Infomotions, Inc.The Sowers / Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903



Author: Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903
Title: The Sowers
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): steinmetz; chauxville; etta; catrina; paul; karl steinmetz; maggie; sydney bamborough; howard alexis; answered steinmetz; replied steinmetz; charity league; prince pavlo; etta sydney
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Title: The Sowers

Author: Henry Seton Merriman

Release Date: November 19, 2003 [EBook #10132]

Language: English

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THE SOWERS

BY

HENRY SETON MERRIMAN



1895




CONTENTS

CHAP.


I. A WAIF ON THE STEPPE

II. BY THE VOLGA

III. DIPLOMATIC

IV. DON QUIXOTE

V. THE BARON

VI. THE TALLEYRAND CLUB

VII. OLD HANDS

VIII. SAFE!

IX. THE PRINCE

X. THE MOSCOW DOCTOR

XI. CATRINA

XII. AT THORS

XIII. UNMASKED

XIV. A WIRE-PULLER

XV. IN A WINTER CITY

XVI. THE THIN END

XVII. CHARITY

XVIII. IN THE CHAMPS ELYSEES

XIX. ON THE NEVA

XX. AN OFFER OF FRIENDSHIP

XXI. A SUSPECTED HOUSE

XXII. THE SPIDER AND THE FLY

XXIII. A WINTER SCENE

XXIV. HOME

XXV. OSTERNO

XXVI. BLOODHOUNDS

XXVII. IN THE WEB

XXVIII. IN THE CASTLE OF THORS

XXIX. ANGLO-RUSSIAN

XXX. WOLF!

XXXI. A DANGEROUS EXPERIMENT

XXXII. A CLOUD

XXXIII. THE NET IS DRAWN

XXXIV. AN APPEAL

XXXV. ON THE EDGE OF THE STORM

XXXVI. A TROIS

XXXVII. A DEUX

XXXVIII. A TALE THAT IS TOLD

XXXIX. HUSBAND AND WIFE

XL. STEPAN RETURNS

XLI. DUTY

XLII. THE STORM BURSTS

XLIII. BEHIND THE VEIL

XLIV. KISMET



THE SOWERS




CHAPTER I


A WAIF ON THE STEPPE

"In this country charity covers no sins!"

The speaker finished his remark with a short laugh. He was a big, stout
man; his name was Karl Steinmetz, and it is a name well known in the
Government of Tver to this day. He spoke jerkily, as stout men do when
they ride, and when he had laughed his good-natured, half-cynical laugh,
he closed his lips beneath a huge gray mustache. So far as one could
judge from the action of a square and deeply indented chin, his mouth
was expressive at that time--and possibly at all times--of a humorous
resignation. No reply was vouchsafed to him, and Karl Steinmetz bumped
along on his little Cossack horse, which was stretched out at a gallop.

Evening was drawing on. It was late in October, and a cold wind was
driving from the north-west across a plain which for sheer dismalness of
aspect may give points to Sahara and beat that abode of mental
depression without an effort. So far as the eye could reach there was no
habitation to break the line of horizon. A few stunted fir-trees,
standing in a position of permanent deprecation, with their backs
turned, as it were, to the north, stood sparsely on the plain. The grass
did not look good to eat, though the Cossack horses would no doubt have
liked to try it. The road seemed to have been drawn by some Titan
engineer with a ruler from horizon to horizon.

Away to the south there was a forest of the same stunted pines, where a
few charcoal-burners and resin-tappers eked out a forlorn and obscure
existence. There are a score of such settlements, such gloomy forests,
dotted over this plain of Tver, which covers an area of nearly two
hundred square miles. The remainder of it is pasture, where miserable
cattle and a few horses, many sheep and countless pigs, seek their food
pessimistically from God.

Steinmetz looked round over this cheerless prospect with a twinkle of
amused resignation in his blue eyes, as if this creation were a little
practical joke, which he, Karl Steinmetz, appreciated at its proper
worth. The whole scene was suggestive of immense distance, of countless
miles in all directions--a suggestion not conveyed by any scene in
England, by few in Europe. In our crowded island we have no conception
of a thousand miles. How can we? Few of us have travelled five hundred
at a stretch. The land through which these men were riding is the home
of great distances--Russia. They rode, moreover, as if they knew it--as
if they had ridden for days and were aware of more days in front of
them.

The companion of Karl Steinmetz looked like an Englishman. He was young
and fair and quiet. He looked like a youthful athlete from Oxford or
Cambridge--a simple-minded person who had jumped higher or run quicker
than anybody else without conceit, taking himself, like St. Paul, as he
found himself and giving the credit elsewhere. And one finds that, after
all, in this world of deceit, we are most of us that which we look like.
You, madam, look thirty-five to a day, although your figure is still
youthful, your hair untouched by gray, your face unseamed by care. You
may look in your mirror and note these accidents with satisfaction; you
may feel young and indulge in the pastimes of youth without effort. But
you are thirty-five. We know it. We who look at you can see it for
ourselves, and, if you could only be brought to believe it, we think no
worse of you on that account.

The man who rode beside Karl Steinmetz with gloomy eyes and a vague
suggestion of flight in his whole demeanor was, like reader and writer,
exactly what he seemed. He was the product of an English public school
and university. He was, moreover, a modern product of those seats of
athletic exercise. He had little education and highly developed
muscles--that is to say, he was no scholar but essentially a
gentleman--a good enough education in its way, and long may Britons seek
it!

This young man's name was Paul Howard Alexis, and Fortune had made him a
Russian prince. If, however, anyone, even Steinmetz, called him prince,
he blushed and became confused. This terrible title had brooded over him
while at Eton and Cambridge. But no one had found him out; he remained
Paul Howard Alexis so far as England and his friends were concerned. In
Russia, however, he was known (by name only, for he avoided Slavonic
society) as Prince Pavlo Alexis. This plain was his; half the Government
of Tver was his; the great Volga rolled through his possessions; sixty
miles behind him a grim stone castle bore his name, and a tract of land
as vast as Yorkshire was peopled by humble-minded persons who cringed at
the mention of his Excellency.

All this because thirty years earlier a certain Princess Natasha Alexis
had fallen in love with plain Mr. Howard of the British Embassy in St.
Petersburg. With Slavonic enthusiasm (for the Russian is the most
romantic race on earth) she informed Mr. Howard of the fact, and duly
married him. Both these persons were now dead, and Paul Howard Alexis
owed it to his mother's influence in high regions that the
responsibilities of princedom were his. At the time when this title was
accorded to him he had no say in the matter. Indeed, he had little say
in any matters except meals, which he still took in liquid form. Certain
it is, however, that he failed to appreciate his honors as soon as he
grew up to a proper comprehension of them.

Equally certain is it that he entirely failed to recognize the
enviability of his position as he rode across the plains of Tver toward
the yellow Volga by the side of Karl Steinmetz.

"This is great nonsense," he said suddenly. "I feel like a Nihilist or
some theatrical person of that sort. I do not think it can be necessary,
Steinmetz."

"Not necessary," answered Steinmetz in thick guttural tones, "but
prudent."

This man spoke with the soft consonants of a German.

"Prudent, my dear prince."

"Oh, drop that!"

"When we sight the Volga I will drop it with pleasure. Good Heavens! I
wish I were a prince. I should have it marked on my linen, and sit up in
bed to read it on my nightshirt."

"No, you wouldn't, Steinmetz," answered Alexis, with a vexed laugh. "You
would hate it just as much as I do, especially if it meant running away
from the best bear-shooting in Europe."

Steinmetz shrugged his shoulders.

"Then you should not have been charitable--charity, I tell you, Alexis,
covers no sins in this country."

"Who made me charitable? Besides, no decent-minded fellow could be
anything else here. Who told me of the League of Charity, I should like
to know? Who put me into it? Who aroused my pity for these poor beggars?
Who but a stout German cynic called Steinmetz?"

"Stout, yes--cynic, if you will--German, no!"

The words were jerked out of him by the galloping horse.

"Then what are you?"

Steinmetz looked straight in front of him, with a meditation in his
quiet eyes which made a dreamy man of him.

"That depends."

Alexis laughed.

"Yes, I know. In Germany you are a German, in Russia a Slav, in Poland a
Pole, and in England any thing the moment suggests."

"Exactly so. But to return to you. You must trust to me in this matter.
I know this country. I know what this League of Charity was. It was a
bigger thing than any dream of. It was a power in Russia--the greatest
of all--above Nihilism--above the Emperor himself. Ach Gott! It was a
wonderful organization, spreading over this country like sunlight over a
field. It would have made men of our poor peasants. It was God's work.
If there is a God--bien entendu--which some young men deny, because God
fails to recognize their importance, I imagine. And now it is all done.
It is crumbled up by the scurrilous treachery of some miscreant. Ach! I
should like to have him out here on the plain. I would choke him. For
money, too! The devil--it must have been the devil--to sell that secret
to the Government!"

"I can't see what the Government wanted it for," growled Alexis moodily.

"No, but I can. It is not the Emperor; he is a gentleman, although he
has the misfortune to wear the purple. No, it is those about him. They
want to stop education; they want to crush the peasant. They are afraid
of being found out; they live in their grand houses, and support their
grand names on the money they crush out of the starving peasant."

"So do I, so far as that goes."

"Of course you do! And I am your steward--your crusher. We do not deny
it, we boast of it, but we exchange a wink with the angels--eh?"

Alexis rode on in silence for a few moments. He sat his horse as English
foxhunters do--not prettily--and the little animal with erect head and
scraggy neck was evidently worried by the unusual grip on his ribs. For
Russians sit back, with a short stirrup and a loose seat, when they are
travelling. One must not form one's idea of Russian horsemanship from
the erect carriage affected in the Newski Prospect.

"I wish," he said abruptly, "that I had never attempted to do any good;
doing good to mankind doesn't pay. Here I am running away from my own
home as if I were afraid of the police! The position is impossible."

Steinmetz shook his shaggy head.

"No. No position is impossible in this country--except the Czar's--if
one only keeps cool. For men such as you and I any position is quite
easy. But these Russians are too romantic--too exaltes--they give way to
a morbid love of martyrdom: they think they can do no good to mankind
unless they are uncomfortable."

Alexis turned in his saddle and looked keenly into his companion's face.

"Do you know," he said, "I believe you founded the Charity League?"

Steinmetz laughed in his easy, stout way.

"It founded itself," he said; "the angels founded it in heaven. I hope a
committee of them will attend to the eternal misery of the dog who
betrayed it."

"I trust they will, but in the meantime I stick to my opinion that it is
unnecessary for me to leave the country. What have I done? I do not
belong to the League; it is composed entirely of Russian nobles; I don't
admit that I am a Russian noble."

"But," persisted Steinmetz quietly, "you subscribe to the League. Four
hundred thousand rubles--they do not grow at the roadside."

"But the rubles have not my name on them."

"That may be, but we all--_they all_--know where they are likely to come
from. My dear Paul, you cannot keep up the farce any longer. You are not
an English gentleman who comes across here for sporting purposes; you do
not live in the old Castle of Osterno three months in the year because
you have a taste for mediaeval fortresses. You are a Russian prince, and
your estates are the happiest, the most enlightened in the empire. That
alone is suspicious. You collect your rents yourself. You have no German
agents--no German vampires about you. There are a thousand things
suspicious about Prince Pavlo Alexis if those that be in high places
only come to think about it. They have not come to think about
it--thanks to our care and to your English independence. But that is
only another reason why we should redouble our care. You must not be in
Russia when the Charity League is picked to pieces. There will be
trouble--half the nobility in Russia will be in it. There will be
confiscations and degradations: there will be imprisonment and Siberia
for some. You are better out of it, for you are not an Englishman; you
have not even a Foreign Office passport. Your passport is your patent of
nobility, and that is Russian. No, you are better out of it."

"And you--what about you?" asked Paul, with a little laugh--the laugh
that one brave man gives when he sees another do a plucky thing.

"I! Oh, I am all right! I am nobody; I am hated of all the peasants
because I am your steward and so hard--so cruel. That is my certificate
of harmlessness with those that are about the Emperor."

Paul made no answer. He was not of an argumentative mind, being a large
man, and consequently inclined to the sins of omission rather than to
the active form of doing wrong. He had an enormous faith in Karl
Steinmetz, and, indeed, no man knew Russia better than this cosmopolitan
adventurer. Steinmetz it was who pricked forward with all speed, wearing
his hardy little horse to a drooping semblance of its former self.
Steinmetz it was who had recommended quitting the travelling carriage
and taking to the saddle, although his own bulk led him to prefer the
slower and more comfortable method of covering space. It would almost
seem that he doubted his own ascendency over his companion and master,
which semblance was further increased by a subtle ring of anxiety in his
voice while he argued. It is possible that Karl Steinmetz suspected the
late Princess Natasha of having transmitted to her son a small
hereditary portion of that Slavonic exaltation and recklessness of
consequence which he deplored.

"Then you turn back at Tver?" enquired Paul, at length breaking a long
silence.

"Yes; I must not leave Osterno just now. Perhaps later, when the winter
has come, I will follow. Russia is quiet during the winter, very quiet.
Ha, ha!"

He shrugged his shoulders and shivered. But the shiver was interrupted.
He raised himself in his saddle and peered forward into the gathering
darkness.

"What is that," he asked sharply, "on the road in front?"

Paul had already seen it.

"It looks like a horse," he answered--"a strayed horse, for it has no
rider."

They were going west, and what little daylight there was lived on the
western horizon. The form of the horse, cut out in black relief against
the sky, was weird and ghostlike. It was standing by the side of the
road, apparently grazing. As they approached it, its outlines became
more defined.

"It has a saddle," said Steinmetz at length. "What have we here?"

The beast was evidently famishing, for, as they came near, it never
ceased its occupation of dragging the wizened tufts of grass up, root
and all.

"What have we here?" repeated Steinmetz.

And the two men clapped spurs to their tired horses.

The solitary waif had a rider, but he was not in the saddle. One foot
was caught in the stirrup, and as the horse moved on from tuft to tuft
it dragged its dead master along the ground.




CHAPTER II


BY THE VOLGA

"This is going to be unpleasant," muttered Steinmetz, as he cumbrously
left the saddle. "That man is dead--has been dead some days; he's stiff.
And the horse has been dragging him face downward. God in heaven! this
will be unpleasant."

Paul had leaped to the ground, and was already loosening the dead man's
foot from the stirrup. He did it with a certain sort of skill, despite
the stiffness of the heavy riding-boot, as if he had walked a hospital
in his time. Very quickly Steinmetz came to his assistance, tenderly
lifting the dead man and laying him on his back.

"Ach!" he exclaimed; "we are unfortunate to meet a thing like this."

There was no need of Paul Alexis' medical skill to tell that this man
was dead; a child would have known it. Before searching the pockets
Steinmetz took out his own handkerchief and laid it over a face which
had become unrecognizable. The horse was standing over them. It bent its
head and sniffed wonderingly at that which had once been its master.
There was a singular, scared look in its eyes.

Steinmetz pushed aside the enquiring muzzle.

"If you could speak, my friend," he said, "we might want you. As it is,
you had better continue your meal."

Paul was unbuttoning the dead man's clothes. He inserted his hand within
the rough shirt.

"This man," he said, "was starving. He probably fainted from sheer
exhaustion and rolled out of the saddle. It is hunger that killed him."

"With his pocket full of money," added Steinmetz, withdrawing his hand
from the dead man's pocket and displaying a bundle of notes and some
silver.

There was nothing in any of the other pockets--no paper, no clue of any
sort to the man's identity.

The two finders of this silent tragedy stood up and looked around them.
It was almost dark. They were ten miles from a habitation. It does not
sound much; but a traveller would be hard put to place ten miles between
himself and a habitation in the whole of the British Islands. This,
added to a lack of road or path which is unknown to us in England, made
ten miles of some importance.

Steinmetz had pushed his fur cap to the back of his head, which he was
scratching pensively. He had a habit of scratching his forehead with one
finger, which denoted thought.

"Now, what are we to do?" he muttered. "Can't bury the poor chap and say
nothing about it. I wonder where his passport is? We have here a
tragedy."

He turned to the horse, which was grazing hurriedly.

"My friend of the four legs," he said, "it is a thousand pities that you
are dumb."

Paul was still examining the dead man with that callousness which
denotes one who, for love or convenience, has become a doctor. He was a
doctor--an amateur. He was a Caius man.

Steinmetz looked down at him with a little laugh. He noticed the
tenderness of the touch, the deft fingering which had something of
respect in it. Paul Alexis was visibly one of those men who take mankind
seriously, and have that in their hearts which for want of a better word
we call sympathy.

"Mind you do not catch some infectious disease," said Steinmetz gruffly.
"I should not care to handle any stray moujik one finds dead about the
roadside; unless, of course, you think there is more money about him. It
would be a pity to leave that for the police."

Paul did not answer. He was examining the limp, dirty hands of the dead
man. The fingers were covered with soil, the nails were broken. He had
evidently clutched at the earth and at every tuft of grass, after his
fall from the saddle.

"Look here, at these hands," said Paul suddenly. "This is an Englishman.
You never see fingers this shape in Russia."

Steinmetz stooped down. He held out his own square-tipped fingers in
comparison. Paul rubbed the dead hand with his sleeve as if it were a
piece of statuary.

"Look here," he continued, "the dirt rubs off and leaves the hand quite
a gentlemanly color. This"--he paused and lifted Steinmetz's
handkerchief, dropping it again hurriedly over the mutilated face--"this
thing was once a gentleman."

"It certainly has seen better days," admitted Steinmetz, with a grim
humor which was sometimes his. "Come, let us drag him beneath that
pine-tree and ride on to Tver. We shall do no good, my dear Alexis,
wasting our time over the possible antecedents of a gentleman who, for
reasons of his own, is silent on the subject."

Paul rose from the ground. His movements were those of a strong and
supple man, one whose muscles had never had time to grow stiff. He was
an active man, who never hurried. Standing thus upright he was very
tall--nearly a giant. Only in St. Petersburg, of all the cities of the
world, could he expect to pass unnoticed--the city of tall men and plain
women. He rubbed his two hands together in a singularly professional
manner which sat amiss on him.

"What do you propose doing?" he asked. "You know the laws of this
country better than I do."

Steinmetz scratched his forehead with his forefinger.

"Our theatrical friends the police," he said, "are going to enjoy this.
Suppose we prop him up sitting against that tree--no one will run away
with him--and lead his horse into Tver. I will give notice to the
police, but I will not do so until you are in the Petersburg train. I
will, of course, give the ispravnik to understand that your princely
mind could not be bothered by such details as this--that you have
proceeded on your journey."

"I do not like leaving the poor beggar alone all night," said Paul.
"There may be wolves--the crows in the early morning."

"Bah! that is because you are so soft-hearted. My dear fellow, what
business is it of ours if the universal laws of nature are illustrated
upon this unpleasant object? We all live on each other. The wolves and
the crows have the last word. Tant mieux for the wolves and the crows!
Come, let us carry him to that tree."

The moon was just rising over the line of the horizon. All around them
the steppe lay in grim and lifeless silence. In such a scene, where life
seemed rare and precious, death gained in its power of inspiring fear.
It is different in crowded cities, where an excess of human life seems
to vouch for the continuity of the race, where, in a teeming population,
one life more or less seems of little value. The rosy hue of sunset was
fading to a clear green, and in the midst of a cloudless sky,
Jupiter--very near the earth at that time--shone intense, and brilliant
like a lamp. It was an evening such as only Russia and the great North
lands ever see, where the sunset is almost in the north and the sunrise
holds it by the hand. Over the whole scene there hung a clear,
transparent night, green and shimmering, which would never be darker
than an English twilight.

The two living men carried the nameless, unrecognizable dead to a
resting-place beneath a stunted pine a few paces removed from the road.
They laid him decently at full length, crossing his soil-begrimed hands
over his breast, tying the handkerchief down over his face.

Then they turned and left him, alone in that luminous night. A waif that
had fallen by the great highway without a word, without a sign. A
half-run race--a story cut off in the middle; for he was a young man
still; his hair, all dusty, draggled, and bloodstained, had no streak of
gray; his hands were smooth and youthful. There was a vague suspicion of
sensual softness about his body, as if this might have been a man who
loved comfort and ease, who had always chosen the primrose path, had
never learned the salutary lesson of self-denial. The incipient
stoutness of limb contrasted strangely with the drawn meagreness of his
body, which was contracted by want of food. Paul Alexis was right. This
man had died of starvation, within ten miles of the great Volga, within
nine miles of the outskirts of Tver, a city second to Moscow, and once
her rival. Therefore it could only be that he had purposely avoided the
dwellings of men; that he was a fugitive of some sort or another. Paul's
theory that this was an Englishman had not been received with enthusiasm
by Steinmetz; but that philosopher had stooped to inspect the narrow,
tell-tale fingers. Steinmetz, be it noted, had an infinite capacity for
holding his tongue.

They mounted their horses and rode away without looking back. But they
did not speak, as if each were deep in his own thoughts. Material had
indeed been afforded them, for who could tell who this featureless man
might be? They were left in a state of hopeless curiosity, as who,
having picked up a page with "Finis" written upon it, falls to wondering
what the story may have been.

Steinmetz had thrown the bridle of the straying horse over his arm, and
the animal trotted obediently by the side of the fidgety little
Cossacks.

"That was bad luck," exclaimed the elder man at length, "d--d bad luck!
In this country the less you find, the less you see, the less you
understand, the simpler is your existence. Those Nihilists, with their
mysterious ways and their reprehensible love of explosives, have made
honest men's lives a burden to them."

"Their motives were originally good," put in Paul.

"That is possible; but a good motive is no excuse for a bad means. They
wanted to get along too quickly. They are pig-headed, exalted,
unpractical to a man. I do not mention the women, because when women
meddle in politics they make fools of themselves, even in England. These
Nihilists would have been all very well if they had been content to sow
for posterity. But they wanted to see the fruits of their labors in one
generation. Education does not grow like that. It requires a couple of
generations to germinate. It has to be manured by the brains of fools
before it is of any use. In England it has reached this stage; here in
Russia the sowing has only begun. Now, we were doing some good. The
Charity League was the thing. It began by training their starved bodies
to be ready for the education when it came. And very little of it would
have come in our time. If you educate a hungry man, you set a devil
loose upon the world. Fill their stomachs before you feed their brains,
or you will give them mental indigestion; and a man with mental
indigestion raises hell or cuts his own throat."

"That is just what I want to do--fill their stomachs. I don't care about
the rest. I'm not responsible for the progress of the world or the good
of humanity," said Paul.

He rode on in silence; then he burst out again in the curt phraseology
of a man whose feeling is stronger than he cares to admit.

"I've got no grand ideas about the human race," he said. "A very little
contents me. A little piece of Tver, a few thousand peasants, are good
enough for me. It seems rather hard that a fellow can't give away of his
surplus money in charity if he is such a fool as to want to."

Steinmetz was riding stubbornly along. Suddenly he gave a little
chuckle--a guttural sound expressive of a somewhat Germanic
satisfaction.

"I don't see how they can stop us," he said. "The League, of course, is
done; it will crumble away in sheer panic. But here, in Tver, they
cannot stop us."

He clapped his great hand on his thigh with more glee than one would
have expected him to feel; for this man posed as a cynic--a despiser of
men, a scoffer at charity.

"They'll find it very difficult to stop me," muttered Paul Alexis.

It was now dark--as dark as ever it would be. Steinmetz peered through
the gloom toward him with a little laugh--half tolerance, half
admiration.

The country was here a little more broken. Long, low hills, like vast
waves, rose and fell beneath the horses' feet. Ages ago the Volga may
have been here, and, slowly narrowing, must have left these hills in
deposit. From the crest of an incline the horsemen looked down over a
vast rolling tableland, and far ahead of them a great white streak
bounded the horizon.

"The Volga!" said Steinmetz. "We are almost there. And there, to the
right, is the Tversha. It is like a great catapult. Gott! what a
wonderful night! No wonder these Russians are romantic. What a night for
a pipe and a long chair! This horse of mine is tired. He shakes me most
abominably."

"Like to change?" enquired Paul curtly.

"No; it would make no difference. You are as heavy as I, although I am
wider! Ah! there are the lights of Tver."

Ahead of them a few lights twinkled feebly, sometimes visible and then
hidden again as they rode over the rolling hillocks. One plain ever
suggests another, but the resemblance between the steppes of Tver and
the great Sahara is at times startling. There is in both that roll as of
the sea--the great roll that heaves unceasingly round the Capes of Good
Hope and Horn. Looked at casually, Tver and Sahara's plains are level,
and it is only in crossing them that one realizes the gentle up and down
beneath the horses' feet.

Soon Steinmetz raised his head and sniffed in a loud Teutonic manner. It
was the reek of water; for great rivers, like the ocean, have their
smell. And the Volga is a revelation. Men travel far to see a city, but
few seem curious about a river. Every river has, nevertheless, its
individuality, its great silent interest. Every river has, moreover, its
influence, which extends to the people who pass their lives within sight
of its waters. Thus the Guadalquivir is rapid, mysterious,
untrammelled--breaking frequently from its boundary. And it runs through
Andalusia. The Nile--the river of ages--runs clear, untroubled through
the centuries, between banks untouched by man. The Rhine--romantic,
cultivated, artificial, with a rough subcurrent and a muddy bed--through
Germany. The Seine and the Thames--shallow--shallow--shallow. And
we--who live upon their banks!

The Volga--immense, stupendous, a great power, an influence two thousand
four hundred miles long. Some have seen the Danube, and think they have
seen a great river. So they have; but the Russian giant is seven hundred
miles longer. A vast yellow stream, moving on to the distant sea--slow,
gentle, inexorable, overwhelming.

All great things in nature have the power of crushing the human
intellect. Russians are thus crushed by the vastness of their country,
of their rivers. Man is but a small thing in a great country, and those
who live by Nile, or Guadalquivir, or Volga seem to hold their lives on
condition. They exist from day to day by the tolerance of their river.

Steinmetz and Paul paused for a moment on the wooden floating bridge and
looked at the great river. All who cross that bridge, or the railway
bridge higher up the stream, must do the same. They pause and draw a
deep breath, as if in the presence of something supernatural.

They rode on without speaking through the squalid town--the whilom rival
and the victim of brilliant Moscow. They rode straight to the station,
where they dined in, by the way, one of the best railway refreshment
rooms in the world. At one o'clock the night express from Moscow to St.
Petersburg, with its huge American locomotive, rumbled into the station.
Paul secured a chair in the long saloon car, and then returned to the
platform. The train waited twenty minutes for refreshments, and he still
had much to say to Steinmetz; for one of these men owned a principality
and the other governed it. They walked up and down the long platform,
smoking endless cigarettes, talking gravely.

Steinmetz stood on the platform and watched the train pass slowly away
into the night. Then he went toward a lamp, and taking a
pocket-handkerchief from his pocket, examined each corner of it in
succession. It was a small pocket-handkerchief of fine cambric. In one
corner were the initials S.S.B., worked neatly in white--such embroidery
as is done in St. Petersburg.

"Ach!" exclaimed Steinmetz shortly; "something told me that that was
he."

He turned the little piece of cambric over and over, examining it
slowly, with a heavy Germanic cunning. He had taken this handkerchief
from the body of the nameless rider who was now lying alone on the
steppe twelve miles away.

Steinmetz returned to the large refreshment room, and ordered the waiter
to bring him a glass of Benedictine, which he drank slowly and
thoughtfully.

Then he went toward the large black stove which stands in the railway
restaurant at Tver. He opened the door with the point of his boot. The
wood was roaring and crackling within. He threw the handkerchief in and
closed the door.

"It is as well, mon prince," he muttered, "that I found this, and not
you."




CHAPTER III


DIPLOMATIC

"All that there is of the most brilliant and least truthful in Europe,"
M. Claude de Chauxville had said to a lady earlier in the evening,
apropos of the great gathering at the French Embassy, and the mot had
gone the round of the room.

In society a little mot will go a long way. M. le Baron de Chauxville
was, moreover, a manufacturer of mots. By calling he was attache to the
French Embassy in London; by profession he was an epigrammatist. That is
to say, he was a sort of social revolver. He went off if one touched him
conversationally, and like others among us, he frequently missed fire.

Of course, he had but little real respect for the truth. If one wishes
to be epigrammatic, one must relinquish the hope of being either
agreeable or veracious. M. de Chauxville did not really intend to convey
the idea that any of the persons assembled in the great guest chambers
of the French Embassy that evening were anything but what they seemed.

He could not surely imagine that Lady Mealhead--the beautiful spouse of
the seventh Earl Mealhead--was anything but what she seemed: namely, a
great lady. Of course, M. de Chauxville knew that Lady Mealhead had once
been the darling of the music-halls, and that a thousand hearts had
vociferously gone out to her from sixpenny and even threepenny galleries
when she answered to the name of Tiny Smalltoes. But then M. de
Chauxville knew as well as you and I--Lady Mealhead no doubt had told
him--that she was the daughter of a clergyman, and had chosen the stage
in preference to the school-room as a means of supporting her aged
mother. Whether M. de Chauxville believed this or not, it is not for us
to enquire. He certainly looked as if he believed it when Lady Mealhead
told him--and his expressive Gallic eyes waxed tender at the mention of
her mother, the relict of the late clergyman, whose name had somehow
been overlooked by Crockford. A Frenchman loves his mother--in the
abstract.

Nor could M. de Chauxville take exception at young Cyril Squyrt, the
poet. Cyril looked like a poet. He wore his hair over his collar at the
back, and below the collar-bone in front. And, moreover, he was a
poet--one of those who write for ages yet unborn. Besides, his poems
could be bought (of the publisher only; the railway bookstall men did
not understand them) beautifully bound; really beautifully bound in
white kid, with green ribbon--a very thin volume and very thin poetry.
Meddlesome persons have been known to state that Cyril Squyrt's father
kept a prosperous hot-sausage-and-mashed-potato shop in Leeds. But one
must not always believe all that one hears.

It appears that beneath the turf, or on it, all men are equal, so no one
could object to the presence of Billy Bale, the man, by Gad! who could
give you the straight tip on any race, and looked like it. We all know
Bale's livery stable, the same being Billy's father; but no matter.
Billy wears the best cut riding-breeches in the Park, and, let me tell
you, there are many folk in society with a smaller recommendation than
that.

Now, it is not our business to go round the rooms of the French Embassy
picking holes in the earthly robes of society's elect. Suffice it to say
that every one was there. Miss Kate Whyte, of course, who had made a
place in society and held it by the indecency of her language. Lady
Mealhead said she couldn't stand Kitty Whyte at any price. We are sorry
to use such a word as indecency in connection with a young person of the
gentler sex, but facts must sometimes be recognized. And it is a bare
fact that society tolerated, nay, encouraged, Kitty Whyte, because
society never knew, and always wanted to know, what she would say next.
She sailed so near to the unsteady breeze of decorum that the
safer-going craft hung breathlessly in her wake in the hope of an upset.

Every one, in fact, was there. All those who have had greatness thrust
upon them, and the others, those who thrust themselves upon the
great--those, in a word, who reach such as are above them by doing that
which should be beneath them. Lord Mealhead, by the way, was not there.
He never is anywhere where the respectable writer and his high-born
reader are to be found. It is discreet not to enquire where Lord
Mealhead is, especially of Lady Mealhead, who has severed more
completely her connection with the past. His lordship is, perchance, of
a sentimental humor, and loves to wander in those pasteboard groves
where first he met his Tiny--and very natural, too.

There was music and the refreshments. It was, in fact, a reception.
Gaul's most lively sons bowed before Albion's fairest daughters, and
displayed that fund of verve and esprit which they rightly pride
themselves upon possessing, and which, of course, leave mere Englishmen
so far behind in the paths of love and chivalry.

When not thus actively engaged they whispered together in corners and
nudged each other, exchanging muttered comments, in which the word
charmante came conveniently to the fore. Thus, the lightsome son of
republican Gaul in society.

It is, however, high time to explain the reason of our own presence--of
our own reception by France's courteous representative. We are here to
meet Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, and, moreover, to confine our attention to
the persons more or less implicated in the present history.

Mrs. Sydney Bamborough was undoubtedly the belle of the evening. She had
only to look in one of the many mirrors to make sure of that fact. And
if she wanted further assurance a hundred men in the room would have
been ready to swear to it. This lady had recently dawned on London
society--a young widow. She rarely mentioned her husband; it was
understood to be a painful subject. He had been attached to several
embassies, she said; he had a brilliant career before him, and suddenly
he had died abroad. And then she gave a little sigh and a bright smile,
which, being interpreted, meant "Let us change the subject."

There was never any doubt about Mrs. Sydney Bamborough. She was
aristocratic to the tips of her dainty white fingers--composed, gentle,
and quite sure of herself. Quite the grand lady, as Lady Mealhead said.
But Mrs. Sydney Bamborough did not know Lady Mealhead, which may have
accounted for the titled woman's little sniff of interrogation. As a
matter of fact, Etta Sydney Bamborough came from excellent ancestry, and
could claim an uncle here, a cousin there, and a number of distant
relatives everywhere, should it be worth the while.

It was safe to presume that she was rich from the manner in which she
dressed, the number of servants and horses she kept, the general air of
wealth which pervaded her existence. That she was beautiful any one
could see for himself--not in the shop-windows, among the presumably
self-selected types of English beauty, but in the proper place--namely,
in her own and other aristocratic drawing-rooms.

She was talking to a tall, fair Frenchman--in perfect French--and was
herself nearly as tall as he. Bright brown hair waved prettily back from
a white forehead, clever, dark gray eyes and a lovely complexion--one of
those complexions which, from a purity of conscience or a steadiness of
nerve, never change. Cheeks of a faint pink, an expressive, mobile
mouth, a neck of dazzling white. Such was Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, in the
prime of her youth.

"And you maintain that it is five years since we met," she was saying to
the tall Frenchman.

"Have I not counted every day?" he replied.

"I do not know," she answered, with a little laugh, that little laugh
which tells wise men where flattery may be shot like so much
conversational rubbish. Some women are fathomless pits, the rubbish
never seems to fill them. "I do not know, but I should not think so."

"Well, madam, it is so. Witness these gray hairs. Ah! those were happy
days in St. Petersburg."

Mrs. Sydney Bamborough smiled--a pleasant society smile, not too
pronounced and just sufficient to suggest pearly teeth. At the mention
of St. Petersburg she glanced round to see that they were not overheard.
She gave a little shiver.

"Don't speak of Russia!" she pleaded. "I hate to hear it mentioned. I
was so happy. It is painful to remember."

Even while she spoke the expression of her face changed to one of gay
delight. She nodded and smiled toward a tall man who was evidently
looking for her, and took no notice of the Frenchman's apologies.

"Who _is_ that?" asked the young man. "I see him everywhere lately."

"A mere English gentleman, Mr. Paul Howard Alexis," replied the lady.

The Frenchman raised his eyebrows. He knew better. This was no plain
English gentleman. He bowed and took his leave. M. de Chauxville of the
French Embassy was watching every movement, every change of expression,
from across the room.

In evening dress the man whom we last saw on the platform of the railway
station at Tver did not look so unmistakably English. It was more
evident that he had inherited certain characteristics from his Russian
mother--notably, his great height, a physical advantage enjoyed by many
aristocratic Russian families. His hair was fair and inclined to curl,
and there the foreign suggestion suddenly ceased. His face had the quiet
concentration, the unobtrusive self-absorption which one sees more
strongly marked in English faces than in any others. His manner of
moving through the well-dressed crowd somewhat belied the tan of his
skin. Here was an out-of-door, athletic youth, who knew how to move in
drawing-rooms--a big man who did not look much too large for his
surroundings. It was evident that he did not know many people, and also
that he was indifferent to his loss. He had come to see Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough, and that lady was not insensible to the fact.

To prove this she diverged from the path of veracity, as is the way of
some women.

"I did not expect to see you here," she said.

"You told me you were coming," he answered simply. The inference would
have been enough for some women, but not for Etta Sydney Bamborough.

"Well, is that a reason why you should attend a diplomatic soiree, and
force yourself to bow and smirk to a number of white-handed little
dandies whom you despise?"

"The best reason," he answered quietly, with an honesty which somehow
touched her as nothing else had touched this beautiful woman since she
had become aware of her beauty.

"Then you think it worth the bowing and the smirking?" she asked,
looking past him with innocent eyes. She made an imperceptible little
movement toward him as if she expected him to whisper. She was of that
school. But he was not. His was not the sort of mind to conceive any
thought that required whispering. Some persons in fact went so far as to
say that he was hopelessly dull, that he had no subtlety of thought, no
brightness, no conversation. These persons were no doubt ladies upon
whom he had failed to lavish the exceedingly small change of compliment.

"It is worth that and more," he replied, with his ready smile. "After
all, bowing and smirking come very easily. One soon gets accustomed to
it."

"One has to," she replied with a little sigh. "Especially if one is a
woman, which little mishap comes to some of us, you know. I wonder if
you could find me a chair."

She was standing with her back to a small sofa capable of holding three,
but calculated to accommodate two. She did not of course see it. In fact
she looked everywhere but toward it, raising her perfectly gloved
fingers tentatively for his arm.

"I am tired of standing," she added.

He turned and indicated the sofa, toward which she immediately advanced.
As she sat down he noted vaguely that she was exquisitely dressed,
certainly one of the best dressed women in the room. Her costume was
daring without being startling, being merely black and white largely,
boldly contrasted. He felt indefinitely proud of the dress. Some
instinct in the man's simple, strong mind told him that it was good for
women to be beautiful, but his ignorance of the sex being profound he
had no desire to analyze the beauty. He had no mental reservation with
regard to her. Indeed it would have been hard to find fault with Etta
Sydney Bamborough, looking upon her merely as a beautiful woman,
exquisitely dressed. In a cynical age this man was without cynicism. He
did not dream of reflecting that the lovely hair owed half its beauty to
the clever handling of a maid, that the perfect dress had been the
all-absorbing topic of many of its wearer's leisure hours. He was, in
fact, young for his years, and what is youth but a happy ignorance? It
is only when we know too much that Gravity marks us for her own.

Mrs. Sydney Bamborough looked up at him with a certain admiration. This
man was like a mountain breeze to one who has breathed nothing but the
faded air of drawing-rooms.

She drew in her train with a pretty curve of her gloved wrist.

"You look as if you did not know what it was to be tired; but perhaps
you will sit down. I can make room."

He accepted with alacrity.

"And now," she said, "let me hear where you have been. I have only had
time to shake hands with you the last twice that we have met! You said
you had been away."

"Yes; I have been to Russia."

Her face was steadily beautiful, composed and ready.

"Ah! How interesting! I have been in Petersburg. I love Russia." While
she spoke she was actually looking across the room toward the tall
Frenchman, her late companion.

"Do you?" answered Paul eagerly. His face lighted up after the manner of
those countenances that belong to men of one idea. "I am very much
interested in Russia."

"Do you know Petersburg?" she asked rather hurriedly. "I mean--society
there?"

"No. I know one or two people in Moscow."

She nodded, suppressing a quick little sigh which might have been one of
relief had her face been less pleasant and smiling.

"Who?" she asked indifferently. She was interested in the lace of her
pocket-handkerchief, of which the scent faintly reached him. He was a
simple person, and the faint odor gave him a distinct pleasure--a
suggested intimacy.

He mentioned several well-known Muscovite names, and she broke into a
sudden laugh.

"How terrible they sound," she said gayly, "even to me, and I have been
to Petersburg. But you speak Russian, Mr. Alexis?"

"Yes," he answered. "And you?"

She shook her head and gave a little sigh.

"I? Oh, no. I am not at all clever, I am afraid."




CHAPTER IV


DON QUIXOTE

Paul had been five months in England when he met Mrs. Sydney Bamborough.
Since his hurried departure from Tver a winter had come and gone,
leaving its mark as winters do. It left a very distinct mark on Russia.
It was a famine winter. From the snow-ridden plains that lie to the
north of Moscow, Karl Steinmetz had written piteous descriptions of an
existence which seemed hardly worth the living. But each letter had
terminated with a prayer, remarkably near to a command, that he, Paul
Howard Alexis, should remain in England. So Paul stayed in London, where
he indulged to the full a sadly mistaken hobby. This man had, as we have
seen, that which is called a crank, or a loose screw, according to the
fancy of the speaker. He had conceived the absurd idea of benefiting his
fellow-beings, and of turning into that mistaken channel the surplus
wealth that was his. This, moreover, if it please you, without so much
as forming himself into a society.

This is an age of societies, and, far from concealing from the left hand
the good which the right may be doing, we publish abroad our charities
on all hands. We publish in a stout volume our names and donations. We
even go so far as to cultivate an artificial charity by meat and drink
and speeches withal. When we have eaten and drunk, the plate is handed
round, and from the fulness of our heart we give abundantly. We are
cunning even in our well-doing. We do not pass round the plate until the
decanters have led the way. And thus we degrade that quality of the
human heart which is the best of all.

But Paul Howard Alexis had the good fortune to be rich out of England,
and that roaring lion of modern days, organized charity, passed him by.
He was thus left to evolve from his own mind a mistaken sense of his
duty toward his neighbor. That there were thousands of well-meaning
persons in black and other coats ready to prove to him that revenues
gathered from Russia should be spent in the East End or the East Indies,
goes without saying. There are always well-meaning persons among us
ready to direct the charity of others. We have all met those virtuous
persons who do good by proxy. But Paul had not. He had never come face
to face with the charity broker--the man who stands between the needy
and the giver, giving nothing himself, and living on his brokerage,
sitting in a comfortable chair, with his feet on a Turkey carpet in his
office on a main thoroughfare. Paul had met none of these, and the only
organized charity of which he was cognizant was the great Russian
Charity League, betrayed six months earlier to a government which has
ever turned its face against education and enlightenment. In this he had
taken no active part, but he had given largely of his great wealth. That
his name had figured on the list of families sold for a vast sum of
money to the authorities of the Ministry of the Interior seemed all too
sure. But he had had no intimation that he was looked upon with small
favor. The more active members of the League had been less fortunate,
and more than one nobleman had been banished to his estates.

Although the sum actually paid for the papers of the Charity League was
known, the recipient of the blood money had never been discovered. It
was a large sum, for the government had been quick to recognize the
necessity of nipping this movement in the bud. Education is a dangerous
matter to deal with; England is beginning to find this out for herself.
For on the heels of education socialism ever treads. When at last
education makes a foothold in Russia, that foothold will be on the very
step of the autocratic throne. The Charity League had, as Steinmetz put
it, the primary object of preparing the peasant for education, and
thereafter placing education within his reach. Such proceedings were
naturally held by those in high places to be only second to Nihilism.

All this, and more which shall transpire in the course of this
narration, was known to Paul. In face of the fact that his name was
prominently before the Russian Ministry of the Interior, he proceeded
all through the winter to ship road-making tools, agricultural
implements, seeds, and food.

"The prince," said Steinmetz to those who were interested in the matter,
"is mad. He thinks that a Russian principality is to be worked on the
same system as an English estate."

He would laugh and shrug his shoulders, and then he would sit down and
send a list of further requirements to Paul Howard Alexis, Esquire, in
London.

Paul had met Mrs. Sydney Bamborough on one or two occasions, and had
been interested in her. From the first he had come under the influence
of her beauty. But she was then a married woman. He met her again toward
the end of the terrible winter to which reference has been made, and
found that a mere acquaintanceship had in the meantime developed into
friendship. He could not have told when and where the great social
barrier had been surmounted and left behind. He only knew in an
indefinite way that some such change had taken place, as all such
changes do, not in intercourse, but in the intervals of absence. It is a
singular fact that we do not make our friends when they are near. The
seed of friendship and love alike is soon sown, and the best is that
which germinates in absence.

That friendship had rapidly developed into something else Paul became
aware early in the season; and, as we have seen from his conversation,
Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, innocent and guileless as she was, might with
all modesty have divined the state of his feelings had she been less
overshadowed by her widow's weeds.

She apparently had no such suspicion, for she asked Paul in all good
faith to call the next day and tell her all about Russia--"dear Russia."

"My cousin Maggie," she added, "is staying with me. She is a dear girl.
I am sure you will like her."

Paul accepted with alacrity, but reserved to himself the option of
hating Mrs. Sydney Bamborough's cousin Maggie, merely because that young
lady existed and happened to be staying in Upper Brook Street.

At five o'clock the next afternoon he presented himself at the house of
mourning, and completely filled up its small entrance-hall.

He was shown into the drawing-room, where he discovered Miss Margaret
Delafield in the act of dragging her hat off in front of the mirror over
the mantelpiece. He heard a suppressed exclamation of amused horror, and
found himself shaking hands with Mrs. Sydney Bamborough.

The lady mentioned Paul's name and her cousin's relationship in that
casual manner which constitutes an introduction in these degenerate
days. Miss Delafield bowed, laughed, and moved toward the door. She left
the room, and behind her an impression of breeziness and health, of
English girlhood and a certain bright cheerfulness which acts as a
filter in social muddy waters.

"It is very good of you to come--I was moping," said Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough. She was, as a matter of fact, resting before the work of the
evening. This lady thoroughly understood the art of being beautiful.

Paul did not answer at once. He was looking at a large photograph which
stood in a frame on the mantelpiece--the photograph of a handsome man of
twenty-eight or thirty, small-featured, fair, and shifty looking.

"Who is that?" he asked abruptly.

"Do you not know? My husband."

Paul muttered an apology, but he did not turn away from the photograph.

"Oh, never mind," said Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, in reply to his regret
that he had stumbled upon a painful subject. "I never--"

She paused.

"No," she went on, "I won't say that."

But, so far as conveying what she meant was concerned, she might just as
well have uttered the words.

"I do not want a sympathy which is unmerited," she said gravely.

He turned and looked at her, sitting in a graceful attitude, the
incarnation of a most refined and nineteenth-century misfortune. She
raised her eyes to his for a moment--a sort of photographic
instantaneous shutter, exposing for the hundredth part of a second the
sensitive plate of her heart. Then she suppressed a sigh--badly.

"I was married horribly young," she said, "before I knew what I was
doing. But even if I had known I do not suppose I should have had the
strength of mind to resist my father and mother."

"They forced you into it?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Bamborough. And it is possible that a respectable and
harmless pair of corpses turned in their respective coffins somewhere in
the neighborhood of Norwood.

"I hope there is a special hell reserved for parents who ruin their
daughters' lives to suit their own ambition," said Paul, with a sudden
concentrated heat which rather startled his hearer.

This man was full of surprises for Etta Sydney Bamborough. It was like
playing with fire--a form of amusement which will be popular as long as
feminine curiosity shall last.

"You are rather shocking," she said lightly. "But it is all over now, so
we need not dig up old grievances. Only I want you to understand that
that photograph represents a part of my life which was only
painful--nothing else."

Paul, standing in front of her, looked down thoughtfully at the
beautiful upturned face. His hands were clasped behind him, his firm
mouth set sternly beneath the great fair mustache. In Russia the men
have good eyes--blue, fierce, intelligent. Such eyes had the son of the
Princess Alexis. There was something in Etta Bamborough that stirred up
within him a quality which men are slowly losing--namely, chivalry.
Steinmetz held that this man was quixotic, and what Steinmetz said was
usually worth some small attention. Whatever faults that poor knight of
La Mancha who has been the laughing-stock of the world these many
centuries--whatever faults or foolishness may have been his, he was at
all events a gentleman.

Paul's instinct was to pity this woman for the past that had been hers;
his desire was to help her and protect her, to watch over her and fight
her battles for her. It was what is called Love. But there is no word in
any spoken language that covers so wide a field. Every day and all day
we call many things love which are not love. The real thing is as rare
as genius, but we usually fail to recognize its rarity. We misuse the
word, for we fail to draw the necessary distinctions. We fail to
recognize the plain and simple truth that many of us are not able to
love--just as there are many who are not able to play the piano or to
sing. We raise up our voices and make a sound, but it is not singing. We
marry and we give in marriage, but it is not loving. Love is like a
color--say, blue. There are a thousand shades of blue, and the outer
shades are at last not blue at all, but green or purple. So in love
there are a thousand shades, and very, very few of them are worthy of
the name.

That which Paul Howard Alexis felt at this time for Etta was merely the
chivalrous instinct that teaches men their primary duty toward
women--namely, to protect and respect them. But out of this instinct
grows the better thing--Love.

There are some women whose desire it is to be all things to all men
instead of every thing to one. This was the stumbling-block in the way
of Etta Bamborough. It was her instinct to please all at any price, and
her obedience to such instinct was often unconscious. She hardly knew
perhaps that she was trading upon a sense of chivalry rare in these
days, but had she known she could not have traded with a keener
comprehension of the commerce.

"I should like to forget the past altogether," she said. "But it is hard
for women to get rid of the past. It is rather terrible to feel that one
will be associated all one's life with a person for whom no one had any
respect. He was not honorable or--"

She paused; for the intuition of some women is marvellous. A slight
change of countenance had told her that charity, especially toward the
dead, is a commendable quality.

"The world," she went on rather hurriedly, "never makes allowances--does
it? He was easily led, I suppose. And people said things of him that
were not true. Did you ever hear of him in Russia--of the things they
said of him?"

She waited for the answer with suppressed eagerness--a good woman
defending the memory of her dead husband--a fair lioness protecting her
cub.

"No; I never hear Russian gossip. I know no one in St. Petersburg, and
few in Moscow."

She gave a little sigh of relief.

"Then perhaps poor Sydney's delinquencies have been forgotten," she
said. "In six months every thing is forgotten now. He has only been dead
six months, you know. He died in Russia."

All the while she was watching his face. She had moved in a circle where
everything is known--where men have faces of iron and nerves of steel to
conceal what they know. She could hardly believe that Paul Alexis knew
so little as he pretended.

"So I heard a month ago," he said.

In a flash of thought Etta remembered that it was only within the last
four weeks that this admirer had betrayed his admiration. Could this be
that phenomenon of the three-volume novel, an honorable man? She looked
at him with curiosity--without, it is to be feared, much respect.

"And now," she said cheerfully, "let us change the subject. I have
inflicted enough of myself and my affairs upon you for one day. Tell me
about yourself. Why were you in Russia last summer?"

"I am half a Russian," he answered. "My mother was Russian, and I have
estates there."

Her surprise was a triumph of art.

"Oh! You are not Prince Pavlo Alexis?" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I am."

She rose and swept him a deep courtesy, to the full advantage of her
beautiful figure.

"My respects--mon prince," she said; and then, quick as lightning, for
she had seen displeasure on his face, she broke into a merry laugh.

"No, I won't call you that; for I know you hate it. I have heard of your
prejudices, and if it is of the slightest interest to you, I think I
rather admire them."

It is to be presumed that Mrs. Sydney Bamborough's memory was short. For
it was a matter of common knowledge in the diplomatic circles in which
she moved that Mr. Paul Howard Alexis of Piccadilly House, London, and
Prince Pavlo Alexis of the province of Tver, were one and the same man.

Having, however, fully established this fact, from the evidence of her
own ears, she conversed very pleasantly and innocently upon matters,
Russian and English, until other visitors arrived and Paul withdrew.




