The Countess Shulski had been through many vicissitudes with these two since her husband’s death, but seldom—only once perhaps—had they gone down to such poverty-stricken surroundings. Generally it was some small apartment in Paris, or Florence, that they occupied, with rather scanty meals when the end of the quarter came. During Count Shulski’s life she had always either lived in some smart villa at Nice, or led a wandering existence in hotels; and for months at a time, in later years, when he disappeared, upon his own pleasures bent, he would leave her in some old Normandy farmhouse, only too thankful to be free from his hateful presence. Here Mimo and Mirko would join her, and while they painted and played, she would read. Her whole inner life was spent with books. Among the shady society her husband had frequented she had been known as “The Stone.” She never unbent, and while her beauty and extraordinary type attracted all the men she came across they soon gave up their pursuit. She was quite hopeless, they said—and half-witted, some added! No woman could sit silent like that for hours, otherwise. Zara thought of all these things, as she sat on the rickety chair in the Neville Street lodging. How she had loathed that whole atmosphere! How she loathed bohemians and adventurers, no words could tell.
While her mother had lived there had been none of them about. For all her personal downfall, Elinka, Markrute’s sister, and an emperor’s daughter, remained an absolute grande dame—never mixing or mingling with any people but her own belongings.
But now that she was dead, poor Mimo had sometimes gone for company into a class other than his own.
As yet Zara’s thoughts had not turned upon her new existence which was to be. She had drawn a curtain over it in her mind. She knew but vaguely about life in England, she had never had any English friends. One or two gamblers had often come to the Nice villa, but except that they were better looking types and wore well made clothes, she had classed them with the rest of her husband’s acquaintances. She had read numbers of English classics but practically no novels, so she could not very well picture a state of things she was ignorant about. Sufficient for the day was the evil thereof.
She was getting slightly impatient when at last the two came in.
They had been told of her arrival; she knew that by their glad, hurried mounting of the stairs and the quick opening of the door.
“Cherisette, Angel! But what joy!” And Mirko hurled himself into her arms, while Mimo kissed her hand. He never forgot his early palace manners.
“I have brought you good news,” she said, as she drew out two ten-pound notes. “I have made my uncle see reason. Here is something for the present. He has such a kind and happy scheme for Mirko’s health. Listen, and I will tell you about it.”
They clustered around her while she explained in the most attractive manner she could the picture of the boy’s future, but in spite of all that, his beautiful little face fell as he grasped that he was to leave his father.