trees, when she got nearly to the Achilles statue. The rendezvous had
been for six o'clock; it was now twenty minutes past, and it was so bad
for Mirko to wait in the cold. Perhaps they would have gone on. But no;
she caught sight of two shabby figures, close up under the statue, when
she got sufficiently near.
They came forward eagerly to meet her. And even in the half light it
could be seen that the boy was an undersized little cripple of perhaps
nine or ten years old but looking much younger; as it could also be seen
that even in his worn overcoat and old stained felt hat the man was a
gloriously handsome creature.
"What joy to see you, Chérisette!" exclaimed the child. "Papa and I have
been longing and longing all the day. It seemed that six would never
come. But now that you are here let me eat you - eat you up!" And the
thin, little arms, too long for the wizened body, clasped fondly round
her neck as she lifted him, and carried him toward a seat where the
three sat down to discuss their affairs.
"I know nothing, you see, Mimo," the Countess Shulski said, "beyond that
you arrived yesterday. I think it was foolish of you to risk it. At
least in Paris Madame Dubois would have let you stay and owe a week's
rent. But here - among these strangers - "
"Now do not scold us, Mentor," the man answered, with a charming smile.
"Mirko and I felt the sun had fled when you went last Thursday. It
rained and rained two - three - days, and the Dubois canary got completely
on our nerves; and, heavens above! the Grisoldi insisted upon cooking
garlic in his food at every meal! - we had thought to have broken him of
the habit, you remember? - and up, up it came from his stove. Body of
Bacchus! It killed inspiration. I could not paint, my Chérisette, and
Mirko could not play. And so we said: 'At least - at least the sun of the
hair of our Chérisette must shine in the dark England; we, too, will go
there, away from the garlic and the canary, and the fogs will give us
new ideas, and we shall create wonderful things.' Is it not so, Mirko
"But, of course, Papa," the boy echoed; and then his voice trembled with
a pitiful note. "You are not angry with us, darling Chérisette? Say it
is not so?"
"My little one! How can you! I could never be angry with my Mirko, no
matter what he did!" And the two pools of ink softened from the
expression of the black panther into the divine tenderness of the
Sistine Madonna, as she pressed the frail, little body to her side and
pulled her cloak around it.
"Only I fear it cannot be well for you here in London, and if my uncle
should know, all hope of getting anything from him may be over. He
expressly said if I would come quite alone, to stay with him for these
few weeks, it would be to my advantage; and my advantage means yours, as
you know. Otherwise do you think I would have eaten of his hateful
"You are so good to us, Chérisette," the man Mimo said. "You have,
indeed, a sister of the angels, Mirko mio; but soon we shall be all rich
and famous. I had a dream last night, and already I have begun a new
picture of grays and mists - of these strange fogs!"
Count Mimo Sykypri was a confirmed optimist.
"Meanwhile you are in the one room, in Neville Street, Tottenham Court
Road. It is, I fear, a poor neighborhood."
"No worse than Madame Dubois'," Mimo hastened to reassure her, "and
London is giving me new ideas."
Mirko coughed harshly with a dry sound. Countess Shulski drew him closer
to her and held him tight.
"You got the address from the Grisoldi? He was a kind little old man, in
spite of the garlic," she said.
"Yes, he told us of it, as an inexpensive resting place, until our
affairs prospered, and we came straight there and wrote to you at once."
"I was greatly surprised to receive the letter. Have you any money at
all now, Mimo?"
"Indeed, yes!" And Count Sykypri proudly drew forth eight bits of French
gold from his pocket. "We had two hundred francs when we arrived. Our
little necessities and a few paints took up two of the twenty-franc
pieces, and we have eight of them left! Oh, quite a fortune! It will
keep us until I can sell the 'Apache.' I shall take it to a picture
Countess Shulski's heart sank. She knew so well of old how long eight
twenty-franc pieces would be likely to last! In spite of Mirko's care
and watching of his father that gentleman was capable of giving one of
them to a beggar if the beggar's face and story touched him, and any of
the others could go in a present to Mirko or herself - to be pawned
later, when necessity called. The case was hopeless as far as money was
concerned with Count Sykypri.