CHAPTER V


THE BARON

Among the visitors whom Paul left behind him in the little drawing-room
in Brook Street was the Baron Claude de Chauxville, Baron of Chauxville
and Chauxville le Duc, in the Province of Seine-et-Marne, France,
attache to the French Embassy to the Court of St. James; before men a
rising diplomatist, before God a scoundrel. This gentleman remained when
the other visitors had left, and Miss Maggie Delafield, seeing his
intention of prolonging a visit of which she had already had sufficient,
made an inadequate excuse and left the room.

Miss Delafield, being a healthy-minded young English person of that
simplicity which is no simplicity at all, but merely simple-heartedness,
had her own ideas of what a man should be, and M. de Chauxville had the
misfortune to fall short of those ideas. He was too epigrammatic for
her, and beneath the brilliancy of his epigram she felt at times the
presence of something dark and nauseous. Her mental attitude toward him
was contemptuous and perfectly polite. With the reputation of possessing
a dangerous fascination--one of those reputations which can only emanate
from the man himself--M. de Chauxville neither fascinated nor
intimidated Miss Delafield. He therefore disliked her intensely. His
vanity was colossal, and when a Frenchman is vain he is childishly so.

M. de Chauxville watched the door close behind Miss Delafield with a
queer smile. Then he turned suddenly on his heels and faced Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough.

"Your cousin," he said, "is a typical Englishwoman--she only conceals
her love."

"For you?" enquired Mrs. Sydney Bamborough.

The baron shrugged his shoulders.

"Possibly. One can never tell. She conceals it very well if it exists.
However, I am indifferent. The virtue of the violet is its own reward,
perhaps, for the rose always wins."

He crossed the room toward Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, who was standing near
the mantelpiece. Her left hand was hanging idly by her side. He took the
white fingers and gallantly raised them to his lips, but before they had
reached that fount of truth and wisdom she jerked her hand away.

M. de Chauxville laughed--the quiet, assured laugh of a man who has read
in books that he who is bold enough can win any woman, and believes it.
He was of those men who treat and speak of women as a class--creatures
to be dealt with successfully according to generality and maxim. It is a
singular thing, by the way, that men as a whole continue to disbelieve
in a woman's negative--singular, that is, when one reflects that the
majority of men have had at least one negative which has remained a
negative, so far as they were concerned, all the woman's life.

"I am aware," said M. de Chauxville, "that the rose has thorns. One
reason why the violet is hors de concours."

Etta smiled--almost relenting. She was never quite safe against her own
vanity. Happy the woman who is, and rare.

"I suspect that the violet is innocent of any desire to enter into
competition," said Etta.

"Knowing," suggested De Chauxville, "that although the race is not
always to the swift, it is usually so. Please do not stand. It suggests
that you are waiting for me to go or for some one else to come."

"Neither."

"Then prove it by taking this chair. Thus. Near the fire, for it is
quite an English spring. A footstool. Is it permitted to admire your
slippers--what there is of them? Now you look comfortable."

He attended to her wants, divined them, and perhaps created them with a
perfect grace and much too intimate a knowledge. As a carpet knight he
was faultless. And Etta thought of Paul, who could do none of these
things--or would do none of them--Paul, who never made her feel like a
doll.

"Will you not sit down?" she said, indicating a chair, which he did not
take. He selected one nearer to her.

"I can think of nothing more desirable."

"Than what?" she asked. Her vanity was like a hungry fish. It rose to
everything.

"A chair in this room."

"A modest desire," she said. "Is that really all you want in this
world?"

"No," he answered, looking at her.

She gave a little laugh and moved rather hurriedly.

"I was going to suggest that you could have both at certain fixed
periods--whenever--I am out."

"I am glad you did not suggest it."

"Why?" she asked sharply.

"Because I should have had to go into explanations. I did not say all."

Mrs. Bamborough was looking into the fire, only half listening to him.
There was something in the nature of a duel between these two. Each
thought more of the next stroke than of the present party.

"Do you ever say all, M. de Chauxville?" she asked.

The baron laughed. Perhaps he was vain of the reputation that was his,
for this man was held to be a finished diplomatist. A finished
diplomatist, be it known, is one who is a dangerous foe and an
unreliable friend.

"Perhaps--now that I reflect upon it," continued the clever woman,
disliking the clever man's silence, "the person who said all would be
intolerable."

"There are some things which go without it," said De Chauxville.

"Ah?" looking lazily back at him over her shoulder.

"Yes."

He was cautious, for he was fighting on a field which women may rightly
claim for their own. He really loved Etta. He was trying to gauge the
meaning of a little change in her tone toward him--a change so subtle
that few men could have detected it. But Claude de Chauxville
--accomplished steersman through the shoals of human nature,
especially through those very pronounced shoals who call themselves
women of the world--Claude de Chauxville knew the value of the slightest
change of manner, should that change manifest itself more than once.

The ring of indifference, or something dangerously near it, in Etta's
voice had first been noticeable the previous evening, and the attache
knew it. It had been in her voice whenever she spoke to him then. It was
there now.

"Some things," he continued, in a voice she had never heard before, for
this man was innately artificial, "which a woman usually knows before
they are told to her."

"What sort of things, M. le Baron?"

He gave a little laugh. It was so strange a thing to him to be sincere
that he felt awkward and abashed. He was surprised at his own sincerity.

"That I love you--hum. You have known it long?"

The face which he could not see was not quite the face of a good woman.
Etta was smiling.

"No--o," she almost whispered.

"I think you must have known it," he corrected suavely. "Will you do me
the honor of becoming my wife?"

It was very correctly done, Claude de Chauxville had regained control
over himself. He was able to think about the riches which were evidently
hers. But through the thought he loved the woman.

The lady lowered the feather screen which she was holding between her
face and the fire. Regardless of the imminent danger in which she was
placing her complexion, she studied the glowing cinders for some
moments, weighing something or some persons in her mind.

"No, my friend," she answered in French, at length.

The baron's face was drawn and white. Beneath his trim black mustache
there was a momentary gleam of sharp white teeth as he bit his lip.

He came nearer to her, leaning one hand on the back of her chair,
looking down. He could only see the beautifully dressed hair, the
clean-cut profile. She continued to look into the fire, conscious of the
hand close to her shoulder.

"No, my friend," she repeated. "We know each other too well for that. It
would never do."

"But when I tell you that I love you," he said quietly, with his voice
well in control.

"I did not know that the word was in your vocabulary--you, a diplomat."

"And a man--you put the word there--Etta."

The hand-screen was raised for a moment in objection--presumably to the
Christian name of which he had made use.

He waited; passivity was one of his strong points. It had frightened men
before this.

Then, with a graceful movement, she swung suddenly round in her chair,
looking up at him. She broke into a merry laugh.

"I believe you are actually in earnest!" she cried.

He looked quietly down into her face without moving a muscle in response
to her change of humor.

"Very clever," he said.

"What?" she asked, still smiling.

"The attitude, the voice, every thing. You have known all along that I
am in earnest, you have known it for the last six months. You have seen
me often enough when I was--well, not in earnest, to know the
difference."

Etta rose quickly. It was some lightning-like woman's instinct that made
her do so. Standing, she was taller than M. de Chauxville.

"Do not let us be tragic," she said coldly. "You have asked me to marry
you; why, I don't know. The reason will probably transpire later. I
appreciate the honor, but I beg to decline it. Et voila tout. All is
said."

He spread out apologetic hands.

"All is not said," he corrected, with a dangerous suavity. "I
acknowledge the claim enjoyed by your sex to the last word. In this
matter, however, I am inclined to deny it to the individual."

Etta Sydney Bamborough smiled. She leaned against the mantelpiece, with
her chin resting on her curved fingers. The attitude was eminently
calculated to show to full advantage a faultless figure. She evidently
had no desire to cheapen that which she would deny. She shrugged her
shoulders and waited.

De Chauxville was vain, but he was clever enough to conceal his vanity.
He was hurt, but he was man enough to hide it. Under the passivity which
was his by nature and practice, he had learned to think very quickly.
But now he was at a disadvantage. He was unnerved by his love for
Etta--by the sight of Etta before him daringly, audaciously
beautiful--by the thought that she might never be his.

"It is not only that I love you," he said, "that I have a certain
position to offer you. These I beg you to take at their poor value. But
there are other circumstances known to both of us which are more worthy
of your attention--circumstances which may dispose you to reconsider
your determination."

"Nothing will do that," she replied; "not any circumstance."

Etta was speaking to De Chauxville and thinking of Paul Alexis.

"I should like to know since when you have discovered that you never
could under any circumstances marry me," pursued M. de Chauxville. "Not
that it matters, since it is too late. I am not going to allow you to
draw back now. You have gone too far. All this winter you have allowed
me to pay you conspicuous and marked attentions. You have conveyed to me
and to the world at large the impression that I had merely to speak in
order to obtain your hand."

"I doubt," said Etta, "whether the world at large is so deeply
interested in the matter as you appear to imagine. I am sorry that I
have gone too far, but I reserve to myself the right of retracing my
footsteps wherever and whenever I please. I am sorry I conveyed to you
or to any one else the impression that you had only to speak in order to
obtain my hand, and I can only conclude that your overweening vanity has
led you into a mistake which I will be generous enough to hold my tongue
about."

The diplomatist was for a moment taken aback.

"Mais--" he exclaimed, with indignant arms outspread; and even in his
own language he could find nothing to add to the expressive
monosyllable.

"I think you had better go," said Etta quietly. She went toward the
fire-place and rang the bell.

M. de Chauxville took up his hat and gloves.

"Of course," he said coldly, his voice shaking with suppressed rage,
"there is some reason for this. There is, I presume, some one else--some
one has been interfering. No one interferes with me with impunity. I
shall make it my business to find out who is this--"

He did not finish: for the door was thrown open by the butler, who
announced:

"Mr. Alexis."

Paul came into the room with a bow toward De Chauxville, who was going
out, and whom he knew slightly.

"I came back," he said, "to ask what evening next week you are free. I
have a box for the 'Huguenots.'"

Paul did not stay. The thing was arranged in a few moments, and as he
left the drawing-room he heard the wheels of De Chauxville's carriage.

Etta stood for a moment when the door had closed behind the two men,
looking at the portiere which had hidden them from sight, as if
following them in thought. Then she gave a little laugh--a queer laugh
that might have had no heart in it, or too much for the ordinary
purposes of life. She shrugged her shoulders and took up a magazine,
with which she returned to the chair placed for her before the fire by
Claude de Chauxville.

In a few minutes Maggie came into the room. She was carrying a bundle of
flannel.

"The weakest thing I ever did," she said cheerfully, "was to join Lady
Crewel's working guild. Two flannel petticoats for the young by Thursday
morning. I chose the young because the petticoats are so ludicrously
small."

"If you never do anything weaker than that," said Etta, looking into the
fire, "you will not come to much harm."

"Perhaps not; what have you been doing--something weaker?"

"Yes. I have been quarrelling with M. de Chauxville."

Maggie held up a petticoat by the selvage (which a male writer takes to
be the lower hem), and looked at her cousin through the orifice intended
for the waist of the young.

"If one could manage it without lowering one's dignity," she said, "I
think that that is the best thing one could possibly do with M. de
Chauxville."

Etta had taken up the magazine again. She was pretending to read it.

"Yes; but he knows too much--about every-body," she said.




CHAPTER VI


THE TALLEYRAND CLUB

It has been said of the Talleyrand Club that the only qualifications
required for admittance to its membership are a frock-coat and a glib
tongue. To explain the whereabouts of the Talleyrand Club were only a
work of supererogation. Many hansom cabmen know it. Hansom cabmen know
more than they are credited with.

The Talleyrand, as its name implies, is a diplomatic club, but
ambassadors and ministers enter not its portals. They send their
juniors. Some of these latter are in the habit of stating that London is
the hub of Europe and the Talleyrand smoking-room its grease-box.
Certain is it that such men as Claude de Chauxville, as Karl Steinmetz,
and a hundred others who are or have been political scene-shifters, are
to be found in the Talleyrand rooms.

It is a quiet club, with many members and sparse accommodation. Its
rooms are never crowded, because half of its members are afraid of
meeting the other half. It has swinging glass doors to its every
apartment, the lower portion of the glass being opaque, while the upper
moiety affords a peep-hole. Thus, if you are sitting in one of the deep,
comfortable chairs to be found in all these small rooms, you will be
aware from time to time of eyes and a bald head above the ground glass.
If you are nobody, eyes and bald head will prove to be the property of a
gentleman who does not know you, or knows you and pretends that he does
not. If you are somebody, your solitude will depend upon your
reputation.

There are quite a number of bald heads in the Talleyrand Club--bald
heads surmounting youthful, innocent faces. The innocence of these
gentlemen is quite remarkable. Like a certain celestial, they are
"childlike and bland"; they ask guileless questions; they make blameless
mistakes in respect to facts, and require correction, which they receive
meekly. They know absolutely nothing, and their thirst for information
is as insatiable as it is unobtrusive.

The atmosphere is vivacious with the light sound of many foreign
tongues; it bristles with the ephemeral importance of cheap titles. One
never knows whether one's neighbor is an ornament to the Almanac de
Gotha, or a disgrace to a degenerate colony of refugees.

Some are plain Messieurs, Senores, or Herren. Bluff foreigners with
upright hair and melancholy eyes, who put up philosophically with a
cheaper brand of cigar than their souls love. Among the latter may be
classed Karl Steinmetz--the bluffest of the bluff--innocent even of his
own innocence.

Karl Steinmetz in due course reached England, and in natural sequence
the smoking-room--room B on the left as you go in--of the Talleyrand.

He was there one evening after an excellent dinner taken with humorous
resignation, smoking the largest cigar the waiter could supply, when
Claude de Chauxville happened to have nothing better or nothing worse to
do.

De Chauxville looked through the glass door for some seconds. Then he
twisted his waxed mustache and lounged in. Steinmetz was alone in the
room, and De Chauxville was evidently--almost obviously--unaware of his
presence. He went to the table and proceeded to search in vain for a
newspaper that interested him. He raised his eyes casually and met the
quiet gaze of Karl Steinmetz.

"Ah!" he exclaimed.

"Yes," said Steinmetz.

"You--in London?"

Steinmetz nodded gravely.

"Yes," he repeated.

"One never knows where one has you," Claude de Chauxville went on,
seating himself in a deep arm-chair, newspaper in hand. "You are a bird
of passage."

"A little heavy on the wing--now," said Steinmetz.

He laid his newspaper down on his stout knees and looked at De
Chauxville over his gold eye-glasses. He did not attempt to conceal the
fact that he was wondering what this man wanted with him. The baron
seemed to be wondering what object Steinmetz had in view in getting
stout. He suspected some motive in the obesity.

"Ah!" he said deprecatingly. "That is nothing. Time leaves its mark upon
all of us. It was not yesterday that we were in Petersburg together."

"No," answered Steinmetz. "It was before the German Empire--many years
ago."

De Chauxville counted back with his slim fingers on the
table--delightfully innocent.

"Yes," he said, "the years seem to fly in coveys. Do you ever see any of
our friends of that time--you who are in Russia?"

"Who were our friends of that time?" parried Steinmetz, polishing his
glasses with a silk handkerchief. "My memory is a broken reed--you
remember?"

For a moment Claude de Chauxville met the full, quiet, gray eyes.

"Yes," he said significantly, "I remember. Well--for instance, Prince
Dawoff?"

"Dead. I never see him--thank Heaven!"

"The princess?"

"I never see; she keeps a gambling house in Paris."

"And little Andrea?"

"Never sees me. Married to a wholesale undertaker, who has buried her
past."

"En gros?"

"Et en detail."

"The Count Lanovitch," pursued De Chauxville, "where is he?"

"Banished for his connection with the Charity League."

"Catrina?"

"Catrina is living in the province of Tver--we are neighbors--she and
her mother, the countess."

De Chauxville nodded. None of the details really interested him. His
indifference was obvious.

"Ah! the Countess Lanovitch," he said reflectively, "she was a foolish
woman."

"And is."

M. de Chauxville laughed. This clumsy German ex-diplomat amused him
immensely. Many people amuse us who are themselves amused in their
sleeve.

"And--er--the Sydney Bamboroughs," said the Frenchman, as if the name
had almost left his memory.

Karl Steinmetz lazily stretched out his arm and took up the _Morning
Post_. He unfolded the sheet slowly, and having found what he sought, he
read aloud:

"'His Excellency the Roumanian Ambassador gave a select dinner-party at
4 Craven Gardens, yesterday. Among the guests were the Baron de
Chauxville, Feneer Pasha, Lord and Lady Standover, Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough, and others.'"

Steinmetz threw the paper down and leant back in his chair.

"So, my dear friend," he said, "it is probable that you know more about
the Sydney Bamboroughs than I do."

If Claude de Chauxville was disconcerted he certainly did not show it.
His was a face eminently calculated to conceal whatever thought or
feeling might be passing through his mind. Of an even white
complexion--verging on pastiness--he was handsome in a certain
statuesque way. His features were always composed and dignified; his
hair, thin and straight, was never out of order, but ever smooth and
sleek upon his high, narrow brow. His eyes had that dulness which is
characteristic of many Frenchmen, and may perhaps be attributed to the
habitual enjoyment of too rich a cuisine and too many cigarettes.

De Chauxville waved aside the small contretemps with easy nonchalance.

"Not necessarily," he said, in cold, even tones. "Mrs. Sydney Bamborough
does not habitually take into her confidence all who happen to dine at
the same table as herself. Your confidential woman is usually a liar."

Steinmetz was filling his pipe; this man had the evil habit of smoking a
wooden pipe after a cigar.

"My very dear De Chauxville," he said, without lookup, "your epigrams
are lost on me. I know most of them. I have heard them before. If you
have anything to tell me about Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, for Heaven's sake
tell it to me quite plainly. I like plain dishes and unvarnished
stories. I am a German, you know; that is to say, a person with a dull
palate and a thick head."

De Chauxville laughed again in an unemotional way.

"You alter little," he said. "Your plainness of speech takes me back to
Petersburg. Yes, I admit that Mrs. Sydney Bamborough rather interested
me. But I assume too much; that is no reason why she should interest
you."

"She does not, my good friend, but you do. I am all attention."

"Do you know anything of her?" asked De Chauxville perfunctorily, not as
a man who expects an answer or intends to believe that which he may be
about to hear.

"Nothing."

"You are likely to know more?"

Karl Steinmetz shrugged his heavy shoulders, and shook his head
doubtfully.

"I am not a lady's man," he added gruffly; "the good God has not shaped
me that way. I am too d--d fat. Has Mrs. Sydney Bamborough fallen in
love with me? Has some imprudent person shown her my photograph? I hope
not. Heaven forbid!"

He puffed steadily at his pipe, and glanced quickly at De Chauxville
through the smoke.

"No," answered the Frenchman quite gravely. Frenchmen, by the way, do
not admit that one may be too middle-aged, or too stout, for love. "But
she is au mieux with the prince."

"Which prince?"

"Pavlo."

The Frenchman snapped out the word, watching the other's benevolent
countenance. Steinmetz continued to smoke placidly and contentedly.

"My master," he said at length. "I suppose that some day he will marry."

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders. He touched the button of the
electric bell, and when the servant appeared, ordered coffee. He
selected a cigarette from a silver case with considerable care, and
having lighted it smoked for some moments in silence. The servant
brought the coffee, which he drank thoughtfully. Steinmetz was leaning
back in his deep chair, with his legs crossed. He was gazing into the
fire, which burnt brightly, although it was nearly May. The habits of
the Talleyrand Club are almost continental. The rooms are always too
warm. The silence was that of two men knowing each other well.

"And why not Mrs. Sydney Bamborough?" asked Steinmetz suddenly.

"Why not, indeed?" replied De Chauxville. "It is no affair of mine. A
wise man reduces his affairs to a minimum, and his interest in the
affairs of his neighbor to less. But I thought it would interest you."

"Thanks."

The tone of the big man in the arm-chair was not dry. Karl Steinmetz
knew better than to indulge in that pastime. Dryness is apt to parch the
fount of expansiveness.

De Chauxville's attention was apparently caught by an illustration in a
weekly paper lying open on the table near to him. Your shifty man likes
something to look at. He did not speak for some moments. Then he threw
the paper aside.

"Who was Sydney Bamborough, at any rate?" he asked, with a careless
assumption of a slanginess which is affected by society in its decadent
periods.

"So far as I remember," answered Steinmetz, "he was something in the
Diplomatic Service."

"Yes, but what?"

"My dear friend, you had better ask his widow when next you sit beside
her at dinner."

"How do you know that I sat beside her at dinner?"

"I did not know it," replied Steinmetz, with a quiet smile which left De
Chauxville in doubt as to whether he was very stupid or exceedingly
clever.

"She seems to be very well off," said the Frenchman.

"I am glad, as she is going to marry my master."

De Chauxville laughed almost awkwardly, and for a fraction of a second
he changed countenance under Steinmetz's quiet eyes.

"One can never know whom a woman intends to marry," said he carelessly,
"even if they can themselves, which I doubt. But I do not understand how
it is that she is so much better off, or appears to be, since the death
of her husband."

"Ah, she is much better off, or appears to be, since the death of her
husband," said the stout man, in his slow Germanic way.

"Yes."

De Chauxville rose, stretched himself and yawned. Men are not always, be
it understood, on their best behavior at their club.

"Good-night," he said shortly.

"Good-night, my very dear friend."

After the Frenchman had left, Karl Steinmetz remained quite motionless
and expressionless in his chair, until such time as he concluded that De
Chauxville was tired of watching him through the glass door. Then he
slowly sat forward in his chair and looked back over his shoulder.

"Our friend," he muttered, "is afraid that Paul is going to marry this
woman. Now, I wonder why?"

These two had met before in a past which has little or nothing to do
with the present narrative. They had disliked each other with a
completeness partly bred of racial hatred, partly the outcome of diverse
interests. But of late years they had drifted apart. There was no reason
why the friendship, such as it was, should not have lapsed into a mere
bowing acquaintance. For these men were foreigners, understanding fully
the value of the bow as an interchange of masculine courtesy. Englishmen
bow badly.

Steinmetz knew that the Frenchman had recognized him before entering the
room. It was to be presumed that he had deliberately chosen to cross the
threshold, knowing that a recognition was inevitable. Karl Steinmetz
went farther. He suspected that De Chauxville had come to the Talleyrand
Club, having heard that he was in England, with the purpose in view of
seeking him out and warning him against Mrs. Sydney Bamborough.

"It would appear," murmured the stout philosopher, "that we are about to
work together for the first time. But if there is one thing that I
dislike more than the enmity of Claude de Chauxville it is his
friendship."




CHAPTER VII


OLD HANDS

Karl Steinmetz lifted his pen from the paper before him and scratched
his forehead with his forefinger.

"Now, I wonder," he said aloud, "how many bushels there are in a ton.
Ach! how am I to find out? These English weights and measures, this
English money, when there is a metrical system!"

He sat and hardly looked up when the clock struck seven. It was a quiet
room this in which he sat, the library of Paul's London house. The noise
of Piccadilly reached his ears as a faint roar, not entirely unpleasant,
but sociable and full of life. Accustomed as he was to the great silence
of Russia, where sound seems lost in space, the hum of a crowded
humanity was a pleasant change to this philosopher, who loved his kind
while fully recognizing its little weaknesses.

While he sat there still wondering how many bushels of seed made a ton,
Paul Alexis came into the room. The younger man was in evening dress. He
looked at the clock rather eagerly.

"Will you dine here?" he asked, and Steinmetz wheeled around in his
chair. "I am going out to dinner," he explained further.

"Ah!" said the elder man.

"I am going to Mrs. Sydney Bamborough's."

Steinmetz bowed his head gravely. He said nothing. He was not looking at
Paul, but at the pattern of the carpet. There was a short silence. Then
Paul said, with entire simplicity:

"I shall probably ask her to marry me."

"And she will probably say yes."

"I am not so sure about that," said Paul, with a laugh. For this man was
without conceit. He had gradually been forced to admit that there are
among men persons whose natural inclination is toward evil, persons who
value not the truth, nor hold by honesty. But he was guileless enough to
believe that women are not so. He actually believed that women are
truthful and open and honorable. He believes it still, which is somewhat
startling. There are a few such dullards yet. "I do not see why she
should," he went on gravely. He was standing by the empty fire-place, a
manly, upright figure; one who was not very clever, not brilliant at
all, somewhat slow in his speech, but sure, deadly sure, in the honesty
of his purpose.

Karl Steinmetz looked at him and smiled openly, with the quaint air of
resignation that was his.

"You have never seen her, eh?" enquired Paul.

Steinmetz paused, then he told a lie, a good one, well told,
deliberately.

"No."

"We are going to the opera, Box F2. If you come in I shall have pleasure
in introducing you. The sooner you know each other the better. I am sure
you will approve."

"I think you ought to marry money."

"Why?"

Steinmetz laughed.

"Oh," he answered, "because every-body does who can. There is Catrina
Lanovitch, an estate as big as yours, adjoining yours. A great Russian
family, a good girl who--is willing."

Paul laughed, a good wholesome laugh.

"You are inclined to exaggerate my manifold and obvious qualifications,"
he said. "Catrina is a very nice girl, but I do not think she would
marry me even if I asked her."

"Which you do not intend to do."

"Certainly not."

"Then you will make an enemy of her," said Steinmetz quietly. "It may be
inconvenient, but that cannot be helped. A woman scorned--you know.
Shakspere or the Bible, I always mix them up. No, Paul; Catrina
Lanovitch is a dangerous enemy. She has been making love to you these
last four years, and you would have seen it if you had not been a fool!
I am afraid, my good Paul, you are a fool, God bless you for it!"

"I think you are wrong," said Paul rather curtly; "not about me being a
fool, but about Catrina Lanovitch. If you are right, however, it only
makes me dislike her instead of being perfectly indifferent to her."

His honest face flushed up finely, and he turned away to look at the
clock again.

"I hate your way of talking about women, Steinmetz," he said. "You're a
cynical old beast, you know."

"Heaven forbid, my dear prince! I admire all women--they are so clever,
so innocent, so pure-minded. Do not your English novels prove it, your
English stage, your newspapers, so high-toned? Who supports the
novelist, the play-wright, the actor, who but your English ladies?"

"Better than being cooks--like your German ladies," retorted Paul
stoutly. "If you _are_ German this evening. Better than being cooks."

"I doubt it! I very much doubt it, my friend. At what time shall I
present myself at Box F2 this evening?"

"About nine--as soon as you like."

Paul looked at the clock. The pointers lagged horribly. He knew that the
carriage was certain to be at the door, waiting in the quiet street with
its great restless horses, its two perfectly trained men, its gleaming
lamps and shining harness. But he would not allow himself the luxury of
being the first arrival. Paul had himself well in hand. At last it was
time to go.

"See you later," he said.

"Thank you--yes," replied Steinmetz, without looking up.

So Paul Howard Alexis sallied forth to seek the hand of the lady of his
choice, and as he left his own door that lady was receiving Claude de
Chauxville in her drawing-room. The two had not met for some weeks--not
indeed since Etta had told the Frenchman that she could not marry him.
Her invitation to dine, couched in the usual friendly words, had been
the first move in that game commonly called "bluff." Claude de
Chauxville's acceptance of the same had been the second move. And these
two persons, who were not afraid of each other, shook hands with a
pleasant smile of greeting, while Paul hurried toward them through the
busy streets.

"Am I forgiven--that I am invited to dinner?" asked De Chauxville
imperturbably, when the servant had left them alone.

Etta was one of those women who are conscious of their dress. Some may
protest that a lady moving in such circles would not be so. But in all
circles women are only women, and in every class of life we meet such as
Etta Bamborough. Women who, while they talk, glance down and rearrange a
flower or a piece of lace. It is a mere habit, seemingly small and
unimportant; but it marks the woman and sets her apart.

Etta was standing on the hearthrug, beautifully dressed--too beautifully
dressed, it is possible, to sit down. Her maid had a moment earlier
confessed that she could do no more, and Etta had come down stairs a
vision of luxury, of womanly loveliness. Nevertheless, there appeared to
be something amiss. She was so occupied with a flower at her shoulder
that she did not answer at once.

"Forgiven for what?" she asked at length, in that preoccupied tone of
voice which tells wise men that only questions of dress will be
considered.

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders in his graceful Gallic way.

"Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed. "For a crime which requires no excuse, and no
explanation other than a mirror."

She looked up at him innocently.

"A mirror?"

"Yours. Have you forgiven me for falling in love with you? It is, I am
told, a crime that women sometimes condone."

"It was no crime," she said. She had heard the wheels of Paul's
carriage. "It was a misfortune. Please let us forget that it ever
happened."

De Chauxville twirled his neat mustache, looking keenly at her the
while.

"You forget," he said. "But I--will remember."

She did not answer, but turned with a smile to greet Paul.

"I think you know each other," she said gracefully when she had shaken
hands, and the two men bowed. They were foreigners, be it understood.
There were three languages in which they could understand each other
with equal ease.

"Where _is_ Maggie?" exclaimed Mrs. Bamborough. "She is always late."

"When I am here," reflected De Chauxville. But he did not say it.

Miss Delafield kept them waiting a few minutes, and during that time
Etta Sydney Bamborough gave a very fine display of prowess with the
double-stringed bow. When a man attempts to handle this delicate weapon,
he usually makes, if one may put it thus crudely, an ass of himself. He
generally succeeds in snapping one and probably both of the strings,
injuring himself most certainly in the process.

Not so, however, this clever lady. She had a smile and an epigram for
Claude de Chauxville, a grave air of sympathetic interest in more
serious affairs for Paul Alexis. She was bright and amusing, guileless
and very worldly wise in the same breath--simple for Paul and a match
for De Chauxville, within the space of three seconds. Withal she was a
beautiful woman beautifully dressed. A thousand times too wise to scorn
her womanhood, as learned fools are prone to do in print and on platform
in these wordy days, but wielding the strongest power on earth, to wit,
that same womanhood, with daring and with skill. A learned woman is not
of much account in the world. A clever woman moves as much of it as lies
in her neighborhood--that is to say, as much as she cares to rule. For
women love power, but they do not care to wield it at a distance.

Paul was asked to take Mrs. Sydney Bamborough down to dinner by the lady
herself.

"Mon ami," she said in a quiet aside to De Chauxville, before making her
request, "it is the first time the prince dines here."

She spoke in French. Maggie and Paul were talking together at the other
end of the room. De Chauxville bowed in silence.

At dinner the conversation was necessarily general, and, as such, is not
worth reporting. No general conversation, one finds, is of much value
when set down in black and white. It is not even grammatical nowadays.
To be more correct, let us note that the talk lay between Etta and M. de
Chauxville, who had a famous supply of epigrams and bright nothings
delivered in such a way that they really sounded like wisdom. Etta was
equal to him, sometimes capping his sharp wit, sometimes contenting
herself with silvery laughter. Maggie Delafield was rather distraite, as
De Chauxville noted. The girl's dislike for him was an iron that entered
the quick of his vanity anew every time he saw her. There was no
petulance in the aversion, such as he had perceived with other maidens
who were only resenting a passing negligence or seeking to pique his
curiosity. This was a steady and, if you will, unmaidenly aversion,
which Maggie conscientiously attempted to conceal.

Paul, it is to be feared, was what hostesses call heavy in hand. He
laughed where he saw something to laugh at, but not elsewhere, which in
some circles is considered morose and in bad form. He joined readily
enough in the conversation, but originated nothing. Those topics which
occupied his mind did not present themselves as suitable to this
occasion. His devotion to Etta was quite obvious, and he was simple
enough not to care that it should be so.

Maggie was by turns quite silent and very talkative. When Paul and Etta
were speaking together she never looked at them, but fixedly at her own
plate, at a decanter, or a salt-cellar. When she spoke she addressed her
remarks--valueless enough in themselves--exclusively to the man she
disliked, Claude de Chauxville.

There was something amiss in the pretty little room. There were shadows
seated around that pretty little table a quatre, beside the guests in
their pretty dresses and their black coats; silent cold shadows, who ate
nothing, while they chilled the dainty food and took the sweetness from
the succulent dishes. These shadows had crept in unawares, a silent
partie carree, to take their phantom places at the table, and only Etta
seemed able to jostle hers aside and talk it down. She took the whole
burden of the conversation upon her pretty shoulders, and bore it
through the little banquet with unerring skill and unflinching good
humor. In the midst of her merriest laughter, the clever gray eyes would
flit from one man's face to the other. Paul had been brought here to ask
her to marry him. Claude de Chauxville had been invited that he might be
tacitly presented to his successful rival. Maggie was there because she
was a woman and made the necessary fourth. Puppets all, and two of them
knew it. And some of us know it all our lives. We are living, moving
puppets. We let ourselves be dragged here and pushed there, the victim
of one who happens to have more energy of mind, a greater steadfastness
of purpose, a keener grasp of the situation called life. We smirk and
smile, and lose the game because we have begun by being anvils, and are
afraid of trying to be hammers.

But Etta Sydney Bamborough had to deal with metal of a harder grain than
the majority of us. Claude de Chauxville was for the moment forced to
assume the humble role of anvil because he had no choice. Maggie
Delafield was passive for the time being, because that which would make
her active was no more than a tiny seedling in her heart. The girl bid
fair to be one of those women who develop late, who ripen slowly, like
the best fruit.

During the drive to the opera house the two women in Etta's snug little
brougham were silent. Etta had her thoughts to occupy her. She was at
the crucial point of a difficult game. She could not afford to allow
even a friend to see so much as the corners of the cards she held.

In the luxurious box it was easily enough arranged--Etta and Paul
together in front, De Chauxville and Maggie at the other corner of the
box.

"I have asked my friend Karl Steinmetz to come in during the evening,"
said Paul to Etta when they were seated. "He is anxious to make your
acquaintance. He is my--prime minister over in Russia."

Etta smiled graciously.

"It is kind of him," she answered, "to be anxious to make my
acquaintance."

She was apparently listening to the music; in reality she was hurrying
back mentally over half a dozen years. She had never had much to do with
the stout German philosopher, but she knew enough of him to scorn the
faint hope that he might have forgotten her name and her individuality.
Etta Bamborough had never been disconcerted in her life yet; this
incident came very near to bringing about the catastrophe.

"At what time," she asked, "is he coming in?"

"About half-past nine."

Etta had a watch on a bracelet on her arm. Such women always know the
time.

It was a race, and Etta won it. She had only half an hour. De Chauxville
was there, and Maggie with her quiet, honest eyes. But the widow of
Sydney Bamborough made Paul ask her to be his wife, and she promised to
give him his answer later. She did it despite a thousand difficulties
and more than one danger--accomplished it with, as the sporting people
say, plenty to spare--before the door behind them was opened by the
attendant, and Karl Steinmetz, burly, humorously imperturbable and
impenetrable, stood smiling gravely on the situation.

He saw Claude de Chauxville, and before the Frenchman had turned round
the expression on Steinmetz's large and placid countenance had changed
from the self-consciousness usually preceding an introduction to one of
a dim recognition.

"I have had the pleasure of meeting madame somewhere before, I think. In
St. Petersburg, was it not?"

Etta, composed and smiling, said that it was so, and introduced him to
Maggie. De Chauxville took the opportunity of leaving that young lady's
side, and placing himself near enough to Paul and Etta to completely
frustrate any further attempts at confidential conversation.

For a moment Steinmetz and Paul were left standing together.

"I have had a telegram," said Steinmetz in Russian. "We must go back to
Tver. There is cholera again. When can you come?"

Beneath his heavy mustache Paul bit his lip.

"In three days," he answered.

"True? You will come with me?" enquired Steinmetz, under cover of the
clashing music.

"Of course."

Steinmetz looked at him curiously. He glanced toward Etta, but he said
nothing.




CHAPTER VIII


SAFE!

The season wore on to its perihelion--a period, the scientific books
advise us, of the highest clang and crash of speed and whirl, of the
greatest brilliancy and deepest glow of a planet's existence. The
business of life, the pursuit of pleasure, and the scientific demolition
of our common enemy, Time, received all the care which such matters
require.

Debutantes bloomed and were duly culled by aged connoisseurs of such
wares, or by youthful aspirants with the means to pay the piper in the
form of a handsome settlement. The usual number of young persons of the
gentler sex entered the lists of life, with the mistaken notion that it
is love that makes the world go round, to ride away from the joust wiser
and sadder women.

There was the same round of conventional pleasures which the reader and
his humble servant have mixed in deeply or dilettante, according to his
taste or capacity for such giddy work. There was withal the usual
heart-burning, heart-bartering, heart--anything you will but breaking.
For we have not breaking hearts among us to-day. Providence, it would
seem, has run short of the commodity, and deals out only a few among a
number of persons.

Amid the whirl of rout, and ball, and picnic, race-meeting, polo-match,
and what-not, Paul Howard Alexis stalked misunderstood, distrusted; an
object of ridicule to some, of pity to others, of impatience to all. A
man, if it please you, with a purpose--a purpose at the latter end of
the nineteenth century, when most of us, having decided that there is no
future, take it upon ourselves to despise the present.

Paul soon discovered that he was found out--at no time a pleasant
condition of things, except, indeed, when callers are about. That which
Eton and Cambridge had failed to lay their fingers upon, every
match-making mother had found out for herself in a week. That the
discovery had been carefully kept in each maternal breast, it is
needless to relate. Ces dames are not confidential upon such matters
between themselves. When they have scented their game they stalk him,
and if possible bag him in a feline solitude which has no fears for
stout, ambitious hearts. The fear is that some other prowling mother of
an eligible maiden may hit upon the same scent.

Paul was invited to quiet dinners and a little music, to quiet dinners
without the music, to a very little music and no dinner whatever. The
number of ladies who had a seat in a box thrown upon their hands at the
last minute--a seat next to Angelina in her new pink, or Blanche in her
sweet poult de soie--the number of these ladies one can only say was
singular, because politeness forbids one to suggest that it was
suspicious. Soft cheeks became rosy at his approach--partly, perhaps,
because soft and dainty toes in satin slippers were trodden upon with
maternal emphasis at that moment. Soft eyes looked love into eyes that,
alas! only returned preoccupation. There was always room on an
engagement card for Paul's name. There was always space in the smallest
drawing-room for Paul's person, vast though the latter was. There
was--fond mothers conveyed it to him subtly after supper and
champagne--an aching void in more than one maiden heart which was his
exact fit.

But Paul was at once too simple and too clever for matron and maid
alike. Too simple, because he failed to understand the inner meaning of
many pleasant things that the guileless fair one said to him. Too
clever, because he met the subtle matron with the only arm she feared, a
perfect honesty. And when at last he obtained his answer from the coy
and hesitating Etta, there was no gossip in London who could put forward
a just cause or impediment.

Etta gave him the answer one evening at the house of a mutual friend,
where a multitude of guests had assembled ostensibly to hear certain
celebrated singers, apparently to whisper recriminations on their
entertainer's champagne. It was a dull business--except, indeed, for
Paul Howard Alexis. As for the lady--the only lady his honest, simple
world contained--who shall say? Inwardly she may have been in trembling,
coy alarm, in breathless, blushing hesitation. Outwardly she was,
however, exceedingly composed and self-possessed. She had been as
careful as ever of her toilet--as hard to please; as--dare we say
snappish with her maids? The beautiful hair had no one of its aureate
threads out of place. The pink of her shell-like cheek was steady,
unruffled, fair to behold. Her whole demeanor was admirable in its
well-bred repose. Did she love him? Was it in her power to love any man?
Not the humble chronicler--not any man, perhaps, and but few women--can
essay an answer. Suffice it that she accepted him. In exchange for the
title he could give her, the position he could assure to her, the wealth
he was ready to lavish upon her, and, lastly, let us mention, in the
effete, old-fashioned way, the love he bore her--in exchange for these
she gave him her hand.

Thus Etta Sydney Bamborough was enabled to throw down her cards at last
and win the game she had played so skilfully. The widow of an obscure
little Foreign Office clerk, she might have been a baroness, but she put
the smaller honor aside and aspired to a prince. Behind the gay smile
there must have been a quick and resourceful brain, daring to scheme,
intrepid in execution. Within the fair breast there must have been a
heart resolute, indomitable, devoid of weak scruple. Mark the last. It
is the scruple that keeps the reader and his humble servant from being
greater men than they are.

"Yes," says Etta, allowing Paul to take her perfectly gloved hand in his
great, steady grasp; "yes, I have my answer ready."

They were alone in the plashy solitude of an inner conservatory, between
the songs of the great singers. She was half afraid of this strong man,
for he had strange ways with him--not uncouth, but unusual and somewhat
surprising in a finnicking, emotionless generation.

"And what is it?" whispers Paul eagerly. Ah! what fools men are--what
fools they always will be!

Etta gave a little nod, looking shamefacedly down at the pattern of her
lace fan.

"Is that it?" he asked breathlessly.

The nod was repeated, and Paul Howard Alexis was thereby made the
happiest man in England. She half expected him to take her in his arms,
despite the temporary nature of their solitude. Perhaps she half wished
it; for behind her business-like and exceedingly practical appreciation
of his wealth there lurked a very feminine curiosity and interest in his
feelings--a curiosity somewhat whetted by the manifold differences that
existed between him and the society lovers with whom she had hitherto
played the pretty game.

But Paul contented himself with raising the gloved fingers to his lips,
restrained by a feeling of respect for her which she would not have
understood and probably did not merit.

"But," she said with a sudden smile, "I take no responsibility. I am not
very sure that it will be a success. I can only try to make you
happy--goodness knows if I shall succeed!"

"You have only to be yourself to do that," he answered, with lover-like
promptness and a blindness which is the special privilege of those happy
fools.

She gave a strange little smile.

"But how do I know that our lives will harmonize in the least? I know
nothing of your daily existence; where you live--where you want to
live."

"I should like to live mostly in Russia," he answered honestly.

Her expression did not change. It merely fixed itself as one sees the
face of a watching cat fix itself, when the longed for mouse shows a
whisker.

"Ah!" she said lightly, confident in her own power; "that will arrange
itself later."

"I am glad I am rich," said Paul simply, "because I shall be able to
give you all you want. There are many little things that add to a
woman's comfort; I shall find them out and see that you have them."

"Are you so very rich, Paul?" she asked, with an innocent wonder. "But I
don't think it matters; do you? I do not think that riches have much to
do with happiness."

"No," he answered. He was not a person with many theories upon life or
happiness or such matters--which, by the way, are in no way affected by
theories. By taking thought we cannot add a cubit to the height of our
happiness. We can only undermine its base by too searching an analysis
of that upon which it is built.

So Paul replied "No," and took pleasure in looking at her, as any lover
must needs have done.

"Except, of course," she said, "that one may do good with great riches."

She gave a little sigh, as if deploring the misfortune that hitherto her
own small means had fallen short of the happy point at which one may
begin doing good.

"Are you so very rich, Paul?" she repeated, as if she was rather afraid
of those riches and mistrusted them.

"Oh, I suppose so. Horribly rich!"

She had withdrawn her hand. She gave it to him again, with a pretty
movement usually understood to indicate bashfulness.

"It can't be helped," she said. "We"--she dwelt upon the word ever so
slightly--"we can perhaps do a little good with it."

Then suddenly he blurted out all his wishes on this point--his quixotic
aims, the foolish imaginings of a too chivalrous soul. She listened,
prettily eager, sweetly compassionate of the sorrows of the peasantry
whom he made the object of his simple pity. Her gray eyes contracted
with horror when he told her of the misery with which he was too
familiar. Her pretty lips quivered when he told her of little children
born only to starve because their mothers were starving. She laid her
gloved fingers gently on his when he recounted tales of strong men--good
fathers in their simple, barbarous way--who were well content that the
children should die rather than be saved to pass a miserable existence,
without joy, without hope.

She lifted her eyes with admiration to his face when he told her what he
hoped to do, what he dreamed of accomplishing. She even made a few
eager, heartfelt suggestions, fitly coming from a woman--touched with a
woman's tenderness, lightened by a woman's sympathy and knowledge.

It was in its way a tragedy, the picture we are called to look
upon--these newly made lovers, not talking of themselves, as is the
time-honored habit of such. Surrounded by every luxury, both high-born,
refined, and wealthy; both educated, both intelligent. He,
simple-minded, earnest, quite absorbed in his happiness, because that
happiness seemed to fall in so easily with the busier, and, as some
might say, the nobler side of his ambition. She, failing to understand
his aspirations, thinking only of his wealth.

"But," she said at length, "shall you--we--be allowed to do all this? I
thought that such schemes were not encouraged in Russia. It is such a
pity to pauperize the people."

"You cannot pauperize a man who has absolutely nothing," replied Paul.
"Of course, we shall have difficulties; but, together, I think we shall
be able to overcome them."

Etta smiled sympathetically, and the smile finished up, as it were, with
a gleam very like amusement. She had been vouchsafed for a moment a
vision of herself in some squalid Russian village, in a hideous
Russian-made tweed dress, dispensing the necessaries of life to a people
only little raised above the beasts of the field. The vision made her
smile, as well it might. In Petersburg life might be tolerable for a
little in the height of the season--for a few weeks of the brilliant
Northern winter--but in no other part of Russia could she dream of
dwelling.

They sat and talked of their future as lovers will, knowing as little of
it as any of us, building up castles in the air, such edifices as we
have all constructed, destined, no doubt, to the same rapid collapse as
some of us have quailed under. Paul, with lamentable honesty, talked
almost as much of his stupid peasants as of his beautiful companion,
which pleased her not too well. Etta, with a strange persistence,
brought the conversation ever back and back to the house in London, the
house in Petersburg, the great grim castle in the Government of Tver,
and the princely rent-roll. And once on the subject of Tver, Paul could
scarce be brought to leave it.

"I am going back there," he said at length.

"When?" she asked, with a composure which did infinite credit to her
modest reserve. Her love was jealously guarded. It lay too deep to be
disturbed by the thought that her lover would leave her soon.

"To-morrow," was his answer.

She did not speak at once. Should she try the extent of her power over
him? Never was lover so chivalrous, so respectful, so sincere. Should
she gauge the height of her supremacy? If it proved less powerful than
she suspected, she would at all events be credited with a very natural
aversion to parting from him.

"Paul," she said, "you cannot do that. Not so soon. I cannot let you
go."

He flushed up to the eyes suddenly, like a girl. There was a little
pause, and the color slowly left his face. Somehow that pause frightened
Etta.

"I am afraid I must go," he said gravely at length.

"Must--a prince?"

"It is on that account," he replied.

"Then I am to conclude that you are more devoted to your peasants than
to--me?"

He assured her to the contrary. She tried once again, but nothing could
move him from his decision. Etta was perhaps a small-minded person, and
as such failed to attach due importance to this proof that her power
over him was limited. It ceased, in fact, to exist as soon as it touched
that strong sense of duty which is to be found in many men and in
remarkably few women.

It almost seemed as if the abrupt departure of her lover was in some
sense a relief to Etta Sydney Bamborough. For, while he, lover-like, was
grave and earnest during the small remainder of the evening, she
continued to be sprightly and gay. The last he saw of her was her
smiling face at the window as her carriage drove away.

Arrived at the little house in Upper Brook Street, Maggie and Etta went
into the drawing-room, where biscuits and wine were set out. Their maids
came and took their cloaks away, leaving them alone.

"Paul and I are engaged," said Etta suddenly. She was picking the
withered flowers from her dress and throwing them carelessly on the
table.

Maggie was standing with her back to her, with her two hands on the
mantel-piece. She was about to turn round when she caught sight of her
own face in the mirror, and that which she saw there made her change her
intention.

"I am not surprised," she said, in an even voice, standing like a
statue. "I congratulate you. I think he is--nice."

"You also think he is too good for me," said Etta, with a little laugh.
There was something in that laugh--a ring of wounded vanity, the wounded
vanity of a bad woman who is in the presence of her superior.

"No!" answered Maggie slowly, tracing the veins of the marble across the
mantel-piece. "No--o, not that."

Etta looked up at her. It was rather singular that she did not ask what
Maggie did think. Perhaps she was afraid of a certain British honesty
which characterized the girl's thought and speech. Instead she rose and
indulged in a yawn which may have been counterfeit, but it was a good
counterfeit.

"Will you have a biscuit?" she said.

"No, thanks."

"Then shall we go to bed?"

"Yes."




CHAPTER IX


THE PRINCE

The village of Osterno, lying, or rather scrambling, along the banks of
the river Oster, is at no time an exhilarating spot. It is a large
village, numbering over nine hundred souls, as the board affixed to its
first house testifieth in incomprehensible Russian figures.

A "soul," be it known, is a different object in the land of the Czars to
that vague protoplasm about which our young persons think such mighty
thoughts, our old men write such famous big books. A soul is namely a
man--in Russia the women have not yet begun to seek their rights and
lose their privileges. A man is therefore a "soul" in Russia, and as
such enjoys the doubtful privilege of contributing to the land-tax and
to every other tax. In compensation for the first-named impost he is
apportioned his share of the common land of the village, and by the
cultivation of this ekes out an existence which would be valueless if he
were a teetotaller. It is melancholy to have to record this fact in the
pages of a respectable volume like the present; but facts--as the orator
who deals in fiction is ever ready to announce--facts cannot be ignored.
And any man who has lived in Russia, has dabbled in Russian humanity,
and noted the singular unattractiveness of Russian life--any such man
can scarcely deny the fact that if one deprives the moujik of his
privilege of getting gloriously and frequently intoxicated, one takes
away from that same moujik the one happiness of his existence.

That the Russian peasant is by nature one of the cheeriest, the
noisiest, and lightest-hearted of men is only another proof of the
Creator's power; for this dimly lighted "soul" has nothing to cheer him
on his forlorn way but the memory of the last indulgence in strong drink
and the hope of more to come. He is harassed by a ruthless
tax-collector; he is shut off from the world by enormous distances over
impracticable roads. When the famine comes, and come it assuredly will,
the moujik has no alternative but to stay where he is and starve. Since
Alexander II. of philanthropic memory made the Russian serf a free man,
the blessings of freedom have been found to resolve themselves chiefly
into a perfect liberty to die of starvation, of cold, or of dire
disease. When he was a serf this man was of some small value to some
one; now he is of no consequence to any one whatsoever except himself,
and, with considerable intelligence, he sets but small store upon his
own existence. Freedom, in fact, came to him before he was ready for it;
and, hampered as he has been by petty departmental tyranny, governmental
neglect, and a natural stupidity, he has made very small progress toward
a mental independence. All that he has learnt to do is to hate his
tyrants. When famine urges him, he goes blindly, helplessly, dumbly, and
tries to take by force that which is denied by force.

With us in England the poor man raises up his voice and cries aloud when
he wants something. He always wants something--never work, by the
way--and therefore his voice pervades the atmosphere. He has his evening
newspaper, which is dear at the moderate sum of a halfpenny. He has his
professional organizers, and his Trafalgar Square. He even has his
members of Parliament. He does no work, and he does not starve. In his
generation the poor man thinks himself wise. In Russia, however, things
are managed differently. The poor man is under the heel of the rich.
Some day there will be in Russia a Terror, but not yet. Some day the
moujik will erect unto himself a rough sort of a guillotine, but not in
our day. Perhaps some of us who are young men now may dimly read in our
dotage of a great upheaval beside which the Terror of France will be
tame and uneventful. Who can tell? When a country begins to grow, its
mental development is often startlingly rapid.

