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Every one was so sleepy and tired on Sunday morning, after their night
at Arthur's Court, that only Lady Ethelrida and Laura Highford, who had
a pose of extreme piety always ready at hand, started with the Duke and
Young Billy for church. Francis Markrute watched them go from his
window, which looked upon the entrance, and he thought how stately and
noble his fair lady looked; and he admired her disciplined attitude, no
carousal being allowed to interfere with her duties. She was a rare and
perfect specimen of her class.
His lady fair! For he had determined, if fate plainly gave him the
indication, to risk asking her to-day to be his fair lady indeed. A man
must know when to strike, if the iron is hot.
He had carefully prepared all the avenues; and had made himself of great
importance to the Duke, allowing his masterly brain to be seen in
glimpses, and convincing His Grace of his possible great usefulness to
the party to which he belonged. He did not look for continued opposition
in that quarter, once he should have assured himself that Lady Ethelrida
loved him. That he loved her, with all the force of his self-contained
nature, was beyond any doubt. Love, as a rule, recks little of the
suitability of the object, when it attacks a heart; but in some few
cases--that is the peculiar charm--Francis Markrute had waited until he
was forty-six years old, firmly keeping to his ideal, until he found
her, in a measure of perfection, of which even he had not dared to
dream. His theory, which he had proved in his whole life, was that
nothing is beyond the grasp of a man who is master of himself and his
emotions. But even his iron nerves felt the tension of excitement, as
luncheon drew to an end, and he knew in half an hour, when most of the
company were safely disposed of, he should again find his way to his
Ethelrida did not look at him. She was her usual, charmingly-gracious
self to her neighbors, solicitous of Tristram's headache. He had only
just appeared, and looked what he felt--a wreck. She was interested in
some news in the Sunday papers, which had arrived; and in short, not a
soul guessed how her gentle being was uplifted, and her tender heart
beating with this, the first real emotion she had ever experienced.
Even the Crow, so thrilled with his interest in the bridal pair, had not
scented anything unusual in his hostess's attitude towards one of her
"I think Mr. Markrute is awfully attractive, don't you, Crow?" said Lady
Anningford, as they started for their walk. To go to Lynton Heights
after lunch on Sunday was almost an invariable custom at Montfitchet. "I
can't say what it is, but it is something subtle and extraordinary, like
that in his niece--what do you think?"
Colonel Lowerby paused, struck from her words by the fact that he had
been too preoccupied to have noticed this really interesting man.
"Why, 'pon my soul--I haven't thought!" he said, "but now you speak of
it, I do think he is a remarkable chap."
"He is so very quiet," Lady Anningford went on, "and, whenever he
speaks, it is something worth listening to; and if you get on any
subject of books, he is a perfect encyclopaedia. He gives me the
impression of all the forces of power and will, concentrated in a man. I
wonder who he really is? Not that it matters a bit in these days. Do you
think there is any Jew in him? It does not show in his type, but when
foreigners are very rich there generally is."
"Sure to be, as he is so intelligent," the Crow growled. "If you notice,
numbers of the English families who show brains have a touch of it in
the background. So long as the touch is far enough away, I have no
objection to it myself--prefer folks not to be fools."
"I believe I have no prejudices at all," said Lady Anningford. "If I
like people, I don't care what is in their blood."
"It is all right till you scratch 'em. Then it comes out; but if, as I
say, it is far enough back, the Jew will do the future Tancred race a
power of good, to get the commercial common sense of it into them--knew
Maurice Grey, her father, years ago, and he was just as indifferent to
money and material things, as Tristram is himself. So the good will come
from the Markrute side, we will hope."
"I rather wonder, Crow--if there ever will be any more of the Tancred
race. I thought last night we had a great failure, and that nothing will
make that affair prosper. I don't believe they ever see one another from
one day to the next! It is extremely sad."
"I told you they had come to a ticklish point in their careers," the
Crow permitted himself to remind his friend, "and, 'pon my soul, I could
not bet you one way or another how it will go. 'I hae me doots,' as the
Meanwhile, Ethelrida, on the plea of letters to write, had retired to
her room; and there, as the clock struck a quarter past three, she
awaited--what? She would not own to herself that it was her fate. She
threw dust in her own eyes, and called it a pleasant talk!
