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 Cherisette, 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 must consent.
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 stairs.
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.