But we have to do with Russia of to-day, and the village of Osterno in
the Government of Tver. Not a "famine" Government, mind you! For these
are the Volga Provinces--Samara, Pensa, Voronish, Vintka, and a dozen
others. No! Tver the civilized, the prosperous, the manufacturing
centre.

Osterno is built of wood. Should it once fairly catch alight in a high
wind, all that will be left of this town will be a few charred timbers
and some dazed human beings. The inhabitants know their own danger, and
endeavor to meet it in their fatalistic manner. Each village has its
fire organization. Each "soul" has his appointed place, his appointed
duty, and his special contribution--be it bucket or rope or ladder--to
bring to the conflagration. But no one ever dreams of being sober and
vigilant at the right time, so the organization, like many larger such,
is a broken reed.

The street, bounded on either side by low wooden houses, is, singularly
enough, well paved. This, the traveller is told, by the tyrant Prince
Pavlo, who made the road because he did not like driving over ruts and
through puddles--the usual Russian rural thoroughfare. Not because
Prince Pavlo wanted to give the peasants work, not because he wanted to
save them from starvation--not at all, although, in the gratification of
his own whim, he happened to render those trifling services; but merely
because he was a great "barin"--a prince who could have any thing he
desired. Had not the other barin--Steinmetz by name--superintended the
work? Steinmetz the hated, the loathed, the tool of the tyrant whom they
never see. Ask the "starost"--the mayor of the village. He knows the
barins, and hates them.

Michael Roon, the starosta or elder of Osterno, president of the Mir, or
village council, principal shopkeeper, mayor and only intelligent soul
of the nine hundred, probably had Tartar blood in his veins. To this
strain may be attributed the narrow Tartar face, the keen black eyes,
the short, spare figure which many remember to this day, although
Michael Roon has been dead these many years.

Removed far above the majority of his fellow-villagers in intelligence
and energy, this man administered the law of his own will to his
colleagues on the village council.

It was late in the autumn, one evening remembered by many for its
death-roll, that the starosta was standing at the door of his small
shop. He was apparently idle. He never sold vodka, and the majority of
the villagers were in one of the three thriving "kabaks" which drove a
famous trade in strong drink and weak tea. It was a very hot evening.
The sun had set in a pink haze which was now turning to an unhealthy
gray, and spreading over the face of the western sky like the shadow of
death across the human countenance.

The starosta shook his head forebodingly. It was cholera weather.
Cholera had come to Osterno. Had come, the starosta thought, to stay. It
had settled down in Osterno, and nothing but the winter frosts would
kill it, when hunger-typhus would undoubtedly succeed it.

Therefore the starosta shook his head at the sunset, and forgot to
regret the badness of the times from a commercial point of view. He had
done all he could. He had notified to the Zemstvo the condition of his
village. He had made the usual appeal for help, which had been forwarded
in the usual way to Tver, where it had apparently been received with the
usual philosophic silence.

But Michael Roon had also telegraphed to Karl Steinmetz, and since the
despatch of this message had the starosta dropped into the habit of
standing at his doorway in the evening, with his hands clasped behind
his back and his beady black eyes bent westward along the prince's
high-road.

On the particular evening with which we have to do the beady eyes looked
not in vain; for presently, far along the road, appeared a black speck
like an insect crawling over the face of a map.

"Ah!" said the starosta. "Ah! he never fails."

Presently a neighbor dropped in to buy some of the dried leaf which the
starosta, honest tradesman, called tea. He found the purveyor of
Cathay's produce at the door.

"Ah!" he said, in a voice thick with vodka. "You see something on the
road?"

"Yes."

"A cart?"

"No, a carriage. It moves too quickly."

A strange expression came over the peasant's face, at no time a pleasing
physiognomy. The bloodshot eyes flared up suddenly like a smouldering
flame in brown paper. The unsteady, drink-sodden lips twitched. The man
threw up his shaggy head, upon which hair and beard mingled in unkempt
confusion. He glared along the road with eyes and face aglow with a
sullen, beast-like hatred.

"A carriage! Then it is for the castle."

"Possibly," answered the starosta.

"The prince--curse him, curse his mother's soul, curse his wife's
offspring!"

"Yes," said the starosta quietly. "Yes, curse him and all his works.
What is it you want, little father--tea?"

He turned into the shop and served his customer, duly inscribing the
debt among others in a rough, cheap book.

The word soon spread that a carriage was coming along the road from
Tver. All the villagers came to the doors of their dilapidated wooden
huts. Even the kabaks were emptied for a time. As the vehicle approached
it became apparent that the horses were going at a great pace; not only
was the loose horse galloping, but also the pair in the shafts. The
carriage was an open one, an ordinary North Russian travelling carriage,
not unlike the vehicle we call the victoria, set on high wheels.

Beside the driver on the box sat another servant. In the open carriage
sat one man only, Karl Steinmetz.

As he passed through the village a murmur of many voices followed him,
not quite drowned by the rattle of his wheels, the clatter of the
horses' feet. The murmur was a curse. Karl Steinmetz heard it
distinctly. It made him smile with a queer expression beneath his great
gray mustache.

The starosta, standing in his door-way, saw the smile. He raised his
voice with his neighbors and cursed. As Steinmetz passed him he gave a
little jerk of the head toward the castle. The jerk of the head might
have been due to an inequality of the road, but it might also convey an
appointment. The keen, haggard face of Michael Roon showed no sign of
mutual understanding. And the carriage rattled on through the stricken
village.

Two hours later, when it was quite dark, a closed carriage, with two
bright lamps flaring into the night, passed through the village toward
the castle at a gallop.

"It is the prince," the peasants said, crouching in their low door-ways.
"It is the prince. We know his bells--they are of silver--and we shall
starve during the winter. Curse him--curse him!"

They raised their heads and listened to the galloping feet with the
patient, dumb despair which is the curse of the Slavonic race. Some of
them crept to their doors, and, looking up, saw that the castle windows
were ablaze with light. If Paul Howard Alexis was a plain English
gentleman in London, he was also a great prince in his country, keeping
up a princely state, enjoying the gilded solitude that belongs to the
high-born. His English education had educed a strict sense of
discipline, and as in England, and, indeed, all through his life, so in
Russia did he attempt to do his duty.

The carriage rattled up to the brilliantly lighted door, which stood
open, and within, on either side of the broad entrance-hall, the
servants stood to welcome their master. A strange, picturesque, motley
crew: the majordomo, in his black coat, and beside him the other
house-servants--tall, upright fellows, in their bright livery. Beyond
them the stable-men and keepers, a little army, in red cloth tunics,
with wide trousers tucked into high boots, all holding their fur caps in
their hands, standing stiffly at attention, clean, honest, and not too
intelligent.

The castle of Osterno is built on the lines of many Russian country
seats, and not a few palaces in Moscow. The Royal Palace in the Kremlin
is an example. A broad entrance-hall, at the back of which a staircase
as broad stretches up to a gallery, around which the dwelling-rooms are
situated. At the head of the staircase, directly facing the
entrance-hall, high folding doors disclose the drawing-room, which is
almost a throne room. All gorgeous, lofty, spacious, as only Russian
houses are. Truly this northern empire, this great white land, is a
country in which it is good to be an emperor, a prince, a noble, but not
a poor man.

Paul passed through the ranks of his retainers, himself a head taller
than the tallest footman, a few inches broader than the sturdiest
keeper. He acknowledged the low bows by a quick nod, and passed up the
staircase. Steinmetz--in evening dress, wearing the insignia of one or
two orders which he had won in the more active days of his earlier
diplomatic life--was waiting for him at the head of the stairs.

The two men bowed gravely to each other. Steinmetz threw open the door
of the great room and stood aside. The prince passed on, and the German
followed him, each playing his part gravely, as men in high places are
called to do. When the door was closed behind them and they were alone,
there was no relaxation, no smile of covert derision. These men knew the
Russian character thoroughly. There is, be it known, no more
impressionable man on the face of God's earth. Paul and Steinmetz had
played their parts so long that these came to be natural to them as soon
as they passed the Volga. We are all so in a minor degree. In each
house, to each of our friends, we are unconsciously different in some
particular. One man holds us in awe, and we unconsciously instil that
feeling. Another considers us a buffoon, and, lo! we are exceedingly
funny.

Paul and Steinmetz knew that the people around them in Osterno were
somewhat like the dumb and driven beast. These peasants required
overawing by a careful display of pomp--an unrelaxed dignity. The line
of demarcation between the noble and the peasant is so marked in the
land of the Czar that it is difficult for Englishmen to realize or
believe it. It is like the line that is drawn between us and our dogs.
If we suppose it possible that dogs could be taught to act and think for
themselves; if we take such a development as practicable, and consider
the possibilities of social upheaval lying behind such an education, we
can in a minute degree realize the problem which Prince Pavlo Alexis and
all his fellow-nobles will be called upon to solve within the lifetime
of men already born.




CHAPTER X


THE MOSCOW DOCTOR

"Colossal!" exclaimed Steinmetz, beneath his breath. With a little trick
of the tongue he transferred his cigar from the right-hand to the
left-hand corner of his mouth. "Colossal--l!" he repeated.

For a moment Paul looked up from the papers spread out on the table
before him--looked with the preoccupied air of a man who is adding up
something in his mind. Then he returned to his occupation. He had been
at this work for four hours without a break. It was nearly one o'clock
in the morning. Since dinner Karl Steinmetz had consumed no less than
five cigars, while he had not spoken five words. These two men, locked
in a small room in the middle of the castle of Osterno--a room with no
window, but which gained its light from the clear heaven by a shaft and
a skylight on the roof--locked in thus they had been engaged in the
addition of an enormous mass of figures. Each sheet had been carefully
annotated and added by Steinmetz, and as each was finished he handed it
to his companion.

"Is that fool never coming?" asked Paul, with an impatient glance at the
clock.

"Our very dear friend the starosta," replied Steinmetz, "is no slave to
time. He is late."

The room had the appearance of an office. There were two safes--square
chests such as we learn to associate with the name of Griffiths in this
country. There was a huge writing-table--a double table--at which Paul
and Steinmetz were seated. There were sundry stationery cases and an
almanac or so suspended on the walls, which were oaken panels. A large
white stove--common to all Russian rooms--stood against the wall. The
room had no less than three doors, with a handle on no one of them. Each
door opened with a key, like a cupboard.

Steinmetz had apparently finished his work. He was sitting back in his
chair, contemplating his companion with a little smile. It apparently
tickled some obtuse Teutonic sense of humor to see this prince doing
work which is usually assigned to clerks--working out statistics and
abstruse calculations as to how much food is required to keep body and
soul together.

The silence of the room was almost oppressive. A Russian village after
nightfall is the quietest human habitation on earth. For the moujik--the
native of a country which will some day supply the universe with
petroleum--cannot afford to light up his humble abode, and therefore
sits in darkness. Had the village of Osterno possessed the liveliness of
a Spanish hamlet, the sound of voices and laughter could not have
reached the castle perched high up on the rock above.

But Osterno was asleep: the castle servants had long gone to rest, and
the great silence of Russia wrapped its wings over all. "When,
therefore, the clear, coughing bark of a wolf was heard, both occupants
of the little room looked up. The sound was repeated, and Steinmetz
slowly rose from his seat.

"I can quite believe that our friend is able to call a wolf or a lynx to
him," he said. "He does it uncannily well."

"I have seen him do so," said Paul, without looking up. "But it is a
common enough accomplishment among the keepers."

Steinmetz had left the room before he finished speaking. One of the
doors of this little room communicated with a large apartment used as a
secretary's office, and through this by a small staircase with a side
entrance to the castle. By this side entrance the stewards of the
different outlying estates were conducted to the presence of the
resident secretary--a German selected and overawed by Karl Steinmetz--a
mere calculating machine of a man, with whom we have no affairs to
transact.

Before many minutes had elapsed Steinmetz came back, closely followed by
the starosta, whose black eyes twinkled and gleamed in the sudden light
of the lamp. He dropped on his knees when he saw Paul--suddenly,
abjectly, like an animal, in his dumb attitude of deprecation.

With a jerk of his head Paul bade him rise, which the man did, standing
back against the panelled wall, placing as great a distance between
himself and the prince as the size of the room would allow.

"Well," said Paul curtly, almost roughly, "I hear you are in trouble in
the village."

"The cholera has come, Excellency."

"Many deaths?"

"To-day--eleven."

Paul looked up sharply.

"And the doctor?"

"He has not come yet, Excellency. I sent for him--a fortnight ago. The
cholera is at Oseff, at Dolja, at Kalisheffa. It is everywhere. He has
forty thousand souls under his care. He has to obey the Zemstvo, to go
where they tell him. He takes no notice of me."

"Yes," interrupted Paul, "I know. And the people themselves, do they
attempt to understand it--to follow out my instructions?"

The starosta spread out his thin hands in deprecation. He cringed a
little as he stood. He had Jewish blood in his veins, which, while it
raised him above his fellows in Osterno, carried with it the usual
tendency to cringe. It is in the blood; it is part of what the people
who stood without Pilate's palace took upon themselves and upon their
children.

"Your Excellency," he said, "knows what they are. It is slow. They make
no progress. For them one disease is as another. 'Bog dal e Bog vzial,'
they say. 'God gave and God took!'"

He paused, his black eyes flashing from one face to the other.

"Only the Moscow doctor, Excellency," he said significantly, "can manage
them."

Paul shrugged his shoulders. He rose from his seat, glancing at
Steinmetz, who was looking on in silence, with his queer, mocking smile.

"I will go with you now," he said. "It is late enough already."

The starosta bowed very low, but he said nothing.

Paul went to a cupboard and took from it an old fur coat, dragged at the
seams, stained about the cuffs a dull brown--doctors know the color.
Such stains have hanged a man before now, for they are the marks of
blood. Paul put on this coat. He took a long, soft silken scarf such as
Russians wear in winter, and wrapped it round his throat, quite
concealing the lower part of his face. He crammed a fur cap down over
his ears.

"Come," he said.

Karl Steinmetz accompanied them down stairs, carrying a lamp in one
hand. He closed the door behind them, but did not lock it. Then he went
upstairs again to the quiet little room, where he sat down in a deep
chair. He looked at the open door of the cupboard from which Paul Alexis
had taken his simple disguise, with a large, tolerant humor.

"El Senor Don Quixote de la Mancha," he said sleepily.

It is said that to a doctor nothing is shocking and nothing is
disgusting. But doctors are, after all, only men of stomach like the
rest of us, and it is to be presumed that what nauseates one will
nauseate the other. When the starosta unceremoniously threw open the
door of the miserable cabin belonging to Vasilli Tula, Paul gave a
little gasp. The foul air pouring out of the noisome den was such that
it seemed impossible that human lungs could assimilate it. This Vasilli
Tula was a notorious drunkard, a discontent, a braggart. The Nihilist
propaganda had in the early days of that mistaken mission reached him
and unsettled his discontented mind. Misfortune seemed to pursue him. In
higher grades of life than his there are men who, like Tula, make a
profession of misfortune.

Paul stumbled down two steps. The cottage was dark. The starosta had
apparently trodden on a chicken, which screamed shrilly and fluttered
about in the dark with that complete abandon which belongs to chickens,
sheep, and some women.

"Have you no light?" cried the starosta.

Paul retreated to the top step, where he had a short-lived struggle with
a well-grown calf which had been living in the room with the family, and
evinced a very creditable desire for fresh air.

"Yes, yes, we have a little petroleum," said a voice. "But we have no
matches."

The starosta struck a light.

"I have brought the Moscow doctor to see you."

"The Moscow doctor!" cried several voices. "Sbogom--sbogom! God be with
you!"

In the dim light the whole of the floor seemed to get up and shake
itself. There were at least seven persons sleeping in the hut. Two of
them did not get up. One was dead. The other was dying of cholera.

A heavily built man reached down from the top of the brick stove a cheap
tin paraffin lamp, which he handed to the starosta. By the light of this
Paul came again into the hut. The floor was filthy, as may be imagined,
for beasts and human beings lived here together.

The man--Vasilli Tula--threw himself down on his knees, clawing at
Paul's coat with great unwashed hands, whining out a tale of sorrow and
misfortune. In a moment they were all on their knees, clinging to him,
crying to him for help: Tula himself, a wild-looking Slav of fifty or
thereabouts; his wife, haggard, emaciated, horrible to look upon, for
she was toothless and almost blind; two women and a loutish boy of
sixteen.

Paul pushed his way, not unkindly, toward the corner where the two
motionless forms lay half concealed by a mass of ragged sheepskin.

"Here," he said, "this woman is dead. Take her out. When will you learn
to be clean? This boy may live--with care. Bring the light closer,
little mother. So, it is well. He will live. Come, don't sit crying.
Take all these rags out and burn them. All of you go out. It is a fine
night. You are better in the cart-shed than here. Here, you, Tula, go
round with the starosta to his store. He will give you clean blankets."

They obeyed him blindly. Tula and one of the young women (his daughters)
dragged the dead body, which was that of a very old woman, out into the
night. The starosta had retired to the door-way when the lamp was
lighted, his courage having failed him. The air was foul with the reek
of smoke and filth and infection.

"Come, Vasilli Tula," the village elder said, with suspicious eagerness.
"Come with me, I will give you what the good doctor says. Though you owe
me money, and you never try to pay me."

But Tula was kissing and mumbling over the hem of Paul's coat. Paul took
no notice of him.

"We are starving, Excellency," the man was saying. "I can get no work. I
had to sell my horse in the winter, and I cannot plough my little piece
of land. The Government will not help us. The Prince--curse him!--does
nothing for us. He lives in Petersburg, where he spends all his money,
and has food and wine more than he wants. The Count Stepan Lanovitch
used to assist us--God be with him! But he has been sent to Siberia
because he helped the peasants. He was like you; he was a great barin, a
great noble, and yet he helped the peasants."

Paul turned round sharply and shook the man off.

"Go," he said, "with the starosta and get what I tell you. A great,
strong fellow like you has no business on his knees to any man! I will
not help you unless you help yourself. You are a lazy good-for-nothing.
Get out!"

He pushed him out of the hut, and kicked after him a few rags of
clothing which were lying about on the floor, all filthy and slimy.

"Good God!" muttered he under his breath, in English, "that a place like
this should exist beneath the very walls of Osterno!"

From hut to hut he went all through that night on his mission of
mercy--without enthusiasm, without high-flown notions respecting
mankind, but with the simple sense of duty that was his. These people
were his things--his dumb and driven beasts. In his heart there may have
existed a grudge against the Almighty for placing him in a position
which was not only intensely disagreeable, but also somewhat ridiculous.
For he did not dare to tell his friends of these things. He had spoken
of them to no man except Karl Steinmetz, who was in a sense his
dependent. English public school and university had instilled into him
the intensely British feeling of shame respecting good works. He could
take chaff as well as any man, for he was grave by habit, and a grave
man receives the most chaff most good-humoredly. But he had a nervous
dread of being found out. He had made a sort of religion of suppressing
the fact that he was a prince; the holy of holies of this cult was the
fact that he was a prince who sought to do good to his neighbor--a
prince in whom one might repose trust.

This was not the first time by any number that he had gone down into his
own village insisting in a rough-and-ready way on cleanliness and
purity.

"The Moscow doctor"--the peasants would say in the kabak over their
vodka and their tea--"the Moscow doctor comes in and kicks our beds out
of the door. He comes in and throws our furniture into the street But
afterward he gives us new beds and new furniture."

It was a joke that always obtained in the kabak. It flavored the vodka,
and with that fiery poison served to raise a laugh.

The Moscow doctor was looked upon in Osterno and in many neighboring
villages as second only to God. In fact, many of the peasants placed him
before their Creator. They were stupid, vodka-soddened, hapless men. The
Moscow doctor they could see for themselves. He came in, a very tangible
thing of flesh and blood, built on a large and manly scale; he took them
by the shoulders and bundled them out of their own houses, kicking their
bedding after them. He scolded them, he rated them and abused them. He
brought them food and medicine. He understood the diseases which from
time to time swept over their villages. No cold was too intense for him
to brave should they be in distress. He asked no money, and he gave
none. But they lived on his charity, and they were wise enough to know
it.

What wonder if these poor wretches loved the man whom they could see and
hear above the God who manifested himself to them in no way! The
orthodox priests of their villages had no money to spend on their
parishioners. On the contrary, they asked for money to keep the churches
in repair. What wonder, then, if these poor ignorant, helpless peasants
would listen to no priest; for the priest could not explain to them why
it was that God sent a four-month-long winter which cut them off from
the rest of the world behind impassable barriers of snow; that God sent
them droughts in the summer so that there was no crop of rye; that God
scourged them with dread and horrible disease!

It is almost impossible for us to realize, in these days of a lamentably
cheap press and a cheaper literature, the mental condition of men and
women who have no education, no newspaper, no news of the world, no
communication with the universe. To them the mystery of the Moscow
doctor was as incomprehensible as to us is the Deity. They were so near
to the animals that Paul could not succeed in teaching them that disease
and death followed on the heels of dirt and neglect. They were too
ignorant to reason, too low down the animal scale to comprehend things
which some of the dumb animals undoubtedly recognize.

Paul Alexis, half Russian, half English, understood these people very
thoroughly. He took advantage of their ignorance, their simplicity,
their unfathomable superstition. He governed as no other could have
ruled them, by fear and kindness at once. He mastered them by his
vitality, the wholesome strength of his nature, his infinite
superiority. He avoided the terrible mistake of the Nihilists by
treating them as children to whom education must be given little by
little instead of throwing down before them a mass of dangerous
knowledge which their minds, unaccustomed to such strong food, are
incapable of digesting.

A British coldness of blood damped as it were the Russian quixotism
which would desire to see result follow upon action--to see the world
make quicker progress than its Creator has decreed. With very
unsatisfactory material Paul was setting in motion a great rock which
will roll down into the ages unconnected with his name, clearing a path
through a very thick forest of ignorance and tyranny.




CHAPTER XI


CATRINA

The man who carries a deceit, however innocent, with him through life is
apt to be somewhat handicapped in that unfair competition. He is like a
ship at sea with a "sprung" mainmast. A side breeze may arise at any
moment which throws him all aback and upon his beam-ends. He runs
illegitimate risks, which are things much given to dragging at a man's
mind, handicapping his thoughts.

Paul suffered in this way. It was a distinct burthen to him to play a
double part, although each was innocent enough in itself. At school, and
later on at the 'Varsity, he had consistently and steadily suppressed a
truth from friend and foe alike--namely, that he was in his own country
a prince. No great crime on the face of it; but a constant suppression
of a very small truth is as burdensome as any suggestion of falsehood.
It makes one afraid of contemptible foes, and doubtful of the value of
one's own friendship.

Paul was a simple-minded man. He was not afraid of the Russian
Government. Indeed, he cultivated a fine contempt for that august body.
But he was distinctly afraid of being found out, for that discovery
could only mean an incontinent cessation of the good work which rendered
his life happy.

The fear of being deprived of this interest in existence should
certainly have been lessened, if not quite allayed, by the fact that a
greater interest had been brought into his life in the pleasant form of
a prospective wife. When he was in London with Etta Sydney Bamborough he
did not, however, forget Osterno. He only longed for the time when he
could take Etta freely into his confidence and engage her interest in
the object of his ambition--namely, to make the huge Osterno estate into
that lump of leaven which might in time leaven the whole of the empire.

That a man is capable of sustaining two absorbing interests at once is a
matter of every-day illustration. Are we not surrounded by men who do
their work well in life, and love their wives well at home, without
allowing the one to interfere with the other? That women are capable of
the same seems exceedingly probable. But we are a race of sheep who run
after each other, guided for the moment by a catchword which will not
bear investigation, or an erroneous deduction set in alliterative verse
which clings to the mind and sways it. Thus we all think that woman's
whole existence is, and is only capable of, love, because a poet, in the
trickiness of his trade, once said so.

Now, Paul held a different opinion. He thought that Etta could manage to
love him well, as she said she did, and yet take an interest in that
which was in reality the object of his life. He intended to take the
earliest opportunity of telling her all about the work he was
endeavoring to carry out at Osterno, and the knowledge that he was
withholding something from her was a constant burden to an upright and
honest nature.

"I think," he said one morning to Steinmetz, "that I will write and tell
Mrs. Sydney Bamborough all about this place."

"I should not do that," replied Steinmetz with a leisurely promptitude.

They were alone in a great smoking-room of which the walls were hung all
round with hunting trophies. Paul was smoking a post-prandial cigar.
Steinmetz reflected gravely over a pipe. They were both reading Russian
newspapers--periodicals chiefly remarkable for that which they leave
unsaid.

"Why not?" asked Paul.

"On principle. Never tell a woman that which is not interesting enough
to magnify into a secret."

Paul turned over his newspaper. He began reading again. Then, suddenly,
he looked up.

"We are engaged to be married," he observed pointedly.

Steinmetz took his pipe from his lips slowly and imperturbably. He was a
man to whom it was no satisfaction to impart news. He either knew it
before or did not take much interest in the matter.

"That makes it worse," he said. "A woman only conceals what is bad about
her husband. If she knows anything that is likely to make other women
think that their husbands are inferior, she will tell it."

Paul laughed.

"But this is not good," he argued. "We have kept it so confoundedly
quiet that I am beginning to feel as if it is a crime."

Steinmetz uncrossed his legs, crossed them again, and then spoke after
mature reflection:

"As I understand the law of libel, a man is punished, not for telling a
lie, but for telling either the truth or a lie with malicious intent. I
imagine the Almighty will take the intent into consideration, if human
justice finds it expedient to do so!"

Paul shrugged his shoulders. Argument was not his strong point, and,
like most men who cannot argue, he was almost impervious to the
arguments of others. He recognized the necessity for secrecy--the
absolute need of a thousand little secretive precautions and disguises
which were intensely disagreeable to him. But he also grumbled at them
freely, and whenever he made such objection Karl Steinmetz grew uneasy,
as if the question which he disposed of with facile philosophy or
humorous resignation had behind it a possibility and an importance of
which he was fully aware. It was on these rare occasions that he might
have conveyed to a keen observer the impression that he was playing a
very dangerous game with a smiling countenance.

"All that we do," pursued Steinmetz, "is to bow to a lamentable
necessity for deceit. I have bowed to it all my life. It has been my
trade, perhaps. It is not our fault that we are placed in charge of four
or five thousand human beings who are no more capable of helping
themselves than are sheep. It is not our fault that the forefathers of
these sheep cut down the forests and omitted to plant more, so that the
flocks with whom we have to deal have no fuel. It is not our fault that
a most terrific winter annually renders the land unproductive for four
months. It is not our fault that the government to which we are forced
to bow--the Czar whose name lifts our hats from our heads--it is not our
fault that progress and education are taboo, and that all who endeavor
to forward the cause of humanity are promptly put away in a safe place
where they are at liberty to forward their own salvation and nothing
else. Nothing is our fault, mein lieber, in this country. We have to
make the best of adverse circumstances. We are not breaking any human
law, and in doing nothing we should be breaking a divine command."

Paul flicked the ash off his cigar. He had heard all this before. Karl
Steinmetz's words were usually more remarkable for solid thoughtfulness
than for brilliancy of conception or any great novelty of expression.

"Oh!" said Paul quietly, "I am not going to leave off. You need not fear
that. Only I shall have to tell my wife. Surely a woman could help us in
a thousand ways. There is such a lot that only a woman understands."

"Yes!" grunted Steinmetz; "and only the right sort of woman."

Paul looked up sharply.

"You must leave that to me," he said.

"My very dear friend, I leave every thing to you."

Paul smiled.

There was no positive proof that this was not strictly true. There was
no saying that Karl Steinmetz did not leave every thing to every-body.
But wise people thought differently.

"You don't know Etta," he said, half shyly. "She is full of sympathy and
pity for these people."

Steinmetz bowed gravely.

"I have no doubt of it."

"And yet you say that she must not be told."

"Certainly not. A secret is considerably strained if it be divided
between two people. Stretching it to three will probably break it. You
can tell her when you are married. Does she consent to live in Osterno?"

"Oh, yes. I think so."

"Um--m!"

"What did you say?"

"Um--m," repeated Steinmetz, and the conversation somewhat naturally
showed signs of collapse.

At this moment the door was opened, and a servant in bright livery, with
powdered wig, silk stockings, and a countenance which might have been of
wood, brought in a letter on a silver tray.

Paul took the square envelope and turned it over, displaying as he did
so a coronet in black and gold on the corner, like a stamp.

Karl Steinmetz saw the coronet. He never took his quiet, unobtrusive
glance from Paul's face while he opened the letter and read it.

"A fresh difficulty," said Paul, throwing the note across to his
companion.

Steinmetz looked grave while he unfolded the thick stationery.

"Dear Paul [the letter ran]: I hear you are at Osterno and that the
Moscow doctor is in your country. We are in great distress at
Thors--cholera, I fear. The fame of your doctor has spread to my people,
and they are clamoring for him. Can you bring or send him over? You know
your room here is always in readiness. Come soon with the great doctor,
and also Herr Steinmetz. In doing so you will give more than pleasure to
your old friend,"

Catrina Lanovitch.

"P.S. Mother is afraid to go out of doors for fear of infection. She
thinks she has a little cold."

Steinmetz folded the letter very carefully, pressing the seam of it
reflectively with his stout forefinger and thumb.

"I always think of the lie first," he said. "It's my nature or my
misfortune. We can easily write and say that the Moscow doctor has
left."

He paused, scratching his brow pensively with his curved forefinger. It
is to be feared that he was seeking not so much the truth as the most
convenient perversion of the same.

"But then," he went on, "by doing that we leave these poor devils to die
in their--styes. Catrina cannot manage them. They are worse than our
people."

"Whatever is the best lie to tell," burst in Paul--"as we seem to live
in an atmosphere of them--I must go to Thors; that is quite certain."

"There is no must in the case," put in Steinmetz quietly, as a
parenthesis. "No man is compelled to throw himself in the way of
infection. But I know you will go, whatever I say."

"I suppose I shall," admitted Paul.

"And Catrina will find you out at once."

"Why?"

Steinmetz drew in his feet. He leant forward and knocked his pipe on one
of the logs that lay ready to light in the great open fire-place.

"Because she loves you," he said shortly. "There is no coming the Moscow
doctor over her, mien lieber."

Paul laughed rather awkwardly. He was one of the few men--daily growing
fewer--who hold that a woman's love is not a thing to be tossed lightly
about in conversation.

"Then--" he began, speaking rather quickly, as if afraid that Steinmetz
was going to say more. "If," he amended, "you think she will find out,
she must not see me, that is all."

Steinmetz reflected again. He was unusually grave over this matter. One
would scarcely have taken this stout German for a person of any
sentiment whatever. Nevertheless he would have liked Paul to marry
Catrina Lanovitch in preference to Etta Sydney Bamborough, merely
because he thought that the former loved him, while he felt sure that
the latter did not. So much for the sentimental point of view--a
starting-point, by the way, which usually makes all the difference in a
man's life. For a man needs to be loved as much as a woman needs it.
From the practical point of view, Karl Steinmetz knew too much about
Etta to place entire reliance on the goodness of her motives. He keenly
suspected that she was marrying Paul for his money--for the position he
could give her in the world.

"We must be careful," he said. "We must place clearly before ourselves
the risks that we are running before we come to any decision. For you
the risk is simply that of unofficial banishment. They can hardly send
you to Siberia because you are half an Englishman; and that impertinent
country has a habit of getting up and shouting when her sons are
interfered with. But they can easily make Russia impossible for you.
They can do you more harm than you think. They can do these poor devils
of peasants of yours more harm than we can comfortably contemplate. As
for me," he paused and shrugged his great shoulders, "it means Siberia.
Already I am a suspect--a persona non grata."

"I do not see how we can refuse to help Catrina," said Paul, in a voice
which Steinmetz seemed to know, for he suddenly gave in.

"As you will," he said.

He sat up, and, drawing a small table toward him, took up a pen
reflectively. Paul watched him in silence.

When the letter was finished, Steinmetz read it aloud:

"My Dear Catrina:

"The Moscow doctor and your obedient servant will be (D.V.) in Thors by
seven o'clock to-night. We propose spending about an hour in the
village, if you will kindly advise the starosta to be ready for us. As
our time is limited, and we are much needed in Osterno, we shall have to
deprive ourselves of the pleasure of calling at the castle. The prince
sends kind remembrances, and proposes riding over to Thors to avail
himself of your proffered hospitality in a day or two. With salutations
to the countess,

"Your old friend,

"Karl Steinmetz."

Steinmetz waited with the letter in his hand for Paul's approval. "You
see," he explained, "you are notoriously indifferent to the welfare of
the peasants. It would be unnatural if you suddenly displayed so much
interest as to induce you to go to Thors on a mission of charity."

Paul nodded. "All right," he said. "Yes, I see; though I confess I
sometimes forget what the deuce I _am_ supposed to be."

Steinmetz laughed pleasantly as he folded the letter. He rose and went
to the door.

"I will send it off," he said. He paused on the threshold and looked
back gravely. "Do not forget," he added, "that Catrina Lanovitch loves
you."




CHAPTER XII


AT THORS

Below the windows of a long, low, stone house, in its architecture
remarkably like a fortified farm--below these deep-embrasured windows
the river Oster mumbled softly. One of the windows was wide open, and
with the voice of the water a wonderful music rolled out to mingle and
lose itself in the hum of the pine-woods.

The room was a small one; beneath the artistic wall-paper one detected
the outline of square-hewn stones. There were women's things lying
about; there were flowers in a bowl on a low, strong table. There were a
few good engravings on the wall; deep-curtained windows, low chairs, a
sofa, a fan. But it was not a womanly room. The music filling it,
vibrating back from the grim stone walls, was not womanly music. It was
more than manly. It was not earthly, but almost divine. It happened to
be Grieg, with the halting beat of a disabled, perhaps a broken, heart
in it, as that master's music usually has.

The girl was alone in the room. The presence of any one would have
silenced something that was throbbing at the back of the chords. Quite
suddenly she stopped. She knew how to play the quaint last notes. She
knew something that no master had ever taught her.

She swung round on the stool and faced the light. It was afternoon--an
autumn afternoon in Russia--and the pink light made the very best of a
face which was not beautiful at all, never could be beautiful--a face
about which even the owner, a woman, could have no possible illusion. It
was broad and powerful, with eyes too far apart, forehead too broad and
low, jaw too heavy, mouth too determined. The eyes were almond-shaped,
and slightly sloping downward and inward--deep, passionate blue eyes set
in a Mongolian head. It was the face of a woman who could, morally
speaking, make mincemeat of nine young men out of ten. But she could not
have made one out of the number love her. For it has been decreed that
women shall win love--except in some happy exceptions--by beauty only.
The same unwritten law has it that a man's appearance does not matter--a
law much appreciated by some of us, and duly canonized by not a few.

The girl was evidently listening. She glanced at a little golden clock
on the mantel-piece, and then at the open window. She rose--she was
short, and somewhat broadly built--and went to the window.

"He will be back," she said to herself, "in a few minutes now."

She raised her hand to her forehead, and pressed back her hair with a
little movement of impatience, expressive, perhaps, of a great suspense.
She stood idly drumming on the window-sill for a few moments; then, with
a quick little sigh, she went back to the piano. As she moved she gave a
jerk of the head from time to time, as schoolgirls who have too much
hair are wont to do. The reason of this nervous movement was a wondrous
plait of gold reaching far below her waist. Catrina Lanovitch almost
worshipped her own hair. She knew without any doubt that not one woman
in ten thousand could rival her in this feminine glory--knew it as
indubitably as she knew that she was plain. The latter fact she faced
with an unflinching, cold conviction which was not feminine at all. She
did not say that she was hideous, for the sake of hearing a
contradiction or a series of saving clauses. She never spoke of it to
any one. She had grown up with it, and as it was beyond doubt, so was it
outside discussion. All her femininity seemed to be concentrated, all
her vanity centred, on her hair. It was her one pride, perhaps her one
hope. Women have been loved for their voices. Catrina's voice was
musical enough, but it was deep and strong. It was passionate, tender if
she wished, fascinating; but it was not lovable. If the voice may win
love, why not the hair?

Catrina despised all men but one--that one she worshipped. She lived
night and day with one great desire, beside which heaven and hell were
mere words. Neither the hope of the one nor the fear of the other in any
way touched or affected her desire. She wanted to make Paul Alexis love
her; and, womanlike, she clung to the one womanly charm that was
hers--the wonderful golden hair. Pathetic, aye, pathetic--with a grin
behind the pathos, as there ever is.

She sat down at the piano, and her strong, small hands tore the heart
out of each wire. There are some people who get farther into a piano
than others, making the wires speak as with a voice. Catrina Lanovitch
had this trick. She only played a Russian people-song--a simple lay such
as one may hear issuing from the door of any kabak on a summer evening.
But she infused a true Russian soul into it--the soul that is cursed
with a fatal power of dumb and patient endurance. She did not sway from
side to side as do some people who lose themselves in the intoxication
of music. But she sat quite upright, her sturdy, square shoulders
motionless. Her strange eyes were fixed with the stillness of distant
contemplation.

Suddenly she stopped and leaped to her feet. She did not go to the
window, but stood listening beside the piano. The beat of a horse's
hoofs on the narrow road was distinctly audible, hollow and sodden as is
the sound of a wooden road. It came nearer and nearer, and a certain
unsteadiness indicated that the horse was tired.

"I thought he might have come," she whispered, and she sat down
breathlessly.

When the servant came into the room a few minutes later Catrina was at
the piano.

"A letter, mademoiselle," said the maid.

"Lay it on the table," answered Catrina, without looking round. She was
playing the closing bars of a nocturne.

She rose slowly, turned, and seized the letter as a starving man seizes
food. There was something almost wolf-like in her eyes.

"Steinmetz," she exclaimed, reading the address. "Steinmetz. Oh! why
won't he write to me?"

She tore open the letter, read it, and stood holding it in her hand,
looking out over the trackless pine-woods with absorbed, speculative
eyes. The sun had just set. The farthest ridge of pine-trees stood out
like the teeth of a saw in black relief on the rosy sky. Catrina
Lanovitch watched the rosiness fade into pearly gray.

"Madame the Countess awaits mademoiselle for tea," said the maid's voice
suddenly, in the gloom of the door-way.

"I will come."

The village of Thors--twenty miles farther down the river Oster, twenty
miles nearer to the junction of that river with the Volga--was little
more than a hamlet in the days of which we write. Some day, perhaps, the
three hundred souls of Thors may increase and multiply--some day when
Russia is attacked by the railway fever. For Thors is on the
Chorno-Ziom--the belt of black and fertile soil that runs right across
the vast empire.

Karl Steinmetz, a dogged watcher of the Wandering Jew--the deathless
scoffer at our Lord's agony, who shall never die, who shall leave
cholera in his track wherever he may wander--Karl Steinmetz knew that
the Oster was in itself a Wandering Jew. This river meandered through
the lonesome country, bearing cholera germs within its waters. Whenever
Osterno had cholera it sent it down the river to Thors, and so on to the
Volga.

Thors lay groaning under the scourge, and the Countess Lanovitch shut
herself within her stone walls, shivering with fear, begging her
daughter to return to Petersburg.

It was nearly dark when Karl Steinmetz and the Moscow doctor rode into
the little village, to find the starosta, a simple Russian farmer,
awaiting them outside the kabak.

Steinmetz knew the man, and immediately took command of the situation
with that unquestioned sense of authority which in Russia places the
barin on much the same footing as that taken by the Anglo-Indian in our
eastern empire.

"Now, starosta," he said, "we have only an hour to spend in Thors. This
is the Moscow doctor. If you listen to what he tells you, you will soon
have no sickness in the village. The worst houses first--and quickly.
You need not be afraid, but if you do not care to come in, you may stay
outside."

As they walked down the straggling village-street the Moscow doctor told
the starosta in no measured terms, as was his wont, wherein lay the
heart of the sickness. Here, as in Osterno, dirt and neglect were at the
base of all the trouble. Here, as in the larger village, the houses were
more like the abode of four-footed beasts than the dwellings of human
beings.

The starosta prudently remained outside the first house to which he
introduced the visitors. Paul went fearlessly in, while Steinmetz stood
in the door-way, holding open the door.

As he was standing there he perceived a flickering light approaching
him. The light was evidently that of an ordinary hand-lantern, and from
the swinging motion it was easy to divine that it was being carried by
some one who was walking quickly.

"Who is this?" asked Steinmetz.

"It is likely to be the Countess Catrina, Excellency."

Steinmetz glanced back into the cottage, which was dark save for the
light of a single petroleum lamp. Paul's huge form could be dimly
distinguished bending over a heap of humanity and foul clothing in a
corner.

"Does she visit the cottages?" asked Steinmetz sharply.

"She does, God be with her! She has no fear. She is an angel. Without
her we should all be dead."

"She won't visit this, if I can help it," muttered Steinmetz.

The light flickered along the road toward them. In the course of a few
minutes it fell on the stricken cottage, on the starosta standing in the
road, on Steinmetz in the door-way.

"Herr Steinmetz, is that you?" asked a voice, deep and musical, in the
darkness.

"Zum Befehl," answered Steinmetz, without moving.

Catrina came up to him. She was clad in a long dark cloak, a dark hat,
and wore no gloves. She brought with her a clean aromatic odor of
disinfectants. She carried the lantern herself, while behind her walked
a man-servant in livery, with a large basket in either hand.

"It is good of you," she said, "to come to us in our need--also to
persuade the good doctor to come with you."

"It is not much that we can do," answered Steinmetz, taking the small
outstretched hand within his large soft grasp; "but that little you may
always count upon."

"I know," she said gravely.

She looked up at him, expecting him to step aside and allow her to pass
into the cottage; but Steinmetz stood quite still, looking down at her
with his pleasant smile.

"And how is it with you?" he asked, speaking in German, as they always
did together.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh!" she answered indifferently, "I am well, of course. I always am. I
have the strength of a horse. Of course I have been troubled about these
poor people. It has been terrible. They are worse than children. I
cannot quite understand why God afflicts them so. They have never done
any harm. They are not like the Jews. It seems unjust. I have been very
busy, in my small way. My mother, you know, does not take much interest
in things that are not clean."

"Madame the Countess reads French novels and the fictional productions
of some modern English ladies," suggested Steinmetz quietly.

"Yes; but she objects to honest dirt," said Catrina coldly. "May I go
in?"

Steinmetz did not move.

"I think not. This Moscow man is eccentric. He likes to do good sub
rosa. He prefers to be alone."

Catrina tried to look into the cottage; but Karl Steinmetz, as we know,
was fat, and filled up the whole door-way.

"I should like to thank him for coming to us, or, at least, to offer him
hospitality. I suppose one cannot pay him."

"No; one cannot pay him," answered Steinmetz gravely.

There was a little pause. From the interior of the cottage came the
murmured gratitude of the peasants, broken at times by a wail of
agony--the wail of a man. It is not a pleasant sound to hear. Catrina
heard it, and it twisted her plain, strong face in a sudden spasm of
sympathy.

Again she made an impatient little movement.

"Let me go in," she urged. "I may be able to help."

Steinmetz shook his head.

"Better not!" he said. "Besides, your life is too precious to these poor
people to run unnecessary risks."

She gave a strange, bitter laugh.

"And what about you?" she said. "And Paul?"

"You never hear of Paul going into any of the cottages," snapped
Steinmetz sharply. "For me it is different. You have never heard that of
Paul."

"No," she answered slowly; "and it is quite right. His life--it is
different for him. How--how is Paul?"

"He is well, thank you."

Steinmetz glanced down at her. She was looking across the plains beyond
the boundless pine forests that lay between Thors and the Volga.

"Quite well," he went on, kindly enough. "He hopes to ride over and pay
his respects to the countess to-morrow or the next day."

And the keen, kind eyes saw what they expected in the flickering light
of the lamp.

At this moment Steinmetz was pushed aside from within, and a hulking
young man staggered out into the road, propelled from behind with
considerable vigor. After him came a shower of clothes and bedding.

"Pah!" exclaimed Steinmetz, spluttering. "Himmel! What filth! Be
careful, Catrina!"

But Catrina had slipped past him. In an instant he had caught her by the
wrist.

"Come back!" he cried. "You must not go in there!"

She was just over the threshold.

"You have some reason for keeping me out," she returned, wriggling in
his strong grasp. "I will--I will!"

With a twist she wrenched herself free and went into the dimly lighted
room.

Almost immediately she gave a mocking laugh.

"Paul!" she said.




CHAPTER XIII


UNMASKED

For a moment there was silence in the hovel, broken only by the wail of
the dying man in the corner. Paul and Catrina faced each other--she
white and suddenly breathless, he half frowning. But he did not meet her
eyes.

"Paul," she said again, with a lingering touch on the name. The sound of
her voice, a rough sort of tenderness in her angry tone, made Steinmetz
smile in his grim way, as a man may smile when in pain.

"Paul, what did you do this for? Why are you here? Oh, why are you in
this wretched place?"

"Because you sent for me," he answered quietly. "Come, let us go out. I
have finished here. That man will die. There is nothing more to be done
for him. You must not stay in here."

She gave a short laugh as she followed him. He had to stoop low to pass
through the door-way. Then he turned and held out his hand, for fear she
should trip over the high threshold. She nodded her thanks, but refused
the proffered assistance.

Steinmetz lingered behind to give some last instructions, leaving Paul
and Catrina to walk on down the narrow street alone. The moon was just
rising--a great yellow moon such as only Russia knows--the land of the
silver night.

"How long have you been doing this?" asked Catrina suddenly. She did not
look toward him, but straight in front of her.

"For some years now," he replied simply.

He lingered. He was waiting for Steinmetz, who always rose to such
emergencies, who understood secrets and how to secure them when they
seemed already lost. He did not quite understand what was to be done
with Catrina--how she was to be silenced. She had found him out with
such startling rapidity that he felt disposed to admit her right to
dictate her own terms. On a straight road this man was fearless and
quick, but he had no taste or capacity for crooked ways.

Catrina walked on in silence. She was not looking at the matter from his
point of view at all.

"Of course," she said at length, "of course, Paul, I admire you for it
immensely. It is just like you to go and do the thing quietly and say
nothing about it; but--oh, you must go away from here. I--I--it is too
horrible to think of your running such risks. Rather let them all die
like flies than that. You mustn't do it. You mustn't."

She spoke in English hurriedly, with a little break in her voice which
he did not understand.

"With ordinary precautions the risk is very small," he said practically.

"Yes. But do you take ordinary precautions? Are you sure you are all
right now?"

She stopped. They were quite alone in the one silent street of the
stricken village. She looked up into his face. Her hands were running
over the breast of the tattered coat he wore. It was lamentably obvious,
even to him, that she loved him. In her anxiety she either did not know
what she was doing, or she did not care whether he knew or not. She
merely gave sway to the maternal instinct which is in the love of all
women. She felt his hands; she reached up and touched his face.

"Are you sure--are you sure you have not taken it?" she whispered.

He walked on, almost roughly.

"Oh, yes; quite," he said.

"I will not allow you to go into any more houses in Thors. I cannot--I
will not! Oh, Paul, you don't know. If you do, I will tell them all who
you are, and--and the Government will stop you."

"What would be the good of that?" said Paul awkwardly. "Your father
cared for his peasants, and was content to run risks for them. I suppose
you care about them, too, as you go into their houses."

"Yes; but--"

She paused, gave a strange little reckless laugh, and was silent. Heaven
forbid that we should say that she wanted him to know that she loved
him. Chivalry bids us believe that women guard the secret of their love
inviolate from the world. But what was Catrina to do? Men are in the
habit of forgetting that plain women are women at all. Surely some of
them may be excused for reminding us at times that they also are capable
of loving--that they also desire to be loved. Happy is the man who loves
and is loved of a plain woman; for she will take her own lack of beauty
into consideration, and give him more than most beautiful women have it
in their power to give.

"Of course," Catrina went on, with a sudden anger which surprised
herself, "I cannot stop you from doing this at Osterno, though I think
it is wicked; but I can prevent you from doing it here, and I certainly
shall!"

Paul shrugged his shoulders.

"As you like," he said. "I thought you cared more about the peasants."

"I do not care a jot about the peasants," she answered passionately, "as
compared--It is you I am thinking about, not them. I think you are
selfish, and cruel to your friends."

"My friends have never shown that they are consumed with anxiety on my
account."

"That is mere prevarication. Leave that to Herr Steinmetz and such men,
whose business it is; you don't do it well. Your friends may feel a lot
that they do not show."

She spoke the words shortly and sharply. Surreptitious good is so rare,
that when it is found out it very naturally gets mixed up with secret
evil, and the perpetrator of the hidden good deed feels guilty of a
crime. Paul was in this lamentable position, which he proceeded to
further aggravate by seeking to excuse himself.

"I did it after mature consideration. I tried paying another man, but he
shirked his work and showed the white feather; so Steinmetz and I
concluded that there was nothing to be done but do our dirty work
ourselves."

"Which, being translated, means that you do it."

"Pardon me. Steinmetz does his share."

Catrina Lanovitch was essentially a woman, despite her somewhat
masculine frame. She settled Karl Steinmetz's account with a sniff of
contempt.

"And that is why you have been so fond of Osterno the last two years?"
she asked innocently.

"Yes," he answered, falling into the trap.

Catrina winced. One does not wince the less because the pain is
expected. The girl had the Slav instinct of self-martyrdom, which makes
Russians so very different from the pleasure-loving nations of Europe.

"Only that?" she enquired.

Paul glanced down at her.

"Yes," he answered quietly.

They walked on in silence for a few moments. Paul seemed tacitly to have
given up the idea of visiting any more of the stricken cottages. They
were going toward the long old house, which was called the castle more
by courtesy than by right.

"How long are you going to stay in Osterno?" asked Catrina at length.

"About a fortnight; I cannot stay longer. I am going to be married."

Catrina stopped dead. She stood for a moment looking at the ground with
a sort of wonder in her eyes, not pleasant to see. It was the look of
one who, having fallen from a great height, is not quite sure whether it
means death or not. Then she walked on.

"I congratulate you," she said. "I only hope she will make you happy.
She is--beautiful, I suppose?"

"Yes," answered Paul simply.

The girl nodded her head.

"What is her name?"

"Etta Sydney Bamborough."

Catrina had evidently never heard the name before. It conveyed nothing
to her. Womanlike, she went back to her first question.

"What is she like?"

Paul hesitated.

"Tall, I suppose?" suggested the stunted woman at his side.

"Yes."

"And graceful?"

"Yes."

"Has she--pretty hair?" asked Catrina.

"I think so--yes."

"You are not observant," said the girl in a singularly even and
emotionless voice. "Perhaps you never noticed."

"Not particularly," answered Paul.

The girl raised her face. There was a painful smile twisting her lips.
The moonlight fell upon her; the deep shadows beneath the eyes made her
face wear a grin. Some have seen such a grin on the face of a drowning
man--a sight not to be forgotten.

"Where does she live?" asked Catrina. She was unaware of the thought of
murder that was in her own heart. Nevertheless, the desire--indefinite,
shapeless--was there to kill this woman, who was tall and beautiful,
whom Paul Alexis loved.