Her own meager income, derived from the dead Shulski, was always
forestalled for the wants of the family - the little brother whom she had
promised her dead and adored mother never to desert.
For when the beautiful wife of Maurice Grey, the misanthropic and
eccentric Englishman who lived in a castle near Prague, ran off with
Count Mimo Sykypri, her daughter, then aged thirteen, had run with her,
and the pair had been wiped off the list of the family. And Maurice
Grey, after cursing them both and making a will depriving them of
everything, shut himself up in his castle, and steadily drank himself to
death in less than a year. And the brother of the beautiful Mrs. Grey,
Francis Markrute, never forgave her either. He refused to receive her or
hear news of her, even after poor little Mirko was born and she married
For on the father's side, the Markrute brother and sister were of very
noble lineage; even with his bar sinister the financier could not brook
the disgrace of Elinka. He had loved her so - the one soft side of his
adamantine character. Her disgrace, it seemed, had frozen all the
tenderness in his nature.
Countess Shulski was silent for a few moments, while both Mimo and Mirko
watched her face anxiously. She had thrown back her veil.
"And supposing you do not sell the 'Apache,' Mimo? Your own money does
not come in until Christmas; mine is all gone until January, and it is
the cold winter approaching - and cold is not good for Mirko. What then?"
Count Sykypri moved uneasily. A tragic look grew in his handsome face;
his face that was a mirror of all passing emotions; his face that had
been able to express love and romance, devotion and tenderness, to wile
a bird from off a tree or love from the heart of any woman. And even
though Zara Shulski knew of just how little value was anything he said
or did yet his astonishing charm always softened her irritation toward
his fecklessness. So she repeated more gently:
Mimo got up and flung out his arms in a dramatic way.
"It cannot be!" he said. "I must sell the 'Apache!' Besides, if I don't:
I tell you these strange, gray fogs are giving me new, wonderful
thoughts - dark, mysterious - two figures meeting in the mist! Oh! but a
wonderful combination that will be successful in all cases."
Mirko pressed his arm round his sister's neck and kissed her cheek,
while he cooed love words in a soft Slavonic language. Two big tears
gathered in Zara Shulski's deep eyes and made them tender as a dove's.
She drew out her purse and counted from it two sovereigns and some
shillings which she slipped into Mirko's small hand.
"Keep these, pet, for an emergency," she said. "They are all I have, but
I will - I must - find some other way for you soon: and now I shall have
to go. If my uncle should suspect I am seeing you I might be powerless
to help further."
They walked with her to the Grosvenor Gate, and reluctantly let her
leave them; and then they watched her, as she sped across the road
between the passing taxi-cabs. When they saw the light from the opening
door and her figure disappearing between the tall servants who had come
to open it, the two poor, shabby figures walked on with a sigh, to try
to find an omnibus which would put them down somewhere near their dingy
bedroom in Neville Street, Tottenham Court Road. And as they reached the
Marble Arch there came on a sharp shower of icy rain.
Countess Shulski, however poorly dressed, was a person to whom servants
were never impertinent; there was something in her bearing which
precluded all idea of familiarity. It did not even strike Turner, or
James, that her clothes were what none of the housemaids would have
considered fit to wear when they went out. The remark the lordly Turner
made, as he arranged some letters on the hall table, was:
"A very haughty lady, James - quite a bit of the Master about her, eh?"
But she went on to the lift, slowly, and to her luxurious bedroom, her
heart full of pain and rage against fate. Here she sat down before the
fire, and, resting her chin on her two hands, gazed steadily into the
What pictures did she see of past miseries there in the flames? Her
thoughts wandered right back to the beginning. The stern, peculiar
father, and the gloomy castle. The severe governesses - English and
German - and her adorable, beautiful mother, descending upon the
schoolroom like a fairy of light, always gay and sweet and loving. And
then of that journey to a far country, where she saw an old, old, dying
gentleman in a royal palace, who kissed her, and told her she would
grow as beautiful as her grandmother with the red, red hair. And there
in the palace was Mimo, so handsome and kind in his glittering
aide-de-camp's uniform, who after that often came to the gloomy castle,
and, with the fairy mother, to the schoolroom. Ah! those days were happy
days! How they three had shrieked with laughter and played hide-and-seek
in the long galleries!
