“He won’t insist; tell me of your day?”
She calmed herself—her face had grown stormy.
“I am quite satisfied with the home you have chosen for Mirko and will take him there to-morrow. All the clothes have come that you said I might order for him, and I hope and think he will be comfortable and happy. He has a very beautiful, tender nature, and a great talent. If he could only grow strong, and more balanced! Perhaps he will, in this calm, English air.”
Francis Markrute’s face changed, as it always did with the mention and discussion of Mirko—whose presence in the world was an ever-rankling proof of his loved sister’s disgrace. All his sense of justice—and he was in general a just man—could never reconcile him to the idea of ever seeing or recognizing the child. “The sins of the fathers”—was his creed and he never forgot the dying Emperor’s words. He had lost sight of his niece for nearly two years after his sister’s death. She had wished for no communication with him, believing then that he had left her mother to die without forgiveness, and it was not until he happened to read in a foreign paper the casual mention of Count Shulski’s murder, and so guessed at Zara’s whereabouts, that a correspondence had been opened again, and he was able to explain that he had been absent in Africa and had not received any letters.
He then offered her his protection and a home, if she would sever all connection with the two, Mimo and Mirko, and she had indignantly refused. And it was only when they were in dire poverty, and he had again written asking his niece to come and stay with him for a few weeks, this time with no conditions attached, that she had consented, thinking that perhaps she would be able in some way to benefit them.
But now that she looked at him she felt keenly how he had trapped her, all the same.
“We will not discuss your brother’s nature,” he said, coldly. “I will keep my side of the bargain scrupulously, for all material things; that is all you can expect of me. Now let us talk of yourself. I have ventured to send some sables for your inspection up to your sitting room; it will be cold traveling. I hope you will select what you wish. And remember, I desire you to order the most complete trousseau in Paris, everything that a great lady could possibly want for visits and entertainments; and you must secure a good maid there, and return with all the apanages of your position.”
She bowed, as at the reception of an order. She did not thank him.
“I will not give you any advice what to get,” he went on. “Your own admirable taste will direct you. I understand that in the days of your late husband you were a beautifully dressed woman, so you will know all the best places to go to. But please to remember, while I give you unlimited resources for you to do what I wish, I trust to your honor that you will bestow none of them upon the—man Sykypri. The bargain is about the child; the father is barred from it in every way.”