It must be remembered in extenuation that Catrina Lanovitch had lived
nearly all her life in the province of Tver. She was not modern at all.
Deprived of the advantages of our enlightened society press, without the
benefit of our decadent fictional literature, she had lamentably narrow
views of life. She was without that deep philosophy which teaches you,
mademoiselle, who read this guileless tale, that nothing matters very
much; that love is but a passing amusement, the plaything of an hour;
that if Tom is faithless, Dick is equally amusing; while Harry's taste
in gloves and compliments is worthy of some consideration. That these
things be true--that at all events the modern young lady thinks them
true--is a matter of no doubt whatever. Has not the modern lady novelist
told us so? And is not the modern lady novelist notable for her close
observation of human nature, her impartial judgment of human motives,
her sublime truth of delineation when she sits down to describe the
thing she calls a man? By a close study of the refined feminine
literature of the day the modern young lady acquires not only the
knowledge of some startling social delinquencies--retailed, not as if
they were quite the exception, but as if they were quite the correct
thing--but also she will learn that she is human. She will realize how
utterly absurd it is to attempt to be any thing else. If persons in
books, she will reflect, are not high-minded or pure-minded, or even
clean-minded, it is useless for an ordinary person out of a book to
attempt to be any of these.

This is the lesson of some new writers, and Catrina Lanovitch had,
fortunately enough, lacked the opportunity of learning it.

She only knew that she loved Paul, and that what she wanted was Paul's
love to go with her all through her life. She was not self-analytical,
nor subtle, nor given to thinking about her own thoughts. Perhaps she
was old-fashioned enough to be romantic. If this be so, we must bear
with her romance, remembering that, at all events, romance serves to
elevate, while realism tends undoubtedly toward deterioration.

Catrina hated Etta Sydney Bamborough with a simple half-barbaric hatred
because she had gained the love of Paul Alexis. Etta had taken away from
her the only man whom Catrina could ever love all through her life. The
girl was simple enough, unsophisticated enough, never to dream of
compromise. She never for a moment entertained the cheap, consolatory
thought that in time she would get over it; she would marry somebody
else, and make that compromise which is responsible for more misery in
this world than ever is vice. In her great solitude, growing to
womanhood as she had in the vast forest of Tver, she had learned nearly
all that she knew from the best teacher, Nature; and she held the
strange, effete theory that it is wicked for a woman to marry a man she
does not love, or to marry at all for any reason except love. St. Paul
and a few others held like theories, but nous avons change tout cela.

"Where does she live?" asked Catrina.

"In London."

They walked on in silence for a few moments. They were walking slowly,
and they presently heard the footsteps of Karl Steinmetz and the servant
close behind them.

"I wonder," said Catrina, half to herself, "whether she loves you?"

It was a question, but not one that a man can answer. Paul said nothing,
but walked gravely on by the side of this woman, who knew that even if
Etta Sydney Bamborough should try she could never love him as she
herself did.

When Karl Steinmetz joined them they were silent.

"I suppose," he said in English, "that we may rely upon the discretion
of the Frauelein Catrina?"

"Yes," answered the girl; "you may, so far as Osterno is concerned. But
I would rather that you did not visit our people here. It is too
dangerous in several ways."

"Ah!" murmured Steinmetz, respectfully acquiescent. He was looking
straight in front of him, with an expression of countenance which was
almost dense. "Then we must bow to your decision," he went on, turning
toward the tall man striding along at his side.

"Yes," said Paul simply.

Steinmetz smiled grimly to himself. It was one of his half-cynical
theories that women hold the casting vote in all earthly matters, and
when an illustration such as this came to prove the correctness of his
deductions, he only smiled. He was not by nature a cynic--only by the
force of circumstances.

"Will you come to the castle?" asked the girl at length, and Steinmetz
by a gesture deferred the decision to Paul.

"I think not to-night, thanks," said the latter. "We will take you as
far as the gate."

Catrina made no comment. When the tall gate-way was reached she stopped,
and they all became aware of the sound of horses' feet behind them.

"What is this?" asked Catrina.

"Only the starosta bringing our horses," replied Steinmetz. "He has
discovered nothing."

Catrina nodded and held out her hand.

"Good-night," she said, rather coldly. "Your secret is safe with me."

"Set a thief to catch a thief," reflected Steinmetz. He said nothing,
however, when he shook hands.

They mounted their horses and rode back the way they had come. For half
an hour no one spoke. Then Paul broke the silence. He only said one
word:

"D--n."

"Yes," returned Steinmetz quietly. "Charity is a dangerous plaything."




CHAPTER XIV


A WIRE-PULLER

The Palace of Industry--where, with a fine sense of the fitness of the
name, the Parisians amuse themselves--was in a blaze of electric light
and fashion. The occasion was the Concours Hippique, an ultra-equine
fete, where the lovers of the friend of man, and such persons as are
fitted by an ungenerous fate with limbs suitable to horsey clothes, meet
and bow. In France, as in a neighboring land (less sunny), horsiness is
the last refuge of the diminutive. It is your small man who is ever the
horsiest in his outward appearance, just as it is your very plain young
person who is keenest at the Sunday-school class.

When a Frenchman is horsey he never runs the risk of being mistaken for
a groom or a jockey, as do his turfy compeers in England. His costume is
so exaggeratedly suggestive of the stable and the horse as to leave no
doubt whatever that he is an amateur of the most pronounced type. His
collar is so white and stiff and portentous as to make it impossible for
him to tighten up his own girths. His breeches are so breechy about the
knees as to render an ascent to the saddle a feat which it is not
prudent to attempt without assistance. His gloves are so large and seamy
as to make it extremely difficult to grasp the bridle, and quite
impossible to buckle a strap. Your French horseman is, in fact, rather
like a knight of old, inasmuch as his attendants are required to set him
on his horse with his face turned in the right direction, his bridle in
his left hand, his whip in his right, and, it is to be supposed, his
heart in his mouth. When he is once up there, however, the gallant son
of Gaul can teach even some of us, my fox-hunting masters, the way to
sit a horse!

We have, however, little to do with such matters here, except in so far
as they affect the persons connected with this record. The Concours
Hippique, be it therefore known, was at its height. Great deeds of
horsemanship had been successfully accomplished. The fair had smiled
beneath pencilled eyebrows upon the brave in uniform and breeches. At
the time when we join the fashionable throng, the fair are smiling their
brightest. It is, in fact, an interval for refreshment.

A crowd of well-dressed men jostled each other good-naturedly around a
long table, where insolent waiters served tepid coffee, and sandwiches
that had been cut by the hand of a knave. In the background a number of
ladies nodded encouragement to their cavaliers in the intervals of
scrutinizing each other's dresses. Many pencilled eyebrows were raised
in derision of too little style displayed by some innocent rival, or
brought down in disapproval of too much of the same vague quality
displayed by one less innocent.

In the midst of these, as in his element, moved the Baron Claude de
Chauxville, smiling his courteous, ready smile, which his enemies called
a grin. He took up less room than the majority of the men around him; he
succeeded in passing through narrower places, and jostled fewer people.
In a word, he proved to his own satisfaction, and to the discomfiture of
many a younger man, his proficiency in the gentle art of getting on in
the world.

Not far from him stood a stout gentleman of middle age, with a heavy
fair mustache brushed upward on either side. This man had an air of
distinction which was notable even in this assembly; for there were many
distinguished people present, and a Frenchman of note plays his part
better than do we dull, self-conscious islanders. This man looked like a
general, so upright was he, so keen his glance, so independent the
carriage of his head.

He stood with his hands behind his back, looking gravely on at the
social festivity. He bowed and raised his hat to many, but he entered
into conversation with none.

"Ce Vassili," he heard more than once whispered, "c'est un homme
dangereux."

And he smiled all the more pleasantly.

Now, if a very keen observer had taken the trouble to ignore the throng
and watch two persons only, that observer might have discovered the fact
that Claude de Chauxville was slowly and purposely making his way toward
the man called Vassili.

De Chauxville knew and was known of many. He had but recently arrived
from London. He found himself called upon to shake hands a l'anglais
with this one and that, giving all and sundry his impressions of the
perfidious Albion with a verve and neatness truly French. He went from
one to the other with perfect grace and savoir-faire, and each change of
position brought him nearer to the middle-aged man with upturned
mustache, upon whom his movements were by no means lost.

Finally De Chauxville bumped against the object of his quest--possibly,
indeed, the object of his presence at the Concours Hippique. He turned
with a ready apology.

"Ah!" he exclaimed; "the very man I was desiring to see."

The individual known as "ce Vassili"--a term of mingled contempt and
distrust--bowed very low. He was a plain commoner, while his
interlocutor was a baron. The knowledge of this was subtly conveyed in
his bow.

"How can I serve M. le Baron?" he enquired in a voice which was
naturally loud and strong, but had been reduced by careful training to a
tone inaudible at the distance of a few paces.

"By following me to the Cafe Tantale in ten minutes," answered De
Chauxville, passing on to greet a lady who was bowing to him with the
labored grace of a Parisienne.

Vassili merely bowed and stood upright again. There was something in his
attitude of quiet attention, of unobtrusive scrutiny and retiring
intelligence, vaguely suggestive of the police--something which his
friends refrained from mentioning to him; for this Vassili was a
dignified man, of like susceptibilities with ourselves, and justly proud
of the fact that he belonged to the Corps Diplomatique. What position he
occupied in that select corporation he never vouchsafed to define. But
it was known that he enjoyed considerable emoluments, while he was never
called upon to represent his country or his emperor in any official
capacity. He was attached, he said, to the Russian Embassy. His enemies
called him a spy; but the world never puts a charitable construction on
that of which it only has a partial knowledge.

In ten minutes Claude de Chauxville left the Concours Hippique. In the
Champs Elysees he turned to the left, up toward the Bois du Boulogne;
turned to the left again, and took one of the smaller paths that lead to
one or other of the sequestered and somewhat select cafes on the south
side of the Champs Elysees.

At the Cafe Tantale--not in the garden, for it was winter, but in the
inner room--he found the man called Vassili consuming a pensive and
solitary glass of liqueur.

De Chauxville sat down, stated his requirements to the waiter in a
single word, and offered his companion a cigarette, which Vassili
accepted with the consciousness that it came from a coroneted case.

"I am rather thinking of visiting Russia," said the Frenchman.

"Again," added Vassili, in his quiet voice.

De Chauxville looked up sharply, smiled, and waved the word away with a
gesture of the fingers that held a cigarette.

"If you will--again."

"On private affairs?" enquired Vassili, not so much, it would appear,
from curiosity as from habit. He put the question with the assurance of
one who has a right to know.

De Chauxville nodded acquiescence through the tobacco smoke.

"The bane of public men--private affairs," he said epigrammatically.

But the attache to the Russian Embassy was either too dense or too
clever to be moved to a sympathetic smile by a cheap epigram.

"And M. le Baron wants a passport?" he said, lapsing into the useful
third person, which makes the French language so much more fitted to
social and diplomatic purposes than is our rough northern tongue.

"And more," answered De Chauxville. "I want what you hate parting
with--information."

The man called Vassili leaned back in his chair with a little smile. It
was an odd little smile, which fell over his features like a mask and
completely hid his thoughts. It was apparent that Claude de Chauxville's
tricks of speech and manner fell here on barren ground. The Frenchman's
epigrams, his method of conveying his meaning in a non-committing and
impersonal generality, failed to impress this hearer. The difference
between a Frenchman and a Russian is that the former is amenable to
every outward influence--the outer thing penetrates. The Russian, on the
contrary, is a man who works his thoughts, as it were, from internal
generation to external action. The action, moreover, is demonstrative,
which makes the Russian different from other northern nations of an
older civilization and a completer self-control.

"Then," said Vassili, "if I understand M. le Baron aright, it is a
question of private and personal affairs that suggests this journey
to--Russia?"

"Precisely."

"In no sense a mission?" suggested the other, sipping his liqueur
thoughtfully.

"In no sense a mission. I give you a proof. I have been granted six
months' leave of absence, as you probably know."

"Precisely so, mo' cher Baron." Vassili had a habit of applying to every
one the endearing epithet, which lost a consonant somewhere in his
mustache. "When a military officer is granted a six months' leave, it is
exactly then that we watch him."

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders in deprecation, possibly with
contempt for any system of watching.

"May one call it an affaire de coeur?" asked Vassili, with his grim
smile.

"Certainly. Are not all private affairs such, one way or the other?"

"And you want a passport?"

"Yes--a special one."

"I will see what I can do."

"Thank you."

Vassili emptied his glass, drew in his feet, and glanced at the clock.

"But that is not all I want," said De Chauxville.

"So I perceive."

"I want you to tell me what you know of Prince Pavlo Alexis."

"Of Tver?"

"Of Tver. What you know from your point of view, you understand, my dear
Vassili. Nothing political, nothing incriminating, nothing official. I
only want a few social details."

Again the odd smile fell over the dignified face.

"In case," said Vassili, rather slowly, "I should only impart to you
stale news and valueless details with which you are already acquainted,
I must ask you to tell me first what you know--from your point of view."

"Certainly," answered De Chauxville, with engaging frankness. "The man I
know slightly is the sort of thing that Eton and Oxford turn out by the
dozen. Well dressed, athletic, silent, a thorough gentleman--et voila
tout."

The face of Vassili expressed something remarkably like disbelief.

"Ye--es," he said slowly.

"And you?" suggested De Chauxville.

"You leave too much to my imagination," said Vassili. "You relate mere
facts--have you no suppositions, no questions in your mind about the
man?"

"I want to know what his purpose in life may be. There is a purpose--one
sees it in his face. I want also to know what he does with his spare
time; he must have much to dispose of in England."

Vassili nodded, and suddenly launched into detail.

"Prince Pavlo Alexis," he said, "is a young man who takes a full and
daring advantage of his peculiar position. He defies many laws in a
quiet, persistent way which impresses the smaller authorities and to a
certain extent paralyzes them. He was in the Charity League--deeply
implicated. He had a narrow escape. He was pulled through by the
cleverest man in Russia."

"Karl Steinmetz?"

"Yes," answered Vassili behind the rigid smile; "Karl Steinmetz."

"And that," said De Chauxville, watching the face of his companion, "is
all you can tell me?"

"To be quite frank with you," replied the man who had never been quite
frank in his life, "that is all I want to tell you."

De Chauxville lighted a cigarette, with exaggerated interest in the
match.

"Paul is a friend of mine," he said calmly. "I may be staying at Osterno
with him."

The rigid smile never relaxed.

"Not with Karl Steinmetz on the premises," said Vassili imperturbably.

"The astute Mr. Steinmetz may be removed to some other sphere of
usefulness. There is a new spoke in his Teutonic wheel."

"Ah!"

"Prince Paul is about to marry--the widow of Sydney Bamborough."

"Sydney Bamborough," repeated Vassili musingly, with a perfect
expression of innocence on his well-cut face. "I have heard that name
before."

De Chauxville laughed quietly, as if in appreciation of a pretty trick
which he knew as well as its performer.

"She is a friend of mine."

The attache, as he was pleased to call himself, to the Russian Embassy,
leant his arms on the table, bending forward and bringing his large,
fleshy face within a few inches of De Chauxville's keen countenance.

"That makes all the difference," he said.

"I thought it would," answered De Chauxville, meeting the steady gaze
firmly.




CHAPTER XV


IN A WINTER CITY

St. Petersburg under snow is the most picturesque city in the world. The
town is at its best when a high wind has come from the north to blow all
the snow from the cupola of St. Isaac's, leaving that golden dome, in
all its brilliancy, to gleam and flash over the whitened sepulchre of a
city.

In winter the Neva is a broad, silent thoroughfare between the Vassili
Ostrow and the Admiralty Gardens. In the winter the pestilential rattle
of the cobble-stones in the side streets is at last silent, and the
merry music of sleigh-bells takes its place. In the winter the
depressing damp of this northern Venice is crystallized and harmless.

On the English Quay a tall, narrow house stands looking glumly across
the river. It is a suspected house, and watched; for here dwelt Stepan
Lanovitch, secretary and organizer of the Charity League.

Although the outward appearance of the house is uninviting, the interior
is warm and dainty. The odor of delicate hot-house plants is in the
slightly enervating atmosphere of the apartments. It is a Russian fancy
to fill the dwelling-rooms with delicate, forced foliage and bloom. In
no country of the world are flowers so worshipped, is money so freely
spent in floral decoration. There is something in the sight, and more
especially in the scent of hot-house plants, that appeals to the complex
siftings of three races which constitute a modern Russian.

We, in the modest self-depreciation which is a national characteristic,
are in the habit of thinking, and sometimes saying, that we have all the
good points of the Angle and the Saxon rolled satisfactorily into one
Anglo-Saxon whole. We are of the opinion that mixed races are the best,
and we leave it to be understood that ours is the only satisfactory
combination. Most of us ignore the fact that there are others at all,
and very few indeed recognize the fact that the Russian of to-day is
essentially a modern outcome of a triple racial alliance of which the
best component is the Tartar.

The modern Russian is an interesting study, because he has the remnant
of barbaric tastes, with ultra-civilized facilities for gratifying the
same. The best part of him comes from the East, the worst from Paris.

The Countess Lanovitch belonged to the school existing in Petersburg and
Moscow in the early years of the century--the school that did not speak
Russian but only French, that chose to class the peasants with the
beasts of the field, that apparently expected the deluge to follow soon.

Her drawing-room, looking out on to the Neva, was characteristic of
herself. Camellias held the floral honors in vase and pot. The French
novel ruled supreme on the side-table. The room was too hot, the chairs
were too soft, the moral atmosphere too lax. One could tell that this
was the dwelling-room of a lazy, self-indulgent, and probably ignorant
woman.

The countess herself in nowise contradicted this conclusion. She was
seated on a very low chair, exposing a slippered foot to the flame of a
wood fire. She held a magazine in her hand, and yawned as she turned its
pages. She was not so stout in person as her loose and somewhat highly
colored cheeks would imply. Her eyes were dull and sleepy. The woman was
an incarnate yawn.

She looked up, turning lazily in her chair, to note the darkening of the
air without the double windows.

"Ah!" she said aloud to herself in French, "when will it be tea-time?"

As she spoke the words, the bells of a sleigh suddenly stopped with a
rattle beneath the window.

Immediately the countess rose and went to the mirror over the
mantel-piece. She arranged without enthusiasm her straggling hair, and
put straight a lace cap which was chronically crooked. She looked at her
reflection pessimistically, as well she might. It was the puffy red face
of a middle-aged woman given to petty self-indulgence.

"While she was engaged in this discouraging pastime the door was opened,
and a maid came in with the air of one who has gained a trifling
advantage by the simple method of peeping.

"It is M. Steinmetz, Mme. la Comtesse."

"Ah! Do I look horrible, Celestine? I have been asleep."

Celestine was French, and laughed with all the charm of that tactful
nation.

"How can Mme. la Comtesse ask such a thing? Madame might be
thirty-five!"

It is to be supposed that the staff of angelic recorders have a separate
set of ledgers for French people, with special discounts attaching to
pleasant lies.

Madame shook her head--and believed.

"M. Steinmetz is even now taking off his furs in the hall," said
Celestine, retiring toward the door.

"It is well. We shall want tea."

Steinmetz came into the room with an exaggerated bow and a twinkle in
his melancholy eyes.

"Figure to yourself, my dear Steinmetz," said the countess vivaciously.
"Catrina has gone out--on a day like this! Mon Dieu! How gray, how
melancholy!"

"Without, yes! But here, how different!" replied Steinmetz in French.

The countess cackled and pointed to a chair.

"Ah! you always flatter. What news have you, bad character?"

Steinmetz smiled pensively, not so much suggesting the desire to impart
as the intention to withhold that which the lady called news.

"I came for yours, countess. You are always amusing--as well as
beautiful," he added, with his mouth well controlled beneath the heavy
mustache.

The countess shook her head playfully, which had the effect of tilting
her cap to one side.

"I! Oh, I have nothing to tell you. I am a nun. What can one do--what
can one hear in Petersburg? Now in Paris it is different. But Catrina is
so firm. Have you ever noticed that, Steinmetz? Catrina's firmness, I
mean. She wills a thing, and her will is like a rock. The thing has to
be done. It does itself. It comes to pass. Some people are so. Now I, my
clear Steinmetz, only desire peace and quiet. So I give in. I gave in to
poor Stepan. And now he is exiled. Perhaps if I had been firm--if I had
forbidden all this nonsense about charity--it would have been different.
And Stepan would have been quietly at home instead of in Tomsk, is it,
or Tobolsk? I always forget which. Well, Catrina says we must live in
Petersburg this winter, and--nous voila!"

Steinmetz shrugged his shoulders with a commiserating smile. He took the
countess's troubles indifferently, as do the rest of us when our
neighbor's burden does not drag upon our own shoulders. It suited him
that Catrina should be in Petersburg, and it is to be feared that the
feelings of the Countess Lanovitch had no weight as against the
convenience of Karl Steinmetz.

"Ah, well!" he said, "you must console yourself with the thought that
Petersburg is the brighter for some of us. Who is this--another
visitor?"

The door was thrown open, and Claude de Chauxville walked into the room
with the easy grace which was his.

"Mme. la Comtesse," he said, bowing over her hand.

Then he stood upright, and the two men smiled grimly at each other.
Steinmetz had thought that De Chauxville was in London. The Frenchman
counted on the other's duties to retain him in Osterno.

"Pleasure!" said De Chauxville, shaking hands.

"It is mine," answered Steinmetz.

The countess looked from one to the other with a smile on her foolish
face.

"Ah!" she exclaimed; "how pleasant it is to meet old friends! It is like
by-gone times."

At this moment the door opened again and Catrina came in. In her rich
furs she looked almost pretty.

She shook hands eagerly with Steinmetz; her deep eyes searched his face
with a singular, breathless scrutiny.

"Where are you from?" she asked quickly.

"London."

"Catrina," broke in the countess, "you do not remember M. de Chauxville!
He nursed you when you were a child."

Catrina turned and bowed to De Chauxville.

"I should have remembered you," he said, "if we had met accidentally.
After all, childhood is but a miniature--is it not so?"

"Perhaps," answered Catrina; "and when the miniature develops it loses
the delicacy which was its chief charm."

She turned again to Steinmetz, as if desirous of continuing her
conversation with him.

"M. de Chauxville, you surely have news?" broke in the countess's
cackling voice. "I have begged M. Steinmetz in vain. He says he has
none; but is one to believe so notorious a bad character?"

"Madame, it is wise to believe only that which is convenient. But
Steinmetz, I promise you, is the soul of honor. What sort of news do you
crave for? Political, which is dangerous; social, which is scandalous;
or court news, which is invariably false?"

"Let us have scandal, then."

"Ah! I must refer you to the soul of honor."

"Who," answered Steinmetz, "in that official capacity is necessarily
deaf, and in a private capacity is naturally dull."

He was looking very hard at De Chauxville, as if he was attempting to
make him understand something which he could not say aloud. De
Chauxville, from carelessness or natural perversity, chose to ignore the
persistent eyes.

"Surely the news is from London," he said lightly; "we have nothing from
Paris."

He glanced at Steinmetz, who was frowning.

"I can hardly tell you stale news that comes from London via Paris, can
I?" he continued.

Steinmetz was tapping impatiently on the floor with his broad boot.

"About whom--about whom?" cried the countess, clapping her soft hands
together.

"Well, about Prince Paul," said De Chauxville, looking at Steinmetz with
airy defiance.

Steinmetz moved a little. He placed himself in front of Catrina, who had
suddenly lost color. She could only see his broad back. The others in
the room could not see her at all. She was rather small, and Steinmetz
hid her as behind a screen.

"Ah!" he said to the countess, "his marriage! But Madame the Countess
assuredly knows of that."

"How could she?" put in De Chauxville.

"The countess knew that Prince Paul was going to be married," explained
Karl Steinmetz very slowly, as if he wished to give some one time. "With
such a man as he, 'going to be' is not very far from being."

"Then it is an accomplished fact?" said the countess sharply.

"Yesterday," answered Steinmetz.

"And you were not there!" exclaimed Countess Lanovitch, with uplifted
hands.

"Since I was here," answered Steinmetz.

The countess launched into a disquisition on the heinousness of marrying
any but a compatriot. The tone of her voice was sharp, and the volume of
her words almost amounted to invective. As Steinmetz was obviously not
listening, the lady imparted her views to the Baron de Chauxville.

Steinmetz waited for some time, then he turned slowly toward Catrina
without actually looking at her.

"It is dangerous," he said, "to stay in this warm room with your furs."

"Yes," she answered, rather faintly; "I will go and take them off."

Steinmetz held the door open for her, but he did not look at her.




CHAPTER XVI


THE THIN END

"But I confess I cannot understand why I should not be called the
Princess Alexis--there is nothing to be ashamed of in the title. I
presume you have a right to it?"

Etta looked up from her occupation of fixing a bracelet, with a little
glance of enquiry toward her husband.

They had been married a month. The honeymoon--a short one--had been
passed in the house of a friend, indeed a relation of Etta's own, a
Scotch peer who was not above lending a shooting-lodge in Scotland on
the tacit understanding that there should be some quid pro quo in the
future.

In answer Paul merely smiled, affectionately tolerant of her bright
sharpness of manner. Your bright woman in society is apt to be keen at
home. What is called vivacity abroad may easily degenerate into
snappiness by the hearth.

"I think it is rather ridiculous being called plain Mrs. Howard-Alexis,"
added Etta, with a pout.

They were going to a ball--the first since their marriage. They had just
dined, and Paul had followed his wife into the drawing-room. He took a
simple-minded delight in her beauty, which was of the description that
is at its best in a gorgeous setting. He stood looking at her, noting
her grace, her pretty, studied movements. There were, he reflected, few
women more beautiful--none, in his own estimation, fit to compare with
her.

She had hitherto been sweetness itself to him, enlivening his lonely
existence, shining suddenly upon his self-contained nature with a
brilliancy that made him feel dull and tongue-tied.

Already, however, he was beginning to discover certain small
differences, not so much of opinion as of thought, between Etta and
himself. She attached an importance to social function, to social
opinion, to social duties, which he in no wise understood. Invitations
were showered upon them. A man who is a prince and prefers to drop the
title need not seek popularity in London. The very respectable reader
probably knows as well as his humble servant, the writer, that in London
there is always a social circle just a little lower than one's own which
opens its doors with noble, disinterested hospitality, and is prepared
to lick the blacking from any famous foot.

These invitations Etta accepted eagerly. Some women hold it little short
of a crime to refuse an invitation, and go through life regretting that
there is only one evening to each day. To Paul these calls were nothing
new. His secretary had hitherto drawn a handsome salary for doing little
more than refuse such.

It was in Etta's nature to be somewhat carried away by glitter. A great
ball-room, brilliant illumination, music, flowers, and diamonds had an
effect upon her which she enjoyed in anticipation. Her eyes gleamed
brightly on reading the mere card of invitation. Some dull and
self-contained men are only to be roused by the clatter and whirl of a
battle-field, and this stirs them into brilliancy, changing them to new
men. Etta, always brilliant, always bright, exceeded herself on her
battle-field--a great social function.

Since their marriage she had never been so beautiful, her eyes had never
been so sparkling, her color so brilliant as at this moment when she
asked her husband to let her use her title. Hers was the beauty that
blooms not for one man alone, but for the multitude; that feeds not on
the love of one, but on the admiration of many. The murmur of the man in
the street who turned and stared into her carriage was more than the
devotion of her husband.

"A foreign title," answered Paul, "is nothing in England. I soon found
that out at Eton and at Trinity. It was impossible there. I dropped it,
and I have never taken it up again."

"Yes, you old stupid, and you have never taken the place you are
entitled to, in consequence."

"What place? May I button that?"

"Thanks."

She held out her arm while he, with fingers much too large for such
dainty work, buttoned her glove.

"The place in society," she answered.

"Oh; does that matter? I never thought of it."

"Of course it matters," answered the lady, with an astonished little
laugh. (It is wonderful what an importance we attach to that which has
been dearly won.) "Of course it matters," answered Etta; "more
than--well, more than any thing."

"But the position that depends upon a foreign title cannot be of much
value," said the pupil of Karl Steinmetz.

Etta shook her pretty head reflectively.

"Of course," she answered, "money makes a position of its own, and
every-body knows that you are a prince; but it would be nicer, with the
servants and every-body, to be a princess."

"I am afraid I cannot do it," said Paul.

"Then there is some reason for it," answered his wife, looking at him
sharply.

"Yes, there is."

"Ah!"

"The reason is the responsibility that attaches to the very title you
wish to wear."

The lady smiled, a little scornfully perhaps.

"Oh! Your grubby old peasants, I suppose," she said.

"Yes. You remember, Etta, what I told you before we were married--about
the people, I mean?"

"Oh, yes!" answered Etta, glancing at the clock and hiding a little yawn
behind her fan.

"I did not tell you all," went on Paul, "partly because it was
inexpedient, partly because I feared it might bore you. I only told you
that I was vaguely interested in the peasants, and thought it would be a
good thing if they could be gradually educated into a greater
self-respect, a greater regard for cleanliness and that sort of thing."

"Yes, dear, I remember," answered Etta, listlessly contemplating her
gloved hands.

"Well, I have not contented myself with thinking this during the last
two or three years. I have tried to put it into practice. Steinmetz and
I have lived at Osterno six months of the year on purpose to organize
matters on the estate. I was deeply implicated in the--Charity League--"

Etta dropped her fan with a clatter into the fender.

"Oh! I hope it is not broken," she gasped, with a singular
breathlessness.

"I do not think so," replied Paul, picking up the fan and returning it
to her. "Why, you look quite white! What does it matter if it is broken?
You have others."

"Yes, but--" Etta paused, opening the fan and examining the sticks so
closely that her face was hidden by the feathers. "Yes, but I like this
one. What is the Charity League, dear?"

"It was a large organization gotten up by the hereditary nobles of
Russia to educate the people and better their circumstances by
discriminate charity. Of course it had to be kept secret, as the
bureaucracy is against any attempt to civilize the people--against
education or the dissemination of news. The thing was organized. We were
just getting to work when some one stole the papers of the League from
the house of Count Stepan Lanovitch and sold them to the Government. The
whole thing was broken up; Lanovitch and others were exiled, I bolted
home, and Steinmetz faced the storm alone in Osterno. He was too clever
for them, and nothing was brought home to us. But you will understand
that it is necessary for us to avoid any notoriety, to live as quietly
and privately as possible."

"Yes, of course; but--"

"But what?"

"You can never go back to Russia," said Etta slowly, feeling her ground,
as it were.

"Oh, yes, I can. I was just coming to that. I want to go back this
winter. There is so much to be done. And I want you to come with me."

"No, Paul. No, no! I couldn't do that!" cried Etta, with a ring of
horror in her voice, strangely out of keeping with her peaceful and
luxurious surroundings.

"Why not?" asked the man who had never known fear.

"Oh, I should be afraid. I couldn't. I hate Russia!"

"But you don't know it."

"No," answered Etta, turning away and busying herself with her long
silken train. "No, of course not. Only Petersburg, I mean. But I have
heard what it is. So cold and dismal and miserable. I feel the cold so
horribly. I wanted to go to the Riviera this winter. I really think,
Paul, you are asking me too much."

"I am only asking a proof that you care for me."

Etta gave a little laugh--a nervous laugh with no mirth in it.

"A proof! But that is so bourgeois and unnecessary. Haven't you proof
enough, since I am your wife?"

Paul looked at her without any sign of yielding. His attitude, his whole
being, was expressive of that immovability of purpose which had hitherto
been concealed from her by his quiet manner. Steinmetz knew of the
mental barrier within this Anglo-Russian soul, against which prayer and
argument were alike unavailing. The German had run against it once or
twice in the course of their joint labors, and had invariably given way
at once.

Etta looked at him. The color was coming back to her face in patches.
There was something unsteady in her eyes--something suggesting that for
the first time in her life she was daunted by a man. It was not Paul's
speech, but his silence that alarmed her. She felt that trivial
arguments, small feminine reasons, were without weight.

"Now that you are married," she said, "I do not think you have any right
to risk your life and your position for a fad."

"I have done it with impunity for the last two or three years," he
answered. "With ordinary precautions the risk is small. I have begun the
thing now; I must go on with it."

"But the country is not safe for us--for you."

"Oh, yes, it is," answered Paul. "As safe as ever it has been."

Etta paused. She turned round and looked into the fire. He could not see
her face.

"Then the Ch--Charity League is forgotten?" she said.

"No," answered her husband quietly. "It will not be forgotten until we
have found out who sold us to the Government."

Etta's lips moved in a singular way. She drew them in and held them with
her teeth. For a moment her beautiful face wore a hunted expression of
fear.

"What will you gain by that?" she asked evenly.

"I? Oh, nothing. I do not care one way or the other. But there are some
people who want the man--very much."

Etta drew in a long, deep breath.

"I will go to Osterno with you, if you like," she said. "Only--only I
must have Maggie with me."

"Yes, if you like," answered Paul, in some surprise.

The clock struck ten, and Etta's eyes recovered their brightness.
Womanlike, she lived for the present. The responsibility of the future
is essentially a man's affair. The present contained a ball, and it was
only in the future that Osterno and Russia had to be faced. Let us also
give Etta Alexis her due. She was almost fearless. It is permissible to
the bravest to be startled. She was now quite collected. The even,
delicate color had returned to her face.

"Maggie is such a splendid companion," she said lightly. "She is so easy
to please. I think she would come if you asked her, Paul."

"If you want her, I shall ask her, of course; but it may hinder us a
little. I thought you might be able to help us--with the women, you
know."

There was a queer little smile on Etta's face--a smile, one might have
thought, of contempt.

"Yes, of course," she said. "It is so nice to be able to do good with
one's money."

Paul looked at her in his slow, grave way, but he said nothing. He knew
that his wife was cleverer and brighter than himself. He was simple
enough to think that this superiority of intellect might be devoted to
the good of the peasants of Osterno.

"It is not a bad place," he said--"a very fine castle, one of the finest
in Europe. Before I came away I gave orders for your rooms to be done
up. I should like every thing to be nice for you."

"I know you would, dear," she answered, glancing at the clock. (The
carriage was ordered for a quarter-past ten.) "But I suppose," she went
on, "that, socially speaking, we shall be rather isolated. Our neighbors
are few and far between."

"The nearest," said Paul quietly, "are the Lanovitches."

"_Who_?"

"The Lanovitches. Do you know them?"

"Of course not," answered Etta sharply. "But I seem to know the name.
Were there any in St. Petersburg?"

"The same people," answered Paul; "Count Stepan Lanovitch."

Etta was looking at her husband with her bright smile. It was a little
too bright, perhaps. Her eyes had a gleam in them. She was conscious of
being beautifully dressed, conscious of her own matchless beauty, almost
dauntless, like a very strong man armed.

"Well, I think I am a model wife," she said: "to give in meekly to your
tyranny; to go and bury myself in the heart of Russia in the middle of
winter--By the way, we must buy some furs; that will be rather exciting.
But you must not expect me to be very intimate with your Russian
friends. I am not quite sure that I like Russians"--she went toward him,
laying her two hands gently on his broad breast and looking up at
him--"not quite sure--especially Russian princes who bully their wives.
You may kiss me, however, but be very careful. Now I must go and finish
dressing. We shall be late as it is."

She gathered together her fan and gloves, for she had petulantly dragged
off a pair which did not fit.

"And you will ask Maggie to come with us?" she said.

He held open the door for her to pass out, gravely polite even to his
wife--this old-fashioned man.

"Yes," he answered; "but why do you want me to ask her?"

"Because I want her to come."




CHAPTER XVII


CHARITY

In these democratic days a very democratic theory has exploded. Not so
very long ago we believed, or made semblance of belief, that it is
useless to put a high price upon a ticket with the object of securing
that selectness for which the high-born crave. "If they want to come,"
Lady Champignon (wife of Alderman Champignon) would say, "they do not
mind paying the extra half-guinea."

But Lady Champignon was wrong. It is not that the self-made man cannot
or will not pay two guineas for a ball-ticket. It is merely that, in his
commercial way, he thinks that he will not have his money's worth, and
therefore prefers keeping his two guineas to spend on something more
tangible--say food. The nouveau riche never quite purges his mind of the
instinct commercial, and it therefore goes against the grain to pay
heavily for a form of entertainment which his soul had not the
opportunity of learning to love in its youth. The aristocrat, on the
other hand, has usually been brought up to the cultivation of enjoyment,
and he therefore spends with perfect equanimity more on his pleasure
than the bourgeois mind can countenance.

The ball to which Paul and Etta were going was managed by some titled
ladies who knew their business well. The price of the tickets was
fabulous. The lady patronesses of the great Charity Ball were tactful
and unabashed. They drew the necessary line (never more necessary than
it is to-day) with a firm hand.

The success of the ball was therefore a foregone conclusion. In French
fiction there is invariably a murmur of applause when the heroine enters
a room full of people, which fact serves, at all events, to show the
breeding and social status of persons with whom French novelists are in
the habit of associating. There was therefore no applause when Paul and
Etta made their appearance, but that lady had, nevertheless, the
satisfaction of perceiving glances, not only of admiration, but of
interest and even of disapproval, among her own sex. Her dress she knew
to be perfect, and when she perceived the craning pale face of the
inevitable lady-journalist, peering between the balusters of a gallery,
she thoughtfully took up a prominent position immediately beneath that
gallery, and slowly turned round like a beautifully garnished joint
before the fire of cheap publicity.

To Paul this ball was much like others. There were a number of the
friends of his youth--tall, clean-featured, clean-limbed men, with a
tendency toward length and spareness--who greeted him almost
affectionately. Some of them introduced him to their wives and sisters,
which ladies duly set him down as nice but dull--a form of faint praise
which failed to damn. There were a number of ladies to whom it was
necessary for him to bow in acknowledgment of past favors which had
missed their mark. From the gallery the washed-out female journalists
poked out their eager faces--for they were women still, and liked to
look upon a man when he was strong.

And all the while Karl Steinmetz was storming in his guttural English at
the door, upbraiding hired waiters for their stupidity in accepting two
literal facts literally. The one fact was that they were forbidden to
admit any one without a ticket; the second fact being that tickets were
not to be obtained at the price of either one or the other of the two
great motives of man--Love or Money.

Steinmetz was Teutonic and imposing, with the ribbon of a great Order on
his breast. He mentioned the names of several ladies who might have
been, but were not, of the committee. Finally, however, he mentioned the
historic name of one whose husband had braved more than one Russian
emperor successfully for England.

"Yes, me lord, her ladyship's here," answered the man.

Steinmetz wrote on a card, "In memory of '56, let me in," and sent in
the missive.

A few minutes later a stout, smiling lady came toward him with
outstretched hand.

"What mischief are you about?" she enquired, "you stormy petrel! This is
no place for your deep-laid machinations. We are here to enjoy ourselves
and found a hospital. Come in, however. I am delighted to see you. You
used to be a famous dancer--well, some little time ago."

"Yes, my dear countess, let us say some little time ago. Ach, those were
days! those were days! You do not mind the liberty I have taken?"

"I am glad you took it. But your card gave me a little tug at the heart.
It brought back so much. And still plain Karl Steinmetz--after all. We
used to think much of you in the old days. Who would have thought that
all the honors would have slipped past you?"

Steinmetz shrugged his shoulders with a heart-whole laugh.

"Ah, what matter? Who cares, so long as my old friends remember me? Who
would have thought, my dear madam, that the map of Europe would have
been painted the colors it is to-day? It was a kaleidoscope--the clatter
of many stools, and I fell down between them all. Still plain Karl
Steinmetz--still very much at your service. Shall I send my check for
five guineas to you?"

"Yes, do; I am secretary. Always businesslike; a wonderful man you are
still."

"And you, my dear countess, a wonderful lady. Always gay, always
courageous. I have heard and sympathized. I have heard of many blows and
wounds that you have received in the battle we began--well, some little
time ago."

"Ah, don't mention them! They hurt none the less because we cover them
with a smile, eh? I dare say you know. You have been in the thick of the
fight yourself. But you did not come here to chat with me, though your
manner might lead one to think so. I will not keep you."

"I came to see Prince Pavlo," answered Steinmetz. "I must thank you for
enabling me to do so. I may not see you again this evening. My best
thanks, my very dear lady."

He bowed, and with his half-humorous, half-melancholy smile, left her.

The first face he recognized was a pretty one. Miss Maggie Delafield was
just turning away from a partner who was taking his conge, when she
looked across the room and saw Steinmetz. He had only met her once,
barely exchanging six words with her, and her frank, friendly bow was
rather a surprise to him. She came toward him, holding out her hand with
an open friendliness which this young lady was in the habit of bestowing
upon men and women impartially--upon persons of either sex who happened
to meet with her approval. She did not know what made her incline to
like this man, neither did she seek to know. In a quiet, British way
Miss Delafield was a creature of impulse. Her likes and dislikes were a
matter of instinct, and, much as one respects the doctrine of charity,
it is a question whether an instinctive dislike should be quashed by an
exaggerated sense of neighborly duty. Steinmetz she liked, and there was
an end to it.

"I was afraid you did not recognize me," she said.

"My life has not so many pleasures that I can afford to forget one of
them," replied Steinmetz, in his somewhat old-fashioned courtesy. "But
an old--buffer, shall I say?--hardly expects to be taken much notice of
by young ladies at a ball."

"It is not ten minutes since Paul assured me that you were the best
dancer that Vienna ever produced," said the girl, looking at him with
bright, honest eyes.

Karl Steinmetz looked down at her, for he was a tall man when Paul
Alexis was not near. His quiet gray eyes were almost affectionate. There
was a sudden sympathy between these two, and sudden sympathies are the
best.

"Will you give an old man a trial?" he asked. "They will laugh at you."

She handed him her programme.

"Let them laugh!" she said.

He took the next dance, which happened to be vacant on her card. Almost
immediately the music began, and they glided off together. Maggie began
with the feeling that she was dancing with her own father, but this wore
off before they had made much progress through the crowd, and gave way
to the sensation that she had for partner the best dancer she had ever
met, gray-haired, stout, and middle-aged.

"I wanted to speak to you," she said.

"Ah!" Steinmetz answered. He was steering with infinite skill. In that
room full of dancers no one touched Maggie's elbow or the swing of her
dress, and she, who knew what such things meant, smiled as she noted it.

"I have been asked to go and stay at Osterno," she said. "Shall I go?"

"By whom?"

"By Paul."

"Then go," said Steinmetz, making one of the few mistakes of his life.

"You think so--you want me to go?"

"Ach! you must not put it like that. How well you dance--colossal! But
it does not affect me--your going, frauelein."

"Since you will be there?"

"Does that make a difference, my dear young lady?"

"Of course it does."

"I wonder why."

"So do I," answered Maggie frankly. "I wonder why. I have been wondering
why, ever since Paul asked me. If you had not been going I should have
said 'No' at once."

Karl Steinmetz laughed quietly.

"What do I represent?" he asked.

"Safety," she replied at once.

She gave a queer little laugh and went on dancing.

"And Paul?" he said, after a little while.

"Strength," replied Maggie promptly.

He looked down at her--a momentary glance of wonder. He was like a
woman, inasmuch as he judged a person by a flicker of the eyelids--a
glance, a silence--in preference to judging by the spoken word.

"Then with us both to take care of you, may we hope that you will brave
the perils of Osterno? Ah--the music is stopping."

"If I may assure my mother that there are no perils."

Something took place beneath the gray mustache--a smile or a pursing up
of the lips in doubt.

"Ah, I cannot go so far as that. You may assure Lady Delafield that I
will protect you as I would my own daughter. If--well, if the good God
in heaven had not had other uses for me I should have had a daughter of
your age. Ach! the music has stopped. The music always does stop, Miss
Delafield; that is the worst of it. Thank you for dancing with an old
buffer."

He took her back to her chaperon, bowed in his old-world way to both
ladies, and left them.

"If I can help it, my very dear young friend," he said to himself as he
crossed the room, looking for Paul, "you will not go to Osterno."

He found Paul talking to two men.

"You here!" said Paul, in surprise.

"Yes," answered Steinmetz, shaking hands. "I gave Lady Fontain five
guineas to let me in, and now I want a couple of chairs and a quiet
corner, if the money includes such."

"Come up into the gallery," replied Paul.

A certain listlessness which had been his a moment before vanished when
Paul recognized his friend. He led the way up the narrow stairs. In the
gallery they found a few people--couples seeking, like themselves, a
rare solitude.

"What news?" asked Paul, sitting down.

"Bad!" replied Steinmetz. "We have had the misfortune to make a
dangerous enemy--Claude de Chauxville."

"Claude de Chauxville," repeated Paul.

"Yes. He wanted to marry your wife--for her money."

Paul leaned forward and dragged at his great fair mustache. He was not a
subtle man, analyzing his own thoughts. Had he been, he might have
wondered why he was not more jealous in respect to Etta.

"Or," went on Steinmetz, "it may have been--the other thing. It is a
singular thing that many men incapable of a lifelong love, can conceive
a lifelong hatred based on that love. Claude de Chauxville has hated me
all his life; for very good reasons, no doubt. You are now included in
his antipathy because you married madame."

"I dare say," replied Paul carelessly. "But I am not afraid of Claude de
Chauxville, or any other man."

"I am," said Steinmetz. "He is up to some mischief. I was calling on the
Countess Lanovitch in Petersburg when in walked Claude de Chauxville. He
was constrained at the sight of my stout person, and showed it, which
was a mistake. Now, what is he doing in Petersburg? He has not been
there for ten years, at least. He has no friends there. He revived a
minute acquaintance with the Countess Lanovitch, who is a fool of the
very first water. Before I came away I heard from Catrina that he had
wheedled an invitation to Thors out of the old lady. Why, my friend,
why?"

Paul reflected, with a frown.

"We do not want him out there," he said.

"No; and if he goes there you must remain in England this winter."

Paul looked up sharply.

"I do not want to do that. It is all arranged," he said. "Etta was very
much against going at first, but I persuaded her to do so. It would be a
mistake not to go now."

Looking at him gravely, Steinmetz muttered, "I advise you not to go."

Paul shrugged his shoulders.

"I am sorry," he said. "It is too late now. Besides, I have invited Miss
Delafield, and she has practically accepted."

"Does that matter?" asked Steinmetz quietly.

"Yes. I do not want her to think that I am a changeable sort of person."

Steinmetz rose, and standing with his two hands on the marble rail he
looked down into the room below. The music of a waltz was just
beginning, and some of the more enthusiastic spirits had already begun
dancing, moving in and out among the uniforms and gay dresses.

"Well," he said resignedly; "it is as you will. There is a certain
pleasure in outwitting De Chauxville. He is so d--d clever!"




CHAPTER XVIII


IN THE CHAMPS ELYSEES

"You must accept," Steinmetz repeated to Paul. "There is no help for it.
We cannot afford to offend Vassili, of all people in the world."

They were standing together in the saloon of a suite of rooms assigned
for the time to Paul and his party in the Hotel Bristol in Paris.
Steinmetz, who held an open letter in his hand, looked out of the window
across the quiet Place Vendome. A north wind was blowing with true
Parisian keenness, driving before it a fine snow, which adhered bleakly
to the northern face of a column which is chiefly remarkable for the
facility with which it falls and rises again.

Steinmetz looked at the letter with a queer smile. He held it out from
him as if he distrusted the very stationery.

"So friendly," he exclaimed; "so very friendly! 'Ce bon Steinmetz' he
calls me. 'Ce bon Steinmetz'--confound his cheek! He hopes that his dear
prince will waive ceremony and bring his charming princess to dine quite
en famille at his little pied a terre in the Champs Elysees. He
guarantees that only his sister, the marquise, will be present, and he
hopes that 'Ce bon Steinmetz,' will accompany you, and also the young
lady, the cousin of the princess."

Steinmetz threw the letter down on the table, left it there for a
moment, and then, picking it up, he crossed the room and threw it into
the fire.

"Which means," he explained, "that M. Vassili knows we are here, and
unless we dine with him we shall be subjected to annoyance and delay on
the frontier by a stupid--a singularly and suspiciously stupid--minor
official. If we refuse, Vassili will conclude that we are afraid of him.
Therefore we must accept. Especially as Vassili has his weak points. He
loves a lord, 'Ce Vassili.' If you accept on some of that stationery I
ordered for you with a colossal gold coronet, that will already be of
some effect. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. M. Vassili's
weakest link will be touched by your gorgeous note-paper. If ce cher
prince and la charmante princesse are gracious to him, Vassili is
already robbed of half his danger."

Paul laughed. It was his habit either to laugh or to grumble at Karl
Steinmetz's somewhat subtle precautions. The word "danger" invariably
made him laugh, with a ring in his voice which seemed to betoken
enjoyment.

"Of course," he said, "I leave these matters to you. Let us show
Vassili, at all events, that we are not afraid of him."

"Then sit down and accept."

That which M. Vassili was pleased to call his little dog-hole in the
Champs Elysees was, in fact, a gorgeous house in the tawdry style of
modern Paris--resplendent in gray iron railings, and high gate-posts
surmounted by green cactus plants cunningly devised in cast iron.

The heavy front door was thrown open by a lackey, and others bowed in
the halls as if by machinery. Two maids pounced upon the ladies with the
self-assurance of their kind and country, and led the way upstairs,
while the men removed fur coats in the hall. It was all very princely
and gorgeous and Parisian.

Vassili and his sister the marquise--a stout lady in ruby velvet and
amethysts, who invariably caused Maggie Delafield's mouth to twitch
whenever she opened her own during the evening--received the guests in
the drawing-room. They were standing on the white fur hearth-rug side by
side, when the doors were dramatically thrown open, and the servant
rolled the names unctuously over his tongue.

Steinmetz, who was behind, saw everything. He saw Vassili's masklike
face contract with stupefaction when he set eyes on Etta. He saw the
self-contained Russian give a little gasp, and mutter an exclamation
before he collected himself sufficiently to bow and conceal his face.
But he could not see Etta's face for a moment or two--until the formal
greetings were over. When he did see it, he noted that it was as white
as marble.

"Aha! Ce bon Steinmetz!" cried Vassili, with less formality, holding out
his hand with frank and boyish good humor.

"Aha! Ce cher Vassili!" returned Steinmetz, taking the hand.

"It is good of you, M. le Prince, and you, madame, to honor us in our
small house," said the marquise in a guttural voice such as one might
expect from within ruby velvet and amethysts. Thereafter she subsided
into silence and obscurity so far as the evening was concerned and the
present historian is interested.

"So," said Vassili, with a comprehensive bow to all his guests--"so you
are bound for Russia. But I envy you--I envy you. You know Russia, Mme.
la Princesse?"

Etta met his veiled gaze calmly.

"A little," she replied.

There was no sign of recognition in his eyes now, nor pallor on her
face.

"A beautiful country, but the rest of Europe does not believe it. And
the estate of the prince is one of the vastest, if not the most
beautiful. It is a sporting estate, is it not, prince?"

"Essentially so," replied Paul. "Bears, wolves, deer, besides, of
course, black game, capercailzie, ptarmigan--every thing one could
desire."

