"I nursed him to the very end." She remembered it clearly, his running off with that hussy. They still owned a gift shop down Blackpool way, she heard. And leaving her with all those portraits of him, vain fool, each of which she'd stuck on the back with a gypsy bad luck curse. "He drew his last breath not twenty-four hours ago."
Who knows? she added silently. Many a truth is spoken in jest.
"Five pounds," the Jew sighed, taking it out of the worn register. "I am sorry for your loss."
"Keep your sorrow, you godless Christ-killer," she spat, snatching the money and sweeping out of the shop.
"What was that about, Father?" Madame Schlierbeck called from the back room, where a curtain shielded her from the
"Nothing, knoedelichen," he said, coming around the counter to drag the trunk off. "A pretty locket, I think. Got it cheap. The lock don't work, but that can be fixed."
"Let me see." She emerged and stretched, having done her sums, figuring how much she was owed, the interest on the which she fancied she could feel--as others claim to hear buds growing in the spring--compounding. "That is pretty."
"Take it," he said.
"No. I will buy it from you, though."
"I do not want your money," the old man clucked, and spread the chain above her thick, tightly-coiled black hair. She bowed her head and let him fix it round her neck. "Such a pretty girl," he went on. "Why don't she go out, on a day full of sun? Maybe go to the Zoo. You like the Zoo, don't you?"
Like many of her race, Madame Schlierbeck was an urban creature, and loath to pass beyond the city walls. Her father, whose worldliness transcended his upbringing, had travelled much in his youth and mixed his Old Testament air with a cosmopolitanism the daughter lacked. She was a Londoner, born and bred. He admired her independence, so unlike the girls he had known in Prague, how she ran her business from the back of the shop and insisted on paying him rent for it, punctually, the first of each month, just before she served him their hot supper. But "Go out more," he was always urging, recognizing the unnaturalness of her devotion, the futile attempt to replace her long-dead mother. The Madame, for example, she insisted on prefixing to her name, when she first set out doing business. It was to make her sound more impressive, less likely to be taken advantage of. "But who will ask for your hand if they think you are already married?" he had protested. "If someone loved me, he would not care about such things," she had answered. "Bite your tongue, child!" he snapped, and even raised his hand, but then, with a sad gesture, turned away. There is no proper way to raise a young girl. One can only pray to God, which he did, asking that his precious flower be allowed to flourish. And his prayers had been answered in the most unlikely way. Reza Schlierbeck both admired and worried at the determination bordering on ferocity that had made his daughter so successful. She was able to gauge instantly people's value, not merely what they were worth in the monetary sense (not much, if they had come to her, with her usurious rates of interest) but what they were capable of, how honorable they would be in repaying their debts, what lengths they would go to in acquiring new wealth. "It is just what you do, Father, but with people instead of objects," she had tried explaining. "Coming to me, they are, after all, pawning themselves . And I must judge their quality." Indeed, when we last saw her, she was doing exactly that, observing the Earl of Choir as he pretended to select an umbrella from a notorious storefront in Hackney.