And then the blank, hideous moment when the angel fairy had gone, and
the stern father cursed and swore, and Uncle Francis' face looked like a
vengeful fiend's. And then a day when she got word to meet her mother in
the park of the castle. How she clung to her and cried and sobbed to be
taken, too! And they - Mimo and the mother - always so kind and loving and
irresponsible, consented. And then the flight; and weeks of happiness in
luxurious hotels, until the mother's face grew pinched and white, and no
letters but her own - returned - came from Uncle Francis. And ever the
fear grew that if Mimo were absent from her for a moment Uncle Francis
would kill him. The poor, adored mother! And then of the coming of
Mirko and all their joy over it; and then, gradually, the skeleton of
poverty, when all the jewels had been sold and all Mimo's uniform and
swords; and nothing but his slender income, which could not be taken
from him, remained. How he had worked to be a real artist, there in
Paris! Oh! poor Mimo. He had tried, but everything was so against a
gentleman; and Mirko such a delicate baby, and the mother's lovely face
so often sad. And then the time of the mother's first bad illness - how
they had watched and prayed, and Mimo had cried tears like a child, and
the doctor had said the South was the only thing to help their angel's
recovery. So to marry Ladislaus Shulski seemed the only way. He had a
villa in the sun at Nice and offered it to them; he was crazy about
her - Zara - at that time, though her skirts were not quite long, nor her
splendid hair done up.
When her thoughts reached this far, the black panther in the Zoo never
looked fiercer when Francis Markrute poked his stick between its bars to
stir it up on Sunday mornings.
The hateful, hateful memories! When she came to know what marriage
meant, and - a man! But it had saved the sweet mother's life for that
winter. And though it was a strain to extract anything from Ladislaus,
still, in the years that followed, often she had been able to help until
his money, too, was all gone - on gambling and women.
And then the dear mother died - died in cold and poverty, in a poor
little studio in Paris - in spite of her daughter's and Mimo's frantic
letters to Uncle Francis for help. She knew now that he had been far
away, in South Africa, at the time, and had never received them, until
too late; but then, it seemed as if God Himself had forsaken them. And
now came the memory of her solemn promise. Mirko should never be
deserted - the adored mother could die in peace about that. Her last
words came back now - out of the glowing coals:
"I have been happy with Mimo, after all, my Chérisette, with you and
Mimo and Mirko. It was worth while - " And so she had gasped - and died.
And here the tears gathered and blurred the flaming coals. But Zara's
decision had come. There was no other way. To her uncle's bargain she
She got up abruptly and flung her hat on the bed - her cloak had already
fallen from her - and without further hesitation she descended the
Francis Markrute was still seated in his library; he had taken out his
watch and was calculating the time. It was twenty-five minutes to eight;
his guests would be coming to dine at eight o'clock and he had not begun
to dress. Would his niece have made up her mind by then?
That there could be any doubt about the fact that she would make up her
mind as he wished never entered his head. It was only a question of time
but it would be better, for every reason, if she arrived at the
conclusion at once.
He rose from his chair with a quiet smile as she entered the room. So
she had come! He had not relied upon his knowledge of a woman's
temperament in vain.
She was very pale. The extra whiteness showed even on her gardenia skin,
and her great eyes gleamed sullenly from beneath her lowering brows of
"If the terms are for the certain happiness of Mirko I consent," she
The four men - the two railway magnates, Francis Markrute, and Lord
Tancred - had all been waiting a quarter of an hour before the
drawing-room fire when the Countess Shulski sailed into the room. She
wore an evening gown of some thin, black, transparent, woolen stuff,
which clung around her with the peculiar grace her poorest clothes
acquired. Another woman would have looked pitifully shabby in such a
dress, but her distinction made it appear to at least three of the men
as the robe of a goddess. Francis Markrute was too annoyed at the delay
of her coming to admire anything; but even he, as he presented his
guests to her, could not help remarking that he had never seen her look
more wonderful, nor more contemptuously regal.
They had had rather a stormy scene in the library, half an hour before.
Her words had been few, but their displeasure had been unconcealed. She
would agree to the bare bargain, if so be this strange man were willing,
but she demanded to know the reason of his willingness.
