“Thank you,” she said gently, as she took the hat from his hand, and laid it beside her. “I grieve because I loved him—my dear little brother. His soul was all music, and there was no room for him here. And oh! I loved Maman so! But I know that it is better as it is; he is safe there, with her now, far away from all his pain. He saw her when he was dying.” Then after a pause she went on: “Uncle Francis, you love Ethelrida very much, don’t you? Try to look back and think how Maman loved Mimo, and he loved her. Think of all the sorrow of her life, and the great, great price she paid for her love; and then, when you see him—poor Mimo—try to be merciful.”
And Francis Markrute suddenly felt a lump in his throat. The whole pitiful memory of his beloved sister stabbed him, and extinguished the last remnant of rancor towards her lover, which had smoldered always in his proud heart.
There was a moisture in his clever eyes, and a tremulous note in his cold voice as he answered his niece:
“Dear child, we will forget and forgive everything. My one thought about it all now, is to do whatever will bring you comfort.”
“There is one thing—yes,” she said, and there was the first look of life in her face. “Mirko, when I saw him last at Bournemouth, played to me a wonderful air; he said Maman always came back to him in his dreams when he was ill—feverish, you know—and that she had taught it to him. It talks of the woods where she is, and beautiful butterflies; there is a blue one for her, and a little white one for him. He wrote out the score—it is so joyous—and I have it. Will you send it to Vienna or Paris, to some great artist, and get it really arranged, and then when I play it we shall always be able to see Maman.”
And the moisture gathered again in Francis Markrute’s eyes.
“Oh, my dear!” he said. “Will you forgive me some day for my hardness, for my arrogance to you both? I never knew, I never understood—until lately—what love could mean in a life. And you, Zara, yourself, dear child, can nothing be done for you and Tristram?”
At the mention of her husband’s name Zara looked up, startled; and then a deeper tragedy than ever gathered in her eyes, as she rose.
“Let us speak of that no more, my uncle,” she said. “Nothing can be done, because his love for me is dead. I killed it myself, in my ignorance. Nothing you or I can do is of any avail now—it is all too late.”
And Francis Markrute could not speak. Her ignorance had been his fault, his only mistake in calculation, because he had played with souls as pawns in those days before love had softened him. And she made him no reproaches, when that past action of his had caused the finish of her life’s happiness! Verily, his niece was a noble woman, and, with deepest homage, as he led her to the door he bent down and kissed her forehead; and no one in the world who knew him would have believed that she felt it wet with tears.