She looked absurdly young for her twenty-six years, just a dainty slip
of a patrician girl, as she sat there on her chintz sofa, with its fresh
pattern of lilacs and tender green. Everything was in harmony, even to
her soft violet cloth dress trimmed with fur.
And again as the hour for the trysting chimed, her lover that was to be,
entered the room.
"This is perfectly divine," he said, as he came in, while the roguish
twinkle of a schoolboy, who has outwitted his mates sparkled in his fine
eyes. "All those good people tramping for miles in the cold and damp,
while we two sensible ones are going to enjoy a nice fire and a friendly
Thus he disarmed her nervousness, and gave her time.
"May I sit by you, my Lady Ethelrida?" he said; and as she smiled, he
took his seat, but not too near her--nothing must be the least hurried
or out of place.
So for about a quarter of an hour they talked of books--their
favorites--hers, all so simple and chaste, his, of all kinds, so long as
they showed style, and were masterpieces of taste and balance. Then, as
a great piece of wood fell in the open grate and made a volley of
sparks, he leaned forward a little and asked her if he might tell her
that for which he had come, the history of a man.
The daylight was drawing in, and they had an hour before them.
"Yes," said Ethelrida, "only let us make up the fire first, and only
turn on that one soft light," and she pointed to a big gray china owl
who carried a simple shade of white painted with lilacs on his back.
"Then we need not move again, because I want extremely to hear it--the
history of a man."
He obeyed her commands, and also drew the silk blinds.
"Now, indeed, we are happy; at least, I am," he said.
Lady Ethelrida leant back on her muslin embroidered cushion and prepared
herself to listen with a rapt face.
Francis Markrute stood by the fire for a while, and began from there:
"You must go right back with me to early days, Sweet Lady," he said, "to
a palace in a gloomy city and to an artiste--a ballet-dancer--but at the
same time a great _musicienne_ and a good and beautiful woman, a woman
with red, splendid hair, like my niece. There she lived in a palace in
this city, away from the world with her two children; an Emperor was her
lover and her children's father; and they all four were happy as the day
was long. The children were a boy and a girl, and presently they began
to grow up, and the boy began to think about life and to reason things
out with himself. He had, perhaps, inherited this faculty from his
grandfather, on his mother's side, who was a celebrated poet and
philosopher and a Spanish Jew. So his mother, the beautiful dancer, was
half Jewess, and, from her mother again, half Spanish noble; for this
philosopher had eloped with the daughter of a Spanish grandee, and she
was erased from the roll. I go back this far not to weary you, but that
you may understand what forces in race had to do with the boy's
character. The daughter again of this pair became an artist and a
dancer, and being a highly educated, as well as a superbly beautiful
woman--a woman with all Zara's charm and infinitely more chiseled
features--she won the devoted love of the Emperor of the country in
which they lived. I will not go into the moral aspect of the affair. A
great love recks not of moral aspects. Sufficient to say, they were
ideally happy while the beautiful dancer lived. She died when the boy
was about fifteen, to his great and abiding grief. His sister, who was a
year or two younger than he, was then all he had to love, because
political and social reasons in that country made it very difficult,
about this time, for him often to see his father, the Emperor.
"The boy was very carefully educated, and began early, as I have told
you, to think for himself and to dream. He dreamed of things which might
have been, had he been the heir and son of the Empress, instead of the
child of her who seemed to him so much the greater lady and queen, his
own mother, the dancer; and he came to see that dreams that are based
upon regrets are useless and only a factor in the degradation, not the
uplifting of a man. The boy grew to understand that from that sweet
mother, even though the world called her an immoral woman, he had
inherited something much more valuable to himself than the Imperial
crown--the faculty of perception and balance, physical and moral, to
which the family of the Emperor, his father, could lay no claim. From
them, both he and his sister had inherited a stubborn, indomitable
pride. You can see it, and have already remarked it, in Zara--that
"So when the boy grew to be about twenty, he determined to carve out a
career for himself, to create a great fortune, and so make his own
little kingdom, which should not be bound by any country or race. He had
an English tutor--he had always had one--and in his studies of
countries and peoples and their attributes, the English seemed to him to
be much the finest race. They were saner, more understanding, more full
of the sense of the fitness of things, and of the knowledge of life and
how to live it wisely.