"Speaking as a sportsman," suggested Vassili gravely.

"Speaking as a sportsman."

"Of course--" Vassili paused, and with a little gesture of the hand
included Steinmetz in the conversation. It may have been that he
preferred to have him talking than watching. "Of course, like all great
Russian landholders, you have your troubles with the people, though you
are not, strictly speaking, within the famine district."

"Not quite; we are not starving, but we are hungry," said Steinmetz
bluntly.

Vassili laughed, and shook a gold eye-glass chidingly.

"Ah, my friend, your old pernicious habit of calling a spade a spade! It
is unfortunate that they should hunger a little, but what will you? They
must learn to be provident, to work harder and drink less. With such
people experience is the only taskmaster possible. It is useless talking
to them. It is dangerous to pauperize them. Besides, the accounts that
one reads in the newspapers are manifestly absurd and exaggerated. You
must not, mademoiselle," he said, turning courteously to Maggie, "you
must not believe all you are told about Russia."

"I do not," replied Maggie, with an honest smile which completely
baffled M. Vassili. He had not had much to do with people who smiled
honestly.

"Vrai!" he said, with grave emphasis; "I am not joking. It is a matter
of the strictest fact that fiction has for the moment fixed its fancy
upon my country--just as it has upon the East End of your London. Mon
Dieu! what a lot of harm fiction with a purpose can do!"

"But we do not take our facts from fiction in England," said Maggie.

"Nor," put in Steinmetz, with his blandest smile, "do we allow fiction
to affect our facts."

Vassili glanced at Steinmetz sideways.

"Here is dinner," he said. "Mme. la Princesse, may I have the honor?"

The table was gorgeously decorated; the wine was perfect; the dishes
Parisian. Every thing was brilliant, and Etta's spirits rose. Such
little things affect the spirits of such little-minded women. It
requires a certain mental reserve from which to extract cheerfulness
over a chop and a pint of beer withal, served on a doubtful cloth. But
some of us find it easy enough to be witty and brilliant over good wine
and a perfectly appointed table.

"It is exile; it is nothing short of exile," protested Vassili, who led
the conversation. "Much as I admire my own country, as a country, I do
not pretend to regret a fate that keeps me resident in Paris. For men it
is different, but for madame, and for you, mademoiselle--ach!" He
shrugged his shoulders and looked up to the ceiling in mute appeal to
the gods above it. "Beauty, brilliancy, wit--they are all lost in
Russia."

He bowed to the princess, who was looking, and to Maggie, who was not.

"What would Paris say if it knew what it was losing?" he added in a
lower tone to Etta, who smiled, well pleased. She was not always able to
distinguish between impertinence and flattery. And indeed they are so
closely allied that the distinction is subtle.

Steinmetz, on the left hand of the marquise, addressed one or two
remarks to that lady, who replied with her mouth full. He soon
discovered that that which was before her interested her more than any
thing around, and during the banquet he contented himself by uttering an
exclamation of delight at a particular flavor which the lady was kind
enough to point out to him with an eloquent and emphatic fork from time
to time.

Vassili noted this with some disgust. He would have preferred that Karl
Steinmetz were greedy or more conversational.

"But," the host added aloud, "ladies are so good. Perhaps you are
interested in the peasants?"

Etta looked at Steinmetz, who gave an imperceptible nod.

"Yes," she answered, "I am."

Vassili followed her glance, and found Steinmetz eating with grave
appreciation of the fare provided.

"Ah!" he said in an expectant tone; "then you will no doubt pass much of
your time in endeavoring to alleviate their troubles--their
self-inflicted troubles, with all deference to ce cher prince."

"Why with deference to me?" asked Paul, looking up quietly, with
something in his steady gaze that made Maggie glance anxiously at
Steinmetz.

"Well, I understand that you hold different opinions," said the Russian.

"Not at all," answered Paul. "I admit that the peasants have themselves
to blame--just as a dog has himself to blame when he is caught in a
trap."

"Is the case analogous? Let me recommend those olives--I have them from
Barcelona by a courier."

"Quite," answered Paul; "and it is the obvious duty of those who know
better to teach the dog to avoid the places where the traps are set.
Thanks, the olives are excellent."

"Ah!" said Vassili, turning courteously to Maggie, "I sometimes thank my
star that I am not a landholder--only a poor bureaucrat. It is so
difficult to comprehend these questions, mademoiselle. But of all men in
or out of Russia it is possible our dear prince knows best of what he is
talking."

"Oh, no!" disclaimed Paul, with that gravity at which some were ready to
laugh. "I only judge in a small way from, a small experience."

"Ah! you are too modest. You know the peasants thoroughly, you
understand them, you love them--so, at least, I have been told. Is it
not so, Mme. la Princesse?"

Karl Steinmetz was frowning over an olive.

"I really do not know," said Etta, who had glanced across the table.

"I assure you, madame, it is so. I am always hearing good of you,
prince."

"From whom?" asked Paul.

Vassili shrugged his peculiarly square shoulders.

"Ah! From all and sundry."

"I did not know the prince had so many enemies," said Steinmetz bluntly,
whereat the marquise laughed suddenly, and apparently approached within
bowing distance of apoplexy.

In such wise the conversation went on during the dinner, which was a
long one. Continually, repeatedly, Vassili approached the subject of
Osterno and the daily life in that sequestered country. But those who
knew were silent, and it was obvious that Etta and Maggie were ignorant
of the life to which they were going.

From time to time Vassili raised his dull, yellow eyes to the servants,
who d'ailleurs were doing their work perfectly, and invariably the
master's glance fell to the glasses again. These the servants never left
in peace--constantly replenishing, constantly watching with that
assiduity which makes men thirsty against their will by reason of the
repeated reminder.

But tongues wagged no more freely for the choice vintages poured upon
them. Paul had a grave, strong head and that self-control against which
alcohol may ply itself in vain. Karl Steinmetz had taken his degree at
Heidelberg. He was a seasoned vessel, having passed that way before.

Etta was bright enough--amusing, light, and gay--so long as it was a
question of mere social gossip; but whenever Vassili spoke of the
country to which he expressed so deep a devotion, she, seeming to take
her cue from her husband and his agent, fell to pleasant, non-committing
silence.

It was only after dinner, in the drawing-room, while musicians
discoursed Offenbach and Rossini from behind a screen of fern and
flower, that Vassili found an opportunity of addressing himself directly
to Etta. In part she desired this opportunity, with a breathless
apprehension behind her bright society smile. Without her assistance he
never would have had it.

"It is most kind of you," he said in French, which language had been
spoken all the evening in courtesy to the marquise, who was now
asleep--"it is most kind of you to condescend to visit my poor house,
princess. Believe me, I feel the honor deeply. When you first came into
the room--you may have observed it--I was quite taken aback. I--I have
read in books of beauty capable of taking away a man's breath. You must
excuse me--I am a plain-spoken man. I never met it until this evening."

Etta excused him readily enough. She could forgive plenty of
plain-speaking of this description. Had she not been inordinately vain,
this woman, like many, would have been extraordinarily clever. She
laughed, with little sidelong glances.

"I only hope that you will honor Paris on your way home to England,"
went on Vassili, who had a wonderful knack of judging men and women,
especially shallow ones. "Now, when may that be? When may we hope to see
you again? How long will you be in Russia, and--"

"Ce Vassili is the best English scholar I know!" broke in Steinmetz, who
had approached somewhat quietly. "But he will not talk, princess--he is
so shy."

Paul was approaching also. It was eleven o'clock, he said, and
travellers who had to make an early start would do well to get home to
bed.

When the tall doors had been closed behind the departing guests, Vassili
walked slowly to the fire-place. He posted himself on the bear-skin
hearthrug, his perfectly shod feet well apart--a fine dignified figure
of a man, of erect and military carriage; a very mask of a
face--soulless, colorless, emotionless ever.

He stood biting at his thumb-nail, looking at the door through which
Etta Alexis had just passed in all the glory of her beauty, wealth, and
position.

"The woman," he said slowly, "who sold me the Charity League papers--and
she thinks I do not recognize her!"




CHAPTER XIX


ON THE NEVA

Karl Steinmetz had apparently been transacting business on the Vassili
Ostrov, which the travelled reader doubtless knows as the northern bank
of the Neva, a part of Petersburg--an island, as the name tells us,
where business is transacted; where steamers land their cargoes and
riverside loafers impede the traffic.

What the business of Karl Steinmetz may have been is not of moment or
interest; moreover, it was essentially the affair of a man capable of
holding his own and his tongue against the world.

He was recrossing the river, not by the bridge, which requires a doffed
hat by reason of its shrine, but by one of the numerous roads cut across
the ice from bank to bank. He duly reached the southern shore, ascending
to the Admiralty Gardens by a flight of sanded steps. Here he lighted a
cigar, and, tucking his hands deep into the pockets of his fur coat, he
proceeded to walk slowly through the bare and deserted public garden.

A girl had crossed the river in front of him at a smart pace. She now
slackened her speed so much as to allow him to pass her. Karl Steinmetz
noticed the action. He noticed most things--this dull German. Presently
she passed him again. She dropped her umbrella, and before picking it up
described a circle with it--a manoeuvre remarkably like a signal. Then
she turned abruptly and looked into his face, displaying a pleasing
little round physiognomy with a smiling mouth and exaggeratedly grave
eyes. It was a face of all too common a type in these days of cheap
educational literature--the face of a womanly woman engaged in unwomanly
work.

Then she came back.

Steinmetz raised his hat in his most fatherly way.

"My dear young lady," he said in Russian, "if my personal appearance has
made so profound an impression as my vanity prompts me to believe, would
it not be decorous of you to conceal your feelings beneath a maiden
modesty? If, on the other hand, the signals you have been making to me
are of profound political importance, let me assure you that I am no
Nihilist."

"Then," said the girl, beginning to walk by his side, "what are you?"

"What you see--a stout middle-aged man in easy circumstances, happily
placed in social obscurity. Which means that I have few enemies and
fewer friends."

The girl looked as if she would like to laugh, had such exercise been in
keeping with a professional etiquette.

"Your name is Karl Steinmetz," she said gravely.

"That is the name by which I am known to a large staff of creditors,"
replied he.

"If you will go to No. 4, Passage Kazan, at the back of the cathedral,
second-floor back room on the left at the top of the stairs, and go
straight into the room, you will find a friend who wishes to see you,"
she said, as one repeating a lesson by rote.

"And who are you, my dear young lady!"

"I--I am no one. I am only a paid agent."

"Ah!"

They walked on in silence a few paces. The bells of St. Isaac's Church
suddenly burst out into a wild carillon, as is their way, effectually
preventing further conversation for a few moments.

"Will you go?" asked the girl, when the sound had broken off as suddenly
as it had commenced.

"Probably. I am curious and not nervous--except of damp sheets. My
anonymous friend does not expect me to stay all night, I presume. Did
he--or is it a she, my fatal beauty?--did _it_ not name an hour?"

"Between now and seven o'clock."

"Thank you."

"God be with you!" said the girl, suddenly wheeling round and walking
away.

Without looking after her Steinmetz walked on, gradually increasing his
pace. In a few minutes he reached the large house standing within iron
gates at the upper end of the English quay, the house of Prince Pavlo
Howard Alexis.

He found Paul alone in his study. In a few words he explained the
situation.

"What do you think it means?" asked the prince.

"Heaven only knows!"

"And you will go?"

"Of course," replied Steinmetz. "I love a mystery, especially in
Petersburg. It sounds so like a romance written in the Kennington Road
by a lady who has never been nearer to Russia than Margate."

"I had better go with you," said Paul.

"Gott! No!" exclaimed Steinmetz; "I must go alone. I will take Parks to
drive the sleigh, if I may, though. Parks is a steady man, who loves a
rough-and-tumble. A typical British coachman--the brave Parks!"

"Back in time for dinner?" asked Paul.

"I hope so. I have had such mysterious appointments thrust upon me
before. It is probably a friend who wants a hundred-ruble note until
next Monday."

The cathedral clock struck six as Karl Steinmetz turned out of the
Nevski Prospekt into the large square before the sacred edifice. He soon
found the Kazan Passage--a very nest of toyshops--and, following the
directions given, he mounted a narrow staircase. He knocked at the door
on the left hand at the top of the stairs.

"Come in!" said a voice which caused him to start.

He pushed open the door. The room was a small one, brilliantly lighted
by a paraffin lamp. At the table sat an old man with broad benevolent
face, high forehead, thin hair, and that smile which savors of the milk
of human kindness, and in England suggests Nonconformity.

"You!" ejaculated Steinmetz. "Stepan!"

"Yes. Come in and close the door."

He laid aside his pen, extended his hand, and, rising, kissed Karl
Steinmetz on both cheeks after the manner of Russians.

"Yes, my dear Karl. It seems that the good God has still a little work
for Stepan Lanovitch to do. I got away quite easily, in the usual way,
through a paid Evasion Agency. I have been forwarded from pillar to post
like a prize fowl, and reached Petersburg last night. I have not long to
stay. I am going south. I may be able to do some good yet. I hear that
Paul is working wonders in Tver."

"What about money?" asked Steinmetz, who was always practical.

"Catrina sent it, the dear child! That is one of the conditions made by
the Agency--a hard one. I am to see no relations. My wife--well, bon
Dieu! it does not matter much. She is occupied in keeping herself warm,
no doubt. But Catrina! that is a different matter. Tell me--how is she?
That is the first thing I want to know."

"She is well," answered Steinmetz. "I saw her yesterday."

"And happy?" The broad-faced man looked into Steinmetz's face with
considerable keenness.

"Yes."

It was a moment for mental reservations. One wonders whether such are
taken account of in heaven.

"And Paul?" asked the Count Stepan Lanovitch at once. "Tell me about
him."

"He is married," answered Steinmetz.

The Count Lanovitch was looking at the lamp. He continued to look at it
as if interested in the mechanism of the burner. Then he turned his eyes
to the face of his companion.

"I wonder, my friend," he said slowly, "how much you know?"

"Nothing," answered Steinmetz.

The count looked at him enquiringly, heaved a sharp sigh, and abandoned
the subject.

"Well," he said, "let us get to business. I have much to ask and to tell
you. I want you to see Catrina and to tell her that I am safe and well,
but she must not attempt to see me or correspond with me for some years
yet. Of course you heard no account of my trial. I was convicted, on the
evidence of paid witnesses, of inciting to rebellion. It was easy
enough, of course. I shall live either in the south or in Austria. It is
better for you to be in ignorance."

Steinmetz nodded his head curtly.

"I do not want to know," he said.

"Will you please ask Catrina to send me money through the usual channel?
No more than she has been sending. It will suffice for my small wants.
Perhaps some day we may meet in Switzerland or in America. Tell the dear
child that. Tell her I pray the good God to allow that meeting. As for
Russia, her day has not come yet. It will not come in our time, my dear
friend. We are only the sowers. So much for the future. Now about the
past. I have not been idle. I know who stole the papers of the Charity
League and sold them. I know who bought them and paid for them."

Steinmetz closed the door. He came back to the table. He was not smiling
now--quite the contrary.

"Tell me," he said. "I want to know that badly."

The Count Lanovitch looked up with a peculiar soft smile--acquired in
prison. There is no mistaking it.

"Oh, I bear no ill will," he said.

"I do," answered Steinmetz bluntly. "Who stole the papers from Thors?"

"Sydney Bamborough."

"Good God in heaven! Is that true?"

"Yes, my friend."

Steinmetz passed his broad hand over his forehead as if dazed.

"And who sold them?" he asked.

"His wife."

Count Lanovitch was looking at the burner of the lamp. There was a
peculiar crushed look about the man, as if he had reached the end of his
life, and was lying like a ship, hopelessly disabled in smooth water,
where nothing could affect him more.

Steinmetz scratched his forehead with one finger, reflectively.

"Vassili bought them," he said; "I can guess that."

"You guess right," returned Lanovitch quietly.

Steinmetz sat down. He looked round as if wondering whether the room was
very hot. Then with a large handkerchief he wiped his brow.

"You have surprised me," he admitted. "There are complications. I shall
sit up all night with your news, my dear Stepan. Have you details?
Wonderful--wonderful! Of course there is a God in heaven. How can people
doubt it--eh?"

"Yes," said Stepan Lanovitch quietly. "There is a God in heaven, and at
present he is angry with Russia. Yes, I have details. Sydney Bamborough
came to stay at Thors. Of course he knew all about the Charity
League--you remember that. It appears that his wife was waiting for him
and the papers at Tver. He took them from my room, but he did not get
them all. Had he got them all you would not be sitting there, my friend.
The general scheme he got--the list of committee names, the local
agents, the foreign agents. But the complete list of the League he
failed to find. He secured the list of subscribers, but learned nothing
from it because the sums were identified by a numeral only, the clue to
the numbers being the complete list, which I burned when I missed the
other papers."

Steinmetz nodded curtly.

"That was wise," he said. "You are a clever man, Stepan, but too good
for this world and its rascals. Go on."

"It would appear that Bamborough rode to Tver with the papers, which he
handed to his wife. She took them to Paris while he intended to come
back to Thors. He had a certain cheap cunning and unbounded
impertinence. But--as you know, perhaps--he disappeared."

"Yes," said Steinmetz, scratching his forehead with one finger. "Yes--he
disappeared."

Karl Steinmetz had one great factor of success in this world--an
infinite capacity for holding his cards.

"One more item," said the count, in his businesslike, calm way. "Vassili
paid that woman seven thousand pounds for the papers."

"And probably charged his masters ten," added Steinmetz.

"And now you must go!"

The count rose and looked at his watch--a cheap American article, with a
loud tick. He held it out with his queer washed-out smile, and Steinmetz
smiled.

The two embraced again--and there was nothing funny in the action. It is
a singular thing that the sight of two men kissing is conducive either
to laughter or to tears. There is no medium emotion.

"My dear friend--my very dear friend," said the count, "God be with you
always. We may meet again--or we may not."

Steinmetz walked down the Nevski Prospekt on the left-hand pavement--no
one walks on the other--and the sleigh followed him. He turned into a
large, brilliantly lighted cafe, and loosened his coat.

"Give me beer," he said to the waiter; "a very large quantity of it."

The man smiled obsequiously as he set the foaming mug before him.

"Is it that his Excellency is cold?" he enquired.

"No, it isn't," answered Steinmetz. "Quite the contrary."

He drank the beer, and holding out his hand in the shadow of the table,
he noticed that it trembled only a little.

"That is better," he murmured. "But I must sit here a while longer. I
suppose I was upset. That is what they call it--upset! I have never been
like that before. Those lamps in the Prospekt! Gott! how they jumped up
and down!"

He pressed his hand over his eyes as if to shut out the brightness of
the room--the glaring gas and brilliant decorations--the shining bottles
and the many tables which would not keep still.

"Here," he said to the man, "give me more beer."

Presently he rose, and, getting rather clumsily into his sleigh, drove
back at the usual breakneck pace to the palace at the upper end of the
English Quay.

He sent an ambiguous message to Paul, saying that he had returned and
was dressing for dinner. This ceremony he went through slowly, as one
dazed by a great fall or a heavy fatigue. His servant, a quick, silent
man, noticed the strangeness of his manner, and like a wise servant only
betrayed the result of his observation by a readier service, a quicker
hand, a quieter motion.

As Steinmetz went to the drawing-room he glanced at his watch. It was
twenty minutes past seven. He still had ten minutes to spare before
dinner.

He opened the drawing-room door. Etta was sitting by the fire, alone.
She glanced back over her shoulder in a quick, hunted way which had only
become apparent to Steinmetz since her arrival at Petersburg.

"Good-evening," she said.

"Good-evening, madame," he answered.

He closed the door carefully behind him.




CHAPTER XX


AN OFFER OF FRIENDSHIP

Etta did not move when Steinmetz approached, except, indeed, to push one
foot farther out toward the warmth of the wood fire. She certainly was
very neatly shod. Steinmetz was one of her few failures. She had never
got any nearer to the man. Despite his gray hair and bulky person she
argued that he was still a man, and therefore an easy victim to
flattery--open to the influence of beauty.

"I wonder why," she said, looking into the fire, "you hate me."

Steinmetz looked down at her with his grim smile. The mise en scene was
perfect, from the thoughtful droop of the head to the innocent display
of slipper.

"I wonder why you think that of me," he replied.

"One cannot help perceiving that which is obvious."

"While that which is purposely made obvious serves to conceal that which
may exist behind it," replied the stout man.

Etta paused to reflect over this. Was Steinmetz going to make love to
her? She was not an inexperienced girl, and knew that there was nothing
impossible or even improbable in the thought. She wondered what Karl
Steinmetz must have been like when he was a young man. He had a deft way
even now of planting a double entendre when he took the trouble. How
could she know that his manner was always easiest, his attitude always
politest, toward the women whom he despised. In his way this man was a
philosopher. He had a theory that an exaggerated politeness is an insult
to a woman's intellect.

"You think I do not care," said the Princess Howard Alexis.

"You think I do not admire you," replied Steinmetz imperturbably.

She looked up at him.

"Do you not give me every reason to think so?" she returned, with a toss
of the head.

She was one of those women--and there are not a few--who would quarrel
with you if you do not admire them.

"Not intentionally, princess. I am, as you know, a German of no very
subtle comprehension. My position in your household appears to me to be
a little above the servants, although the prince is kind enough to make
a friend of me and his friends are so good as to do the same. I do not
complain. Far from it. I am well paid. I am interested in my work. I am
more or less my own master. I am very fond of Paul. You--are kind and
forbearing. I do my best--in a clumsy way, no doubt--to spare you my
heavy society. But of course I do not presume to form an opinion upon
your--upon you."

"But I want you to form an opinion," she said petulantly.

"Then you must know that I could only form one which would be pleasing
to you."

"I know nothing of the sort," replied Etta. "Of course I know that all
that you say about position and work is mere irony. Paul thinks there is
no one in the world like you."

Steinmetz glanced sharply down at her. He had never considered the
possibility that she might love Paul. Was this, after all, jealousy? He
had attributed it to vanity.

"And I have no doubt he is right," she went on. Suddenly she gave a
little laugh. "Don't you understand?" she said. "I want to be friends."

She did not look at him, but sat with pouting lips holding out her hand.

Karl Steinmetz had been up to the elbows, as it were, in the diplomacy
of an unscrupulous, grasping age ever since his college days. He had
been behind the scenes in more than one European crisis, and that which
goes on behind the scenes is not always edifying or conducive to a
squeamishness of touch. He was not the man to be mawkishly afraid of
soiling his fingers. But the small white hand rather disconcerted him.

He took it, however, in his great, warm, soft grasp, held it for a
moment, and relinquished it.

"I don't want you to address all your conversation to Maggie, and to
ignore me. Do you think Maggie so very pretty?"

There was a twist beneath the gray mustache as he answered, "Is that all
the friendship you desire? Does it extend no farther than a passing wish
to be first in petty rivalries of daily existence? I am afraid, my dear
princess, that my friendship is a heavier matter--a clumsier thing than
that."

"A big thing not easily moved," she suggested, looking up with her
dauntless smile.

He shrugged his great shoulders.

"It may be--who knows? I hope it is," he answered.

"The worst of those big things is that they are sometimes in the way,"
said Etta reflectively, without looking at him.

"And yet the life that is only a conglomeration of trifles is a poor
life to look back upon."

"Meaning mine?" she asked.

"Your life has not been trifling," he said gravely.

She looked up at him, and then for some moments kept silence while she
idly opened and shut her fan. There was in the immediate vicinity of
Karl Steinmetz a sort of atmosphere of sympathy which had the effect of
compelling confidence. Even Etta was affected by it. During the silence
recorded she was quelling a sudden desire to say things to this man
which she had never said to any. She only succeeded in part.

"Do you ever feel an unaccountable sensation of dread," she asked, with
a weary little laugh; "a sort of foreboding with nothing definite to
forebode?"

"Unaccountable--no," replied Steinmetz. "But then I am a German--and
stout, which may make a difference. I have no nerves."

He looked into the fire through his benevolent gold-rimmed spectacles.

"Is it nerves--or is it Petersburg?" she asked abruptly. "I think it is
Petersburg. I hate Petersburg."

"Why Petersburg more than Moscow or Nijni or--Tver?"

She drew in a long, slow breath, looking him up and down the while from
the corners of her eyes.

"I do not know," she replied collectedly; "I think it is damp. These
houses are built on reclaimed land, I believe. This was all marsh, was
it not?"

He did not answer her question, and somehow she seemed to expect no
reply. He stood blinking down into the fire while she watched him
furtively from the corners of her eyes, her lips parched and open, her
face quite white.

A few moments before she had protested that she desired his friendship.
She knew now that she could not brave his enmity. And the one word
"Tver" had done it all! The mere mention of a town, obscure and squalid,
on the upper waters of the mighty Volga in Mid-Russia!

During those few moments she suddenly came face to face with her
position. What had she to offer this man? She looked him up and
down--stout, placid, and impenetrable. Here was no common adventurer
seeking place--no coxcomb seeking ladies' favors--no pauper to be bought
with gold. She had no means of ascertaining how much he knew, how much
he suspected. She had to deal with a man who held the best cards and
would not play them. She could never hope to find out whether his
knowledge and his suspicions were his alone or had been imparted to
others. In her walk through life she had jostled mostly villains; and a
villain is no very dangerous foe, for he fights on slippery ground.
Except Paul she had never had to do with a man who was quite honest,
upright, and fearless; and she had fallen into the common error of
thinking that all such are necessarily simple, unsuspicious, and a
little stupid.

She breathed hard, living through years of anxiety in a few moments of
time, and she could only realize that she was helpless, bound hand and
foot in this man's power.

It was he who spoke first. In the smaller crises of life it is usually
the woman who takes this privilege upon herself; but the larger
situations need a man's steadier grasp.

"My dear lady," he said, "if you are content to take my friendship as it
is, it is yours. But I warn you it is no showy drawing-room article.
There will be no compliments, no pretty speeches, no little gifts of
flowers, and such trumpery amenities. It will all be very solid and
middle-aged, like myself."

"You think," returned the lady, "that I am fit for nothing better than
pretty speeches and compliments and floral offerings?"

She broke off with a forced little laugh, and awaited his verdict with
defiant eyes upraised. He returned the gaze through his placid
spectacles; her beauty, in its setting of brilliant dress and furniture,
soft lights, flowers, and a thousand feminine surroundings, failed to
dazzle him.

"I do," he said quietly.

"And yet you offer me your friendship?"

He bowed in acquiescence.

"Why?" she asked.

"For Paul's sake, my dear lady."

She shrugged her shoulders and turned away from him.

"Of course," she said, "it is quite easy to be rude. As it happens, it
is precisely for Paul's sake that I took the trouble of speaking to you
on this matter. I do not wish him to be troubled with such small
domestic affairs; and therefore, if we are to live under the same roof,
I shall deem it a favor if you will, at all events, conceal your
disapproval of me."

He bowed gravely and kept silence. Etta sat with a little patch of color
on either cheek, looking into the fire until the door was opened and
Maggie came in.

Steinmetz went toward her with his grave smile, while Etta hid a face
which had grown haggard.

Maggie glanced from one to the other with frank interest. The
relationship between these two had rather puzzled her of late.

"Well," said Steinmetz, "and what of St. Petersburg?"

"I am not disappointed," replied Maggie. "It is all I expected and more.
I am not blasee like Etta. Every thing interests me."

"We were discussing Petersburg when you came in," said Steinmetz,
drawing forward a chair. "The princess does not like it. She complains
of--nerves."

"Nerves!" exclaimed Maggie, turning to her cousin. "I did not suspect
you of having them."

Etta smiled, a little wearily.

"One never knows," she answered, forcing herself to be light, "what one
may come to in old age. I saw a gray hair this morning. I am nearly
thirty-three, you know. When glamour goes, nerves come."

"Well, I suppose they do--especially in Russia, perhaps. There is a
glamour about Russia, and I mean to cultivate it rather than nerves.
There is a glamour about every thing--the broad streets, the Neva, the
snow, and the cold. Especially the people. It is always especially the
people, is it not?"

"It is the people, my dear young lady, that lend interest to the world."

"Paul took me out in a sleigh this morning," went on Maggie, in her
cheerful voice that knew no harm. "I liked every thing--the policemen in
their little boxes at the street corners, the officers in their fur
coats, the cabmen, every-body. There is something so mysterious about
them all. One can easily make up stories about every-body one meets in
Petersburg. It is so easy to think that they are not what they seem.
Paul, Etta, even you, Herr Steinmetz, may not be what you seem."

"Yes, that is so," answered Steinmetz, with a laugh.

"You may be a Nihilist," pursued Maggie. "You may have bombs concealed
up your sleeves; you may exchange mysterious passwords with people in
the streets; you may be much less innocent than you appear."

"All that may be so," he admitted.

"You may have a revolver in the pocket of your dress-coat," went on
Maggie, pointing to the voluminous garment with her fan.

His hand went to the pocket in question, and produced exactly what she
had suggested. He held out his hand with a small silver-mounted revolver
lying in the palm of it.

"Even that," he said, "may be so."

Maggie looked at it with a sudden curiosity, her bright eyes grave.

"Loaded?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then I will not examine it. How curious! I wonder how near to the mark
I may have been in other ways."

"I wonder," said Steinmetz, looking at Etta. "And now tell us something
about the princess. What do you suspect her of?"

At this moment Paul came into the room, distinguished-looking and grave.

"Miss Delafield," pursued Steinmetz, turning to the new-comer, "is
telling us her suspicions about ourselves. I am already as good as
condemned to Siberia. She is now about to sit in judgment on the
princess."

Maggie laughed.

"Herr Steinmetz has pleaded guilty to the worst accusation," she said.
"On the other counts I leave him to his own conscience."

"Any thing but that," urged Steinmetz.

Paul came forward, and Maggie rather obviously avoided looking at him.

"Tell us of Paul's crimes first," said Etta, rather hurriedly. She
glanced at the clock, whither Karl Steinmetz's eyes had also travelled.

"Oh, Paul," said Maggie, rather indifferently. Indeed, it seemed as if
her lightness of heart had suddenly failed her. "Well, perhaps he is
deeply involved in schemes for the resurrection of the Polish kingdom,
or something of that sort."

"That sounds tame," put in Steinmetz. "I think you would construct a
better romance respecting the princess. In books it is always the
beautiful princesses who are most deeply dyed in crime."

Maggie opened her fan and closed it again.

"Well," she said, tapping on the arm of her chair with it; "I give Etta
a mysterious past. She is the sort of person who would laugh and dance
at a ball with the knowledge that there was a mine beneath the floor."

"I do not think I am," said Etta, with a shudder. She rose rather
hurriedly, and crossed the room with a great rustle of silks.

"Stop her!" she whispered, as she passed Steinmetz.




CHAPTER XXI


A SUSPECTED HOUSE

The Countess Lanovitch and Catrina were sitting together in the
too-luxurious drawing-room that overlooked the English Quay and the
Neva. The double windows were rigorously closed, while the inner panes
were covered with a thick rime. The sun was just setting over the
marshes that border the upper waters of the Gulf of Finland, and lit up
the snow-clad city with a rosy glow which penetrated to the room where
the two women sat.

Catrina was restless, moving from chair to chair, from fire-place to
window, with a lack of repose which would certainly have touched the
nerves of a less lethargic person than the countess.

"My dear child!" that lady was exclaiming with lackadaisical horror, "we
cannot go to Thors yet. The thought is too horrible. You never think of
my health. Besides, the gloom of the everlasting snow is too painful. It
makes me think of your poor mistaken father, who is probably shovelling
it in Siberia. Here, at all events, one can avoid the window--one need
not look at it."

"The policy of shutting one's eyes is a mistake," said Catrina.

She had risen, and was standing by the window, her stunted form being
framed, as it were, in a rosy glow of pink.

The countess heaved a little sigh and gazed idly at the fire. She did
not understand Catrina. She was afraid of her. There was something
rugged and dogged which the girl had inherited from her father--that
Slavonic love of pain for its own sake--which makes Russian patriots and
thinkers strange, incomprehensible beings.

"I question it, Catrina," said the elder lady; "but perhaps it is a
matter of health. Dr. Stantovitch told me, quite between ourselves, that
if I had given way to my grief at the time of the trial he would not
have held himself responsible for the consequences."

"Dr. Stantovitch," said Catrina, "is a humbug."

"My dear child!" exclaimed the countess, "he attends all the noble
ladies of Petersburg."

"Precisely," answered Catrina.

She was woman enough to enter into futile arguments with her mother, and
man enough to despise herself for doing it.

"Why do you want to go back to Thors so soon?" murmured the elder lady,
with a little sigh of despair. She knew she was playing a losing game
very badly. She was mentally shuddering at the recollection of former
sleigh-journeying from Tver to Thors.

"Because I am sure father would like us to be there this hard winter."

"But your father is in Siberia," put in the countess, which remark was
ignored.

"Because if we do not go before the snow begins to melt we shall have to
do the journey in carriages over bad roads, which is sure to knock you
up. Because our place is at Thors, and no one wants us here. I hate
Petersburg. It is no use living here unless one is rich and beautiful
and popular. We are none of those things, so we are better at Thors."

"But we have many nice friends here, dear. You will see, this afternoon.
I expect quite a reception. By the way, I hope Kupfer has sent the
little cakes. Your father used to be so fond of them. I wonder if we
could send him a box to Siberia. He would enjoy them, poor man! He might
give some to the prison people, and thus obtain a little alleviation.
Yes; the Comte de Chauxville said he would come on my first
reception-day, and, of course, Paul and his wife must return my call.
They will come to-day. I am anxious to see her. They say she is
beautiful and dresses well."

Catrina's broad white teeth gleamed for a moment in the flickering
firelight, as she clenched them over her lower lip.

"And therefore Paul's happiness in life is assured," she said, in a hard
voice.

"Of course. What more could he want?" murmured the countess, in blissful
ignorance of any irony.

Catrina looked at her mother with a gleam of utter contempt in her eyes.
That is one of the privileges of a great love, whether it bring
happiness or misery--the contempt for all who have never known it.

While they remained thus the sound of sleigh-bells on the quiet English
Quay made itself heard through the double windows. There was a clang of
many tones, and the horses pulled up with a jerk. The color left
Catrina's face quite suddenly, as if wiped away, leaving her ghastly.
She was going to see Paul and his wife.

Presently the door opened, and Etta came into the room with the
indomitable assurance which characterized her movements and earned for
her a host of feminine enemies.

"Mme. la Comtesse," she said, with her most gracious smile, taking the
limp hand offered to her by the Countess Lanovitch.

Catrina stood in the embrasure of the window, hating her.

Paul followed on his wife's heels, scarcely concealing his boredom. He
was not a society man. Catrina came forward and exchanged a formal bow
with Etta, who took in her plainness and the faults of her dress at one
contemptuous glance. She smiled with the perfect pity of a good figure
for no figure at all. Paul was shaking hands with the countess. When he
took Catrina's hand her fingers were icy, and twitched nervously within
his grasp.

The countess was already babbling to Etta in French. The Princess Howard
Alexis always began by informing Paul's friends that she knew no
Russian. For a moment Paul and Catrina were left, as it were, alone.
When the countess was once fairly roused from her chronic lethargy her
voice usually acquired a metallic ring which dominated any other
conversation that might be going on in the room.

"I wish you happiness," said Catrina, and no one heard her but Paul. She
did not raise her eyes to his, but looked vaguely at his collar. Her
voice was short and rather breathless, as if she had just emerged from
deep water.

"Thank you," answered Paul simply.

He turned and somewhat naturally looked at his wife. Catrina's thoughts
followed his. A man is at a disadvantage in the presence of the woman
who loves him. She usually sees through him--a marked difference between
masculine and feminine love. Catrina looked up sharply and caught his
eyes resting on Etta.

"He does not love her--he does not love her!" was the thought that
instantly leaped into her brain.

And if she had said it to him he would have contradicted her flatly and
honestly, and in vain.

"Yes," the countess was saying with lazy volubility; "Paul is one of our
oldest friends. We are neighbors in the country, you know. He has always
been in and out of our house like one of the family. My poor husband was
very fond of him."

"Is your husband dead, then?" asked Etta in a low voice, with a strange
haste.

"No; he is only in Siberia. You have perhaps heard of his
misfortune--Count Stepan Lanovitch."

Etta nodded her head with the deepest sympathy.

"I feel for you, countess," she said. "And yet you are so brave--and
mademoiselle," she said, turning to Catrina. "I hope we shall see more
of each other in Tver."

Catrina bowed jerkily and made no reply. Etta glanced at her sharply.
Perhaps she saw more than Catrina knew.

"I suppose," she said to the countess, with that inclusive manner which
spreads the conversation out, "that Paul and Mlle. de Lanovitch were
playmates?"

The reply lay with either of the ladies, but Catrina turned away.

"Yes," answered the countess; "but Catrina is only twenty-four--ten
years younger than Paul."

"Indeed!" with a faint, cutting surprise.

Indeed Etta looked younger than Catrina. On a l'age de son coeur, and if
the heart be worn it transmits its weariness to the face, where such
signs are ascribed to years. So the little stab was justified by
Catrina's appearance.

While the party assembled were thus exchanging social amenities, a past
master in such commerce joined them in the person of Claude de
Chauxville.

He smiled his mechanical, heartless smile upon them all, but when he
bowed over Etta's hand his face was grave. He expressed no surprise at
seeing Paul and Etta, though his manner betokened that emotion. There
was no sign of this meeting having been a prearranged matter, brought
about by himself through the easy and innocent instrumentality of the
countess.

"And you are going to Tver, no doubt?" he said almost at once to Etta.

"Yes," answered that lady, with a momentary hunted look in her eyes. It
is strange how an obscure geographical name may force its way into our
lives, never to be forgotten. Queen Mary of England struck a note of the
human octave when she protested that the word "Calais" was graven on her
heart. It seemed to Etta that "Tver" was written large wheresoever she
turned, for the conscience looks through a glass and sees whatever may
be written thereon overspreading every prospect.

"The prince," continued De Chauxville, turning to Paul, "is a great
sportsman, I am told--a mighty hunter. I wonder why Englishmen always
want to kill something."

Paul smiled, without making an immediate answer. He was not the man to
be led into the danger of repartee by such as De Chauxville.

"We have a few bears left," he said.

"You are fortunate," protested De Chauxville. "I shot one when I was
younger. I was immensely afraid, and so was the bear. I have a great
desire to try again."

Etta glanced at Paul, who returned De Chauxville's bland gaze with all
the imperturbability of a prince.

The countess's cackling voice broke in at this juncture, as perhaps De
Chauxville had intended it to do.

"Then why not come and shoot ours?" she said. "We have quite a number of
them in the forests at Thors."

"Ah, Mme. la Comtesse," he answered, with outspread, deprecatory hands,
"but that would be taking too great an advantage of your hospitality and
your well-known kindness."

He turned to Catrina, who received him with a half-concealed frown. The
countess bridled and looked at her daughter with obvious maternal
meaning, as one who was saying, "There--you bungled your prince, but I
have procured you a baron."

"The abuse of hospitality is the last refuge of the needy," continued De
Chauxville oracularly. "But my temptation is strong; shall I yield to
it, mademoiselle?"

Catrina smiled unwillingly.

"I would rather leave it to your own conscience," she said. "But I fail
to see the danger you anticipate."

"Then I accept, madame," said De Chauxville, with the engaging
frankness which ever had a false ring in it.

If the whole affair had been prearranged in Claude de Chauxville's mind,
it certainly succeeded more fully than is usually the case with human
schemes. If, on the other hand, this invitation was the result of
chance, Fortune had favored Claude de Chauxville beyond his deserts.

The little scene had played itself out before the eyes of Paul, who did
not want it; of Etta, who desired it; and of Catrina, who did not
exactly know what she wanted, with the precision of a stage-play
carefully rehearsed.

Claude de Chauxville had unscrupulously made use of feminine vanity with
all the skill that was his. A little glance toward Etta, as he accepted
the invitation, conveyed to her the fact that she was the object of his
clever little plot; that it was in order to be near her that he had
forced the Countess Lanovitch to invite him to Thors; and Etta, with all
her shrewdness, was promptly hoodwinked. Vanity is a handicap assigned
to clever women by Fate, who handicaps us all without appeal. De
Chauxville saw by a little flicker of the eyelids that he had not missed
his mark. He had hit Etta where his knowledge of her told him she was
unusually vulnerable. He had made one ally. The countess he looked upon
with a wise contempt. She was easier game than Etta. Catrina he
understood well enough. Her rugged simplicity had betrayed her secret to
him before he had been five minutes in the room. Paul he despised as a
man lacking finesse and esprit--a truly French form of contempt. For
Frenchmen have yet to learn that such qualities have remarkably little
to do with love.

Claude de Chauxville was one of those men--alas! too many--who owe their
success in life almost entirely to some feminine influence or another.
Whenever he came into direct opposition to men it was his instinct to
retire from the field. Behind Paul's back he despised him; before his
face he cringed.

"Then, perhaps," he said, when the princess was engaged in the usual
farewells with the countess, and Paul was moving toward the door--"then,
perhaps, prince, we may meet again before the spring--if the countess
intends her invitation to be taken seriously."

"Yes," answered Paul; "I often shoot at Thors."

"If you do not happen to come over, perhaps I may be allowed to call and
pay my respects--or is the distance too great?"

"You can do it in an hour and a half with a quick horse, if the snow is
good," answered Paul.

"Then I may make it au revoir?" enquired De Chauxville, holding out a
frank hand.

"Au revoir," said Paul, "if you wish it."

And he turned to say good-by to Catrina.

As De Chauxville had arrived later than the other visitors, it was quite
natural that he should remain after they had left, and it may be safely
presumed that he took good care to pin the Countess Lanovitch down to
her rash invitation.

"Why is that man coming to Tver?" said Paul, rather gruffly, when Etta
and he were settled beneath the furs of the sleigh. "We do not want him
there."

"I expect," replied Etta rather petulantly, "that we shall be so
horribly dull that even M. de Chauxville will be a welcome alleviation."

Paul said nothing. He gave a little sign to the driver, and the horses
leaped forward with a musical clash of their silver bells.




CHAPTER XXII


THE SPIDER AND THE FLY

It is to be feared that there is a lamentable lack of local color in the
present narrative. Having safely arrived at Petersburg, we have nothing
to tell of that romantic city--no hints at deep-laid plots, no prison,
nor tales of jail-birds--tales with salt on them, bien entendu--the
usual grain. We have hardly mentioned the Nevski Prospekt, which street
by ancient right must needs figure in all Russian romance. We have
instead been prating of drawing-rooms and mere interiors of houses,
which to-day are the same all the world over. A Japanese fan is but a
Japanese fan, whether it hang on the wall of a Canadian drawing-room or
the matting of an Indian bungalow. An Afghan carpet is the same on any
floor. It is the foot that treads the carpet which makes one to differ
from another.

Whether it be in Petersburg or Pekin, it still must be the human being
that lends the interest to the still life around it. A truce, therefore,
to picturesque description--sour grapes to the present pen--of church
and fort and river, with which the living persons of whom we tell have
little or nothing to do.

Maggie was alone in the great drawing-room of the house at the end of
the English Quay--alone and grave. Some people, be it noted, are gravest
when alone, and they are wise, for the world has too much gravity for us
to go about it with a long face, making matters worse. Let each of us be
the centre of his own gravity. Maggie Delafield had, perhaps, that spark
in the brain for which we have but an ugly word. We call it "pluck." And
by it we are enabled to win a losing game--and, harder still, to lose a
losing game--without much noise or plaint.

Whatever this girl's joys or sorrows may have been--and pray you, madam,
remember that no man ever knows his neighbor's heart!--she succeeded as
well as any in concealing both. There are some women who tell one just
enough about themselves to prove that they can understand and
sympathize. Maggie was of these; but she told no more.

She was alone when Paul came into the room. It was a large room, with
more than one fire-place. Maggie was reading, and she did not look
round. Paul stopped--warming himself by the fire nearest to the door. He
was the sort of man to come into a room without any remark.

Maggie looked up for a moment, glancing at the wood fire. She seemed to
know for certain that it was Paul.

"Have you been out?" she asked.

"Yes--calling."

He came toward her, standing beside her with his hands clasped behind
his back, looking into the fire.

"Socially," he said, with a quiet humor, "I am not a success."

Her book dropped upon her knees, her two hands crossed upon its pages.
She stared at the glowing logs as if his thoughts were written there.

"I do not want to give way," he went on, "to a habit of morbid
introspection, but socially I am a horrid failure."

There was a little smile on the girl's face, not caused by his grave
humor. It would appear that she was smiling at something beyond
that--something only visible to her own mental vision.

"Perhaps you do not try," she suggested practically.

"Oh, yes, I do. I try in several languages. I have no small-talk."

"You see," she said gravely, "you are a large man."

"Does that make any difference?" he asked simply.

She turned and looked at him as he towered by her side--looked at him
with a queer smile.

"Yes," she answered, "I think so."

For some moments they remained thus without speaking--in a peaceful
silence. Although the room was very large, it was peaceful. What is it,
by the way, that brings peace to the atmosphere of a room, of a whole
house sometimes? It can only be something in the individuality of some
person in it. We talk glibly of the comfort of being settled--the
peacefulness, the restfulness of it. Some people, it would appear, are
always settled--of settled convictions, settled mind, settled purpose.
Paul Howard Alexis was perhaps such a person.

At all events, the girl sitting in the low chair by his side seemed to
be under some such influence, seemed to have escaped the unrest which is
said to live in palaces.

When she spoke it was with a quiet voice, as one having plenty of time
and leisure.

"Where have you been?" she asked practically. Maggie was always
practical.

"To the Lanovitches', where we met the Baron de Chauxville."

"Ah!"

"Why--ah?"

"Because I dislike the Baron de Chauxville," answered Maggie in her
decisive way.

"I am glad of that--because I hate him!" said Paul. "Have you any reason
for your dislike?"

Miss Delafield had a reason, but it was not one that she could mention
to Paul. So she gracefully skirted the question.

"He has the same effect upon me as snails," she explained airily.

Then, as if to salve her conscience, she gave the reason, but disguised,
so that he did not recognize it.

"I have seen more of M. de Chauxville than you have," she said gravely.
"He is one of those men of whom women do see more. When men are present
he loses confidence, like a cur when a thoroughbred terrier is about. He
dislikes you. I should take care to give M. de Chauxville a wide berth
if I were you, Paul."

She had risen, after glancing at the clock. She turned down the page of
her book, and looking up suddenly, met his eyes, for a moment only.

"We are not likely to drop into a close friendship," said Paul. "But--he
is coming to Thors, twenty miles from Osterno."

There was a momentary look of anxiety in the girl's eyes, which she
turned away to hide.

"I am sorry for that," she said. "Does Herr Steinmetz know it?"

"Not yet."

Maggie paused for a moment. She was tracing with the tip of her finger a
pattern stamped on the binding of the book. It would seem that she had
something more to say. Then suddenly she went away without saying it.

In the meantime Claude de Chauxville had gently led the Countess
Lanovitch to invite him to stay to dinner. He accepted the invitation
with becoming reluctance, and returned to the Hotel de Berlin, where he
was staying, in order to dress. He was fully alive to the expediency of
striking while the iron is hot--more especially where women are
concerned. Moreover, his knowledge of the countess led him to fear that
she would soon tire of his society. This lady had a lamentable facility
for getting to the bottom of her friends' powers of entertainment within
a few days. It was De Chauxville's intention to make secure his
invitation to Thors, and then to absent himself from the countess.

At dinner he made himself vastly agreeable, recounting many anecdotes
fresh from Paris, which duly amused the Countess Lanovitch, and somewhat
shocked Catrina, who was not advanced or inclined to advance.

After dinner the guest asked Mlle. Catrina to play. He opened the grand
piano in the inner drawing-room with such gallantry and effusion that
the sanguine countess, post-prandially somnolescent in her luxurious
chair, began rehearsing different modes of mentioning her son-in-law,
the baron.

"Yes," she muttered to herself, "and Catrina is plain--terribly plain."

Thereupon she fell asleep.

De Chauxville had a good memory, and was, moreover, a good and capable
liar. So Catrina did not find out that he knew nothing whatever of
music. He watched the plain face as the music rose and fell, himself
impervious to its transcendent tones. With practised cunning he waited
until Catrina was almost intoxicated with music--an intoxication to
which all great musicians are liable.

"Ah!" he said. "I envy you your power. With music like that one can
almost imagine that life is what one would wish it to be."

She did not answer, but she wandered off into another air--a slumber
song.

"The Schlummerlied," said De Chauxville softly. "It almost has the power
to send a sorrow to sleep."

This time she answered him--possibly because he had not looked at her.

"Such never sleep," she said.

"Do you know that, too?" he asked, not in a tone that wanted reply.

She made no answer.

"I am sorry," he went on. "For me it is different, I am a man. I have
man's work to do. I can occupy myself with ambition. At all events, I
have a man's privilege of nursing revenge."

He saw her eyes light up, her breast heave with a sudden sigh. Something
like a smile wavered for a moment beneath his waxed mustache.

Catrina's fingers, supple and strong, struck in great chords the air of
a gloomy march from the half-forgotten muse of some monastic composer.
While she played, Claude de Chauxville proceeded with his delicate touch
to play on the hidden chords of an untamed heart.

"A man's privilege," he repeated musingly.

"Need it be such?" she asked.

For the first time his eyes met hers.

"Not necessarily," he answered, and her eyes dropped before his narrow
gaze.

He sat back in his chair, content for the moment with the progress he
had made. He glanced at the countess. He was too experienced a man to be
tricked. The countess was really asleep. Her cap was on one side, her
mouth open. A woman who is pretending to sleep usually does so in
becoming attitudes.

De Chauxville did not speak again for some minutes. He sat back in his
chair, leaning his forehead on his hand, while he peeped through his
slim fingers. He could almost read the girl's thoughts as she put them
into music.

"She does not hate him yet," he was reflecting. "But she needs only to
see him with Etta a few times and she will come to it."

The girl played on, throwing all the pain in her passionate, untamed
heart into the music. She knew nothing of the world; for half of its
temptations, its wiles, its wickednesses were closed to her by the plain
face that God had given her. For beautiful women see the worst side of
human nature--they usually deal with the worst of men. Catrina was an
easy tool in the hands of such as Claude de Chauxville; for he had dealt
with women and that which is evil in women all his life, and the only
mistakes he ever made were those characteristic errors of omission
attaching to a persistent ignorance of the innate good in human nature.
It is this same innate good that upsets the calculations of most
villains.

Absorbed as she was in her great grief, Catrina was in no mood to seek
for motives--to split a moral straw. She only knew that this man seemed
to understand her as no one had ever understood her. She was content
with the knowledge that he took the trouble to express and to show a
sympathy of which those around her had not suspected her to be in need.

The moment had been propitious, and Claude de Chauxville, with true
Gallic insight, had seized it. Her heart was sore and lonely--almost
breaking--and she was without the worldly wisdom which tells us that
such hearts must, at all costs, be hidden from the world. She was
without religious teaching--quite without that higher moral teaching
which is independent of creed and conformity, which is only learnt at a
good mother's knee. Catrina had not had a good mother. She had had the
countess--a weak-minded, self-indulgent, French-novel-reading woman.
Heaven protect our children from such mothers!

