown tresses. As her sex are seldom exposed to the cold of the night or the mists, their underclothing is slight and close fitting. Eveena’s thin robe, of the simplest possible form—two wide straight pieces of a material lustrous as satin but rivalling the finest cambric in texture (lined with the same fabric reversed), sewn together from the hem of the skirt to the arm, and fastened again by the shoulder clasps—fell perfectly loose save where compressed by the zone or by the movements of the wearer; and where so compressed, defined the outlines of the form as distinctly as the lightest wet drapery of the studio. Her dress, in short, achieved in its pure simplicity all at which the artistic skill of matrons, milliners, and maidens aims in a Parisian ball costume, without a shadow of that suggestive immodesty from which ball costumes are seldom wholly free. Exactly reversing Terrestrial practice, a Martial wife reserves for strictest domestic privacy that undressed full-dress, that frank revelation of her beauty, which the matrons of London, Paris, or New York think exclusively appropriate to the most public occasions. Till now, while still enjoying the liberty allowed to maidens in this respect, Eveena, by the arrangement of her veil, had always given to her costume a reserve wholly unexceptionable, even according to the rules enforced by the customs of Western Europe on young girls not yet presented in the marriage market of society. A new expression, or one, at least, which I had never before seen there, gave to her face a strange and novel beauty; the beauty, I wish to think, of shy, but true happiness; felt, it may be, for the first time, and softened, I fear, by a doubt of its possible endurance which rendered it as touching as attractive. Never was the sleep even of the poet of the Midsummer Night’s Dream visited by a lovelier vision—especially lovely as the soft rose blush suffused her cheeks under my gaze of admiration and delight. Springing up, I caught her with both hands and drew her on my knee. Some minutes passed before either of us cared to speak. Probably as she rested her head on my arm and looked into my eyes, each read the other’s character more truly and clearly than words the most frank and open could ever enable us to do. I had taught her last night a few substitutes in the softest tongue I knew for those words of natural tenderness in which her language is signally deficient: taught her to understand them, certainly not to use them, for it was long before I could even induce her to address me by name.
“My father bade me yesterday,” she said at last, “ask you in future to wear the dress of our people. Not that you will be the less an object of attention and wonder, but that in retaining a distinction which depends entirely on your own choice, you will seem intentionally to prefer your own habits to ours.”
“I comply of course,” I observed. “Naturally the dress of every country is best suited to its own conditions. Yet I should have thought that a preference for my own world, even were it wholly irrational, might seem at least natural and pardonable.”
“People don’t,” she answered simply, “like any sign of individual fancy or opinion. They don’t like any one to show that he thinks them wrong even on a matter of taste.”
“I fear, then, carissima, that I must be content with unpopularity. I may wear the costume of your people; but their thought, their conduct, their inner and outer life, as your father reports them, and as thus far I have seen them, are to me so unnatural, that the more I resemble them externally the more my unlikeness in all else is likely to attract notice. I am sorry for this, because women are by nature prone to judge even their nearest and dearest by the standard of fashion, and to exact from men almost as close a conformity to that standard as they themselves display. I fear you will have to forgive many heresies in my conduct as well as in my thoughts.”
“You cannot suppose,” she answered earnestly—she seemed incapable of apprehending irony or jest,—”that I should wish you more like others than you are. Whatever may happen hereafter, I shall always feel myself the happiest of women in having belonged to one who cares for something beside himself, and holds even life cheaper than love.” “I hope so, carissima. But in that matter there was scarcely more of love than of choice. What I did for you I must have done no less for Zevle [her sister]. If I had feared death as much as the Regent does, I could not have returned alive and alone. My venture into infinite space involved possibilities of horror more appalling than the mere terrors of death. You asked of me as my one bridal gift leave to share its perils. How unworthy of you should I be, if I did not hold the possession of Eveena, even for the two years of her promise, well worth dying for!”
The moral gulf between the two worlds is wider than the material. Utterly unselfish and trustful, Eveena was almost pained to be reminded that the service she so extravagantly overprized was rendered to her sex rather than herself; while yet more deeply gratified, though still half incredulous, by the commonplace that preferred love to life. I had yet to learn, however, that
Eveena’s nature was as utterly strange in her own world as the ideas in which she was educated would seem in mine.
I left her for a few minutes to dress for the first time in the costume which Esmo’s care had provided. The single under-vestment of softest hide, closely fitting from neck to knees, is of all garments the best adapted to preserve natural warmth under the rapid and extreme changes of the external atmosphere. The outer garb consisted of blouse and trousers, woven of a fabric in which a fine warp of metallic lustre was crossed by a strong silken weft, giving the effect of a diapered scarlet and silver; both fastened by the belt, a broad green strap of some species of leather, clasped with gold. Masculine dress is seldom brilliant, as is that of the women, but convenient and comfortable beyond any other, and generally
handsome and elegant. The one part of the costume which I could never approve is the sandal, which leaves the feet exposed to dust and cold. Rejoining my bride, I said—
“I have had no opportunity of seeing much of this country, and I fancy from what I have seen of feminine seclusion that an excursion would be as much a holiday treat to you as to myself. If your father will lend us his carriage, would you like to accompany me to one or two places Kevima has described not far from this, and which I am anxious to visit?”
She bent her head, but did not answer; and fancying that the proposal was not agreeable to her, I added—
“If you prefer to spend our little remaining time here with your mother and sister, I will ask your brother to accompany me, though I am selfishly unwilling to part with you to-day.”
She looked up for a moment with an air of pain and perplexity, and as she turned away I saw the tears gather in her eyes.
“What is the matter?” I asked, surprised and puzzled as one on Earth who tries to please a woman by offering her her own way, and finds that, so offered, it is the last thing she cares to have. It did not occur to me that, even in trifles, a Martial wife never dreams that her taste or wish can signify, or be consulted where her lord has a preference of his own. To invite instead of commanding her companionship was unusual; to withdraw the expression of my own wish, and bid her decide for herself, was in Eveena’s eyes to mark formally and deliberately that I did not care for her society.
“What have I done,” she faltered, “to be so punished? I have not, save the day before yesterday, left the house this year; and you offer me the greatest of pleasures only to snatch it away the next moment.”
“Nay, Eveena!” I answered. “If I had not told you, you must know that I cannot but wish for your company; but by your silence I fancied you disliked my proposal, yet did not like to decline it.”
The expression of surprise and perplexity in her face, though half pathetic, seemed so comical that I with difficulty suppressed a laugh, because for her it was evidently no laughing matter. After giving her time, as I thought, to recover herself, I said—
“Well, I suppose we may now join them at the morning meal?”
Something was still wrong, the clue to which I gathered by observing her shy glance at her head-dress and veil.
“Must you wear those?” I asked—a question which gave her some such imperfect clue to my thoughts as I had found to hers.
“How foolish of me,” she said, smiling, “to forget how little you can know of our customs! Of course I must wear my veil and sleeves; but to-day you must put on the veil, as you removed it last night.”
The awkwardness with which I performed this duty had its effect in amusing and cheering her; and the look of happiness and trust had come back to her countenance before the veil concealed it.
I made my request to Esmo, who answered, with some amusement—