And when she was told it was a business matter between the two men, and
that she would be given a large fortune, she expressed no more surprise
than a disdainful curl of the lips.
For her, all men were either brutes - or fools like poor Mimo.
If she had known that Lord Tancred had already refused her hand and
that her uncle was merely counting upon his own unerring knowledge of
human nature - and Lord Tancred's nature in particular - she might have
felt humiliated, instead of full of impotent rage.
The young man, for his part, had arrived exactly on the stroke of eight,
a rare effort of punctuality for him. Some underneath excitement to see
his friend Markrute's niece had tingled in his veins from the moment he
had left the house.
What sort of a woman could it be who would be willing to marry a
perfect stranger for the sake of his title and position? The
quarter-of-an-hour's wait had not added to his calm. So when the door
had eventually opened for her entry he had glanced up with intense
interest, and had then drawn in his breath as she advanced up the room.
The physical part of the lady at all events was extremely delectable.
But when he was presented and his eyes met hers he was startled by the
look of smoldering, somber hate he saw in them.
What could it all mean? Francis must have been romancing. Why should she
look at him like that, if she were willing to marry him? He was piqued
She spoke not a word as they went down to dinner, but he was no raw
youth to be snubbed thus into silence. His easy, polished manner soon
started a conversation upon the usual everyday things. He received "Yes"
and "No" for answers. The railway magnate on her other side was hardly
more fortunate, until the entrées were in full swing, then she unfroze a
little; the elderly gentleman had said something which interested her.
The part which particularly irritated Lord Tancred was that he felt sure
she was not really stupid - who could be stupid with such a face? And he
was quite unaccustomed to being ignored by women. A like experience had
not occurred to him in the whole of his life.
He watched her narrowly. He had never seen so white a skin; the
admirably formed bones of her short, small face caused, even in a side
light, no disfiguring shadows to fall beside the mouth and nose, nor on
the cheeks; all was velvety smooth and rounded. The remote Jewish touch
was invisible - save in the splendor of the eyes and lashes. She filled
him with the desire to touch her, to clasp her tightly in his arms, to
pull down that glorious hair and bury his face in it. And Lord Tancred
was no sensualist, given to instantly appraising the outward charm of
When the grouse was being handed, he did get a whole sentence from her;
it was in answer to his question whether she liked England.
"How can one say - when one does not know?" she said. "I have only been
here once before, when I was quite a child. It seems cold and dark."
"We must persuade you to like it better," he answered, trying to look
into her eyes which she had instantly averted. The expression of
resentment still smoldered there, he had noticed, during their brief
"Of what consequence whether I like it or no," she said, looking across
the table, and this was difficult to answer! It seemed to set him upon
his beam-ends. He could not very well say because he had suddenly begun
to admire her very much! At this stage he had not decided what he meant
An unusual excitement was permeating his being; he could not account for
how or why. He had felt no sensation like it, except on one of his lion
hunts in Africa when the news had come into camp that an exceptionally
fine beast had been discovered near and might be stalked on the morrow.
His sporting instincts seemed to be thoroughly awakened.
Meanwhile Countess Shulski had turned once more to Sir Philip Armstrong,
the railway magnate. He was telling her about Canada and she listened
with awakening interest: how there were openings for every one and great
fortunes could be made there by the industrious and persevering.
"It has not come to a point, then, when artists could have a chance, I
suppose?" she asked. Lord Tancred wondered at the keenness in her voice.
"Modern artists?" Sir Philip queried. "Perhaps not, though the rich men
are beginning to buy pictures and beautiful things, too; but in a new
country it is the man of sinew and determination, not the dreamer, who
Her head then drooped a little; her interest now seemed only mechanical,
as she answered again, "Yes" and "No."
Lord Tancred wondered and wondered; he saw that her thoughts were far
Francis Markrute had been watching things minutely while he kept up his
suave small talk with Colonel Macnamara on his right hand. He was well
pleased with the turn of events. After all, nothing could have been
better than Zara's being late. Circumstance often played into the hand
of an experienced manipulator like himself. Now if she only kept up this
attitude of indifference, which, indeed, she seemed likely to do - she
was no actress, he knew - things might be settled this very night.
