“Oh, I don’t know! And I have not altogether got to shut down,” the young man said, “only the show is growing rather rotten over here. We have let the rabble—the most unfit and ignorant—have the casting vote, and the machine now will crush any man. I have kept out of politics as much as I can and I am glad.”
Francis Markrute got up and lowered the blind a few inches—a miserable September sun was trying to shine into the room. If Lord Tancred had not been so preoccupied with his own thoughts he would have remarked this restlessness on the part of his host. He was no fool; but his mind was far away. It almost startled him when the cold, deliberate voice continued:
“I have a proposition to make to you should you care to accept it. I have a niece—a widow—she is rather an attractive lady. If you will marry her I will pay off all your mortgages and settle on her quite a princely dower.”
“Good God!” said Lord Tancred.
The financier reddened a little about the temples, and his eyes for an instant gave forth a flash of steel. There had been an infinite variety of meanings hidden in the exclamation, but he demanded suavely:
“What point of the question causes you to exclaim ’Good God’?”
The sang-froid of Lord Tancred never deserted him.
“The whole thing,” he said—“to marry at all, to begin with, and to marry an unknown woman, to have one’s debts paid, for the rest! It is a tall order.”
“A most common occurrence. Think of the number of your peers who have gone to America for their wives, for no other reason.”
“And think of the rotters they are—most of them! I mayn’t be much catch, financially; but I have one of the oldest names and titles in England—and up to now we have not had any cads nor cowards in the family, and I think a man who marries a woman for money is both. By Jove! Francis, what are you driving at? Confound it, man! I am not starving and can work, if it should ever come to that.”
Mr. Markrute smoothed his hands. He was a peculiarly still person generally.
“Yes, it was a blunder, I admit, to put it this way. So I will be frank with you. My family is also, my friend, as old as yours. My niece is all I have left in the world. I would like to see her married to an Englishman. I would like to see her married to you of all Englishmen because I like you and you have qualities about you which count in life. Oh, believe me!”—and he raised a protesting finger to quell an interruption—“I have studied you these years; there is nothing you can say of yourself or your affairs that I do not know.”
Lord Tancred laughed.
“My dear old boy,” he said, “we have been friends for a long time; and, now we are coming to hometruths, I must say I like your deuced cold-blooded point of view on every subject. I like your knowledge of wines and cigars and pictures, and you are a most entertaining companion. But, ’pon my soul I would not like to have your niece for a wife if she took after you!”