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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Reason Why By Elinor Glyn Characters: 12227

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The financier paused in his restless pacing as he heard the door open and stood perfectly still, with his back to the light. The woman advanced and also stood still, and they looked at one another with no great love in their eyes, though she who had entered was well worth looking at, from a number of points of view. Firstly, she had that arresting, compelling personality which does not depend upon features, or coloring, or form, or beauty. A subtle force of character-a radiating magnetism-breathed from her whole being. When Zara Shulski came into any assemblage of people conversation stopped and speculation began.

She was rather tall and very slender; and yet every voluptuous curve of her lithe body refuted the idea of thinness. Her head was small and her face small, and short, and oval, with no wonderfully chiseled features, only the skin was quite exceptional in its white purity-not the purity of milk, but the purity of rich, white velvet, or a gardenia petal. Her mouth was particularly curved and red and her teeth were very even, and when she smiled, which was rarely, they suggested something of great strength, though they were small and white. And now I am coming to her two wonders, her eyes and her hair. At first you could have sworn the eyes were black; just great pools of ink, or disks of black velvet, set in their broad lids and shaded with jet lashes, but if they chanced to glance up in the full light then you knew they were slate color, not a tinge of brown or green-the whole iris was a uniform shade: strange, slumberous, resentful eyes, under straight, thick, black brows, the expression full of all sorts of meanings, though none of them peaceful or calm. And from some far back Spanish-Jewess ancestress she probably got that glorious head of red hair, the color of a ripe chestnut when it falls from its shell, or a beautifully groomed bright bay horse. The heavy plaits which were wound tightly round her head must have fallen below her knees when they were undone. Her coiffure gave you the impression that she never thought of fashion, nor changed its form of dressing, from year to year. And the exquisite planting of the hair on her forehead, as it waved back in broad waves, added to the perfection of the Greek simplicity of the whole thing. Nothing about her had been aided by conscious art. Her dress, of some black clinging stuff, was rather poor, though she wore it with the air of a traditional empress. Indeed, she looked an empress, from the tips of her perfect fingers to her small arched feet.

And it was with imperial hauteur that she asked in a low, cultivated voice with no accent:

"Well, what is it? Why have you sent for me thus peremptorily?"

The financier surveyed her for a moment; he seemed to be taking in all her points with a fresh eye. It was almost as though he were counting them over to himself-and his thoughts ran: "You astonishingly attractive devil. You have all the pride of my father, the Emperor. How he would have gloried in you! You are enough to drive any man mad: you shall be a pawn in my game for the winning of my lady and gain happiness for yourself, so in the end, Elinka, if she is able to see from where she has gone, will not say I have been cruel to you."

"I asked you to come down-to discuss a matter of great importance: Will you be good enough to be seated, my niece," he said aloud with ceremonious politeness as he drew forward a chair-into which she sank without more ado and there waited, with folded hands, for him to continue. Her stillness was always as intense as his own, but whereas his had a nervous tension of conscious repression, hers had an unconscious, quiet force. Her father had been an Englishman, but both uncle and niece at moments made you feel they were silent panthers, ready to spring.

"So-" was all she said.

And Francis Markrute went on:

"You have a miserable position-hardly enough to eat at times, one understands. You do not suppose I took the trouble to send for you from Paris last week, for nothing, do you? You guessed I had some plan in my head, naturally."

"Naturally," she said, with fine contempt. "I did not mistake it for philanthropy."

"Then it is well, and we can come to the point," he went on. "I am sorry I have had to be away, since your arrival, until yesterday. I trust my servants have made you comfortable?"

"Quite comfortable," she answered coldly.

"Good: now for what I want to know. You have no doubt in your mind that your husband, Count Ladislaus Shulski, is dead? There is no possible mistake in his identity? I believe the face was practically shot away, was it not? I have taken the precaution to inform myself upon every point, from the authorities at Monte Carlo, but I wish for your final testimony."

"Ladislaus Shulski is dead," she said quietly, in a tone as though it gave her pleasure to say it. "The woman Féto caused the fray, Ivan Larski shot him in her arms; he was her lover who paid, and Ladislaus the amant du coeur for the moment. She wailed over the body like a squealing rabbit. She was there lamenting his fine eyes when they sent for me! They were gone for ever, but no one could mistake his curly hair, nor his cruel, white hands. Ah! it was a scene of disgust! I have witnessed many ugly things but that was of the worst. I do not wish to talk of it; it is passed a year ago. Féto heaped his grave with flowers, and joined the hero, Larski, who was allowed to escape, so all was well."