In the solitude of her life Catrina Lanovitch had conceived a great
love--a passion such as a few only are capable of attaining, be it for
weal or woe. She had seen this love ignored--walked under foot by its
object with a grave deliberation which took her breath away when she
thought of it. It was all in all to her; to him it was nothing. Her
philosophy was simple. She could not sit still and endure. At this time
it seemed unbearable. She must turn and rend some one. She did not know
whom. But some one must suffer. It was in this that Claude de Chauxville
proposed to assist her.

"It is preposterous that people should make others suffer and go
unpunished," he said, intent on his noble purpose.

Catrina's eyelids flickered, but she made no answer. The soreness of her
heart had not taken the form of a definite revenge as yet. Her love for
Paul was still love, but it was perilously near to hatred. She had not
reached the point of wishing definitely that he should suffer, but the
sight of Etta--beautiful, self-confident, carelessly possessive in
respect to Paul--had brought her within measurable distance of it.

"The arrogance of those who have all that they desire is insupportable,"
the Frenchman went on in his favorite, non-committing, epigrammatic way.

Catrina--a second Eve--glanced at him, and her silence gave him
permission to go on.

"Some men have a different code of honor for women, who are helpless."

Catrina knew vaguely that unless a woman is beloved by the object of her
displeasure, she cannot easily make him suffer.

She clenched her teeth over her lower lip. As she played, a new light
was dawning in her eyes. The music was a marvel, but no one in the room
heard it.

"I would be pitiless to all such men," said De Chauxville. "They deserve
no pity, for they have shown none. The man who deceives a woman is
worthy of--"

He never finished the sentence. Her deep, passionate eyes met his. Her
hands came down with one final crash on the chords. She rose and crossed
the room.

"Mother," she said, "shall I ring for tea?"

When the countess awoke, De Chauxville was turning over some sheets of
music at the piano.




CHAPTER XXIII


A WINTER SCENE

Between Petersburg and the sea there are several favorite islands more
or less assigned to the foreigners residing in the Russian capital. Here
the English live, and in summer the familiar cries of the tennis-lawn
may be heard, while in winter snow-shoeing, skating, and tobogganing
hold merry sway.

It was here, namely, on the island of Christeffsky, that a great ice
fete was held on the day preceding the departure of the Howard Alexis
household for Tver. The fete was given by one of the foreign
ambassadors--a gentleman whose wife was accredited to the first place
in Petersburg society. It was absolutely necessary, Steinmetz averred,
for the whole Howard Alexis party to put in an appearance.

The fete was supposed to begin at four in the afternoon, and by five
o'clock all St. Petersburg--all, c'est a dire, worthy of mention in that
aristocratic city--had arrived. One may be sure Claude de Chauxville
arrived early, in beautiful furs with a pair of silver-plated skates
under his arm. He was an influential member of the Cercle des Patineurs
in Paris. Steinmetz arrived soon after, to look on, as he told his many
friends. He was, he averred, too stout to skate and too heavy for the
little iron sleds on the ice-hills.

"No, no!" he said, "there is nothing left for me but to watch. I shall
watch De Chauxville," he added, turning to that graceful skater with a
grim smile. De Chauxville nodded and laughed.

"You have been doing that any time this twenty years, mon ami," he said,
as he stood upright on his skates and described an easy little figure on
the outside edge backward.

"And have always found you on slippery ground."

"And never a fall," said De Chauxville over his shoulder, as he shot
away across the brilliantly lighted pond.

It was quite dark. A young moon was rising over the city, throwing out
in dark relief against the sky a hundred steeples and domes. The long,
thin spire of the Fortress Church--the tomb of the Romanoffs--shot up
into the heavens like a dagger. Near at hand, a thousand electric lights
and colored lanterns, cunningly swung on the branches of the pines, made
a veritable fairyland. The ceaseless song of the skates, on ice as hard
as iron, mingled with the strains of a band playing in a kiosk with open
windows. From the ice-hills came the swishing scream of the iron runners
down the terrific slope. The Russians are a people of great emotions.
There is a candor in their recognition of the needs of the senses which
does not obtain in our self-conscious nature. These strangely
constituted people of the North--a budding nation, a nation which shall
some day overrun the world--are easily intoxicated. And there is a
deliberation about their methods of seeking this enjoyment which appears
at times almost brutal. There is nothing more characteristic than the
ice-hill.

Imagine a slope as steep as a roof, paved with solid blocks of ice,
which are subsequently frozen together by flooding with water; imagine a
sledge with steel runners polished like a knife; imagine a thousand
lights on either side of this glittering path, and you have some idea of
an ice-hill. It is certainly the strongest form of excitement
imaginable--next, perhaps, to whale-fishing.

There is no question of breathing, once the sledge has been started by
the attendant. The sensation is somewhat suggestive of a fall from a
balloon, and yet one goes to the top again, as surely as the drunkard
will return to his bottle. Fox-hunting is child's play to it, and yet
grave men have prayed that they might die in pink.

Steinmetz was standing at the foot of the ice-hill when an arm was
slipped within his.

"Will you take me down?" asked Maggie Delafield.

He turned and smiled at her--fresh and blooming in her furs.

"No, my dear young lady. But thank you for suggesting it."

"Is it very dangerous?"

"Very. But I think you ought to try it. It is a revelation. It is an
epoch in your life. When I was a younger man I used to sneak away to an
ice-hill where I was not known, and spend hours of the keenest
enjoyment. Where is Paul?"

"He has just gone over there with Etta."

"She refuses to go?"

"Yes," answered Maggie.

Steinmetz looked down at his companion with his smile of quiet
resignation.

"You tell me you are afraid of mice," he said.

"I hate mice," she replied. "Yes--I suppose I am afraid of them."

"The princess is not afraid of _rats_--she is afraid of very little, the
princess--and yet she will not go on the ice-hill. What strange
creatures, mademoiselle! Come, let us look for Paul. He is the only man
who may be trusted to take you down."

They found Paul and Etta together in one of the brilliantly lighted
kiosks where refreshments were being served, all hot and steaming, by
fur-clad servants. It was a singular scene. If a coffee-cup was left for
a few moments on the table by the watchful servitors, the spoon froze to
the saucer. The refreshments--bread and butter, dainty sandwiches of
caviare, of pate de foie gras, of a thousand delicatessen from Berlin
and Petersburg--were kept from freezing on hot-water dishes. The whole
scene was typical of life in the northern capital, where wealth wages a
successful fight against climate. Open fires burned brilliantly in iron
tripods within the doorway of the tent, and at intervals in the gardens.
In a large hall a string band consoled those whose years or lungs would
not permit of the more vigorous out-door entertainments.

Steinmetz made known to Paul Maggie's desire to risk her life on the
ice-hills, and gallantly proposed to take care of the princess until his
return.

"Then," said Etta gayly, "you must skate. It is much too cold to stand
about. They are going to dance a cotillon."

"If it is your command, princess, I obey with alacrity."

Etta spoke rapidly, looking round her all the while with the bright
enjoyment which overspreads the faces of some women at almost any form
of entertainment, provided there be music, brilliant lights, and a crowd
of people. One cannot help wondering a little what the minds of such
fair ladies must consist of, to be thrown off their balance by such
outward influences. Etta's eyes gleamed with excitement. She was
beautifully dressed in furs, which adornment she was tall and stately
enough to carry to full advantage. She held her graceful head with regal
hauteur, every inch a princess. She was enjoying her keenest pleasure--a
social triumph. No whisper escaped her, no glance, no nudge of admiring
or envious notice. On Steinmetz's arm she passed out of the tent; the
touch of her hand on his sleeve reminded him of a thoroughbred horse
stepping on to turf, so full of life, of electric thrill, of excitement
was it. But then, Karl Steinmetz was a cynic. No one else could have
thought of comparing Etta's self-complaisant humor to that of a horse in
a racing paddock.

They procured skates and glided off hand in hand, equally proficient,
equally practised, maybe on this same lake; for both had learned to
skate in Russia.

They talked only of the present, of the brilliancy of the fete, of the
music, of the thousand lights. Etta was quite incapable of thinking or
talking of any other subject at that moment.

Steinmetz distinguished Claude de Chauxville easily enough, and avoided
him with some success for a short time. But De Chauxville soon caught
sight of them.

"Here is M. de Chauxville," said Etta, with a pleased ring in her voice.
"Leave me with him. I expect you are tired."

"I am not tired, but I am obedient," replied Steinmetz, as the Frenchman
came up with his fur cap in his hand, bowing gracefully. Claude de
Chauxville usually overdid things. There is something honest in a clumsy
bow which had no place in his courtly obeisance.

Although Steinmetz continued to skate in a leisurely way, he also held
to his original intention of looking on. He saw Paul and Maggie come
back to the edge of the lake, accompanied by an English lady of some
importance in Russia, with whom Maggie presently went away to the
concert-room.

Steinmetz glided up to Paul, who was lighting a cigarette at the edge of
the pond, where an attendant stood by an open wood fire with cigarettes
and hot beverages.

"Get a pair of skates," said the German. "This ice is
marvellous--colossa-a-a-l."

He amused himself with describing figures, like a huge grave-minded boy,
until Paul joined him.

"Where is Etta?" asked the prince at once.

"Over there with De Chauxville."

Paul said nothing for a few moments. They skated side by side round the
lake. It was too cold to stand still even for a minute.

"I told you," remarked Paul at length, "that that fellow is coming to
Thors."

"I wish he would go to the devil," said Steinmetz.

"No doubt he will in time," answered Paul carelessly.

"Yes; but not soon enough. I assure you, Paul, I do not like it. We are
just in that position that the least breath of suspicion will get us
into endless trouble. The authorities know that Stepan Lanovitch has
escaped. At any moment the Charity League scandal may be resuscitated.
We do not want fellows like De Chauxville prowling about. I know the
man. He is a d--d scoundrel who would sell his immortal soul if he could
get a bid for it. What is he coming to Thors for? He is not a sportsman;
why, he would be afraid of a cock pheasant, though he would be plucky
enough among the hens. You don't imagine he is in love with Catrina, do
you?"

"No," said Paul sharply, "I don't."

Steinmetz raised his bushy eyebrows. Etta and De Chauxville skated past
them at that moment, laughing gayly.

"I have been thinking about it," went on Steinmetz, "and I have come to
the conclusion that our friend hates you personally. He has a grudge
against you of some sort. Of course he hates me--cela va sans dire. He
has come to Russia to watch us. That I am convinced of. He has come here
bent on mischief. It may be that he is hard up and is to be bought. He
is always to be bought, ce bon De Chauxville, at a price. We shall see."

Steinmetz paused and glanced at Paul. He could not tell him more. He
could not tell him that his wife had sold the Charity League papers to
those who wanted them. He could not tell him all that he knew of Etta's
past. None of these things could Karl Steinmetz, in the philosophy that
was his, tell to the person whom they most concerned. And who are we
that we may hold him wrong? The question of telling and withholding is
not to be dismissed in a few words. But it seems very certain that there
is too much telling, too much speaking out, and too little holding in,
in these days of much publicity. There is a school of speakers-out, and
would to Heaven they would learn to hold their tongues. There is a
school for calling a spade by no other name, and they have still to
learn that the world is by no means interested in their clatter of
shovels.

The Psalmist knew much of which he did not write, and the young men of
the modern school of poesy and fiction know no more, but they lack the
good taste of the singer of old. That is all.

Karl Steinmetz was a man who formed his opinion on the best
basis--namely, experience, and that had taught him that a bold reticence
does less harm to one's neighbor than a weak volubility.

Paul was an easy subject for such treatment. His own method inclined to
err on the side of reticence. He gave few confidences and asked none, as
is the habit of Englishmen.

"Well," he said, "I do not suppose he will stay long at Thors, and I
know that he will not stay at all at Osterno. Besides, what harm can he
actually do to us? He cannot well go about making enquiries. To begin
with, he knows no Russian."

"I doubt that," put in Steinmetz.

"And, even if he does, he cannot come poking about in Osterno. Catrina
will give him no information. Maggie hates him. You and I know him.
There is only the countess."

"Who will tell him all she knows! She would render that service to a
drosky driver."

Paul shrugged his shoulders.

There was no mention of Etta. They stood side by side, both thinking of
her, both looking at her, as she skated with De Chauxville. There lay
the danger, and they both knew it. But she was the wife of one of them
and their lips were necessarily sealed.

"And it will be permitted," Claude de Chauxville happened to be saying
at that moment, "that I call and pay my respects to an exiled princess?"

"There will be difficulties," answered Etta, in that tone which makes it
necessary to protest that difficulties are nothing under some
circumstances--the which De Chauxville duly protested with much fervor.

"You think that twenty miles of snow would deter me," he said.

"Well, they might."

"They might if--well--"

He left the sentence unfinished--the last resource of the sneak and the
coward who wishes to reserve to himself the letter of the denial in the
spirit of the meanest lie.




CHAPTER XXIV


HOME

A tearing, howling wind from the north--from the boundless snow-clad
plains of Russia that lie between the Neva and the Yellow Sea; a gray
sky washed over as with a huge brush dipped in dirty whitening; and the
plains of Tver a spotless, dazzling level of snow.

The snow was falling softly and steadily, falling, as it never falls in
England, in little more than fine powder, with a temperature forty
degrees below freezing-point. A drift--constant, restless, never
altering--sped over the level plain like the dust on a high-road before
a steady wind. This white scud--a flying scud of frozen water--was
singularly like the scud that is blown from the crest of the waves by a
cyclone in the China Seas. Any object that broke the wind--a stunted
pine, a broken tree-trunk, a Government road-post--had at its leeward
side a high, narrow snow-drift tailing off to the dead level of the
plain. Where the wind dropped the snow rose at once. But these objects
were few and far between. The deadly monotony of the scene--the
trackless level, the preposterous dimensions of the plain, the sense of
distance that is conveyed only by the steppe and the great desert of
Gobi when the snow lies on it--all these tell the same grim truth to all
who look on them: the old truth that man is but a small thing and his
life but as the flower of the grass.

Across the plain of Tver, before the north wind, a single sleigh was
tearing as fast as horse could lay hoof to ground--a sleigh driven by
Paul Howard Alexis, and the track of it was as a line drawn from point
to point across a map.

A striking feature of the winter of Northern Russia is the glorious
uncertainty of its snowfalls. At Tver the weather-wise had said:

"The snow has not all fallen yet. More is coming. It is yellow in the
sky, although March is nearly gone."

The landlord of the hotel (a good enough resting-place facing the broad
Volga) had urged upon M. le Prince the advisability of waiting, as is
the way of landlords all the world over. But Etta had shown a strange
restlessness, a petulant desire to hurry forward at all risks. She hated
Tver; the hotel was uncomfortable, there was an unhealthy smell about
the place.

Paul acceded readily enough to her wishes. He rather liked Tver. In a
way he was proud of this busy town--a centre of Russian civilization. He
would have liked Etta to be favorably impressed with it, as any
prejudice would naturally reflect upon Osterno, 140 miles across the
steppe. But with a characteristic silent patience he made the necessary
preparations for an immediate start.

The night express from St. Petersburg had deposited them on the platform
in the early morning. Steinmetz had preceded them. Closed sleighs from
Osterno were awaiting them. A luxurious breakfast was prepared at the
hotel. Relays of horses were posted along the road. The journey to
Osterno had been carefully planned and arranged by Steinmetz--a king
among organizers. The sleigh drive across the steppe was to be
accomplished in ten hours.

The snow had begun to fall as they clattered across the floating bridge
of Tver. It had fallen ever since, and the afternoon lowered gloomily.
In America such visitations are called "blizzards"; here in Russia it is
merely "the snow." The freezing wind is taken as a matter of course.

At a distance of one hundred miles from Tver, the driver of the sleigh
containing Etta, Maggie, and Paul had suddenly rolled off his perch. His
hands were frostbitten; a piteous blue face peered out at his master
through ice-laden eyebrows, mustache, and beard. In a moment Maggie was
out in the snow beside the two men, while Etta hastily closed the door.

"He is all right," said Paul; "it is only the cold. Pour some brandy
into his mouth while I hold the ice aside. _Don't_ take off your gloves.
The flask will stick to your fingers."

Maggie obeyed with her usual breezy readiness, turning to nod
reassurance to Etta, who, truth to tell, had pulled up the rime-covered
windows, shutting out the whole scene.

"He must come inside," said Maggie. "We are nice and warm with all the
hot-water cans."

Paul looked rather dubiously toward the sleigh.

"You can carry him, I suppose?" said the girl cheerfully. "He is not
very big--he is all fur coat."

Etta looked rather disgusted, but made no objection, while Paul lifted
the frozen man into the seat he had just vacated.

"When you are cold I will drive," cried Maggie, as Paul shut the door.
"I should love it."

Thus it came about that a single sleigh was speeding across the plain of
Tver.

Paul, with the composure that comes of a large experience, gathered the
reins in his two hands, driving with both and with extended arms, after
the manner of Russian yemschiks. For a man must accommodate himself to
circumstance, and fingerless gloves are not conducive to a finished
style of handling the ribbons.

This driver knew that the next station was twenty miles off; that at any
moment the horses might break down or plunge into a drift. He knew that
in the event of such emergencies it would be singularly easy for four
people to die of cold within a few miles of help. But he had faced such
possibilities a hundred times before in this vast country, where the
standard price of a human life is no great sum. He was not, therefore,
dismayed, but rather took delight in battling with the elements, as all
strong men should, and most of them, thank Heaven, do.

Moreover he battled successfully, and before the moon was well up drew
rein outside the village of Osterno, to accede at last to the
oft-repeated prayer of the driver that he might return to his task.

"It is not meet," the man had gruffly said, whenever a short halt was
made to change horses, "that a great prince should drive a yemschik."

"It is meet," answered Paul simply, "for one man to help another."

Then this man of deeds and not of words clambered into the sleigh and
drew up the windows, hiding his head as he drove through his own
village, where every man was dependent for life and being on his
charity.

They were silent, for the ladies were tired and cold.

"We shall soon be there," said Paul reassuringly. But he did not lower
the windows and look out, as any man might have wished to do on
returning to the place of his birth.

Maggie sat back, wrapped in her furs. She was meditating over the events
of the day, and more particularly over a certain skill, a quickness of
touch, a deft handling of stricken men which she had noted far out on
the snowy steppe a few hours earlier. Paul was a different man when he
had to deal with pain and sickness; he was quicker, brighter, full of
confidence in himself. For the great sympathy was his--that love of the
neighbor which is thrown like a mantle over the shoulders of some men,
making them different from their fellows, securing to them that love of
great and small which, perchance, follows some when they are dead to
that place where a human testimony may not be all in vain.

At the castle all was in readiness for the prince and princess, their
departure from Tver having been telegraphed. On the threshold of the
great house, before she had entered the magnificent hall, Etta's eyes
brightened, her fatigue vanished. She played her part before the crowd
of bowing servants with that forgetfulness of mere bodily fatigue which
is expected of princesses and other great ladies. She swept up the broad
staircase, leaning on Paul's arm, with a carriage, a presence, a
dazzling wealth of beauty, which did not fail to impress the onlookers.
Whatever Etta may have failed to bring to Paul Howard Alexis as a wife,
she made him a matchless princess.

He led her straight through the drawing-room to the suite of rooms which
were hers. These consisted of an ante-room, a small drawing-room, and
her private apartments beyond.

Paul stopped in the drawing-room, looking round with a simple
satisfaction in all that had been done by his orders for Etta's comfort.

"These," he said, "are your rooms."

He was no adept at turning a neat phrase--at reeling off a pretty
honeymoon welcome. Perhaps he expected her to express delight, to come
to him, possibly, and kiss him, as some women would have done.

She looked round critically.

"Yes," she said, "they are very nice."

She crossed the room and drew aside the curtain that covered the
double-latticed windows. The room was so warm that there was no rime on
the panes. She gave a little shudder, and he went to her side, putting
his strong, quiet arm around her.

Below them, stretching away beneath the brilliant moonlight, lay the
country that was his inheritance, an estate as large as a large English
county. Immediately beneath them, at the foot of the great rock upon
which the castle was built, nestled the village of Osterno--straggling,
squalid.

"Oh!" she said dully, "this is Siberia; this is terrible!"

It had never presented itself to him in that light, the wonderful
stretch of country over which they were looking.

"It is not so bad," he said, "in the daylight."

And that was all; for he had no persuasive tongue.

"That is the village," he went on, after a little pause. "Those are the
people who look to us to help them in their fight against terrible odds.
I hoped--that you would be interested in them."

She looked down curiously at the little wooden huts, half-buried in the
snow; the smoking chimneys; the twinkling, curtainless windows.

"What do you expect me to do?" she asked in a queer voice.

He looked at her in a sort of wonderment. Perhaps it seemed to him that
a woman should have no need to ask such a question.

"It is a long story," he said; "I will tell you about it another time.
You are tired now, after your journey."

His arm slipped from her waist. They stood side by side. And both were
conscious of a feeling of difference. They were not the same as they had
been in London. The atmosphere of Russia seemed to have had some subtle
effect upon them.

Etta turned and sat slowly down on a low chair before the fire. She had
thrown her furs aside, and they lay in a luxurious heap on the floor.
The maids, hearing that the prince and princess were together, waited
silently in the next room behind the closed door.

"I think I had better hear it now," said Etta.

"But you are tired," protested her husband. "You had better rest until
dinner-time."

"No; I am not tired."

He came toward her and stood with one elbow on the mantel-piece, looking
down at her--a quiet, strong man, who had already forgotten his feat of
endurance of a few hours earlier.

"These people," he said, "would die of starvation and cold and sickness
if we did not help them. It is simply impossible for them in the few
months that they can work the land to cultivate it so as to yield any
more than their taxes. They are overtaxed, and no one cares. The army
must be kept up and a huge Civil Service, and no one cares what happens
to the peasants. Some day the peasants _must_ turn, but not yet. It is a
question for all Russian land-owners to face, and nobody faces it. If
any one tries to improve the condition of his peasants--they were
happier a thousand times as serfs--the bureaucrats of Petersburg mark
him down and he is forced to leave the country. The whole fabric of this
Government is rotten, but every-one, except the peasants, would suffer
by its fall, and therefore it stands."

Etta was staring into the fire. It was impossible to say whether she
heard with comprehension or not. Paul went on:

"There is nothing left, therefore, but to go and do good by stealth. I
studied medicine with that view. Steinmetz has scraped and economized
the working of the estate for the same purpose. The Government will not
allow us to have a doctor; they prevent us from organizing relief and
education on anything like an adequate scale. They do it all by
underhand means. They have not the pluck to oppose us openly! For years
we have been doing what we can. We have almost eradicated cholera. They
do not die of starvation now. And they are learning--very slowly, but
still they are learning. We--I--thought you might be interested in your
people; you might want to help."

She gave a short little nod. There was a suggestion of suspense in her
whole being and attitude, as if she were waiting to hear something which
she knew could not be avoided.

"A few years ago," he went on, "a gigantic scheme was set on foot. I
told you a little about it--the Charity League."

Her lips moved, but no sound came from them, so she nodded a second
time. A tiny carriage-clock on the mantel-piece struck seven, and she
looked up in a startled way, as if the sound had frightened her. The
castle was quite still. Silence seemed to brood over the old walls.

"That fell through," he went on, "as I told you. It was betrayed. Stepan
Lanovitch was banished. He has escaped, however; Steinmetz has seen him.
He succeeded in destroying some of the papers before the place was
searched after the robbery--one paper in particular. If he had not
destroyed that, I should have been banished. I was one of the leaders of
the Charity League. Steinmetz and I got the thing up. It would have been
for the happiness of millions of peasants if it had not been betrayed.
In time--we shall find out who did it."

He paused. He did not say what he would do when he had found out.

Etta was staring into the fire. Her lips were dry. She hardly seemed to
be breathing.

"It is possible," he went on in his strong, quiet, inexorable voice,
"that Stepan Lanovitch knows now."

Etta did not move. She was staring into the fire--staring--staring.

Then she slowly fainted, rolling from the low chair to the fur
hearth-rug.

Paul picked her up like a child and carried her to the bedroom, where
the maids were waiting to dress her.

"Here," he said, "your mistress has fainted from the fatigue of the
journey."

And, with his practised medical knowledge, he himself tended her.




CHAPTER XXV


OSTERNO

"Always gay; always gay!" laughed Steinmetz, rubbing his broad hands
together and looking down into the face of Maggie, who was busy at the
breakfast-table.

"Yes," answered the girl, glancing toward Paul, leaning against the
window reading his letters. "Yes, always gay. Why not?"

Karl Steinmetz saw the glance. It was one of the little daily incidents
that one sees and half forgets. He only half forgot it.

"Why not, indeed?" he answered. "And you will be glad to hear that
Ivanovitch is as ready as yourself this morning to treat the matter as a
joke. He is none the worse for his freezing, and all the better for his
experience. You have added another friend, my dear young lady, to a list
which is, doubtless, a very long one."

"He is a nice man," answered Maggie. "How is it," she asked, after a
little pause, "that there are more men in the lower classes whom one can
call nice than among their betters?"

Paul paused between two letters, hearing the question. He looked up as
if interested in the answer, but did not join in the conversation.

"Because dealing with animals and with nature is more conducive to
niceness than too much trafficking with human beings," replied Steinmetz
promptly.

"I suppose that is it," said Maggie, lifting the tea-pot lid and looking
in. "At all events, it is the sort of answer one might expect from you.
You are always hard on human nature."

"I take it as I find it," replied Steinmetz, with a laugh, "but I do not
worry about it like some people. Now, Paul would like to alter the
course of the world."

As he spoke he half turned toward Paul, as if suggesting that he should
give an opinion, and this little action had the effect of putting a stop
to the conversation. Maggie had plenty to say to Steinmetz, but toward
Paul her mental attitude was different. She was probably unaware of this
little fact.

"There," she said, after a pause, "I have obeyed Etta's instructions.
She does not want us to begin, I suppose?"

"No," replied Paul. "She will be down in a minute."

"I hope the princess is not overtired," said Steinmetz, with a certain
formal politeness which seemed to accompany any mention of Etta's name.

"Not at all, thank you," replied Etta herself, coming into the room at
that moment. She looked fresh and self-confident. "On the contrary, I am
full of energy and eagerness to explore the castle. One naturally takes
an interest in one's baronial halls."

With this she walked slowly across to the window. She stood there
looking out, and every one in the room was watching. On looking for the
first time on the same view, a few moments earlier, Maggie had uttered a
little cry of surprise, and had then remained silent. Etta looked out of
the window and said nothing. It was a most singular out-look--weird,
uncouth, prehistoric, as some parts of the earth still are. The castle
was built on the edge of a perpendicular cliff. On this side it was
impregnable. Any object dropped from the breakfast-room window would
fall a clear two hundred feet to the brawling Oster River. The rock was
black, and shining like the topmost crags of an Alpine mountain where
snow and ice have polished the bare stone. Beyond and across the river
lay the boundless steppe--a sheet of virgin snow.

Etta stood looking over this to the far horizon, where the white snow
and the gray sky softly merged into one. Her first remark was
characteristic, as first and last remarks usually are.

"And as far as you can see is yours?" she asked.

"Yes," answered Paul simply, with that calm which only comes with
hereditary possession.

The observation attracted Steinmetz's attention. He went to another
window, and looked across the waste critically.

"Four times as far as we can see is his," he said.

Etta looked out slowly and comprehensively, absorbing it all like a
long, sweet drink. There was no hereditary calmness in her sense of
possession.

"And where is Thors?" she asked.

Paul stretched out his arm, pointing with a lean, steady finger:

"It lies out there," he answered.

Another of the little incidents that are only half forgotten. Some of
the persons assembled in that room remembered the pointing finger long
afterward.

"It makes one feel very small," said Etta, turning to the
breakfast-table--"at no time a pleasant sensation. Do you know," she
said, after a little pause, "I think it probable that I shall become
very fond of Osterno, but I wish it was nearer to civilization."

Paul looked pleased. Steinmetz had a queer expression on his face.
Maggie murmured something about one's surroundings making but little
difference to one's happiness, and the subject was wisely shelved.

After breakfast Steinmetz withdrew.

"Now," said Paul, "shall I show you the old place, you and Maggie?"

Etta signified her readiness, but Maggie said that she had letters to
write, that Etta could show her the castle another time, when the men
were out shooting, perhaps.

"But," said Etta, "I shall do it horribly badly. They are not my
ancestors, you know. I shall attach the stories to the wrong people, and
locate the ghost in the wrong room. You will be wise to take Paul's
guidance."

"No, thank you," replied Maggie, quite firmly and frankly. "I feel
inclined to write; and the feeling is rare, so I must take advantage of
it."

The girl looked at her cousin with something in her honest blue eyes
that almost amounted to wonder. Etta was always surprising her. There
was a whole gamut of feeling, an octave of callow, half-formed girlish
instincts, of which Etta seemed to be deprived. If she had ever had
them, no trace was left of their whilom presence. At first Maggie had
flatly refused to come to Russia. When Paul pressed her to do so, she
accepted with a sort of wonder. There was something which she did not
understand.

The same instinct made her refuse now to accompany Paul and Etta over
their new home. Again Etta pressed her, showing her lack of some feeling
which Maggie indefinitely knew she ought to have had. This time Paul
made no sign. He added no word to Etta's persuasions, but stood gravely
looking at his wife.

When the door had closed behind them, Maggie stood for some minutes by
the window looking out over the snow-clad plain, the rugged, broken
rocks beneath her.

Then she turned to the writing-table. She resolutely took pen and paper,
but the least thing seemed to distract her attention--the coronet on the
note-paper cost her five minutes of far-off reflection. She took up the
pen again, and wrote "Dear Mother."

The room grew darker. Maggie looked up. The snow had begun again. It was
driving past the window with a silent, purposeful monotony. The girl
drew the writing-case toward her. She examined the pen critically and
dipped it into the ink. But she added nothing to the two words already
written.

The castle of Osterno is almost unique in the particular that one roof
covers the ancient and the modern buildings. The vast reception-rooms,
worthy of the name of state-rooms, adjoin the small stone-built
apartments of the fortress which Paul's ancestors held against the
Tartars. This grimmer side of the building Paul reserved to the last for
reasons of his own, and Etta's manifest delight in the grandeur of the
more modern apartments fully rewarded him. Here, again, that side of her
character manifested itself which has already been shown. She was
dazzled and exhilarated by the splendor of it all, and the immediate
effect was a feeling of affection toward the man to whom this belonged;
who was in act, if not in word, laying it at her feet.

When they passed from the lofty rooms to the dimmer passages of the old
castle Etta's spirits visibly dropped, her interest slackened. He told
her of tragedies enacted in by-gone times--such ancient tales of violent
death and broken hearts as attach themselves to gray stone walls and
dungeon keeps. She only half listened, for her mind was busy with the
splendors they had left behind, with the purposes to which such
splendors could be turned. And the sum total of her thoughts was
gratified vanity.

Her bright presence awakened the gloom of ages within the dimly lit
historic rooms. Her laugh sounded strangely light and frivolous and
shallow in the silence of the ages which had brooded within these walls
since the days of Tamerlane. It was perhaps the greatest tragedy of the
Alexis family, this beautiful tragedy that walked by the side of Paul.

"I am glad your grandfather brought French architects here and built the
modern side," she said. "These rooms are, of course, very interesting,
but gloomy--horribly gloomy, Paul. There is a smell of ghosts and
dulness."

"All the same, I like these rooms," answered Paul. "Steinmetz and I used
to live entirely on this side of the house. This is the smoking-room. We
shot those bears, and all the deer. That is a wolf's head. He killed a
keeper before I finished him off."

Etta looked at her husband with a curious little smile. She sometimes
felt proud of him, despite the ever present knowledge that,
intellectually speaking, she was his superior. There was something
strong and simple and manly in a sort of mediaeval way that pleased her
in this big husband of hers.

"And how did you finish him off?" she asked.

"I choked him. That bear knocked me down, but Steinmetz shot him. We
were four days out in the open after that elk. This is a lynx--a queer
face--rather like De Chauxville; the dogs killed him."

"But why do you not paper the room," asked Etta, with a shiver, "instead
of this gloomy panelling? It is so mysterious and creepy. Quite
suggestive of secret passages."

"There are no secret passages," answered Paul. "But there is a room
behind here. This is the door. I will show it to you presently. I have
things in there I want to show you. I keep all my medicines and
appliances in there. It is our secret surgery and office. In that room
the Charity League was organized."

Etta turned away suddenly and went to the narrow window, where she sat
on a low window-seat, looking down into the snow-clad depths.

"I did not know you were a doctor," she said.

"I doctor the peasants," replied Paul, "in a rough-and-ready way. I took
my degree on purpose. But, of course, they do not know that it is I;
they think I am a doctor from Moscow. I put on an old coat, and wear a
scarf, so that they cannot see my face. I only go to them at night. It
would never do for the Government to know that we attempt to do good to
the peasants. We have to keep it a secret even from the people
themselves. And they hate us. They groan and hoot when we drive through
the village. But they never attempt to do us any harm; they are too much
afraid of us."

When Etta rose and came toward him her face was colorless.

"Let me see this room," she said.

He opened the door and followed her into the apartment, which has
already been described. Here he told further somewhat bald details of
the work he had attempted to do. It is to be feared that he made neither
an interesting nor a romantic story of it. There were too many
details--too much statistic, and no thrilling realism whatever. The
experiences of a youthful curate in Bethnal Green would have made high
tragedy beside the tale that this man told his wife of the land upon
which God has assuredly laid His curse--Aceldama, the field of blood.

Etta listened, and despite herself she became interested. She was
sitting in a chair usually occupied by Steinmetz. There was a faint
aroma of tobacco-smoke. The atmosphere of the room was manly and
energetic.

Paul showed her his simple stores of medicine--the old coat saturated
with disinfectants which had become the recognized outward sign of the
Moscow doctor.

"And do other people, other noblemen, try to do this sort of thing too?"
asked Etta at length.

"Catrina Lanovitch does," replied Paul.

"What? The girl with the hair?"

"Yes," answered Paul. He had never noticed Catrina's hair. Etta's
appraising eye had seen more in one second than Paul had perceived in
twenty years.

"Yes," he answered. "But, of course, she is handicapped."

"By her appearance?"

"No; by her circumstances. Her name is sufficient to handicap her every
moment in this country. But she does a great deal. She--she found me
out, confound her!"

Etta had risen; she was looking curiously at the cupboard where Paul's
infected clothes were hanging. He had forbidden her to go near it. She
turned and looked at him.

"Found you out! How?" she asked, with a queer smile.

"Saw through my disguise."

"Yes--she would do that!" said Etta aloud to herself.

"What is this door?" she asked, after a pause.

"It leads to an inner room," replied Paul, "where Steinmetz usually
works."

He passed in front of her and opened the door. As he was doing so Etta
went on in the train of her thoughts:

"So Catrina knows?"

"Yes."

"And no one else?"

Paul made no answer; for he had passed on into the smaller room, where
Steinmetz was seated at a writing-table.

"Except, of course, Herr Steinmetz?" Etta went on interrogatively.

"Madame," said the German, looking up with his pleasant smile, "I know
_every thing_."

And he went on writing.




CHAPTER XXVI


BLOODHOUNDS

The table d'hote of the Hotel de Moscou at Tver had just begun. The soup
had been removed; the diners were engaged in igniting their first
cigarette at the candles placed between each pair of them for that
purpose. By nature the modern Russian is a dignified and somewhat
reserved gentleman. By circumstance he has been schooled into a state of
guarded unsociability. If there is a seat at a public table conveniently
removed from those occupied by earlier arrivals the new-comer invariably
takes it. In Russia one converses--as in Scotland one jokes--with
difficulty.

A Russian table d'hote is therefore any thing but hilarious in its
tendency. A certain number of grave-faced gentlemen and a few
broad-jowled ladies are visibly constrained by the force of circumstance
to dine at the same table and hour, et voila tout. There is no pretence
that any more sociable and neighborly motive has brought them together.
Indeed, they each suspect the other of being a German, or a Nihilist,
or, worse still, a Government servant. They therefore sit as far apart
as possible, and smoke cigarettes between and during the courses with
that self-centred absorption which would be rude, if it were not
entirely satisfactory, to the average Briton. The ladies, of course,
have the same easy method of showing a desire for silence and reflection
in a country where nurses carrying infants usually smoke in the streets,
and where a dainty confectioner's assistant places her cigarette between
her lips in order to leave her hands free for the service of her
customers.

The table d'hote of the Hotel de Moscou at Tver was no exception to the
general rule. In Russia, by the way, there are no exceptions to general
rules. The personal habits of the native of Cronstadt differ in no way
from those of the Czar's subject living in Petropavlovsk, eight thousand
miles away.

Around the long table of the host were seated, at respectable intervals,
a dozen or more gentlemen, who gazed stolidly at each other from time to
time, while the host himself smiled broadly upon them all from that end
of the room where the lift and the smell of cooking exercise their
calling--the one to spoil the appetite, the other to pander to it when
spoilt.

Of these dozen gentlemen we have only to deal with one--a man of broad,
high forehead, of colorless eyes, of a mask-like face, who consumed what
was put before him with as little noise as possible. Known in Paris as
"Ce bon Vassili," this traveller. But in Paris one does not always use
the word bon in its English sense of "good."

M. Vassili was evidently desirous of attracting as little attention as
circumstances would allow. He was obviously doing his best to look like
one who travelled in the interest of braid or buttons. Moreover, when
Claude de Chauxville entered the table d'hote room, he concealed
whatever surprise he may have felt behind a cloud of cigarette smoke.
Through the same blue haze he met the Frenchman's eye, a moment later,
without the faintest twinkle of recognition.

These two worthies went through the weird courses provided by a cook
professing a knowledge of French _cuisine_ without taking any
compromising notice of each other. When the meal was over Vassili
inscribed the number of his bedroom in large figures on the label of his
bottle of St. Emilion--after the manner of wise commercial-travellers in
continental hotels. He subsequently turned the bottle round so that
Claude de Chauxville could scarcely fail to read the number, and with a
vague and general bow he left the room.

In his apartment the genial Vassili threw more wood into the stove, drew
forward the two regulation arm-chairs, and lighted all the candles
provided. He then rang the bell and ordered liqueurs. There was
evidently something in the nature of an entertainment about to take
place in apartment No. 44 of the Hotel de Moscou.

Before long a discreet knock announced the arrival of the expected
visitor.

"Entrez!" cried Vassili; and De Chauxville stood before him, with a
smile which in French is called crane.

"A pleasure," said Vassili, behind his wooden face, "that I did not
anticipate in Tver."

"And consequently one that carries its own mitigation. An unanticipated
pleasure, mon ami, is always inopportune. I make no doubt that you were
sorry to see me."

"On the contrary. Will you sit?"

"I can hardly believe," went on De Chauxville, taking the proffered
chair, "that my appearance was opportune--on the principle, ha! ha! that
a flower growing out of place is a weed. Gentlemen of the--eh--Home
Office prefer, I know, to travel quietly!" He spread out his expressive
hands as if smoothing the path of M. Vassili through this stony world.
"Incognito," he added guilelessly.

"One does not publish one's name from the housetops," replied the
Russian, with a glimmer of pride in his eyes, "especially if it happen
to be not quite obscure; but between friends, my dear baron--between
friends."

"Yes. Then what are you doing in Tver?" enquired De Chauxville, with
engaging frankness.

"Ah, that is a long story. But I will tell you--never fear--I will tell
you on the usual terms."

"Viz?" enquired the Frenchman, lighting a cigarette.

Vassili accepted the match with a bow, and did likewise. He blew a
guileless cloud of smoke toward the dingy ceiling.

"Exchange, my dear baron, exchange."

"Oh, certainly," replied De Chauxville, who knew that Vassili was in all
probability fully informed as to his movements past and prospective. "I
am going to visit some old friends in this Government--the Lanovitches,
at Thors."

"Ah!"

"You know them?"

Vassili raised his shoulders and made a little gesture with his
cigarette, as much as to say, "Why ask?"

De Chauxville looked at his companion keenly. He was wondering whether
this man knew that he--Claude de Chauxville--loved Etta Howard Alexis,
and consequently hated her husband. He was wondering how much or how
little this impenetrable individual knew and suspected.

"I have always said," observed Vassili suddenly, "that for unmitigated
impertinence give me a diplomatist."

"Ah! And what would you desire that I should, for the same commodity,
give you now?"

"A woman."

There was a short silence in the room while these two birds of a feather
reflected.

Suddenly Vassili tapped himself on the chest with his forefinger.

"It was I," he said, "who crushed that very dangerous movement--the
Charity League."

"I know it."

"A movement, my dear baron, to educate the moujik, if you please. To
feed him and clothe him, and teach him--to be discontented with his lot.
To raise him up and make a man of him. Pah! He is a beast. Let him be
treated as such. Let him work. If he will not work, let him starve and
die."

"The man who cannot contribute toward the support of those above him in
life is superfluous," said De Chauxville glibly.

"Precisely. Now, my dear baron, listen to me!" The genial Vassili leaned
forward and tapped with one finger on the knee of De Chauxville, as if
knocking at the door of his attention.

"I am all ears, mon bon monsieur," replied the Frenchman, rather coldly.
He had just been reflecting that, after all, he did not want any favor
from Vassili for the moment, and the manner of the latter was verging on
the familiar.

"The woman--who--sold--me--the Charity League papers dined at my house
in Paris--a fortnight ago," said Vassili, with a staccato tap on his
companion's knee by way of emphasis to each word.

"Then, my friend, I cannot--congratulate--you--on the society--in--which
you move," replied De Chauxville, mimicking his manner.

"Bah! She was a princess!"

"A princess?"

"Yes, of your acquaintance, M. le Baron! And she came to my house with
her--eh--husband--the Prince Paul Howard Alexis."

This was news indeed. De Chauxville leaned back and passed his slim
white hand across his brow with a slow pressure, as if wiping some
writing from a slate--as if his forehead bore the writing of his
thoughts and he was wiping it away. And the thoughts he thus
concealed--who can count them? For thoughts are the quickest and the
longest and the saddest things of this life. The first thought was that
if he had known this three months earlier he could have made Etta marry
him. And that thought had a thousand branches. With Etta for his wife he
might have been a different man. One can never tell what the effect of
an acquired desire may be. One can only judge by analogy, and it would
seem that it is a frustrated desire that makes the majority of villains.

But the news coming, thus too late, only served an evil purpose. For in
that flash of thought Claude de Chauxville saw Paul's secrets given to
him; Paul's wealth meted out to him; Paul in exile; Paul dead in
Siberia, where death comes easily; Paul's widow Claude de Chauxville's
wife. He wiped all the thoughts away, and showed to Vassili a face that
was as composed and impertinent as usual.

"You said 'her--eh--husband,'" he observed. "Why? Why did you add that
little 'eh,' my friend?"

Vassili rose and walked to the door that led through into his bedroom
from the salon in which they were sitting. It was possible to enter the
bedroom from another door and overhear any conversation that might be
passing in the sitting-room. The investigation was apparently
satisfactory, for the Russian came back. But he did not sit down.
Instead, he stood leaning against the tall china stove.

"Needless to tell you," he observed, "the antecedents of the--princess."

"Quite needless."

"Married seven years ago to Charles Sydney Bamborough," promptly giving
the unnecessary information which was not wanted.

De Chauxville nodded.

"Where is Sydney Bamborough?" asked Vassili, with his mask-like smile.

"Dead," replied the other quietly.

"Prove it."

De Chauxville looked up sharply. The cigarette dropped from his fingers
to the floor. His face was yellow and drawn, with a singular tremble of
the lips, which were twisted to one side.

"Good God!" he whispered hoarsely.

There was only one thought in his mind--a sudden wild desire to rise up
and stand by Etta against the whole world. Verily we cannot tell what
love may make of us, whither it may lead us. We only know that it never
leaves us as it found us.

Then, leaning quietly against the stove, Vassili stated his case.

"Rather more than a year ago," he said, "I received an offer of the
papers connected with a great scheme in this country. After certain
enquiries had been made I accepted the offer. I paid a fabulous price
for the papers. They were brought to me by a lady wearing a thick
veil--a lady I had never seen before. I asked no questions, and paid her
the money. It subsequently transpired that the papers had been stolen,
as you perhaps know, from the house of Count Stepan Lanovitch--the house
to which you happen to be going--at Thors. Well, that is all ancient
history. It is to be supposed that the papers were stolen by Sydney
Bamborough, who brought them here--probably to this hotel, where his
wife was staying. He handed her the papers, and she conveyed them to me
in Paris. But before she reached Petersburg they would have been missed
by Stepan Lanovitch, who would naturally suspect the man who had been
staying in his house, Bamborough--a man with a doubtful reputation in
the diplomatic world, a professed doer of dirty jobs. Foreseeing this,
and knowing that the League was a big thing, with a few violent members
on its books, Sydney Bamborough did not attempt to leave Russia by the
western route. He probably decided to go through Nijni, down the Volga,
across the Caspian, and so on to Persia and India. You follow me?"

"Perfectly!" answered De Chauxville coldly.

"I have been here a week," went on the Russian spy, "making enquiries. I
have worked the whole affair out, link by link, till the evening when
the husband and wife parted. She went west with the papers. Where did he
go?"

De Chauxville picked up the cigarette, looked at it curiously, as at a
relic--the relic of the moment of strongest emotion through which he had
ever passed--and threw it into the ash-tray. He did not speak, and
after a moment Vassili went on, stating his case with lawyer-like
clearness.

"A body was found on the steppe," he said; "the body of a middle-aged
man dressed as a small commercial traveller would dress. He had a little
money in his pocket, but nothing to identify him. He was buried here in
Tver by the police, who received their information by an anonymous
post-card posted in Tver. The person who had found the body did not want
to be implicated in any enquiry. Now, who found the body? Who was the
dead man? Mrs. Sydney Bamborough has assumed that the dead man was her
husband; on the strength of that assumption she has become a princess. A
frail foundation upon which to build up her fortunes, eh?"

"How did she know that the body had been found?" asked De Chauxville,
perceiving the weak point in his companion's chain of argument.

"It was reported shortly in the local newspapers," replied Vassili, "and
repeated in one or two continental journals, as the police were of
opinion that the man was a foreigner. Any one watching the newspapers
would see it--otherwise the incident might pass unobserved."

"And you think," said De Chauxville, suppressing his excitement with an
effort, "that the lady has risked every thing upon a supposition?"

"Knowing the lady, I do."

De Chauxville's dull eyes gleamed for a moment with an unwonted light.
All the civilization of the ages will not eradicate the primary
instincts of men--and one of these, in good and bad alike, is to protect
women. The Frenchman bit the end of his cigarette, and angrily wiped the
tobacco from his lips.

"She may have information of which you are ignorant," he suggested.

"Precisely. It is that particular point which gives me trouble at the
present moment. It is that that I wish to discover."

De Chauxville looked up coolly. He saw his advantage.

"Hence your sudden flow of communicativeness?" he said.

Vassili nodded.

"You cannot find out for yourself, so you seek my help?" went on the
Frenchman.

Again the Russian nodded his head.

"And your price?" said De Chauxville, drawing in his feet and leaning
forward, apparently to study the pattern of the carpet. The action
concealed his face. He was saving Etta, and he was ashamed of himself.

"When you have the information you may name your own price," said the
Russian coldly.

There was a long silence. Before speaking De Chauxville turned and took
a glass of liqueur from the table. His hand was not quite steady. He
raised the glass quickly and emptied it. Then he rose and looked at his
watch. The silence was a compact.

"When the lady dined with you in Paris, did she recognize you?" he
asked.

"Yes; but she did not know that I recognized her."

For the moment they both overlooked Steinmetz.

De Chauxville stood reflecting.

"And your theory," he said, "respecting Sydney Bamborough--what is it?"

"If he got away to Nijni and the Volga, it is probable that he is in
Eastern Siberia or in Persia at this moment. He has not had time to get
right across Asia yet."

De Chauxville moved toward the door. With his fingers on the handle he
paused again.

"I leave early to-morrow morning," he said.

Vassili nodded, or rather he bowed, in his grand way.

Then De Chauxville went out of the room. They did not shake hands. There
is sometimes shame among thieves.




CHAPTER XXVII


IN THE WEB

"What I propose is that Catrina takes you for a drive, my dear baron,
with her two ponies."

The countess had taken very good care to refrain from making this
proposal to Catrina alone. She was one of those mothers who rule their
daughters by springing surprises upon them in a carefully selected
company where the daughter is not free to reply.

De Chauxville bowed with outspread hands.

"If it will not bore mademoiselle," he replied.

The countess looked at her daughter with an unctuous smile, as if to
urge her on to make the most of this opportunity. It was one of the
countess's chief troubles that she could not by hook or crook involve
Catrina in any sort of a love intrigue. She was the sort of mother who
would have preferred to hear scandal about her daughter to hearing
nothing.

"If it will not freeze monsieur," replied Catrina, with uncompromising
honesty.

De Chauxville laughed in his frank way.

"I am not afraid of coldness--of the atmosphere, mademoiselle," he
replied. "I am most anxious to see your beautiful country. It was quite
dark during the last hour of my journey last night, and I had
snow-sleepiness. I saw nothing."

"You will see nothing but snow," said Catrina.

"Which is like the reserve of a young girl," added the Frenchman. "It
keeps warm that which is beneath it."

"You need not be afraid with Catrina," chimed in the countess, nodding
and becking in a manner that clearly showed her assumption to herself of
some vague compliment. "She drives beautifully. She is not nervous in
that way. I have never seen any one drive like her."

"I have no doubt," said De Chauxville, "that mademoiselle's hands are
firm, despite their diminutiveness."

The countess was charmed--and showed it. She frowned at Catrina, who
remained grave and looked at the clock.

"When would you like to go?" she asked De Chauxville, with that complete
absence of affectation which the Russian, of all women of the world,
alone have mastered in their conversation with men.

"Am I not at your service--now and always?" responded the gallant baron.

"I hope not," replied Catrina quietly. "There are occasions when I have
no use for you. Shall we say eleven o'clock?"

"With pleasure. Then I will go and write my letters now," said the
baron, quitting the room.

"A charming man!" ejaculated the countess, before the door was well
closed.

"A fool!" corrected Catrina.

"I do not think you can say that, dear," sighed the countess, more in
sorrow than in anger.

"A clever one," answered Catrina. "There is a difference. The clever
ones are the worst."

The countess shrugged her shoulders hopelessly, and Catrina left the
room. She went upstairs to her own little den, where the piano stood. It
was the only room in the house that was not too warm, for here the
window was occasionally opened--a proceeding which the countess
considered scarcely short of criminal.

Catrina began to play, feverishly, nervously, with all the weird force
of her nature. She was like a very sick person seeking a desperate
remedy--racing against time. It was her habit to take her breaking heart
thus to the great masters, to interpret their thoughts in their music,
welding their melodies to the needs of her own sorrow. She only had half
an hour. Of late music had failed her a little. It had not given her the
comfort she had usually extracted from solitude and the piano. She was
in a dangerous humor. She was afraid of trusting herself to De
Chauxville. The time fled, and her humor did not change. She was still
playing when the door opened, and the countess stood before her flushed
and angry, either or both being the effect of stairs upon emotion.

