“I tell you it is too much,” she said, with almost a sob in her voice. “I will not do it.” And then she went out and closed the door.
Francis Markrute, left alone, leant back in his chair and puffed his cigar calmly while he mused.
What strange things were women! Any man could manage them if only he reckoned with their temperaments when dealing with them, and paid no heed to their actual words. Francis Markrute was a philosopher. A number of the shelves of this, his library, were filled with works on the subject of philosophy, and a well-thumbed volume of the fragments of Epicurus lay on a table by his side. He picked it up now and read: “He who wastes his youth on high feeding, on wine, on women, forgets that he is like a man who wears out his overcoat in the summer.” He had not wasted his youth either on wine or women, only he had studied both, and their effects upon the thing which, until lately, had interested him most in the world—himself. They could both be used to the greatest advantage and pleasure by a man who apprehended things he knew.
Then he turned to the Morning Post which was on a low stand near, and he read again a paragraph which had pleased him at breakfast:
“The Duke of Glastonbury and Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet entertained at dinner last night a small party at Glastonbury House, among the guests being—” and here he skipped some high-sounding titles and let his eye feast upon his own name, “Mr. Francis Markrute.”
Then he smiled and gazed into the fire, and no one would have recognized his hard, blue eyes, as he said softly:
“Ethelrida! belle et blonde!”
While the financier was contentedly musing in his chair beside the fire, his niece was hurrying into the park, wrapped in a dark cloak and thick veil. She had slipped out noiselessly, a few minutes after she left the library. The sun had completely set now and it was damp and cold, with the dead leaves, and the sodden autumn feeling in the air. Zara Shulski shivered, in spite of the big cloak, as she peered into the gloom of the trees, when she got nearly to the Achilles statue. The rendezvous had been for six o’clock; it was now twenty minutes past, and it was so bad for Mirko to wait in the cold. Perhaps they would have gone on. But no; she caught sight of two shabby figures, close up under the statue, when she got sufficiently near.
They came forward eagerly to meet her. And even in the half light it could be seen that the boy was an undersized little cripple of perhaps nine or ten years old but looking much younger; as it could also be seen that even in his worn overcoat and old stained felt hat the man was a gloriously handsome creature.
“What joy to see you, Cherisette!” exclaimed the child. “Papa and I have been longing and longing all the day. It seemed that six would never come. But now that you are here let me eat you—eat you up!” And the thin, little arms, too long for the wizened body, clasped fondly round her neck as she lifted him, and carried him toward a seat where the three sat down to discuss their affairs.