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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, Ch�risette!" 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.
"I know nothing, you see, Mimo," the Countess Shulski said, "beyond that
you arrived yesterday. I think it was foolish of you to risk it. At
least in Paris Madame Dubois would have let you stay and owe a week's
rent. But here--among these strangers--"
"Now do not scold us, Mentor," the man answered, with a charming smile.
"Mirko and I felt the sun had fled when you went last Thursday. It
rained and rained two--three--days, and the Dubois canary got completely
on our nerves; and, heavens above! the Grisoldi insisted upon cooking
garlic in his food at every meal!--we had thought to have broken him of
the habit, you remember?--and up, up it came from his stove. Body of
Bacchus! It killed inspiration. I could not paint, my Ch�risette, and
Mirko could not play. And so we said: 'At least--at least the sun of the
hair of our Ch�risette must shine in the dark England; we, too, will go
there, away from the garlic and the canary, and the fogs will give us
new ideas, and we shall create wonderful things.' Is it not so, Mirko
"But, of course, Papa," the boy echoed; and then his voice trembled with
a pitiful note. "You are not angry with us, darling Ch�risette? Say it
is not so?"
"My little one! How can you! I could never be angry with my Mirko, no
matter what he did!" And the two pools of ink softened from the
expression of the black panther into the divine tenderness of the
Sistine Madonna, as she pressed the frail, little body to her side and
pulled her cloak around it.
"Only I fear it cannot be well for you here in London, and if my uncle
should know, all hope of getting anything from him may be over. He
expressly said if I would come quite alone, to stay with him for these
few weeks, it would be to my advantage; and my advantage means yours, as
you know. Otherwise do you think I would have eaten of his hateful
"You are so good to us, Ch�risette," the man Mimo said. "You have,
indeed, a sister of the angels, Mirko mio; but soon we shall be all rich
and famous. I had a dream last night, and already I have begun a new
picture of grays and mists--of these strange fogs!"
Count Mimo Sykypri was a confirmed optimist.
"Meanwhile you are in the one room, in Neville Street, Tottenham Court
Road. It is, I fear, a poor neighborhood."
"No worse than Madame Dubois'," Mimo hastened to reassure her, "and
London is giving me new ideas."
Mirko coughed harshly with a dry sound. Countess Shulski drew him closer
to her and held him tight.
"You got the address from the Grisoldi? He was a kind little old man, in
spite of the garlic," she said.
"Yes, he told us of it, as an inexpensive resting place, until our
affairs prospered, and we came straight there and wrote to you at once."
"I was greatly surprised to receive the letter. Have you any money at
all now, Mimo?"
"Indeed, yes!" And Count Sykypri proudly drew forth eight bits of French
gold from his pocket. "We had two hundred francs when we arrived. Our
little necessities and a few paints took up two of the twenty-franc
pieces, and we have eight of them left! Oh, quite a fortune! It will
keep us until I can sell the 'Apache.' I shall take it to a picture
Countess Shulski's heart sank. She knew so well of old how long eight
twenty-franc pieces would be likely to last! In spite of Mirko's care
and watching of his father that gentleman was capable of giving one of
them to a beggar if the beggar's face and story touched him, and any of
the others could go in a present to Mirko or herself--to be pawned
later, when necessity called. The case was hopeless as far as money was
concerned with Count Sykypri.
Her own meager income, derived from the dead Shulski, was always
forestalled for the wants of the family--the little brother whom she had
promised her dead and adored mother never to desert.
For when the beautiful wife of Maurice Grey, the misanthropic and
eccentric Englishman who lived in a castle near Prague, ran off with
Count Mimo Sykypri, her daughter, then aged thirteen, had run with her,
and the pair had been wiped off the list of the family. And Maurice
Grey, after cursing them both and making a will depriving them of
everything, shut himself up in his castle, and steadily drank himself to
death in less than a year. And the brother of the beautiful Mrs. Grey,
Francis Markrute, never forgave her either. He refused to receive her or
hear news of her, even after poor little Mirko was born and she married
For on the father's side, the Markrute brother and sister were of very
noble lineage; even with his bar sinister the financier could not brook
the disgrace of Elinka. He had loved her so--the one soft side of his
adamantine character. Her disgrace, it seemed, had frozen all the
tenderness in his nature.
Countess Shulski was silent for a few moments, while both Mimo and Mirko
watched her face anxiously. She had thrown back her veil.
"And supposing you do not sell the 'Apache,' Mimo? Your own money does
not come in until Christmas; mine is all gone until January, and it is
the cold winter approaching--and cold is not good for Mirko. What then?"
Count Sykypri moved uneasily. A tragic look grew in his handsome face;
his face that was a mirror of all passing emotions; his face that had
been able to express love and romance, devotion and tenderness, to wile
a bird from off a tree or love from the heart of any woman. And even
though Zara Shulski knew of just how little value was anything he said
or did yet his astonishing charm always softened her irritation toward
his fecklessness. So she repeated more gently:
Mimo got up and flung out his arms in a dramatic way.
"It cannot be!" he said. "I must sell the 'Apache!' Besides, if I don't:
I tell you these strange, gray fogs are giving me new, wonderful
thoughts--dark, mysterious--two figures meeting in the mist! Oh! but a
wonderful combination that will be successful in all cases."
Mirko pressed his arm round his sister's neck and kissed her cheek,
while he cooed love words in a soft Slavonic language. Two big tears
gathered in Zara Shulski's deep eyes and made them tender as a dove's.