"Catrina!" the elder lady exclaimed. "The sleigh is at the door, and the
count is waiting. I cannot tell what you are thinking of. It is not
every-body who would be so attentive to you. Just look at your hair. Why
can't you dress like other girls?"

"Because I am not made like other girls," replied Catrina--and who knows
what bitterness of reproach there was in such an answer from daughter to
mother?

"Hush, child," replied the countess, whose anger usually took the form
of personal abuse. "You are as the good God made you."

"Then the good God must have made me in the dark," cried Catrina,
flinging out of the room.

"She will be down directly," said the Countess Lanovitch to De
Chauxville, whom she found smoking a cigarette in the hall. "She
naturally--he! he!--wishes to make a careful toilet."

De Chauxville bowed gravely, without committing himself to any
observation, and offered her a cigarette, which she accepted. Having
achieved his purpose, he did not now propose to convey the impression
that he admired Catrina.

In a few moments the girl appeared, drawing on her fur gloves. Before
the door was opened the countess discreetly retired to the enervating
warmth of her own apartments.

Catrina gathered up the reins and gave a little cry, at which the ponies
leaped forward, and in a whirl of driven snow the sleigh glided off
between the pines.

At first there was no opportunity of conversation, for the ponies were
fresh and troublesome. The road over which they were passing had not
been beaten down by the passage of previous sleighs, so that the powdery
snow rose up like dust, and filled the eyes and mouth.

"It will be better presently," gasped Catrina, wrestling with her
fractious little Tartar thoroughbreds, "when we get out on to the
high-road."

De Chauxville sat quite still. If he felt any misgiving as to her power
of mastering her team he kept it to himself. There was a subtle
difference in his manner toward Catrina when they were alone together, a
suggestion of camaraderie, of a common interest and a common desire, of
which she was conscious without being able to put definite meaning to
it.

It annoyed and alarmed her. While giving her full attention to the
management of the sleigh, she was beginning to dread the first words of
this man, who was merely wielding a cheap power acquired in the shady
course of his career. There is nothing so disarming as the assumed air
of intimate knowledge of one's private thoughts and actions. De
Chauxville assumed this air with a skill against which Catrina's dogged
strength of character was incapable of battling. His manner conveyed the
impression that he knew more of Catrina's inward thoughts than any other
living being, and she was simple enough to be frightened into the
conclusion that she had betrayed herself to him. There is no simpler
method of discovering a secret than to ignore its existence.

It is possible that De Chauxville became aware of Catrina's sidelong
glances of anxiety in his direction. He may have divined that silence
was more effective than speech.

He sat looking straight in front of him, as if too deeply absorbed in
his own thoughts to take even a passing interest in the scenery.

"Why did you come here?" asked Catrina suddenly.

De Chauxville seemed to awake from a revery. He turned and looked at her
in assumed surprise. They were on the high-road now, where the snow was
beaten down, so conversation was easy.

"But--to see you, mademoiselle."

"I am not _that_ sort of girl," answered Catrina coldly. "I want the
truth."

De Chauxville gave a short laugh and looked at her.

"Prophets and kings have sought the truth, mademoiselle, and have not
found it," he said lightly.

Catrina made no answer to this. Her ponies required considerable
attention. Also, there are some minds like large banking houses--not
dealing in small change. That which passes in or out of such minds has
its own standard of importance. Such people are not of much use in these
days, when we like to touch things lightly, adorning a tale but pointing
no moral.

"I would ask you to believe that your society was one incentive to make
me accept the countess's kind hospitality," the Frenchman observed after
a pause.

"And?"

De Chauxville looked at her. He had not met many women of solid
intellect.

"And?" repeated Catrina.

"I have others, of course."

Catrina gave a little nod and waited.

"I wish to be near Alexis," added De Chauxville.

Catrina was staring straight in front of her. Her face had acquired a
habit of hardening at the mention of Paul's name. It was stone-like now,
and set. Perhaps she might have forgiven him if he had loved her once,
if only for a little while. She might have forgiven him, if only for the
remembrance of that little while. But Paul had always been a man of set
purpose, and such men are cruel. Even for her sake, even for the sake of
his own vanity, he had never pretended to love Catrina. He had never
mistaken gratified vanity for dawning love, as millions of men do. Or
perhaps he was without vanity. Some few men are so constructed.

"Do you love him so?" asked Catrina, with a grim smile distorting her
strong face.

"As much as you, mademoiselle," replied De Chauxville.

Catrina started. She was not sure that she hated Paul. Toward Etta,
there was no mistake in her feeling, and this was so strong that, like
an electric current, there was enough of it to pass through the wife and
reach the husband.

Passion, like character, does not grow in crowded places. In great
cities men are all more or less alike. It is only in solitary abodes
that strong natures grow up in their own way. Catrina had grown to
womanhood in one of the solitary places of the earth. She had no facile
axiom, no powerful precedent, to guide her every step through life. The
woman who was in daily contact with her was immeasurably beneath her in
mental power, in force of character, in those possibilities of love or
hatred which go to make a strong life for good or for evil. By the side
of her daughter the Countess Lanovitch was as the willow, swayed by
every wind, in the neighborhood of the oak, crooked and still and
strong.

"In Petersburg you pledged yourself to help me," said De Chauxville. And
although she knew that in the letter this was false, she did not
contradict him. "I came here to claim fulfilment of your promise."

The hard blue eyes beneath the fur cap stared straight in front of them.
Catrina seemed to be driving like one asleep, for she noted nothing by
the roadside. So far as eye could reach over the snow-clad plain,
through the silent pines, these two were alone in a white, dead world of
their own. Catrina never drove with bells. There was no sound beyond the
high-pitched drone of the steel runners over the powdery snow. They were
alone; unseen, unheard save of that Ear that listens in the waste places
of the world.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked.

"Oh, not very much!" answered De Chauxville--a cautious man, who knew a
woman's humor. Catrina driving a pair of ponies in the clear, sharp air
of Central Russia, and Catrina playing the piano in the enervating,
flower-scented atmosphere of a drawing-room, were two different women.
De Chauxville was not the man to mistake the one for the other.

"Not very much, mademoiselle," he answered. "I should like Mme. la
Comtesse to invite the whole Osterno party to dine, and sleep, perhaps,
if one may suggest it."

Catrina wanted this too. She wanted to torture herself with the sight of
Etta, beautiful, self-confident, carelessly cognizant of Paul's love.
She wanted to see Paul look at his wife with the open admiration which
she had set down as something else than love--something immeasurably
beneath love as Catrina understood that passion. Her soul, brooding
under a weight of misery, was ready to welcome any change, should it
only mean a greater misery.

"I can manage that," she said, "if they will come. It was a prearranged
matter that there should be a bear-hunt in our forests."

"That will do," answered De Chauxville reflectively; "in a few days,
perhaps, if it suits the countess."

Catrina made no reply. After a pause she spoke again, in her strange,
jerky way.

"What will you gain by it?" she asked.

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows?" he answered. "There are many things I want to know; many
questions which can be answered only by one's own observation. I want to
see them together. Are they happy?"

Catrina's face hardened.

"If there is a God in heaven, and he hears our prayers, they ought not
to be," she replied curtly.

"She looked happy enough in Petersburg," said the Frenchman, who never
told the truth for its own sake. Whenever he thought that Catrina's
hatred needed stimulation he mentioned Etta's name.

"There are other questions in my mind," he went on, "some of which you
can answer, mademoiselle, if you care to."

Catrina's face expressed no great willingness to oblige.

"The Charity League," said De Chauxville, looking at her keenly; "I have
always had a feeling of curiosity respecting it. Was, for instance, our
friend the Prince Pavlo implicated in that unfortunate affair?"

Catrina flushed suddenly. She did not take her eyes from the ponies. She
was conscious of the unwonted color in her cheeks, which was slowly
dying away beneath her companion's relentless gaze.

"You need not trouble to reply, mademoiselle," said De Chauxville, with
his dark smile; "I am answered."

Catrina pulled the ponies up with a jerk, and proceeded to turn their
willing heads toward home. She was alarmed and disturbed. Nothing seemed
to be safe from the curiosity of this man, no secret secure, no
prevarication of the slightest avail.

"There are other questions in my mind," said De Chauxville quietly, "but
not now. Mademoiselle is no doubt tired."

He leaned back, and when at length he spoke it was to give utterance to
the trite commonplace of which he made a conversational study.




CHAPTER XXVIII


IN THE CASTLE OF THORS

A week later Catrina, watching from the window of her own small room,
saw Paul lift Etta from the sleigh, and the sight made her clench her
hands until the knuckles shone like polished ivory.

She turned and looked at herself in the mirror. No one knew how she had
tried one dress after another since luncheon, alone in her two rooms,
having sent her maid down stairs. No one knew the bitterness in this
girl's heart as she contemplated her own reflection.

She went slowly down stairs to the long, dimly lighted drawing-room. As
she entered she heard her mother's cackling voice.

"Yes, princess," the countess was saying, "it is a quaint old house;
little more than a fortified farm, I know. But my husband's family were
always strange. They seem always to have ignored the little comforts and
elegancies of life."

"It is most interesting," answered Etta's voice, and Catrina stepped
forward into the light.

Formal greetings were exchanged, and Catrina saw Etta look anxiously
toward the door through which she had just come. She thought that she
was looking for her husband. But it was Claude de Chauxville for whose
appearance Etta was waiting.

Paul and Steinmetz entered at the same moment by another door, and
Catrina, who was talking to Maggie in English, suddenly stopped.

"Ah, Catrina," said Paul, "we have broken new ground for you. There was
no track from here to Osterno through the forest. I made one this
afternoon, so you have no excuse for remaining away, now."

"Thank you," answered Catrina, withdrawing her cold hand hurriedly from
his friendly grasp.

"Miss Delafield," went on Paul, "admires our country as much as you do."

"I was just telling mademoiselle," said Maggie, speaking French with an
honest English accent.

Paul nodded, and left them together.

"Yes," the countess was saying at the other end of the gloomy room;
"yes, we are greatly attached to Thors: Catrina, perhaps, more than I. I
have some happy associations, and many sorrowful ones. But then--mon
Dieu!--how isolated we are!"

"It is rather far from--anywhere," acceded Etta, who was not attending,
although she appeared to be interested.

"Far! Princess, I often wonder how Paris and Thors can be in the same
world! Before our--our troubles we used to live in Paris a portion of
the year. At least I did, while my poor husband travelled about. He had
a hobby, you know, poor man! Humanity was his hobby. I have always found
that men who seek to do good to their fellows are never thanked. Have
you noticed that? The human race is not grateful en gros. There is a
little gratitude in the individual, but none in the race."

"None," answered Etta absently.

"It was so with the Charity League," went on the countess volubly. She
paused and looked round with her feeble eyes.

"We are all friends," she went on; "so it is safe to mention the Charity
League, is it not?"

"No," answered Steinmetz from the fire-place; "no, madame. There is only
one friend to whom you may safely mention that."

"Ah! Bad example!" exclaimed the countess playfully. "You are there! I
did not see you enter. And who is that friend?"

"The fair lady who looks at you from your mirror," replied Steinmetz,
with a face of stone.

The countess laughed and shook her cap to one side.

"Well," she said, "I can do no harm in talking of such things, as I know
nothing of them. My poor husband--my poor mistaken Stepan--placed no
confidence in his wife. And now he is in Siberia. I believe he works in
a bootmaker's shop. I pity the people who wear the boots; but perhaps he
only puts in the laces. You hear, Paul? He placed no confidence in his
wife, and now he is in Siberia. Let that be a warning to you--eh,
princess? I hope he tells you everything."

"Put not your trust in princesses," said Steinmetz from the hearth-rug,
where he was still warming his hands, for he had driven Maggie over. "It
says so in the Bible."

"Princes, profane one!" exclaimed the countess with a laugh--"princes,
not princesses!"

"It may be so. I bow to your superior literary attainments," replied
Steinmetz, looking casually and significantly at a pile of yellow-backed
foreign novels on a side-table.

"No," the countess went on, addressing her conversation to Etta; "no, my
husband--figure to yourself, princess--told me nothing. I never knew
that he was implicated in this great scheme. I do not know now who else
was concerned in it. It was all so sudden, so unexpected, so terrible.
It appears that he kept the papers in this very house--in that room
through there. It was his study--"

"My dear countess, silence!" interrupted Steinmetz at this moment,
breaking into the conversation in his masterful way and enabling Etta to
get away. Catrina, at the other end of the room, was listening,
hard-eyed, breathless. It was the sight of Catrina's face that made
Steinmetz go forward. He had not been looking at Catrina, but at Etta,
who was perfect in her composure and steady self-control.

"Do you want to enter the boot trade also?" asked Steinmetz cheerfully,
in a lowered voice.

"Heaven forbid!" cried the countess.

"Then let us talk of safer things."

The short twilight was already brooding over the land. The room, lighted
only by small square windows, grew darker and darker until Catrina rang
for lamps.

"I hate a dark room," she said shortly to Maggie.

When De Chauxville came in, a few minutes later, Catrina was at the
piano. The room was brilliantly lighted, and on the table gleamed and
glittered the silver tea-things. The intermediate meal had been disposed
of, but the samovar had been left alight, as is the habit at Russian
afternoon teas.

Catrina looked up when the Frenchman entered, but did not cease playing.

"There is no need for introductions, I think," said the countess.

"We all know M. de Chauxville," replied Paul quietly, and the two men
exchanged a glance.

De Chauxville shook hands with the new-comers, and, while the countess
prepared tea for him, launched into a long description of the
preparations for the bear-hunt of the following day. He addressed his
remarks exclusively to Paul, as between enthusiasts and
fellow-sportsmen. Gradually Paul thawed a little, and made one or two
suggestions which betrayed a deep knowledge and a dawning interest.

"We shall only be three rifles," said De Chauxville, "Steinmetz, you,
and I; and I must ask you to bear in mind the fact that I am no shot--a
mere amateur, my dear prince. The countess has been good enough to leave
the whole matter in my hands. I have seen the keepers, and I have
arranged that they come to-night at eleven o'clock to see us and to
report progress. They know of three bears, and are attempting to ring
them."

The Frenchman was really full of information and enthusiasm. There were
many details upon which he required Paul's advice, and the two men
talked together with less constraint than they had hitherto done. De
Chauxville had picked up a vast deal of technical matter, and handled
his little knowledge with a skill which bade fair to deprive it of its
proverbial danger. He presently left Steinmetz and the prince engaged in
a controversy with the countess as to a meeting-place at the
luncheon-hour.

Maggie and Catrina were at the piano. Etta was looking at a book of
photographs.

"A charming house, princess," said De Chauxville, in a voice that all
could hear while the music happened to be soft. But Catrina's music was
more remarkable for strength than for softness.

"Charming," replied Etta.

The music rose into a swelling burst of harmonious chords.

"I must see you, princess," said De Chauxville.

Etta glanced across the room toward her husband and Steinmetz.

"Alone," added the Frenchman coolly.

Etta turned a page of the album and looked critically into a photograph.

"Must!" she said, with a little frown.

"Must!" repeated De Chauxville.

"A word I do not care about," said Etta, with raised eyebrows.

The music was soft again.

"It is ten years since I held a rifle," said De Chauxville. "Ah, madame,
you do not know the excitement. I pity ladies, for they have no
sport--no big game."

"Personally, monsieur," answered Etta, with a bright laugh, "I do not
grudge you your big game. Suppose you miss the bear, or whatever it may
be?"

"Then," said De Chauxville, with a brave shrug of the shoulders, "it is
the turn of the bear. The excitement is his--the laugh is with him."

Catrina's foot was upon the loud pedal again.

"Nevertheless, madame," said De Chauxville, "I make so bold as to use
the word. You perhaps know me well enough to be aware that I am rarely
bold unless my ground is sure."

"I should not boast of it," answered Etta; "there is nothing to be proud
of. It is easy enough to be bold if you are certain of victory."

"When defeat would be intolerable, even a certain victory requires care!
And I cannot afford to lose."

"Lose what?" enquired Etta.

De Chauxville looked at her, but he did not answer. The music was soft
again.

"I suppose that at Osterno you set no value upon a bear-skin," he said
after a pause.

"We have many," admitted Etta. "But I love fur, or trophies of any
description. Paul has killed a great deal."

"Ah!"

"Yes," answered Etta, and the music rose again. "I should like to know,"
she went on, "upon what assumption you make use of a word which does not
often--annoy me."

"I have a good memory, madame. Besides," he paused, looking round the
room, "there are associations within these walls which stimulate the
memory."

"What do you mean?" asked Etta, in a hard voice. The hand holding the
album suddenly shook like a leaf in the wind.

De Chauxville had stood upright, his hand at his mustache, after the
manner of a man whose small-talk is exhausted. It would appear that he
was wondering how he could gracefully get away from the princess to pay
his devoirs elsewhere.

"I cannot tell you now," he answered; "Catrina is watching us across the
piano. You must beware, madame, of those cold blue eyes."

He moved away, going toward the piano, where Maggie was standing behind
Catrina's chair. He was like a woman, inasmuch as he could not keep away
from his failures.

"Are you advanced, Miss Delafield?" he asked, with his deferential
little bow. "Are you modern?"

"I am neither; I have no desire for even the cheapest form of notoriety.
Why do you ask?" replied Maggie.

"I was merely wondering whether we were to count you among our rifles
to-morrow. One never knows what ladies will do next; not ladies--I
apologize--women. I suppose it is those who are not by birth ladies who
aspire to the proud name of women. The modern Woman--with a capital
W--is not a lady--n'est ce pas?"

"She does not mind your abuse, monsieur," laughed Maggie. "So long as
you do not ignore her, she is happy. But you may set your mind at rest
as regards to-morrow. I have never let off a gun in my life, and I am
sensible enough not to begin on bears."

De Chauxville made a suitable reply, and remained by the piano talking
to the two young ladies until Etta rose and came toward them. He then
crossed to the other side of the room and engaged Paul in the discussion
of further plans for the morrow.

It was soon time to dress for dinner, and Etta was forced to forego the
opportunity she sought to exchange a word alone with De Chauxville. That
astute gentleman carefully avoided allowing her this opportunity. He
knew the value of a little suspense.

During dinner and afterward, when at length the gentlemen came to the
drawing-room, the conversation was of a sporting tendency. Bears,
bear-hunting, and bear stories held supreme sway. More than once De
Chauxvilie returned to this subject. Twice he avoided Etta.

In some ways this man was courageous. He delayed giving Etta her
opportunity until there was a question of retiring to bed in view of the
early start required by the next day's arrangements. It had been finally
settled that the three younger ladies should drive over to a woodman's
cottage at the far end of the forest, where luncheon was to be served.
While this item of the programme was arranged De Chauxville looked
straight at Etta across the table.

At length she had the chance afforded to her, deliberately, by De
Chauxville.

"What did you mean?" she asked at once.

"I have received information which, had I known it three months ago,
would have made a difference in your life."

"What difference?"

"I should have been your husband, instead of that thick-headed giant."

Etta laughed, but her lips were for the moment colorless.

"When am I to see you alone?"

Etta shrugged her shoulders. She had plenty of spirit.

"Please do not be dramatic or mysterious; I am tired. Good-night."

She rose and concealed a simulated yawn.

De Chauxville looked at her with his sinister smile, and Etta suddenly
saw the resemblance which Paul had noted between this man and the
grinning mask of the lynx in the smoking-room at Osterno.

"When?" repeated he.

Etta shrugged her shoulders.

"I wish to speak to you about the Charity League," said De Chauxville.

Etta's eyes dilated. She made a step or two away from him, but she came
back.

"I shall not go to the luncheon to-morrow, if you care to leave the hunt
early."

De Chauxville bowed.




CHAPTER XXIX


ANGLO-RUSSIAN

At bedtime Catrina went to Maggie's room with her to see that she had
all that she could desire. A wood fire was burning brightly in the open
French stove; the room was lighted by lamps. It was warm and cheery. A
second door led to the little music-room which Catrina had made her own,
and beyond was her bedroom.

Maggie had assured her hostess that she had every thing that she could
wish, and that she did not desire the services of Catrina's maid. But
the Russian girl still lingered. She was slow to make friends--not shy,
but diffident and suspicious. Her friendship once secured was a thing
worth possessing. She was inclined to bestow it upon this quiet,
self-contained English girl. In such matters the length of an
acquaintance goes for nothing. A long acquaintanceship does not
necessarily mean friendship--one being the result of circumstance, the
other of selection.

"The princess knows Russian?" said Catrina suddenly.

She was standing near the dressing-table, where she had been absently
attending to the candles. She wheeled round and looked at Maggie, who
was hospitably sitting on a low chair near the fire. She was sorry for
the loneliness of this girl's life. She did not want her to go away just
yet. There was another chair by the fire, inviting Catrina to indulge in
those maiden confidences which attach themselves to slippers and
hair-brushings.

Maggie looked up with a smile which slowly ebbed away. Catrina's remark
was of the nature of a defiance. Her half-diffident role of hostess was
suddenly laid aside.

"No; she does not," answered the English girl.

Catrina came forward, standing over Maggie, looking down at her with
eyes full of antagonism.

"Excuse me. I saw her understand a remark I made to one of the servants.
She was not careful. I saw it distinctly."

"I think you must be mistaken," answered Maggie quietly. "She has been
in Russia before for a few weeks; but she did not learn the language.
She told me so herself. Why should she pretend not to know Russian, if
she does?"

Catrina made no answer. She sat heavily down in the vacant chair. Her
attitudes were uncouth and strong--a perpetual source of tribulation to
the countess. She sat with her elbow on her knee, staring into the fire.

"I did not mean to hate her; I did not want to," she said. "If it had
been you, I should not have hated you."

Maggie's clear eyes wavered for a moment. A faint color rose to her
face. She leaned back so that the firelight did not reach her. There was
a silence, during which Maggie unclasped a bracelet with a little snap
of the spring. Catrina did not hear the sound. She heard nothing. She
did not appear to be aware of her surroundings. Maggie unclasped another
bracelet noisily. She was probably regretting her former kindness of
manner. Catrina had come too near.

"Are you not judging rather hastily?" suggested Maggie, in a measured
voice which heightened the contrast between the two. "I find it takes
some time to discover whether one likes or dislikes new acquaintances."

"Yes; but you English are so cold and deliberate. You do not know what
it is to hate--or to care."

"Perhaps we do," said Maggie; "but we say less about it."

Catrina turned and looked at her with a queer smile.

"Less!" she laughed. "Nothing--you say nothing. Paul is the same. I have
seen. I know. You have said nothing since you came to Thors. You have
talked and laughed; you have given opinions; you have spoken of many
things, but you have said nothing. You are the same as Paul--one never
knows. I know nothing about you. But I like you. You are her cousin?"

"Yes."

"And I hate her!"

Maggie laughed. She was quite steady and loyal.

"When you get to know her you will change, perhaps," she said.

"Perhaps I know her now better than you do!"

Maggie laughed in her cheery, practical way.

"That seems hardly likely, considering that I have known her since we
were children."

Catrina shrugged her shoulders in an honest if somewhat mannerless
refusal to discuss the side issue. She returned to the main question
with characteristic stubbornness.

"I shall always hate her," she said. "I am sorry she is your cousin. I
shall always regret that, and I shall always hate her. There is
something wrong about her--something none of you know except Karl
Steinmetz. He knows every thing--Herr Steinmetz."

"He knows a great deal," admitted Maggie.

"Yes; and that is why he is sad. Is it not so?"

Catrina sat staring into the fire, her strange, earnest eyes almost
fierce in their concentration.

"Did she pretend that she loved him at first?" she asked suddenly.

Receiving no answer, she looked up and fixed her searching gaze on the
face of her companion. Maggie was looking straight in front of her in
the direction of the fire, but not with eyes focussed to see any thing
so near at hand. She bore the scrutiny without flinching. As soon as
Catrina's eyes were averted the mask-like stillness of her features
relaxed.

"She does not take that trouble now," added the Russian girl, in reply
to her own question. "Did you see her to-night when we were at the
piano? M. de Chauxville was talking to her. They were keeping two
conversations going at the same time. I could see by their faces. They
said different things when the music was loud. I hate her. She is not
true to Paul. M. de Chauxville knows something about her. They have
something in common which is not known to Paul or to any of us! Why do
you not speak? Why do you sit staring into the fire with your lips so
close together?"

"Because I do not think that we shall gain any thing by discussing Paul
and his wife. It is no business of ours."

Catrina laughed--a lamentable, mirthless laugh.

"That is because she is your cousin; and he--he is nothing to you. You
do not care whether he is happy or not!"

Catrina had turned upon her companion fiercely. Maggie swung round in
her chair to pick up her bracelets, which had slipped from her knees to
the floor.

"You exaggerate things," she said quietly. "I see no reason to suppose
that Paul is unhappy. It is because you have taken this unreasoning
dislike to her."

She took a long time to collect three bracelets. Then she rose and
placed them on the dressing-table.

"Do you want me to go?" asked Catrina, in her blunt way.

"No," answered Maggie, civilly enough; but she extracted a couple of
hair-pins rather obviously.

Catrina heeded the voice and not the action.

"You English are all alike," she said. "You hold one at arm's length. I
suppose there is some one in England for whom you care--who is out of
all this--away from all the troubles of Russia. This has nothing to do
with your life. It is only a passing incident--a few weeks to be
forgotten when you go back. I wonder what he is like--the man in
England. You need not tell me. I am not curious in that way. I am not
asking you to tell me. I am just wondering. For I know there is some
one. I knew it when I first saw you. You are so quiet, and settled, and
self-contained--like a person who has played a game and knows for
certain that it is lost or won, and does not want to play again. Your
hair is very pretty; you are very pretty, you quiet English girl. I
wonder what you think about behind your steady eyes."

"I?" said Maggie, with a little laugh. "Oh--I think about my dresses,
and the new fashions, and parties, and all the things that girls do
think of."

Catrina shook her head. She looked stubborn and unconvinced. Then
suddenly she changed the conversation.

"Do you like M. de Chauxville?" she asked.

"No."

"Does Paul like him?"

"I don't know."

Catrina looked up for a moment only. Then her eyes returned to the
contemplation of the burning pine-logs.

"I wonder why you will not talk of Paul," she said, in a voice requiring
no answer.

Maggie moved rather uneasily. She had her back turned toward Catrina.

"I am afraid I am rather a dull person," she answered. "I have not much
to say about any body."

"And nothing about Paul?" suggested Catrina.

"Nothing. We were talking of M. de Chauxville."

"Yes; I do not understand M. de Chauxville. He seems to me to be the
incarnation of insincerity. He poses--even to himself. He is always
watching for the effect. I wonder what the effect of himself upon
himself may be."

Maggie laughed.

"That is rather complicated," she said. "It requires working out. I
think he is deeply impressed with his own astuteness. If he were simpler
he would be cleverer."

Catrina was afraid of Claude de Chauxville, and, because this was so,
she stared in wonder at the English girl, who dismissed him from the
conversation and her thoughts with a few careless words of contempt.
Such minds as that of Miss Delafield were quite outside the field of De
Chauxville's influence, while that Frenchman had considerable power over
highly strung and imaginative natures.

Catrina Lanovitch had begun by tolerating him--had proceeded to make the
serious blunder of permitting him to be impertinently familiar, and was
now exaggerating in her own mind the hold that he had over her. She did
not actually dislike him. So few people had taken the trouble or found
the expediency of endeavoring to sympathize with her or understand her
nature, that she was unconsciously drawn toward this man whom she now
feared.

In exaggerating the power he exercised over herself she somewhat
naturally exaggerated also his importance in the world and in the lives
of those around him. She had imagined him all-powerful; and the first
person to whom she mentioned his name dismissed the subject
indifferently. Her own entire sincerity had enabled her to detect the
insincerity of her ally. She had purposely made mention of the weak spot
which she had discovered, in order that her observation might be
corroborated. And this Maggie had failed to do.

With the slightest encouragement, Catrina would have told her companion
all that had passed. The sympathy between women is so strong that there
is usually only one man who is safe from discussion. In Catrina's case
that one man was not Claude de Chauxville. But Maggie Delafield was of
different material from this impressionable, impulsive Russian girl. She
was essentially British in her capacity for steering a straight personal
course through the shoals and quicksands of her neighbors' affairs, as
also in the firm grip she held upon her own thoughts. She was by no
means prepared to open her mind to the first comer, and in her somewhat
slow-going English estimate of such matters Catrina was as yet little
more than the first comer.

She changed the subject, and they talked for some time on indifferent
topics--such topics as have an interest for girls; and who are we that
we may despise them? We jeer very grandly at girls' talk, and promptly
return to the discussion of our dogs and pipes and clothing.

But Catrina was not happy under this judicious treatment. She had no one
in the world to whom she could impart a thousand doubts and questions--a
hundred grievances and one great grief. And it was just this one great
grief of which Maggie dreaded the mention. She was quite well aware of
its existence--had been aware of it for some time. Karl Steinmetz had
thrown out one or two vague hints; everything pointed to it. Maggie
could hardly be ignorant of the fact that Catrina had grown to womanhood
loving Paul.

A score of times Catrina approached the subject, and with imperturbable
steadfastness Maggie held to her determination that Paul was not to be
discussed by them. She warded, she evaded, she ignored with a skill
which baffled the simple Russian. She had a hundred subterfuges--a
hundred skilful turns and twists. Where women learn these matters,
Heaven only knows! All our experience of the world, our falls and
stumbles on the broken road of life, never teach us some things that are
known to the veriest schoolgirl standing on the smoother footpath that
women tread.

At last Catrina rose to go. Maggie rose also. Women are relentless where
they fight for their own secrets. Maggie morally turned Catrina out of
the room. The two girls stood looking at each other for a moment. They
had nothing in common. The language in which they understood each other
best was the native tongue of neither. Born in different countries, each
of a mixed race with no one racial strain in common, neither creed, nor
education, nor similarity of thought had aught to draw them together.
They looked at each other, and God's hand touched them. They both loved
the same man. They did not hate each other.

"Have you every thing you want?" asked Catrina.

The question was startling. Catrina's speech was ever abrupt. At first
Maggie did not understand.

"Yes, thanks," she answered. "I am very tired. I suppose it is the
snow."

"Yes," said Catrina mechanically; "it is the snow."

She went toward the door, and there she paused.

"Does Paul love her?" she asked abruptly.

Maggie made no answer; and, as was her habit, Catrina replied to her own
question.

"You know he does not--you know he does not!" she said.

Then she went out, without waiting for an answer, closing the door
behind her. The closed door heard the reply.

"It will not matter much," said Maggie, "so long as he never finds it
out."




CHAPTER XXX


WOLF!

The Countess Lanovitch never quitted her own apartments before mid-day.
She had acquired a Parisian habit of being invisible until
luncheon-time. The two girls left the castle of Thors in a sleigh with
one attendant at ten o'clock in order to reach the hut selected for
luncheon by mid-day. Etta did not accompany them. She had a slight
headache.

At eleven o'clock Claude de Chauxville returned alone, on horseback.
After the sportsmen had separated, each to gain his prearranged position
in the forest, he had tripped over his rifle, seriously injuring the
delicate sighting mechanism. He found (he told the servant who opened
the door for him) that he had just time to return for another rifle
before the operation of closing in on the bears was to begin.

"If Madame the Princess," was visible, he went on, would the servant
tell her that M. de Chauxville was waiting in the library to assure her
that there was absolutely no danger to be anticipated in the day's
sport. The princess, it would appear, was absurdly anxious about the
welfare of her husband--an experienced hunter and a dead shot.

Claude de Chauxville then went to the library, where he waited, booted,
spurred, rifle in hand, for Etta.

After a lapse of five minutes or more, the door was opened, and Etta
came leisurely into the room.

"Well?" she enquired indifferently.

De Chauxville bowed. He walked past her and closed the door, which she
happened to have left open.

Then he returned and stood by the window, leaning gracefully on his
rifle. His attitude, his hunting-suit, his great top-boots, made rather
a picturesque object of him.

"Well?" repeated Etta, almost insolently.

"It would have been wiser to have married me," said De Chauxville
darkly.

Etta shrugged her shoulders.

"Because I understand you better; I _know_ you better than your
husband."

Etta turned and glanced at the clock.

"Have you come back from the bear-hunt to tell me this, or to avoid the
bears?" she asked.

De Chauxville frowned. A man who has tasted fear does not like a
question of his courage.

"I have come to tell you that and other things," he answered.

He looked at her with his sinister smile and a little upward jerk of the
head. He extended his open hand, palm upward, with the fingers slightly
crooked.

"I hold you, madame," he said--"I hold you in my hand. You are my slave,
despite your brave title; my thing, my plaything, despite your servants,
and your great houses, and your husband! When I have finished telling
you all that I have to tell, you will understand. You will perhaps thank
me for being merciful."

Etta laughed defiantly.

"You are afraid of Paul," she cried. "You are afraid of Karl Steinmetz;
you will presently be afraid of me."

"I think not," said De Chauxville coolly. The two names just mentioned
were certainly not of pleasant import in his ears, but he was not going
to let a woman know that. This man had played dangerous cards before
now. He was not at all sure of his ground. He did not know what Etta's
position was in regard to Steinmetz. Behind the defiant woman there
lurked the broad shadow of the man who never defied; who knew many
things, but was ignorant of fear.

Unlike Karl Steinmetz, De Chauxville was not a bold player. He liked to
be sure of his trick before he threw down his trump card. His method was
not above suspicion: he liked to know what cards his adversary held, and
one may be sure that he was not above peeping.

"Karl Steinmetz is no friend of yours," he said.

Etta did not answer. She was thinking of the conversation she had had
with Steinmetz in Petersburg. She was wondering whether the friendship
he had offered--the solid thing as he called it--was not better than the
love of this man.

"I have information now," went on De Chauxville, "which would have made
you my wife, had I had it sooner."

"I think not," said the lady insolently. She had dealt with such men
before. Hers was the beauty that appealed to De Chauxville and such as
he. It is not the beautiful women who see the best side of human nature.

"Even now," went on the Frenchman, "now that I know you--I still love
you. You are the only woman I shall ever love."

"Indeed!" murmured the lady, quite unmoved.

"Yes; although in a way I despise you--now that I know you."

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Etta. "If you have any thing to say, please say
it. I have no time to probe your mysteries--to discover your parables.
You know me well enough, perhaps, to be aware that I am not to be
frightened by your cheap charlatanism."

"I know you well enough," retorted De Chauxville hoarsely, "to be aware
that it was you who sold the Charity League papers to Vassili in Paris.
I know you well enough, madame, to be aware of your present position in
regard to your husband. If I say a word in the right quarter you would
never leave Russia alive. I have merely to say to Catrina Lanovitch that
it was you who banished her father for your own gain. I have merely to
hand your name in to certain of the Charity League party, and even your
husband could not save you."

He had gradually approached her, and uttered the last words face to
face, his eyes close to hers. She held her head up--erect, defiant
still.

"So you see, madame," he said, "you belong to me."

She smiled.

"Hand and foot," he added. "But I am soft-hearted."

He shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

"What will you?" he said, looking out of the window. "I love you."

"Nonsense!"

He turned slowly round.

"What?"

"Nonsense!" repeated Etta. "You love power; you are a bully. You love to
please your own vanity by thinking that you have me in your power. I am
not afraid of you."

De Chauxville leaned gracefully against the window. He still held his
rifle.

"Reflect a little," he said, with his cold smile. "It would appear that
you do not quite realize the situation. Women rarely realize situations
in time. Our friend--your husband--has many of the English
idiosyncrasies. He has all the narrow-minded notions of honor which
obtain in that country. Added to this, I suspect him of possessing a
truly Slavonic fire which he keeps under. 'A smouldering fire--' You
know, madame, our French proverb. He is not the man to take a rational
and broad-minded view of your little transaction with M. Vassili; more
especially, perhaps, as it banished his friend Stepan Lanovitch--the
owner of this house, by the way. His reception of the news I have to
tell him would be unpleasant--for you."

"What do you want?" interrupted Etta. "Money?"

"I am not a needy adventurer."

"And I am not such a fool, M. de Chauxville, as to allow myself to be
dragged into a vulgar intrigue, borrowed from a French novel, to satisfy
your vanity."

De Chauxville's dull eyes suddenly flashed.

"I will trouble you to believe, madame," he said, in a low, concentrated
voice, "that such a thought never entered my head. A De Chauxville is
not a commercial traveller, if you please. No; it may surprise you, but
my feeling for you has more good in it than you would seem capable of
inspiring. God only knows how it is that a bad woman can inspire a good
love."

Etta looked at him in amazement. She did not always understand De
Chauxville. No matter for surprise, perhaps; for he did not always
understand himself.

"Then what do you want?" she asked.

"In the meantime, implicit obedience."

"What are you going to use me for?"

"I have ends," replied Claude de Chauxville, who had regained his usual
half-mocking composure, "that you will serve. But they will be your ends
as well as mine. You will profit by them. I will take very good care
that you come to no harm, for you are the ultimate object of all this.
At the end of it all I see only--you."

Etta shrugged her shoulders. It is to be presumed that she was
absolutely heartless. Many women are. It is when a heartless woman has
brains that one hears of her.

"What if I refuse?" asked Etta, keenly aware of the fact that this man
was handicapped by his love for her.

"Then I will force you to obedience."

Etta raised her delicate eyebrows insolently.

"Ah!"

"Yes," said De Chauxville, with suppressed anger; "I will force you to
obey me."

The princess looked at him with her little mocking smile. She raised one
hand to her head with a reflective air, as if a hair-pin were of greater
importance than his words. She had dressed herself rather carefully for
this interview. She never for a moment overlooked the fact that she was
a woman, and beautiful. She did not allow him to forget it either.

Her mood of outraged virtue was now suddenly thrown into the background
by a phase of open coquetry. Beneath her eyelids she watched for the
effect of her pretty, provoking attitude on the man who loved her. She
was on her own territory at this work, playing her own game; and she was
more alarmed by De Chauxville's imperturbability than by any thing he
had said.

"You have a strange way of proving the truth of your own statements."

"What statements?"

She gave a little laugh. Her attitude, her glance, the cunning display
of a perfect figure, the laugh, the whole woman, was the incarnation of
practised coquetry. She did not admit, even to herself, that she was
afraid of De Chauxville. But she was playing her best cards, in her best
manner. She had never known them fail.

Claude de Chauxville was a little white about the lips. His eyelids
flickered, but by an effort he controlled himself, and she did not see
the light in his eyes for which she looked.

"If you mean," he said coldly, "the statement that I made to you before
you were married--namely, that I love you--I am quite content to leave
the proof till the future. I know what I am about, madame."

He took his watch from his pocket and consulted it.

"I must go in five minutes," he said. "I have a few instructions to give
you, to which I must beg your careful attention."

He looked up, meeting Etta's somewhat sullen gaze with a smile of
triumph.

"It is essential," he went on, "that I be invited to Osterno. I do not
want to stay there long; indeed, I do not care to. But I must see the
place. I dare say you can compass the invitation, madame?"

"It will be difficult."

"And therefore worthy of your endeavor. I have the greatest regard for
your diplomatic skill. I leave the matter in your hands, princess."

Etta shrugged her shoulders and looked past him out of the window. De
Chauxville was considering her face carefully.

"Another point to be remembered," he went on, "is your husband's daily
life at Osterno. The prince is not above suspicion; the authorities are
watching him. He is suspected of propagating revolutionary ideas among
the peasantry. I should like you to find out as much as you can. Perhaps
you know already. Perhaps he has told you, princess. I know that
beautiful face! He has told you! Good! Does he take an interest in the
peasants?"

Etta did not answer.

"Kindly give me your attention, madame. Does the prince take an interest
in the peasants?"

"Yes."

"An active interest?"

"Yes."

"Have you any details?"

"No," answered Etta.

"Then you will watch him, and procure those details."

Etta's face was defiant and pale. De Chauxville never took his eyes from
it.

"I have undertaken a few small commissions for an old friend of yours,
M. Vassili, whom you obliged once before!" he said; and the defiance
faded from her eyes.

"The authorities cannot, in these disturbed times, afford to tolerate
princes of an independent turn of mind. Such men are apt to make the
peasant think himself more important than he is. I dare say, madame,
that you are already tired of Russia. It might perhaps serve your ends
if this country was made a little too hot for your husband, eh? I see
your proud lips quivering, princess! It is well to keep the lips under
control. We, who deal in diplomacy, know where to look for such signs.
Yes; I dare say I can get you out of Russia--for ever. But you must be
obedient. You must reconcile yourself to the knowledge that you have
met--your master."

He bowed in his graceful way, spreading out his hands in mock humility.
Etta did not answer him. For the moment she could see no outlet to this
maze of trouble, and yet she was conscious of not fearing De Chauxville
so much as she feared Karl Steinmetz.

"A lenient master," pursued the Frenchman, whose vanity was tickled by
the word. "I do not ask much. One thing is to be invited to Osterno,
that I may be near you. The other is a humble request for details of
your daily life, that I may think of you when absent."

Etta drew in her lips, moistening them as if they had suddenly become
parched.

De Chauxville glanced at her and moved toward the door. He paused with
his fingers on the handle, and looking back over his shoulder he said:

"Have I made myself quite clear?"

Etta was still looking out of the window with hard, angry eyes. She took
no notice of the question.

De Chauxville turned the handle.

"Again let me impress upon you the advisability of implicit obedience,"
he said, with delicate insolence. "I mentioned the Charity League; but
that is not my strongest claim upon your attention. I have another
interesting little detail of your life, which I will reserve until
another time."

He closed the door behind him, leaving Etta white-lipped.




CHAPTER XXXI


A DANGEROUS EXPERIMENT

A Russian forest in winter is one of nature's places of worship. There
are some such places in the world, where nature seems to stand in the
presence of the Deity; a sunrise at sea; night on a snow-clad mountain;
mid-day in a Russian forest in winter. These places and these times are
good for convalescent atheists and such as pose as unbelievers--the
cheapest form of notoriety.

Paul had requested Catrina and Maggie to drive as quietly as possible
through the forest. The warning was unnecessary, for the stillness of
snow is infectious, while the beauty of the scene seemed to command
silence. As usual, Catrina drove without bells. The one attendant on his
perch behind was a fur-clad statue of servitude and silence. Maggie,
leaning back, hidden to the eyes in her sables, had nothing to say to
her companion. The way lay through forests of pine--trackless,
motionless, virgin. The sun, filtering through the snow-laden branches,
cast a subdued golden light upon the ruddy upright trunks of the trees.
At times a willow-grouse, white as the snow, light and graceful on the
wing, rose from the branch where he had been laughing to his mate with a
low, cooing laugh, and fluttered away over the trees.

"A kooropatka," said Catrina, who knew the life of the forest almost as
well as Paul, whose very existence was wrapped up in these things.

Far over the summits of the pines a snipe seemed to be wheeling a
sentinel round. He followed them as they sped along, calling out all the
while his deep warning note, like that of a lamb crouching beneath a
hedge where the wind is not tempered.

Once or twice they heard the dismal howl of a wolf--the most melancholy,
the weirdest, the most hopeless of nature's calls. The whole forest
seemed to be on the alert--astir and in suspense. The wolf, disturbed in
his lair, no doubt heard and understood the cry of the watchful snipe
and the sudden silence of the willow-grouse, who loves to sit and laugh
when all is safe. A clumsy capercailzie, swinging along over the trees
with a great flap and rush of wings, seemed to be intent on his own
solitary, majestic business--a very king among the fowls of the air.

Amid the topmost branches of the pines the wind whispered and stirred
like a child in sleep; but beneath all was still. Every branch stood
motionless beneath its burden of snow. The air was thin, exhilarating,
brilliant--like dry champagne. It seemed to send the blood coursing
through the veins with a very joy of life.

Catrina noted all these things while cleverly handling her ponies. They
spoke to her with a thousand voices. She had roamed in these same
forests with Paul, who loved them and understood them as she did.

Maggie, in the midst as it were of a revelation, leaned back and
wondered at it all. She, too, was thinking of Paul, the owner of these
boundless forests. She understood him better now. This drive had
revealed to her a part of his nature which had rather puzzled her--a
large, simple, quiet strength which had developed and grown to maturity
beneath these trees. We are all part of what we have seen. We all carry
with us through life somewhat of the scenes through which we passed in
childhood.

Maggie knew now where Paul had learnt the quiet concentration of mind,
the absorption in his own affairs, the complete lack of interest in the
business of his neighbor which made him different from other men. He had
learnt these things at first hand from God's creatures. These
forest-dwellers of fur and feather went about their affairs in the same
absorbed way, with the same complete faith, the same desire to leave and
be left alone. The simplicity of Nature was his. His only craft was
forest craft.

"Now you know," said Catrina, when they reached the hut, "why I hate
Petersburg."

Maggie nodded. The effect of the forest was still upon her. She did not
want to talk.

The woman who received them, the wife of a keeper, had prepared in a
rough way for their reception. She had a large fire and bowls of warm
milk. The doors and windows had been thrown wide open by Paul's orders.
He wanted to spare Maggie too intimate an acquaintance with a Russian
interior. The hut was really a shooting-box built by Paul some years
earlier, and inhabited by a head-keeper, one learned in the ways of bear
and wolf and lynx. The large dwelling-room had been carefully scrubbed.
There was a smell of pine-wood and soap. The table, ready spread with a
simple luncheon, took up nearly the whole of the room.

While the two girls were warming themselves, a keeper came to the door
of the hut and asked to see Catrina. He stood in the little door-way,
completely filling it, and explained that he could not come in, as the
buckles and straps of his snow-shoes were clogged and frozen. He wore
the long Norwegian snow-shoes, and was held to be the quickest runner in
the country.

Catrina had a long conversation with the man, who stood hatless, ruddy,
and shy.

"It is," she then explained to Maggie, "Paul's own man, who always loads
for him and carries his spare gun. He has sent him to tell us that the
game has been ringed, and that the beaters will close in on a place
called the Schapka Clearing, where there is a woodman's refuge. If we
care to put on our snow-shoes, this man will guide us to the clearing
and take care of us till the battue is over."

Of course Maggie welcomed the proposal with delight, and after a hasty
luncheon the three glided off through the forest as noiselessly as they
had come. After a tiring walk of an hour and more they came to the
clearing, and were duly concealed in the hut.

No one, the keeper told the ladies, except Paul, knew of their presence
in the little wooden house. The arrangements of the beat had been
slightly altered at the last moment after the hunters had separated. The
keeper lighted a small fire and shyly attended to the ladies, removing
their snow-shoes with clumsy fingers. He closed the door, and arranged a
branch of larch across the window so that they could stand near it
without being seen.

They had not been there long before De Chauxville appeared. He moved
quickly across the clearing, skimming over the snow with long, sweeping
strides. Two keepers followed him, and after having shown him the rough
hiding-place prepared for him, silently withdrew to their places. Soon
Karl Steinmetz came from another direction, and took up his position
rather nearer to the hut, in a thicket of pine and dwarf oak. He was
only twenty yards away from the refuge where the girls were concealed.

It was not long before Paul came. He was quite alone, and suddenly
appeared at the far end of the clearing, in very truth a mighty hunter,
standing nearly seven feet on his snow-shoes. One rifle he carried in
his hand, another slung across his back. It was like a silent scene on a
stage. The snow-white clearing, with long-drawn tracks across it where
the snow-shoes had passed, the still trees, the brilliant sun, and the
blue depths of the forest behind; while Paul, like the hero of some grim
Arctic saga, a huge fur-clad Northern giant, stood alone in the
desolation.

From his attitude it was apparent that he was listening. It was probable
that the cries of the birds and the distant howl of a wolf told his
practised ears how near the beaters were. He presently moved across to
where De Chauxville was hidden, spoke some words of advice or warning to
him, and pointed with his gloved hand in the direction whence the game
might be expected to come.

It subsequently transpired that Paul was asking De Chauxville the
whereabouts of Steinmetz, who had gained his place of concealment
unobserved by either. De Chauxville could give him no information, and
Paul went away to his post dissatisfied. Karl Steinmetz must have seen
them; he must have divined the subject of their conversation; but he
remained hidden and gave no sign.

Paul's post was behind a fallen tree, and the watchers in the hut could
see him, while he was completely hidden from any animal that might enter
the open clearing from the far end. He turned and looked hard at the
hut; but the larch branch across the window effectually prevented him
from discovering whether any one was behind it or not.

Thus they all waited in suspense. A blackcock skimmed across the open
space and disappeared unmolested. A wolf--gray, gaunt, sneaking, and
lurching in his gait--trotted into the clearing and stood listening with
evil lips drawn back. The two girls watched him breathlessly. When he
trotted on unmolested, they drew a deep breath as if they had been under
water. Paul, with his two rifles laid before him, watched the wolf
depart with a smile. The girls could see the smile, and from it learnt
somewhat of the man. The keeper beside them gave a little laugh and
looked to the hammers of his rifle.

And still there was no sound. It was still, unreal, and like a scene on
the stage. The birds, skimming over the tops of the trees from time to
time, threw in as it were a note of fear and suspense. There was
breathlessness in the air. A couple of hares, like white shadows in
their spotless winter coats, shot from covert to covert across the open
ground.

Then suddenly the keeper gave a little grunt and held up his hand,
listening with parted lips and eager eyes. There was a distinct sound of
breaking branches and crackling underwood.

They could see Paul cautiously rise from his knees to a crouching
attitude. They followed the direction of his gaze, and before them the
monarch of these forests stood in clumsy might. A bear had shambled to
the edge of the clearing and was standing upright, growling and
grumbling to himself, his great paws waving from side to side, his
shaggy head thrust forward with a recurring jerk singularly suggestive
of a dandy with an uncomfortable collar. These bears of Northern Russia
have not the reputation of being very fierce unless they are aroused
from their winter quarters, when their wrath knows no bounds and their
courage recognizes no danger. An angry bear is afraid of no living man
or beast. Moreover, these kings of the Northern forests are huge beasts,
capable of smothering a strong man by falling on him and lying there--a
death which has come to more than one daring hunter. The beast's
favorite method of dealing with his foe is to claw him to death, or else
hug him till his ribs are snapped and crushed into his vitals.

The bear stood poking his head and looking about with little, fiery,
bloodshot eyes for something to destroy. His rage was manifest, and in
his strength he was a grand sight. The majesty of power and a dauntless
courage were his.

It was De Chauxville's shot, and while keeping his eye on the bear, Paul
glanced impatiently over his shoulder from time to time, wondering why
the Frenchman did not fire. The bear was a huge one, and would probably
carry three bullets and still be a dangerous adversary.

The keeper muttered impatiently.

They were watching Paul breathlessly. The bear was approaching him. It
would not be safe to defer firing another second.

Suddenly the keeper gave a short exclamation of astonishment and threw
up his rifle.

There was another bear behind Paul, shambling toward him, unseen by him.
All his attention was riveted on the huge brute forty yards in front of
him. It was Claude de Chauxville's task to protect Paul from any flank
or rear attack; and Claude de Chauxville was peering over his covert,
watching with blanched face the second bear; and lifting no hand, making
no sign. The bear was within a few yards of Paul, who was crouching
behind the fallen pine and now raising his rifle to his shoulder.

