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People often wondered what nation the great financier, Francis Markrute,
originally sprang from. He was now a naturalized Englishman and he
looked English enough. He was slight and fair, and had an immaculately
groomed appearance generally--which even the best of valets cannot
always produce. He wore his clothes with that quiet, unconscious air
which is particularly English. He had no perceptible accent--only a
deliberate way of speaking. But Markrute!--such a name might have come
from anywhere. No one knew anything about him, except that he was
fabulously rich and had descended upon London some ten years previously
from Paris, or Berlin, or Vienna, and had immediately become a power in
the city, and within a year or so, had grown to be omnipotent in certain
He had a wonderfully appointed house in Park Lane, one of those smaller
ones just at the turn out of Grosvenor Street, and there he entertained
in a reserved fashion.
It had been remarked by people who had time to think--rare cases in
these days--that he had never made a disadvantageous friend, from his
very first arrival. If he had to use undesirables for business purposes
he used them only for that, in a crisp, hard way, and never went to
their houses. Every acquaintance even was selected with care for a
definite end. One of his favorite phrases was that "it is only the fool
who coins for himself limitations."
At this time, as he sat smoking a fine cigar in his library which looked
out on the park, he was perhaps forty-six years old or thereabouts, and
but for his eyes--wise as serpents'--he might have been ten years
Opposite to him facing the light a young man lounged in a great leather
chair. The visitors in Francis Markrute's library nearly always faced
the light, while he himself had his back to it.
There was no doubt about this visitor's nation! He was flamboyantly
English. If you had wished to send a prize specimen of the race to a
World's Fair you could not have selected anything finer. He was perhaps
more Norman than Saxon, for his hair was dark though his eyes were blue,
and the marks of breeding in the creature showed as plainly as in a
Derby winner. Francis Markrute always smoked his cigars to the end, if
he were at leisure and the weed happened to be a good one, but Lord
Tancred (Tristram Lorrimer Guiscard Guiscard, 24th Baron Tancred, of
Wrayth in the County of Suffolk) flung his into the grate after a few
whiffs, and he laughed with a slightly whimsical bitterness as he went
on with the conversation.
"Yes, Francis, my friend, the game here is played out; I am thirty, and
there is nothing interesting left for me to do but emigrate to Canada,
for a while at least, and take up a ranch."
"Wrayth mortgaged heavily, I suppose?" said Mr. Markrute, quietly.
"Pretty well, and the Northern property, too. When my mother's jointure
is paid there is not a great deal left this year, it seems. I don't mind
much; I had a pretty fair time before these beastly Radicals made things
The financier nodded, and the young man went on: "My forbears got rid of
what they could; there was not much ready money to come into and one had
Francis Markrute smoked for a minute thoughtfully.
"Naturally," he said at last. "Only the question is--for how long? I
understand a plunge, if you settle its duration; it is the drifting and
trusting to chance, and a gradual sinking which seem to me a poor game.
Did you ever read de Musset's 'Rolla'?"
"The fellow who had arrived at his last night, and to whom the little
girl was so kind? Yes: well?"
"You reminded me of Jacques Rolla, that is all."
"Oh, come! It is not as bad as that!" Lord Tancred exclaimed--and he
laughed. "I can collect a few thousands still, even here, and I can go
to Canada. I believe there is any quantity of money to be made there
with a little capital, and it is a nice, open-air life. I just looked in
this afternoon on my way back from Scotland to tell you I should be
going out to prospect, about the end of November and could not join you
for the pheasants on the 20th, as you were good enough to ask me to do."
The financier half closed his eyes. When he did this there was always
something of importance working in his brain.
"You have not any glaring vices, Tancred," he said. "You are no gambler
either on the turf or at cards. You are not over addicted to expensive
ladies. You are cultivated, for a sportsman, and you have made one or
two decent speeches in the House of Lords. You are, in fact, rather a
fine specimen of your class. It seems a pity you should have to shut
down and go to the Colonies."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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!"
"You think she would be cold-blooded, too?"
"Undoubtedly; but it is all perfectly preposterous. I don't believe you
mean a word you are saying--it is some kind of a joke."
"Have you ever known me to make such jokes, Tancred?" Mr. Markrute asked
"No, I haven't, and that is the odd part of it. What the devil do you
mean, really, Francis?"
"I mean what I say: I will pay every debt you have, and give you a
charming wife with a fortune."
Lord Tancred got up and walked about the room. He was a perfectly
natural creature, stolid and calm as those of his race, disciplined and
deliberate in moments of danger or difficulty; yet he never lived under
self-conscious control as the financier did. He was rather moved now,
and so he walked about. He was with a friend, and it was not the moment
to have to bother over disguising his feelings.
"Oh, it is nonsense, Francis; I could not do it. I have knocked about
the world as you know, and, since you are aware of everything about me,
you say, you have probably heard some of my likings--and dislikings. I
never go after a woman unless she attracts me, and I would never marry
one of them unless I were madly in love with her, whether she had money
or no; though I believe I would hate a wife with money, in any
case--she'd be saying like the American lady of poor Darrowood: 'It's my
motor and you can't have it to-day.'"
"You would marry a woman then--if you were in love, in spite of
everything?" Francis Markrute asked.
"Probably, but I have never been really in love; have you? It is all
story-book stuff--that almighty passion, I expect. They none of them
matter very much after a while, do they, old boy?"
"I have understood it is possible for a woman to matter," the financier
said and he drew in his lips.
"Well, up to now I have not," Lord Tancred announced, "and may the day
be far off when one does. I feel pretty safe!"
A strange, mysterious smile crept over Mr. Markrute's face.
"By the way, also, how do you know the lady would be willing to marry
me, Francis? You spoke as if I only had to be consulted in the affair."
"So you have. I can answer for my niece; she will do as I wish, and, as
I said before, you are rather a perfect picture of an English nobleman,
Tancred. You have not found women recalcitrant, as a rule--no?"
Lord Tancred was not inordinately vain, though a man, and he had a sense
of humor--so he laughed.
"'Pon my word it is amusing, your turning into a sort of matrimonial
agent. Can't you see the fun of the thing yourself?"
"It seems quite natural to me. You have every social advantage to offer
a woman, and a presentable person; and my niece has youth, and some
looks, and a large fortune. But we will say no more about it. I shall be
glad to be of any service I can to you, anyway, in regard to your
Canadian scheme. Come and dine to-night; I happen to have asked a couple
of railway magnates with interests out there, and you can get some
information from them."
And so it was arranged, and Lord Tancred got up to go; but just at the
door he paused and said with a laugh:
"And shall I see the niece?"
The financier had his back turned, and so he permitted the flicker of a
smile to come over his mouth as he answered:
"It might be; but we have dismissed the subject of the niece."
And so they parted.
At the sound of the closing of the door Mr. Markrute pressed the button
of a wonderful trifle of Russian enamel and emeralds, which lay on his
writing table, and a quiet servant entered the room.
"Tell the Countess Shulski I wish to speak to her here immediately,
please," he said. "Ask her to descend at once."
But he had to walk up and down several times, and was growing impatient,
before the door opened and a woman came slowly into the room.
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