"And since then you have lived from hand to mouth, with those others." And here Francis Markrute's voice took on a new shade: there was a cold hate in it.

"I have lived with my little brother, Mirko, and Mimo. How could I desert them? And sometimes we have found it hard at the end of the quarter-but it was not always as bad as that, especially when Mimo sold a picture-"

"I will not hear his name!" Francis Markrute said with some excitement. "In the beginning, if I could have found him I would have killed him, as you know, but now the carrion can live, since my sister is dead. He is not worth powder

and shot."

The Countess Shulski gave the faintest shrug of her shoulders, while her eyes grew blacker with resentment. She did not speak. Francis Markrute stood by the mantelpiece, and lit a cigar before he continued; he knew he must choose his words as he was dealing with no helpless thing.

"You are twenty-three years old, Zara, and you were married at sixteen," he said at last. "And up to thirteen at least I know you were very highly educated-You understand something of life, I expect."

"Life!" she said-and now there was a concentrated essence of bitterness in her voice. "Mon Dieu! Life-and men!"

"Yes, you probably think you know men."

She lifted her upper lip a little, and showed her even teeth-it was like an animal snarling.

"I know that they are either selfish weaklings, or cruel, hateful brutes like Ladislaus, or clever, successful financiers like you, my uncle. That is enough! Something we women must be always sacrificed to."

"Well, you don't know Englishmen-"

"Yes, I remember my father very well; cold and hard to my darling mother"-and here her voice trembled a little-"he only thought of himself, and to rush to England for sport-and leave her alone for months and months: selfish and vile-all of them!"

"In spite of that I have found you an English husband whom you will be good enough to take, madame," Francis Markrute announced authoritatively.

She gave a little laugh-if anything so mirthless could be called a laugh.

"You have no power over me; I shall do no such thing."

"I think you will," the financier said with quiet assurance, "if I know you. There are terms, of course-"

She glanced at him sharply: the expression in those somber eyes was often alert like a wild animal's, about to be attacked; only she had trained herself generally to keep the lids lowered.

"What are the terms?" she asked.

And as she spoke Francis Markrute thought of the black panther in the Zoo, which he was so fond of going to watch on Sunday mornings, she reminded him so of the beast at the moment.

He had been constrained up to this, but now, the question being one of business, all his natural ease of manner returned, and he sat down opposite her and blew rings of smoke from his cigar.

"The terms are that the boy Mirko, your half-brother, shall be provided for for life. He shall live with decent people, and have his talent properly cultivated-"

He stopped abruptly and remained silent.

Countess Shulski clasped her hands convulsively in her lap, and with all the pride and control of her voice there was a note of anguish, too, which would have touched any heart but one so firmly guarded as Francis Markrute's.

"Ah, God!" she said so low that he could only just hear her, "I have paid the price of my body and soul once for them. It is too much to ask it of me a second time-"

"That is as you please," said the financier.

He seldom made a mistake in his methods with people. He left nothing to chance; he led up the conversation to the right point, fired his bomb, and then showed absolute indifference. To display interest in a move, when one was really interested, was always a point to the adversary. He maintained interest could be simulated when necessary, but must never be shown when real. So he left his niece in silence, while she pondered over his bargain, knowing full well what would be the result. She got up from her chair and leaned upon the back of it, while her face looked white as death in the dying afternoon's light.

"Can you realize what my life was like with Ladislaus?" she hissed. "A plaything for his brutal pleasures, to begin with; a decoy duck to trap the other men, I found afterwards; tortured and insulted from morning to night. I hated him always, but he seemed so kind beforehand-kind to my darling mother, whom you were leaving to die."-Here Francis Markrute winced and a look of pain came into his hard face while he raised a hand in protest and then dropped it again, as his niece went on-"And she was beginning to be ill even at that time and we were so poor-so I married him."

Then she swept toward the door with her empress air, the rather shabby, dark dress making a swirl behind her; and as she got there she turned and spoke again, with her hand on the bronze tracery of the fingerplate, making, unconsciously, a highly dramatic picture, as a sudden last ray of the sinking sun shot out and struck the glory of her hair, turning it to flame above her brow.

"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!"

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