"So the boy, with no country, and no ingrained patriotism for the place
of his birth, determined he, being free and of no nation, should, when
he had made this fortune, migrate there, and endeavor to obtain a place
among those proud people, whom he so admired in his heart. That was his
goal, in all his years of hard work, during which time he grew to
understand the value of individual character, regardless of nation or of
creed; and so, when finally he did come to this country, it was not to
seek, but to command." And here Francis Markrute, master of vast wealth
and the destinies of almost as many human souls as his father, the
Emperor, had been, raised his head. And Lady Ethelrida, daughter of a
hundred noble lords, knew her father, the Duke, was no prouder than he,
the Spanish dancer's son. And something in her fine spirit went out to
him; and she, there in the firelight with the soft owl lamp silvering
her hair, stretched out her hand to him; and he held it and kissed it
tenderly, as he took his seat by her side.
"My sweet and holy one," he said. "And so you understand!"
"Yes, yes!" said Ethelrida. "Oh, please go on"--and she leaned back
against her pillow, but she did not seek to draw away her hand.
"There came a great grief, then, in the life of the boy who was now a
grown man. His sister brought disgrace upon herself, and died under
extremely distressful circumstances, into which I need not enter here;
and for a while these things darkened and embittered his life." He
paused a moment, and gazed into the fire, a look of deep sorrow and
regret on his sharply-cut face, and Ethelrida unconsciously allowed her
slim fingers to tighten in his grasp. And when he felt this gentle
sympathy, he stroked her hand.
"The man was very hard then, sweet lady," he went on. "He regrets it
now, deeply. The pure angel, who at this day rules his life, with her
soft eyes of divine mercy and gentleness, has taught him many lessons;
and it will be his everlasting regret that he was hard then. But it was
a great deep wound to his pride, that quality which he had inherited
from his father, and had not then completely checked and got in hand.
Pride should be a factor for noble actions and a great spirit, but not
for overbearance toward the failings of others. He knows that now. If
this lady, whom he worships, should ever wish to learn the whole details
of this time, he will tell her even at any cost to his pride, but for
the moment let me get on to pleasanter things."
And Ethelrida whispered, "Yes, yes," so he continued:
"All his life from a boy's to a man's, this person we are speaking of
had kept his ideal of the woman he should love. She must be fine and
shapely, and noble and free; she must be tender and devoted, and
gracious and good. But he passed all his early manhood and grew to
middle age, before he even saw her shadow across his path. He looked up
one night, eighteen months ago, at a court ball, and she passed him on
the arm of a royal duke, and unconsciously brushed his coat with her
soft dove's wing; and he knew that it was she, after all those years, so
he waited and planned, and met her once or twice; but fate did not let
him advance very far, and so a scheme entered his head. His niece, the
daughter of his dead sister, had also had a very unhappy life; and he
thought she, too, should come among these English people, and find
happiness with their level ways. She was beautiful and proud and good,
so he planned the marriage between his niece and the cousin of the lady
he worshiped, knowing by that he should be drawn nearer his star, and
also pay the debt to his dead sister, by securing the happiness of her
child; but primarily it was his desire to be nearer his own worshiped
star, and thus it has all come about." He paused, and looked full at her
face, and saw that her sweet eyes were moist with some tender, happy
tears. So he leaned forward, took her other hand, and kissed them both,
placing the soft palms against his mouth for a second; then he whispered
hoarsely, his voice at last trembling with the passionate emotion he
"Ethelrida--darling--I love you with my soul--tell me, my sweet lady,
will you be my wife?"
And the Lady Ethelrida did not answer, but allowed herself to be drawn
into his arms.
And so in the firelight, with the watchful gray owl, the two rested
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