Lord Tancred could not get her to have a single continued conversation
for the remainder of dinner; he was perfectly raging with annoyance, his
fighting blood was up. And when at the first possible moment after the
dessert arrived she swept from the room, her eyes met his as he held the
door and they were again full of contemptuous hate.
He returned to his seat with his heart actually thumping in his side.
And all through the laborious conversation upon Canada and how best to
invest capital, which Francis Markrute with great skill and apparently
hearty friendship prolonged to its utmost limits, he felt the attraction
and irritation of the woman grow and grow. He no longer took the
slightest interest in the pros and cons of his future in the Colony, and
when, at last, he heard the distant tones of Tschaikovsky's _Chanson
Triste_ as they ascended the stairs he came suddenly to a determination.
She was sitting at the grand piano in the back part of the room. A huge,
softly shaded lamp shed its veiled light upon her white face and rounded
throat; her hands and arms, which showed to the elbow, seemed not less
pale than the ivory keys, and those disks of black velvet gazed in front
of them, a whole world of anguish in their depths.
For this was the tune that her mother had loved, and she was playing it
to remind herself of her promise and to keep herself firm in her
determination to accept the bargain, for her little brother Mirko's
She glanced at Lord Tancred as he entered. Count Ladislaus Shulski had
been a very handsome man, too. She did not know enough of the English
type to judge of Lord Tancred morally. She only saw that he was a
splendid, physical creature who would be strong - and horrible
probably - like the rest.
The whole expression of her face changed as he came and leaned upon the
piano. The sorrow died out of her eyes and was replaced by a fierce
defiance; and her fingers broke into a tarantella of wild sounds.
"You strange woman!" Lord Tancred said.
"Am I strange?" she answered through her teeth. "It is said by those who
know that we are all mad - at some time and at some point. I have, I
think, reason to be mad to-night." And with that she crashed a final
chord, rose from her seat, and crossed the room.
"I hope, Uncle Francis, your guests will excuse me," she said, with an
imperial, aloof politeness, "but I am very tired. I will wish you all a
good-night." She bowed to them as they expressed their regrets, and then
slowly left the room.
"Goodnight, madame," Lord Tancred said, at the door. "Some day you and I
will cross swords."
But he was rewarded by no word, only an annihilating glance from her
sullen eyes, and he stood there and gazed at her as she passed up the
"An extraordinary and beautiful woman - your niece - eh, my dear
Markrute?" he heard one of the pompous gentlemen say, as he returned to
the group by the fire, and it angered him - he could not have told why.
Francis Markrute, who knew his moments, began now to talk about her,
casually; how she was an interesting, mysterious character; beautiful?
well, no, not exactly that - a superlative skin, fine eyes and hair, but
no special features.
"I will not admit that she is beautiful, my friend," he said. "Beauty
suggests gentleness and tenderness. My niece reminds me of the black
panther in the Zoo, but one could not say - if she were tamed."
Such remarks were not calculated to allay the growing interest and
attraction Lord Tancred was feeling. Francis Markrute knew his audience;
he never wasted his words. He abruptly turned the conversation back to
Canada again, until even the two magnates on their own ground were bored
and said goodnight. The four men came downstairs together. As the two
others were being assisted into their coats by Turner and his satellites
the host said to Lord Tancred:
"Will you have a cigar with me, Tancred, before you go on to your supper
party?" And presently they were both seated in mammoth armchairs in the
"I hope, my dear boy, you have all the information you want about
Canada," Mr. Markrute said. "You could not find two more influential
people than Sir Philip and the Colonel. I asked - " but Lord Tancred
"I don't care a farthing more about Canada!" he flashed out. "I have
made up my mind. If you really meant what you said to-day, I will marry
your niece, and I don't care whether she has a penny or no."
The financier's plans had indeed culminated with a rush!
But he expressed no surprise, merely raised his eyebrows mildly and
puffed some blue rings of smoke, as he answered:
"I always mean what I say, only I do not care for people to do things
blindly. Now that you have seen my niece are you sure she would suit
you? I thought, after all, perhaps not, to-night: she is certainly a