She drew out her purse and counted from it two sovereigns and some
shillings which she slipped into Mirko's small hand.
"Keep these, pet, for an emergency," she said. "They are all I have, but
I will--I must--find some other way for you soon: and now I shall have
to go. If my uncle should suspect I am seeing you I might be powerless
to help further."
They walked with her to the Grosvenor Gate, and reluctantly let her
leave them; and then they watched her, as she sped across the road
between the passing taxi-cabs. When they saw the light from the opening
door and her figure disappearing between the tall servants who had come
to open it, the two poor, shabby figures walked on with a sigh, to try
to find an omnibus which would put them down somewhere near their dingy
bedroom in Neville Street, Tottenham Court Road. And as they reached the
Marble Arch there came on a sharp shower of icy rain.
Countess Shulski, however poorly dressed, was a person to whom servants
were never impertinent; there was something in her bearing which
precluded all idea of familiarity. It did not even strike Turner, or
James, that her clothes were what none of the housemaids would have
considered fit to wear when they went out. The remark the lordly Turner
made, as he arranged some letters on the hall table, was:
"A very haughty lady, James--quite a bit of the Master about her, eh?"
But she went on to the lift, slowly, and to her luxurious bedroom, her
heart full of pain and rage against fate. Here she sat down before the
fire, and, resting her chin on her two hands, gazed steadily into the
What pictures did she see of past miseries there in the flames? Her
thoughts wandered right back to the beginning. The stern, peculiar
father, and the gloomy castle. The severe governesses--English and
German--and her adorable, beautiful mother, descending upon the
schoolroom like a fairy of light, always gay and sweet and loving. And
then of that journey to a far country, where she saw an old, old, dying
gentleman in a royal palace, who kissed her, and told her she would
grow as beautiful as her grandmother with the red, red hair. And there
in the palace was Mimo, so handsome and kind in his glittering
aide-de-camp's uniform, who after that often came to the gloomy castle,
and, with the fairy mother, to the schoolroom. Ah! those days were happy
days! How they three had shrieked with laughter and played hide-and-seek
in the long galleries!
And then the blank, hideous moment when the angel fairy had gone, and
the stern father cursed and swore, and Uncle Francis' face looked like a
vengeful fiend's. And then a day when she got word to meet her mother in
the park of the castle. How she clung to her and cried and sobbed to be
taken, too! And they--Mimo and the mother--always so kind and loving and
irresponsible, consented. And then the flight; and weeks of happiness in
luxurious hotels, until the mother's face grew pinched and white, and no
letters but her own--returned--came from Uncle Francis. And ever the
fear grew that if Mimo were absent from her for a moment Uncle Francis
would kill him. The poor, adored mother! And then of the coming of
Mirko and all their joy over it; and then, gradually, the skeleton of
poverty, when all the jewels had been sold and all Mimo's uniform and
swords; and nothing but his slender income, which could not be taken
from him, remained. How he had worked to be a real artist, there in
Paris! Oh! poor Mimo. He had tried, but everything was so against a
gentleman; and Mirko such a delicate baby, and the mother's lovely face
so often sad. And then the time of the mother's first bad illness--how
they had watched and prayed, and Mimo had cried tears like a child, and
the doctor had said the South was the only thing to help their angel's
recovery. So to marry Ladislaus Shulski seemed the only way. He had a
villa in the sun at Nice and offered it to them; he was crazy about
her--Zara--at that time, though her skirts were not quite long, nor her
splendid hair done up.
When her thoughts reached this far, the black panther in the Zoo never
looked fiercer when Francis Markrute poked his stick between its bars to
stir it up on Sunday mornings.
The hateful, hateful memories! When she came to know what marriage
meant, and--a man! But it had saved the sweet mother's life for that
winter. And though it was a strain to extract anything from Ladislaus,
still, in the years that followed, often she had been able to help until
his money, too, was all gone--on gambling and women.
And then the dear mother died--died in cold and poverty, in a poor
little studio in Paris--in spite of her daughter's and Mimo's frantic
letters to Uncle Francis for help. She knew now that he had been far
away, in South Africa, at the time, and had never received them, until
too late; but then, it seemed as if God Himself had forsaken them. And
now came the memory of her solemn promise. Mirko should never be
deserted--the adored mother could die in peace about that. Her last
words came back now--out of the glowing coals:
"I have been happy with Mimo, after all, my Ch�risette, with you and
Mimo and Mirko. It was worth while--" And so she had gasped--and died.
And here the tears gathered and blurred the flaming coals. But Zara's
decision had come. There was no other way. To her uncle's bargain she
She got up abruptly and flung her hat on the bed--her cloak had already
fallen from her--and without further hesitation she descended the
Francis Markrute was still seated in his library; he had taken out his
watch and was calculating the time. It was twenty-five minutes to eight;
his guests would be coming to dine at eight o'clock and he had not begun
to dress. Would his niece have made up her mind by then?
That there could be any doubt about the fact that she would make up her
mind as he wished never entered his head. It was only a question of time
but it would be better, for every reason, if she arrived at the
conclusion at once.
He rose from his chair with a quiet smile as she entered the room. So
she had come! He had not relied upon his knowledge of a woman's
temperament in vain.
She was very pale. The extra whiteness showed even on her gardenia skin,
and her great eyes gleamed sullenly from beneath her lowering brows of
"If the terms are for the certain happiness of Mirko I consent," she
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