In a flash of comprehension the two girls saw all, through the panes of
the closed window. It was still singularly like a scene on the stage.
The second bear raised his powerful fore-paws as he approached. One blow
would tear open Paul's brain.

A terrific report sent the girls staggering back, for a moment
paralyzing thought. The keeper had fired through the window, both
barrels almost simultaneously. It was a question how much lead would
bring the bear down before he covered the intervening dozen yards. In
the confined space of the hut, the report of the heavy double charge was
like that of a cannon; moreover, Steinmetz, twenty yards away, had fired
at the same moment.

The room was filled with smoke. The two girls were blinded for an
instant. Then they saw the keeper tear open the door and disappear. The
cold air through the shattered casement was a sudden relief to their
lungs, choked with sulphur and the fumes of spent powder.

In a flash they were out of the open door; and there again, with the
suddenness of a panorama, they saw another picture--Paul kneeling in the
middle of the clearing, taking careful aim at the retreating form of the
first bear. They saw the puff of blue smoke rise from his rifle, they
heard the sharp report; and the bear rolled over on its face.

Steinmetz and the keeper were walking toward Paul. Claude de Chauxville,
standing outside his screen of brushwood, was staring with wide,
fear-stricken eyes at the hut which he had thought empty. He did not
know that there were three people behind him, watching him. What had
they seen? What had they understood?

Catrina and Maggie ran toward Paul. They were on snow-shoes, and made
short work of the intervening distance.

Paul had risen to his feet. His face was grave. There was a singular
gleam in his eyes, which was not a gleam of mere excitement such as the
chase brings into some men's eyes.

Steinmetz looked at him and said nothing. For a moment Paul stood still.
He looked round him, noting with experienced glance the lay of the whole
incident--the dead form of the bear ten yards behind his late
hiding-place, one hundred and eighty yards from the hut, one hundred and
sixty yards from the spot whence Karl Steinmetz had sent his unerring
bullet through the bear's brain. Paul saw it all. He measured the
distances. He looked at De Chauxville, standing white-faced at his post,
not fifty yards from the carcass of the second bear.

Paul seemed to see no one but De Chauxville. He went straight toward
him, and the whole party followed in breathless suspense. Steinmetz was
nearest to him, watching with his keen, quiet eyes.

Paul went up to De Chauxville and took the rifle from his hands. He
opened the breech and looked into the barrels. They were clean; the
rifle had not been fired off.

He gave a little laugh of contempt, and, throwing the rifle at De
Chauxville's feet, turned abruptly away.

It was Catrina who spoke.

"If you had killed him," she said, "I would have killed you!"

Steinmetz picked up the rifle, closed the breech, and handed it to De
Chauxville with a queer smile.




CHAPTER XXXII


A CLOUD

When the Osterno party reached home that same evening the starosta was
waiting to see Steinmetz. His news was such that Steinmetz sent for
Paul, and the three men went together to the little room beyond the
smoking-room in the old part of the castle.

"Well?" said Paul, with the unconscious hauteur which made him a prince
to these people.

The starosta spread out his hands.

"Your Excellency," he answered, "I am afraid."

"Of what?"

The starosta shrugged his narrow shoulders in cringing deprecation.

"Excellency, I do not know. There is something in the village--something
in the whole country. I know not what it is. It is a feeling--one cannot
see it, one cannot define it; but it is there, like the gleam of water
at the bottom of a deep well. The moujiks are getting dangerous. They
will not speak to me. I am suspected. I am watched."

His shifty eyes, like black beads, flitted from side to side as he
spoke. He was like a weasel at bay. It was the face of a man who went in
bodily fear.

"I will go with you down to the village now," said Paul. "Is there any
excuse--any illness?"

"Ah, Excellency," replied the chief, "there is always that excuse."

Paul looked at the clock.

"I will go now," he said. He began his simple preparations at once.

"There is dinner to be thought of," suggested Steinmetz, with a resigned
smile. "It is half-past seven."

"Dinner can wait," replied Paul in English. "You might tell the ladies
that I have gone out, and will dine alone when I come back."

Steinmetz shrugged his broad shoulders.

"I think you are a fool," he said, "to go alone. If they discover your
identity they will tear you to pieces."

"I am not afraid of them," replied Paul, with his head in the medicine
cupboard, "any more than I am afraid of a horse. They are like horses;
they do not know their own strength."

"With this difference," added Steinmetz, "that the moujik will one day
make the discovery. He is beginning to make it now. The starosta is
quite right, Paul. There is something in the air. It is about time that
you took the ladies away from here and left me to manage it alone."

"That time will never come again," answered Paul. "I am not going to
leave you alone again."

He was pushing his arms into the sleeves of the old brown coat reaching
to his heels, a garment which commanded as much love and respect in
Osterno as ever would an angel's wing.

Steinmetz opened the drawer of his bureau and laid a revolver on the
table.

"At all events," he said, "you may as well have the wherewithal to make
a fight of it, if the worst comes to the worst."

"As you like," answered Paul, slipping the fire-arm into his pocket.

The starosta moved away a pace or two. He was essentially a man of
peace.

Half an hour later it became known in the village that the Moscow doctor
was in the house of one Ivan Krass, where he was prepared to see all
patients who were now suffering from infectious complaints. The door of
this cottage was soon besieged by the sick and the idle, while the
starosta stood in the door-way and kept order.

Within, in the one dwelling-room of the cottage, were assembled as
picturesque and as unsavory a group as the most enthusiastic modern
"slummer" could desire to see.

Paul, standing by the table with two paraffin lamps placed behind him,
saw each suppliant in turn, and all the while he kept up a running
conversation with the more intelligent, some of whom lingered on to talk
and watch.

"Ah, John the son of John," he would say, "what is the matter with you?
It is not often I see you. I thought you were clean and thrifty."

To which John the son of John replied that the winter had been hard and
fuel scarce, that his wife was dead and his children stricken with
influenza.

"But you have had relief; our good friend the starosta--"

"Does what he can," grumbled John, "but he dare not do much. The barins
will not let him. The nobles want all the money for themselves. The
Emperor is living in his palace, where there are fountains of wine. We
pay for that with our taxes. You see my hand--I cannot work; but I must
pay the taxes, or else we shall be turned out into the street."

Paul, while attending to the wounded hand--an old story of an old wound
neglected, and a constitution with all the natural healing power drained
out of it by hunger and want and vodka--Paul, ever watchful, glanced
round and saw sullen, lowering faces, eager eyes, hungry, cruel lips.

"But the winter is over now. You are mistaken about the nobles. They do
what they can. The Emperor pays for the relief that you have had all
these months. It is foolish to talk as you do."

"I only tell the truth," replied the man, wincing as Paul deliberately
cut away the dead flesh. "We know now why it is that we are all so
poor."

"Why?" asked Paul, pouring some lotion over a wad of lint and speaking
indifferently.

"Because the nobles--" began the man, and some one nudged him from
behind, urging him to silence.

"You need not be afraid of me," said Paul. "I tell no tales, and I take
no money."

"Then why do you come?" asked a voice in the background. "Some one pays
you; who is it?"

"Ah, Tula," said Paul, without looking up. "You are there, are you? The
great Tula. There is a hardworking, sober man, my little fathers, who
never beats his wife, and never drinks, and never borrows money. A
useful neighbor! What is the matter with you, Tula? You have been too
sparing with the vodka, no doubt. I must order you a glass every hour."

There was a little laugh. But Paul, who knew these people, was quite
alive to the difference of feeling toward himself. They still accepted
his care, his help, his medicine; but they were beginning to doubt him.

"There is your own prince," he went on fearlessly to the man whose hand
he was binding up. "He will help you when there is real distress."

An ominous silence greeted this observation.

Paul raised his head and looked round. In the dim light of the two smoky
lamps he saw a ring of wild faces. Men with shaggy beards and hair all
entangled and unkempt, with fierce eyes and lowering glances; women with
faces that unsexed them. There were despair and desperation and utter
recklessness in the air, in the attitude, in the hearts of these people.
And Paul had worked among them for years. The sight would have been
heart-breaking had Paul Howard Alexis been the sort of man to admit the
possibility of a broken heart. All that he had done had been frustrated
by the wall of heartless bureaucracy against which he had pitched his
single strength. There was no visible progress. These were not the faces
of men and women moving up the social scale by the aid of education and
the deeper self-respect that follows it. Some of them were young,
although they hardly looked it. They were young in years, but old in
life and misery. Some of them he knew to be educated. He had paid for
the education himself. He had risked his own personal freedom to procure
it for them, and misery had killed the seed.

He looked on this stony ground, and his stout heart was torn with pity.
It is easy to be patient in social economy when that vague jumble of
impossible ideas is calmly discussed across the dinner-table. But the
result seems hopelessly distant when the mass of the poor and wretched
stand before one in the flesh.

Paul knew that this little room was only a specimen of the whole of
Russia. Each of these poor peasants represented a million--equally
hopeless, equally powerless to contend with an impossible taxation.

He could not give them money, because the tax-collector had them all
under his thumb and would exact the last kopeck. The question was far
above his single-handed reach, and he did not dare to meet it openly and
seek the assistance of the few fellow-nobles who faced the position
without fear.

He could not see in the brutal faces before him one spark of
intelligence, one little gleam of independence and self-respect which
could be attributed to his endeavor; which the most sanguine
construction could take as resulting from his time and money given to a
hopeless cause.

"Well," he said. "Have you nothing to tell me of your prince?"

"You know him," answered the man who had spoken from the safe
background. "We need not tell you."

"Yes," answered Paul; "I know him."

He would not defend himself.

"There," he went on, addressing the man whose hand was now bandaged.
"You will do. Keep clean and sober, and it will heal. Get drunk and go
dirty, and you will die. Do you understand, Ivan Ivanovitch?"

The man grunted sullenly, and moved away to give place to a woman with a
baby in her arms.

Paul glanced into her face. He had known her a few years earlier a happy
child playing at her mother's cottage door.

She drew back the shawl that covered her child, with a faint, far-off
gleam of pride in her eyes. There was something horribly pathetic in the
whole picture. The child-mother, her rough, unlovely face lighted for a
moment with that gleam from Paradise which men never know; the huge man
bending over her, and between them the wizened, disease-stricken little
waif of humanity.

"When he was born he was a very fine child," said the mother.

Paul glanced at her. She was quite serious. She was looking at him with
a strange pride on her face. Paul nodded and drew aside the shawl. The
baby was staring at him with wise, grave eyes, as if it could have told
him a thing or two if it had only been gifted with the necessary speech.
Paul knew that look. It meant starvation.

"What is it?" asked the child-mother. "It is only some little illness,
is it not?"

"Yes; it is only a little illness."

He did not add that no great illness is required to kill a small child.
He was already writing something in his pocket-book. He tore the leaf
out and gave it to her.

"This," he said, "is for you--yourself, you understand? Take that each
day to the starosta and he will give you what I have written down. If
you do not eat all that he gives you and drink what there is in the
bottle as he directs you, the baby will die--you understand? You must
give nothing away; nothing even to your husband."

The next patient was the man whose voice had been heard from the safe
retreat of the background. His dominant malady was obvious. A shaky
hand, an unsteady eye, and a bloated countenance spoke for themselves.
But he had other diseases more or less developed.

"So you have no good to tell of your prince," said Paul, looking into
the man's face.

"Our prince, Excellency! He is not our prince. His forefathers seized
this land; that is all."

"Ah! Who has been telling you that?"

"No one," grumbled the man. "We know it; that is all."

"But you were his father's serfs, before the freedom. Let me see your
tongue. Yes; you have been drinking--all the winter. Ah! is not that so,
little father? Your parents were serfs before the freedom."

"Freedom!" growled the man. "A pretty freedom! We were better off
before."

"Yes; but the world interfered with serfdom, because it got its
necessary touch of sentiment. There is no sentiment in starvation."

The man did not understand. He grunted acquiescence nevertheless. The
true son of the people is always ready to grunt acquiescence to all that
sounds like abuse.

"And what is this prince like? Have you seen him?" went on Paul.

"No; I have not seen him. If I saw him I would kick his head to pieces."

"Ah, just open your mouth a little wider. Yes; you have a nasty throat
there. You have had diphtheria. So you would kick his head to pieces.
Why?"

"He is a tchinovnik--a government spy. He lives on the taxes. But it
will not be for long. There is a time coming--"

"Ah! What sort of a time? Now, you must take this to the starosta. He
will give you a bottle. It is not to drink. It is to wash your throat
with. Remember that, and do not give it to your wife by way of a tonic
as you did last time. So there are changes coming, are there?"

"There is a change coming for the prince--for all the princes," replied
the man in the usual taproom jargon. "For the Emperor too. The poor man
has had enough of it. God made the world for the poor man as well as for
the rich. Riches should be equally divided. They are going to be. The
country is going to be governed by a Mir. There will be no taxes. The
Mir makes no taxes. It is the tchinovniks who make the taxes and live on
them."

"Ah, you are very eloquent, little father. If you talk like this in the
kabak no wonder you have a bad throat. There, I can do no more for you.
You must wash more and drink less. You might try a little work perhaps;
it stimulates the appetite. And with a throat like that I should not
talk so much if I were you. Next!"

The next comer was afflicted with a wound that would not heal--a common
trouble in cold countries.

While attending to this sickening sore Paul continued his conversation
with the last patient.

"You must tell me," he said, "when these changes are about to come. I
should like to be there to see. It will be interesting."

The man laughed mysteriously.

"So the government is to be by a Mir, is it?" went on Paul.

"Yes; the poor man is to have a say in it."

"That will be interesting. But at the Mir every one talks at once and no
one listens; is it not so?"

The man made no reply.

"Is the change coming soon?" asked Paul coolly.

But there was no reply. Some one had seized the loquacious orator of the
kabak, and he was at that moment being quietly hustled out of the room.

After this there was a sullen silence, which Paul could not charm away,
charm he never so wisely.

When his patients had at last ebbed away he lighted a cigarette and
walked thoughtfully back to the castle. There was danger in the air, and
this was one of those men upon whom danger acts as a pleasant stimulant.




CHAPTER XXXIII


THE NET IS DRAWN

During the days following Paul's visit to the village the ladies did not
see much male society. Paul and Steinmetz usually left the castle
immediately after breakfast and did not return till nightfall.

"Is there any thing wrong?" Maggie asked Steinmetz on the evening of the
second day.

Steinmetz had just come into the vast drawing-room dressed for
dinner--stout, placid, and very clean-looking. They were alone in the
room.

"Nothing, my dear young lady--yet," he answered, coming forward and
rubbing his broad palms slowly together.

Maggie was reading an English newspaper. She turned its pages without
pausing to notice the black and sticky obliterations effected by the
postal authorities before delivery. It was no new thing to her now to
come upon the press censor's handiwork in the columns of such
periodicals and newspapers as Paul received from England.

"Because," she said, "if there is you need not be afraid of telling me."

"To have that fear would be to offer you an insult," replied Steinmetz.
"Paul and I are investigating matters, that is all. The plain truth, my
dear young lady, is that we do not know ourselves what is in the wind.
We only know there is something. You are a horsewoman--you know the
feeling of a restive horse. One knows that he is only waiting for an
excuse to shy or to kick or to rear. One feels it thrilling in him. Paul
and I have that feeling in regard to the peasants. We are going the
round of the outlying villages, steadily and carefully. We are seeking
for the fly on the horse's body--you understand?"

"Yes, I understand."

She gave a little nod. She had not lost color, but there was an anxious
look in her eyes.

"Some people would have sent to Tver for the soldiers," Steinmetz went
on. "But Paul is not that sort of man. He will not do it yet. You
remember our conversation at the Charity Ball in London?"

"Yes."

"I did not want you to come then. I am sorry you have come now."

Maggie laid aside the newspaper with a little laugh.

"But, Herr Steinmetz," she said, "I am not afraid. Please remember that.
I have absolute faith in you--and in Paul."

Steinmetz accepted this statement with his grave smile.

"There is only one thing I would recommend," he said, "and that is a
perfect discretion. Speak of this to no one, especially to no servants.
You remember your own mutiny in India. Gott! what wonderful people you
English are--men and women alike! You remember how the ladies kept up
and brazened it out before the servants. You must do the same. I think I
hear the rustle of the princess's dress. Yes! And there is no news in
the papers, you say?"

"None," replied Maggie.

It may not have been entirely by chance that Claude de Chauxville drove
over to Osterno to pay his respects the next day, and expressed himself
desolated at hearing that the prince had gone out with Herr Steinmetz in
a sleigh to a distant corner of the estate.

"My horses must rest," said the Frenchman, calmly taking off his fur
gloves. "Perhaps the princess will see me."

A few minutes later he was shown into the morning-room.

"Did I see Mlle. Delafield on snow-shoes in the forest as I came along?"
De Chauxville asked the servant in perfect Russian before the man left
the room.

"Doubtless, Excellency. She went out on her snow-shoes half an hour
ago."

"That is all right," said the Frenchman to himself when the door was
closed.

He went to the fire and warmed his slim white fingers. There was an evil
smile lurking beneath his mustache.

When Etta opened the door a minute later he bowed low, without speaking.
There was a suggestion of triumph in his attitude.

"Well?" said the princess, without acknowledging his salutation.

De Chauxville raised his eyebrows with the resigned surprise of a man to
whom no feminine humor is new. He brought forward a chair.

"Will you sit?" he said, with exaggerated courtesy. "I have much to say
to you. Besides, we have all the time. Your husband and his German
friend are miles away. I passed Miss Delafield in the forest. She is not
quite at home on her snow-shoes yet. She cannot be back for at least
half an hour."

Etta bit her lip as she looked at the chair. She sat slowly down and
drew in the folds of her rich dress.

"I have the good fortune to find you alone."

"So you have informed me," she replied coldly.

De Chauxville leaned against the mantel-piece and looked down at her
thoughtfully.

"At the bear-hunt the other day," he said, "I had the misfortune
to--well, to fall out with the prince. We were not quite at one on a
question of etiquette. He thought that I ought to have fired. I did not
fire; I was not ready. It appears that the prince considered himself to
be in danger. He was nervous--flurried."

"You are not always artistic in your untruths," interrupted Etta. "I
know nothing of the incident to which you refer, but in lying you should
always endeavor to be consistent. I am sure Paul was not nervous--or
flurried."

De Chauxville smiled imperturbably. His end was gained. Etta obviously
knew nothing of his attempt to murder Paul at the bear-hunt.

"It was nothing," he went on; "we did not come to words. But we have
never been much in sympathy; the coldness is intensified, that is all.
So I took the opportunity of calling when I knew he was away."

"How did you know he was away?"

"Ah, madame, I know more than I am credited with."

Etta gave a little laugh and shrugged her shoulders.

"You do not care for Osterno?" suggested De Chauxville.

"I hate it!"

"Precisely. And I am here to help you to get away from Russia once for
all. Ah! you may shake your head. Some day, perhaps, I shall succeed in
convincing you that I have only your interests at heart. I am here,
princess, to make a little arrangement with you--a final arrangement, I
hope."

He paused, looking at her with a sudden gleam in his eyes.

"Not the last of all," he added in a different tone. "That will make you
my wife."

Etta allowed this statement to pass unchallenged. Her courage and energy
were not exhausted. She was learning to nurse her forces.

"Your husband," went on De Chauxville, after he had sufficiently enjoyed
the savor of his own words, "is a brave man. To frighten him it is
necessary to resort to strong measures. The last and the strongest
measure in the diplomat's scale is the People. The People, madame, will
take no denial. It is a game I have played before--a dangerous game, but
I am not afraid."

"You need not trouble to be theatrical with me," put in Etta scornfully.
She was sitting with a patch of color in either cheek. At times this man
had the power of moving her, and she was afraid of allowing him to
exercise it. She knew her own weakness--her inordinate vanity; for
vanity is the weakness of strong women. She was ever open to flattery,
and Claude de Chauxville flattered her in every word he spoke; for by
act and speech he made it manifest that she was the motive power of his
existence.

"A man who plays for a high stake," went on the Frenchman, in a quieter
voice, "must be content to throw his all on the table time after time. A
week to-night--Thursday, the 5th of April--I will throw down my all on
the turn of a card. For the People are like that. It is rouge or
noir--one never knows. We only know that there is no third color, no
compromise."

Etta was listening now with ill-disguised interest. At last he had given
her something definite--a date.

"On Thursday," he went on, "the peasants will make a demonstration. You
know as well as I do--as well as Prince Pavlo does, despite his
imperturbable face--that the whole country is a volcano which may break
forth at any moment. But the control is strong, and therefore there is
never a large eruption--a grumble here, a gleam of fire there, a sullen
heat everywhere! But it is held in check by the impossibility of
communication. It seems strange, but Russia stands because she has no
penny postage. The great crash will come, not by force of arms, but by
ways of peace. The signal will be a postal system, the standard of the
revolution will be a postage-stamp. All over this country there are
millions waiting and burning to rise up and crush despotism, but they
are held in check by the simple fact that they are far apart and they
cannot write to each other. When, at last, they are brought together,
there will be no fight at all, because they will overwhelm their
enemies. That time, madame, has not come yet. We are only at the stage
of tentative underground rumblings. But a little eruption is enough to
wipe out one man if he be standing on the spot."

"Go on," said Etta quietly--too quietly, De Chauxville might have
thought, had he been calmer.

"I want you," he went on, "to assist me. We shall be ready on Thursday.
I shall not appear in the matter at all; I have strong colleagues at my
back. Starvation and misery, properly handled, are strong incentives."

"And how do you propose to handle them?" asked Etta in the same quiet
voice.

"The peasants will make a demonstration. The rest we must leave
to--well, to the course of fortune. I have no doubt that our astute
friend Karl Steinmetz will manage to hold them in check. But whatever
the end of the demonstration, the outcome will be the impossibility of a
longer residence in this country for the Prince Pavlo Alexis. A regiment
of soldiers could hardly make it possible."

"I do not understand," said Etta, "what you describe as a
demonstration--is it a rising?"

De Chauxville nodded, with a grin.

"In force, to take what they want by force?" asked the princess.

De Chauxville spread out his hands in his graceful Gallic way.

"That depends."

"And what do you wish me to do?" asked Etta, with the same concentrated
quiet.

"In the first place, to believe that no harm will come to you, either
directly or indirectly. They would not dare to touch the prince; they
will content themselves with breaking a few windows."

"What do you want me to do?" repeated Etta.

De Chauxville paused.

"Merely," he answered lightly, "to leave open a door--a side door. I
understand that there is a door in the old portion of the castle leading
up by a flight of stairs to the smoking-room, and thence to the new part
of the building."

Etta did not answer. De Chauxville glanced at his watch and walked to
the window, where he stood looking out. He was too refined a person to
whistle, but his attitude was suggestive of that mode of killing time.

"This door I wish you to unbar yourself before dinner on Thursday
evening," he said, turning round and slowly coming toward her.

"And I refuse to do it," said Etta.

"Ah!"

Etta sprung to her feet and faced him--a beautiful woman, a very queen
of anger. Her blazing eyes were on a level with his.

"Yes," she cried, with clenched fists, standing her full height till she
seemed to look down into his mean, fox-like face. "Yes; I refuse to
betray my husband--"

"Stop! He is not your husband!"

Slowly the anger faded out of her eyes; her clenched fists relaxed. Her
fingers were scraping nervously at the silk of her dress, like the
fingers of a child seeking support. She seemed to lose several inches of
her majestic stature.

"What do you mean?" she whispered. "What do you mean?"

"Sydney Bamborough is your husband," said the Frenchman, without taking
his dull eyes from her face.

"He is dead!" she hissed.

"Prove it!"

He walked past her and leaned against the mantelpiece in the pose of
easy familiarity which he had maintained during the first portion of
their interview.

"Prove it, madame!" he said again.

"He died at Tver," she said; but there was no conviction in her voice.
With her title and position to hold to, she could face the world.
Without these, what was she?

"A local newspaper reports that the body of a man was discovered on the
plains of Tver and duly buried in the pauper cemetery," said De
Chauxville indifferently. "Your husband--Sydney Bamborough, I mean--was,
for reasons which need not be gone into here, in the neighborhood of
Tver at the time. A police officer, who has since been transferred to
Odessa, was of the opinion that the dead man was a foreigner. There are
about twelve thousand foreigners in Tver--operatives in the
manufactories. Your husband--Sydney Bamborough, bien entendu--left Tver
to proceed eastward and cross Siberia to China in order to avoid the
emissaries of the Charity League, who were looking out for him at the
western frontier. He will be due at one of the treaty ports in China in
about a month. Upon the supposition that the body discovered on the
plains of Tver was that of your husband, you took the opportunity of
becoming a princess. It was enterprising. I admire your spirit. But it
was dangerous. I, madame, can suppress Sydney Bamborough when he turns
up. I have two arrows in my quiver for him; one is the Charity League,
the other the Russian Government, who want him. Your husband--I beg your
pardon, the prince--would perhaps take a different view of the case. It
is a pretty story. I will tell it to him unless I have your implicit
obedience."

Etta stood dry-lipped before him. She tried to speak, but no words came
from her lips.

De Chauxville looked at her with a quiet smile of triumph, and she knew
that he loved her. There is no defining love, nor telling when it merges
into hatred.

"Thursday evening, before dinner," said De Chauxville.

And he left her standing on the hearth-rug, her lips moving and framing
no words.




CHAPTER XXXIV


AN APPEAL

"Have you spoken to the princess?" asked Steinmetz, without taking the
cigar from his lips.

They were driving home through the forest that surrounded Osterno as the
sea surrounds an island. They were alone in the sleigh. That which they
had been doing had required no servant. Paul was driving, and
consequently the three horses were going as hard as they could. The snow
flew past their faces like the foam over the gunwale of a boat that is
thrashing into a ten-knot breeze. Yet it was not all snow. There were
flecks of foam from the horses' mouths mingled with it.

"Yes," answered Paul. His face was set and hard, his eyes stern. This
trouble with the peasants was affecting him more keenly than he
suspected. It was changing the man's face--drawing lines about his lips,
streaking his forehead with the marks of care. His position can hardly
be realized by an Englishman unless it be compared to that of the
captain of a great sinking ship full of human souls who have been placed
under his care.

"And what did she say?" asked Steinmetz.

"That she would not leave unless we all went with her."

Steinmetz drew the furs closer up round him.

"Yes," he said, glancing at his companion's face, and seeing little but
the eyes, by reason of the sable collar of his coat, which met the fur
of his cap; "yes, and why not?"

"I cannot leave them," answered Paul. "I cannot go away now that there
is trouble among them. What it is, goodness only knows! They would never
have got like this by themselves. Somebody has been at them, and I don't
think it is the Nihilists. It is worse than that. Some devil has been
stirring them up, and they know no better. He is still at it. They are
getting worse day by day, and I cannot catch him. If I do, by God!
Steinmetz, I'll twist his neck."

Steinmetz smiled grimly.

"Yes," he answered, "you are capable of it. For me, I am getting tired
of the moujik. He is an inveterate, incurable fool. If he is going to be
a dangerous fool as well, I should almost be inclined to let him go to
the devil in his own way."

"I dare say; but you are not in my position."

"No; that is true, Pavlo. They were not my father's serfs. Generations
of my ancestors have not saved generations of their ancestors from
starvation. My fathers before me have not toiled and slaved and
legislated for them. I have not learnt medicine that I might doctor
them. I have not risked my health and life in their sties, where pigs
would refuse to live. I have not given my whole heart and soul to their
welfare, to receive no thanks, but only hatred. No, it is different for
me. I owe them nothing, mein lieber; that is the difference."

"If I agree to make a bolt for Petersburg to-morrow will you come?"
retorted Paul.

"No," answered the stout man.

"I thought not. Your cynicism is only a matter of words, Steinmetz, and
not of deeds. There is no question of either of us leaving Osterno. We
must stay and fight it right out here."

"That is so," answered Steinmetz, with the Teutonic stolidity of manner
which sometimes came over him. "But the ladies--what of them?"

Paul did not answer. They were passing over the rise of a heavy drift.
It was necessary to keep the horses up to their work, to prevent the
runners of the sleigh sinking into the snow. With voice and whip Paul
encouraged them. He was kind to animals, but never spared them--a strong
man, who gave freely of his strength and expected an equal generosity.

"This is no place for Miss Delafield," added Steinmetz, looking straight
in front of him.

"I know that!" answered Paul sharply. "I wish to God she was not here!"
he added in a lower tone, and the words were lost beneath the frozen
mustache.

Steinmetz made no answer. They drove on through the gathering gloom. The
sky was of a yellow gray, and the earth reflected the dismal hue of it.
Presently it began to snow, driving in a fine haze from the north. The
two men lapsed into silence. Steinmetz, buried in his furs like a great,
cumbrous bear, appeared to be half asleep. They had had a long and
wearisome day. The horses had covered their forty miles and more from
village to village, where the two men had only gathered discouragement
and foreboding. Some of the starostas were sullen; others openly scared.
None of them were glad to see Steinmetz. Paul had never dared to betray
his identity. With the gendarmes--the tchinovniks--they had not deemed
it wise to hold communication.

"Stop!" cried Steinmetz suddenly, and Paul pulled the horses on to their
haunches.

"I thought you were asleep," he said.

There was no one in sight. They were driving along the new road now, the
high-way Paul had constructed from Osterno to Tver. The road itself was,
of course, indistinguishable, but the telegraph posts marked its course.

Steinmetz tumbled heavily out of his furs and went toward the nearest
telegraph post.

"Where is the wire?" he shouted.

Paul followed him in the sleigh. Together they peered up into the
darkness and the falling snow. The posts were there, but the wire was
gone. A whole length of it had been removed. They were cut off from
civilization by one hundred and forty miles of untrodden snow.

Steinmetz clambered back into the sleigh and drew up the fur apron. He
gave a strange little laugh that had a ring of boyish excitement in it.
This man had not always been stout and placid. He too had had his day,
and those who knew him said that it had been a stirring one.

"That settles one question," he said.

"Which question?" asked Paul.

He was driving as hard as the horses could lay hoof to ground, taken
with a sudden misgiving and a great desire to reach Osterno before dark.

"The question of the ladies," replied Steinmetz. "It is too late for
them to go now."

The village, nestling beneath the grim protection of Osterno, was
deserted and forlorn. All the doors were closed, the meagre curtains
drawn. It was very cold. There was a sense of relief in this great
frost; for when Nature puts forth her strength men are usually cowed
thereby.

At the castle all seemed to be in order. The groom, in his great
sheepskin coat, was waiting in the doorway. The servants threw open the
vast doors, and stood respectfully in the warm, brilliantly lighted hall
while their master passed in.

"Where is the princess?" Steinmetz asked his valet, while he was
removing the evidences of a long day in the open air.

"In her drawing-room, Excellency."

"Then go and ask her if she will give me a cup of tea in a few minutes."

And the man, a timorous German, went.

A few minutes later Steinmetz, presenting himself at the door of the
little drawing-room attached to Etta's suite of rooms, found the
princess in a matchless tea-gown waiting beside a table laden with
silver tea appliances. A dainty samovar, a tiny tea-pot, a spirit-lamp
and the rest, all in the wonderful silver-work of the Slavonski Bazaar
in Moscow.

"You see," she said with a smile, for she always smiled on men, "I have
obeyed your orders."

Steinmetz bowed gravely. He was one of the few men who could see that
smile and be strong. He closed the door carefully behind him. No mention
was made of the fact that his message had implied, and she had
understood, that he wished to see her alone. Etta was rather pale. There
was an anxious look in her eyes--behind the smile, as it were. She was
afraid of this man. She looked at the flame of the samovar, busying
herself among the tea-things with pretty curving fingers and rustling
sleeves. But the tea was never made.

"I begin to think," said Steinmetz, coming to the point in his bluff
way, "that you are a sort of beautiful Jonah, a graceful stormy petrel,
a fair Wandering Jewess. There is always trouble where you go."

She glanced at his broad face, and read nothing there.

"Go on," she said. "What have I been doing now? How you do hate me, Herr
Steinmetz!"

"Perhaps it is safer than loving you," he answered, with his grim humor.

"I suppose," she said, with a quaint little air of resignation which was
very disarming, "that you have come here to scold me--you do not want
any tea?"

"No; I do not want any tea."

She turned the wick of the spirit-lamp, and the peaceful music of the
samovar was still. In her clever eyes there was a little air of sidelong
indecision. She could not make up her mind how to take him. Her chiefest
method was so old as to be biblical. Yet she could not take him with her
eyelids. She had tried.

"You are horribly grave," she said.

"The situation," he replied, "is horribly grave."

Etta looked up at him as he stood before her, and the lamp-light,
falling on the perfect oval of her face, showed it to be white and
drawn.

"Princess," said the man, "there are in the lives of some of us times
when we cease to be men and women, and become mere human beings. There
are times, I mean, when the thousand influences of sex die at one blow
of fate. This is such a time. We must forget that you are a beautiful
woman; I verily believe that there is none more beautiful in the world.
I once knew one whom I admired more, but that was not because she was
more beautiful. That, however, is my own story, and this"--he paused and
looked round the little room, furnished, decorated for her
comfort--"this is your story. We must forget that I am a man, and
therefore subject to the influence of your beauty."

She sat looking up into his strong, grave face, and during all that
followed she never moved.

"I know you," he said, "to be courageous, and must ask you to believe
that I exaggerate nothing in what I am about to tell you. I tell it to
you instead of leaving Paul to do so because I know his complete
fearlessness, and his blind faith in a people who are unworthy of it. He
does not realize the gravity of the situation. They are his own people.
A sailor never believes that his own ship is unseaworthy."

"Go on!" said Etta, for he had paused.

"This country," he continued, "is unsettled. The people of the estate
are on the brink of a revolt. You know what the Russian peasant is. It
will be no Parisian emeute, half noise, half laughter. We cannot hope to
hold this old place against them. We cannot get away from it. We cannot
send for help because we have no one to send. Princess, this is no time
for half-confidences. I know--for I know these people better even than
Paul knows them--I am convinced that this is not the outcome of their
own brains. They are being urged on by some one. There is some one at
their backs. This is no revolt of the peasants, organized by the
peasants. Princess, you must tell me all you know!"

"I--I," she stammered, "I know nothing!"

And then suddenly she burst into tears, and buried her face in a tiny,
useless handkerchief. It was so unlike her and so sudden that Steinmetz
was startled.

He laid his great hand soothingly on her shoulder.

"I know," he said quietly, "I know more than you think. I am no saint,
princess, myself. I too have had my difficulties. I have had my
temptations, and I have not always resisted. God knows it is difficult
for men to do always the right thing. It is a thousand times more
difficult for women. When we spoke together in Petersburg, and I offered
you my poor friendship, I was not acting in the dark. I knew as much
then as I do now. Princess, I knew about the Charity League papers. I
knew more than any except Stepan Lanovitch, and it was he who told me."

He was stroking her shoulder with the soothing movements that one uses
toward a child in distress. His great hand, broad and thick, had a
certain sense of quiet comfort and strength in it. Etta ceased sobbing,
and sat with bowed head, looking through her tears into the gay wood
fire. It is probable that she failed to realize the great charity of the
man who was speaking to her. For the capacity for evil merges at some
point or other into incapability for comprehending good.

"Is that all he knows?" she was wondering.

The suggestion that Sydney Bamborough was not dead had risen up to
eclipse all other fear in her mind. In some part her thought reached
him.

"I know so much," he said, "that it is safest to tell me more. I offered
you my friendship because I think that no woman could carry through your
difficulties unaided. Princess, the admiration of Claude de Chauxville
may be pleasant, but I venture to think that my friendship is
essential."

Etta raised her head a little. She was within an ace of handing over to
Karl Steinmetz the rod of power held over her by the Frenchman. There
was something in Steinmetz that appealed to her and softened her,
something that reached a tender part of her heart through the coating of
vanity, through the hardness of worldly experience.

"I have known De Chauxville twenty-five years," he went on, and Etta
deferred her confession. "We have never been good friends, I admit. I am
no saint, princess, but De Chauxville is a villain. Some day you may
discover, when it is too late, that it would have been for Paul's
happiness, for your happiness, for every one's good to have nothing more
to do with Claude de Chauxville, I want to save you that discovery. Will
you act upon my advice? Will you make a stand now? Will you come to me
and tell me all that De Chauxville knows about you that he could ever
use against you? Will you give yourself into my hands--give me your
battle to fight? You cannot do it alone. Only believe in my friendship,
princess. That is all I ask."

Etta shook her head.

"I think not," she answered, in a voice too light, too superficial, too
hopelessly shallow for the depth of the moment. She was thinking only of
Sydney Bamborough, and of that dread secret. She fought with what arms
she wielded best--the lightest, the quickest, the most baffling.

"As you will," said Steinmetz.




CHAPTER XXXV


ON THE EDGE OF THE STORM

A Russian village kabak, with a smoking lamp, of which the chimney is
broken. The greasy curtains drawn across the small windows exclude the
faintest possibility of a draught. The moujik does not like a draught;
in fact, he hates the fresh air of heaven. Air that has been breathed
three or four times over is the air for him; it is warmer. The
atmosphere of this particular inn is not unlike that of every other inn
in the White Empire, inasmuch as it is heavily seasoned with the scent
of cabbage soup. The odor of this nourishing compound is only exceeded
in unpleasantness by the taste of the same. Added to this warm smell
there is the smoke of a score of the very cheapest cigarettes. The
Russian peasant smokes his cigarette now. It is the first step, and it
does not cost him much. It is the dawn of progress--the thin end of the
wedge which will broaden out into anarchy. The poor man who smokes a
cigarette is sure to pass on to socialistic opinions and troubles in the
market-place. Witness the cigarette-smoking countries. Moreover, this
same poor man is not a pleasant companion. He smokes a poor cigarette.

There is also the smell of vodka, which bottled curse is standing in
tumblers all down the long table. The news has spread in Osterno that
vodka is to be had for the asking at the kabak, where there is a
meeting. Needless to say, the meeting is a large one. Foolishness and
thirst are often found in the same head--a cranium which, by the way, is
exceptionally liable to be turned by knowledge or drink.

If the drink at the kabak of Osterno was dangerous, the knowledge was no
less so.

"I tell you, little fathers," an orator was shouting, "that the day of
the capitalist has gone. The rich men--the princes, the nobles, the
great merchants, the monopolists, the tchinovniks--tremble. They know
that the poor man is awakening at last from his long lethargy. What have
we done in Germany? What have we done in America? What have we done in
England and France?"

Whereupon he banged an unwashed fist upon the table with such emphasis
that more than one of the audience clutched his glass of vodka in alarm,
lest a drop of the precious liquor should be wasted.

No one seemed to know what had been done in Germany, in America, in
England, or in France. The people's orator is a man of many questions
and much fist-banging. The moujiks of Osterno gazed at him beneath their
shaggy brows. Half of them did not understand him. They were as yet
uneducated to a comprehension of the street orator's periods. A few of
the more intelligent waited for him to answer his own questions, which
he failed to do. A vague and ominous question carries as much weight
with some people as a statement, and has the signal advantage of being
less incriminating.

The speaker--a neckless, broad-shouldered ruffian of the type known in
England as "unemployed"--looked round with triumphant head well thrown
back. From his attitude it was obvious that he had been the salvation of
the countries named, and had now come to Russia to do the same for her.
He spoke with the throaty accent of the Pole. It was quite evident that
his speech was a written one--probably a printed harangue issued to him
and his compeers for circulation throughout the country. He delivered
many of the longer words with a certain unctuous roll of the tongue, and
an emphasis indicating the fact that he did not know their meaning.

"From afar," he went on, "we have long been watching you. We have noted
your difficulties and your hardships, your sickness, your starvation.
'These men of Tver,' we have said, 'are brave and true and steadfast. We
will tell them of liberty.' So I have come to you, and I am glad to see
you. Alexander Alexandrovitch, pass the bottle down the table. You see,
little fathers, I have not come begging for your money. No; keep your
kopecks in your pocket. We do not want your money. We are no
tchinovniks. We prove it by giving you vodka to keep your throats wet
and your ears open. Fill up your glasses--fill up your glasses!"

The little fathers of Osterno understood this part of the harangue
perfectly, and acted upon it.

The orator scratched his head reflectively. There was a certain
business-like mouthing of his periods, showing that he had learnt all
this by heart. He did not press all his points home in the manner of one
speaking from his own brain.

"I see before me," he went on, without an overplus of sequence, "men
worthy to take their place among the rulers of the world--eh--er--rulers
of the world, little fathers."

He paused and drank half a tumbler of vodka. His last statement was so
obviously inapplicable--what he actually did see was so very far removed
from what he said he saw--that he decided to relinquish the point.

"I drink," he cried, "to Liberty and Equality!"

Some of the little fathers also drank, to assuage an hereditary thirst.

"And now," continued the orator, "let us get to business. I think we
understand each other?"

He looked round with an engaging smile upon faces brutal enough to suit
his purpose, but quite devoid of intelligence. There was not much
understanding there.

"The poor man has one only way of making himself felt--force. We have
worked for generations, we have toiled in silence, and we have gathered
strength. The time has now come for us to put forth our strength. The
time has gone by for merely asking for what we want. We asked, and they
heard us not. We will now go and take!"

A few who had heard this speech or something like it before shouted
their applause at this moment. Before the noise had subsided the door
opened, and two or three men pushed their way into the already
overcrowded room.

"Come in, come in!" cried the orator; "the more the better. You are all
welcome. All we require, then, little fathers, is organization. There
are nine hundred souls in Osterno; are you going to bow down before one
man? All men are equal--moujik and barin, krestyanin and prince. Why do
you not go up to the castle that frowns down upon the village, and tell
the man there that you are starving, that he must feed you, that you are
not going to work from dawn till eve while he sits on his velvet couch
and smokes his gold-tipped cigarettes. Why do you not go and tell him
that you are not going to starve and die while he eats caviare and
peaches from gold plates and dishes?"

A resounding bang of the fist finished this fine oration, and again the
questions were unanswered.

"They are all the same, these aristocrats," the man thundered on. "Your
prince is as the others, I make no doubt. Indeed, I know; for I have
been told by our good friend Abramitch here. A clever man our friend
Abramitch, and when you get your liberty--when you get your Mir--you
must keep him in mind. Your prince, then--this Howard Alexis--treats you
like the dirt beneath his feet. Is it not so? He will not listen to your
cry of hunger. He will not give you a few crumbs of food from his gold
dishes. He will not give you a few kopecks of the millions of rubles
that he possesses. And where did he get those rubles? Ah! where did he
get them--eh? Tell me that!"

Again the interrogative unwashed fist. As the orator's wild and frenzied
eye travelled round the room it lighted on a form near the door--a man
standing a head and shoulders above any one in the room, a man enveloped
in an old brown coat, with a woollen shawl round his throat, hiding half
his face.

"Who is that?" cried the orator, with an unsteady, pointing finger. "He
is no moujik. Is that a tchinovnik, little fathers? Has he come here to
our meeting to spy upon us?"

"You may ask them who I am," replied the giant. "They know; they will
tell you. It is not the first time that I tell them they are fools. I
tell them again now. They are fools and worse to listen to such windbags
as you."

"Who is it?" cried the paid agitator. "Who is this man?"

His eyes were red with anger and with vodka; his voice was unsteady. His
outstretched hand shook.

"It is the Moscow doctor," said a man beside him--"the Moscow doctor."

"Then I say he is no doctor!" shouted the orator. "He is a spy--a
Government spy, a tchinovnik! He has heard all we have said. He has seen
you all. Brothers, that man must not leave this room alive. If he does,
you are lost men!"

Some few of the more violent spirits rose and pressed tumultuously
toward the door. The agitator shouted and screamed, urging them on,
taking good care to remain in the safe background himself. Every man in
the room rose to his feet. They were full of vodka and fury and
ignorance. Spirit and tall talk, taken on an empty stomach, are
dangerous stimulants.

Paul stood with his back to the door and never moved.

"Sit down, fools!" he cried. "Sit down! Listen to me. You dare not touch
me; you know that."

It seemed that he was right, for they stopped with staring, stupid eyes
and idle hands.

"Will you listen to me, whom you have known for years, or to this talker
from the town? Choose now. I am tired of you. I have been patient with
you for years. You are sheep; are you fools also, to be dazzled by the
words of an idle talker who promises all and gives nothing?"

There was a sullen silence. Paul had lost his power over them, and he
knew it. He was quite cool and watchful. He knew that he was in danger.
These men were wild and ignorant. They were mad with drink and the brave
words of the agitator.

"Choose now!" he shouted, feeling for the handle of the door behind his
back.

They made no sign, but watched the faces of their leaders.

"If I go now," said Paul, "I never come again!"

He opened the door. The men whom he had nursed and clothed and fed,
whose lives he had saved again and again, stood sullen and silent.

Paul passed slowly out and closed the door behind him. Without it was
dark and still. There would be a moon presently, and in the meantime it
was preparing to freeze harder than ever.

Paul walked slowly up the village street, while two men emerged
separately from the darkness of by-lanes and followed him. He did not
heed them. He was not aware that the thermometer stood somewhere below
zero. He did not even trouble to draw on his fur gloves.

He felt like a man whose own dogs have turned against him. The place
that these peasants had occupied in his heart had been precisely that
vacancy which is filled by dogs and horses in the hearts of many men.
There was in his feeling for them that knowledge of a complete
dependence by which young children draw and hold a mother's love.

Paul Howard Alexis was not a man to analyze his thoughts. Your strong
man is usually ignorant of the existence of his own feelings. He is
never conscious of them. Paul walked slowly through the village of
Osterno, and realized, in his uncompromising honesty, that of the nine
hundred men who lived therein there were not three upon whom he could
rely. He had upheld his peasants for years against the cynic truths of
Karl Steinmetz. He had resolutely refused to admit even to himself that
they were as devoid of gratitude as they were of wisdom. And this was
the end of all!

One of the men following him hurried on and caught him up.

"Excellency," he gasped, breathless with his haste, "you must not come
here alone any longer. I am afraid of them--I have no control."

Paul paused, and suited his pace to the shorter legs of his companion.

"Starosta!" he said. "Is that you?"

"Yes, Excellency. I saw you go into the kabak, so I waited outside and
watched. I did not dare to go inside. They will not allow me there. They
are afraid that I should give information."

"How long have these meetings been going on?"

"The last three nights, Excellency, in Osterno; but it is the same all
over the estate."

"Only on the estate?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Yes, Excellency."

Paul walked on in silence for some paces. The third man followed them
without catching them up.

"I do not understand, Excellency," said the starosta anxiously. "It is
not the Nihilists."

"No; it is not the Nihilists."

"And they do not want money, Excellency; that seems strange."

"Very!" admitted Paul ironically.

"And they give vodka."

This seemed to be the chief stumbling-block in the starosta's road to a
solution of the mystery.

"Find out for me," said Paul, after a pause, "who this man is, where he
comes from, and how much he is paid to open his mouth. We will pay him
more to shut it. Find out as much as you can, and let me know
to-morrow."

"I will try, Excellency; but I have little hope of succeeding. They
distrust me. They send the children to my shop for what they want, and
the little ones have evidently been told not to chatter. The moujiks
avoid me when they meet me. What can I do?"

"You can show them that you are not afraid of them," answered Paul.
"That goes a long way with the moujik."

They walked on together through the lane of cottages, where furtive
forms lurked in door-ways and behind curtains. And Paul had only one
word of advice to give, upon which he harped continually: "Be thou very
courageous--be thou very courageous." Nothing new, for so it was written
in the oldest book of all. The starosta was a timorous man, needing such
strong support as his master gave him from time to time.

At the great gates of the park they paused, and Paul gave the mayor of
Osterno a few last words of advice. While they were standing there the
other man who had been following joined them.

"Is that you, Steinmetz?" asked Paul, his hand thrust with suspicious
speed into his jacket pocket.

"Yes."

"What are you doing here?"

"Watching you," answered Karl Steinmetz, in his mild way. "It is no
longer safe for either of us to go about alone. It was mere foolery your
going to that kabak."




CHAPTER XXXVI


A TROIS

Of all the rooms in the great castle Etta liked the morning-room best.
Persons of a troubled mind usually love to look upon a wide prospect.
The mind, no doubt, fears the unseen approach of detection or danger,
and transmits this dread to the eye, which likes to command a wide view
all around.

The great drawing-room was only used after dinner. Until that time the
ladies spent the day either in their own boudoirs or in the morning-room
looking over the cliff. Here, while the cold weather lasted, Etta had
tea served, and thither the gentlemen usually repaired at the hour set
apart for the homely meal. They had come regularly the last few
evenings. Paul and Steinmetz had suddenly given up their long drives to
distant parts of the estate.

Here the whole party was assembled on the Sunday afternoon following
Paul's visit to the village kabak, and to them came an unexpected guest.
The door was thrown open, and Claude de Chauxville, pale, but
self-possessed and quiet, came into the room. The perfect ease of his
manner bespoke a practised familiarity with the position difficult. His
last parting with Paul and Steinmetz had been, to say the least of it,
strained. Maggie, he knew, disliked and distrusted him. Etta hated and
feared him.

He was in riding costume--a short fur jacket, fur gloves, a cap in his
hand, and a silver-mounted crop. A fine figure of a man--smart, well
turned out, well-groomed--a gentleman.

"Prince," he said frankly, "I have come to throw myself upon your
generosity. Will you lend me a horse? I was riding in the forest when my
horse fell over a root and lamed himself. I found I was only three miles
from Osterno, so I came. My misfortune must be my excuse for
this--intrusion."

Paul performed graciously enough that which charity and politeness
demanded of him. There are plenty of people who trade unscrupulously
upon these demands, but it is probable that they mostly have their
reward. Love and friendship are stronger than charity and politeness,
and those who trade upon the latter are rarely accorded the former.

So Paul ignored the probability that De Chauxville had lamed his horse
on purpose, and offered him refreshment while his saddle was being
transferred to the back of a fresh mount. Farther than that he did not
go. He did not consider himself called upon to offer a night's
hospitality to the man who had attempted to murder him a week before.

With engaging frankness De Chauxville accepted every thing. It is an art
soon acquired and soon abused. There is something honest in an
ungracious acceptance of favors. Steinmetz suggested that perhaps M. de
Chauxville had lunched sparsely, and the Frenchman admitted that such
was the case, but that he loved afternoon tea above all meals.

"It is so innocent and simple--I know. I have the same feeling myself,"
concurred Steinmetz courteously.

"Do you ride about the country much alone?" asked Paul, while the
servants were setting before this uninvited guest a few more substantial
delicacies.

"Ah, no, prince! This is my first attempt, and if it had not procured me
this pleasure I should say that it will be my last."

"It is easy to lose yourself," said Paul; "besides"--and the two friends
watched the Frenchman's face closely--"besides, the country is disturbed
at present."

De Chauxville was helping himself daintily to pate de foie gras.

"Ah, indeed! Is that so?" he answered. "But they would not hurt me--a
stranger in the land."

"And an orphan, too, I have no doubt," added Steinmetz, with a laugh.
"But would the moujik pause to enquire, my very dear De Chauxville?"

"At all events, I should not pause to answer," replied the Frenchman, in
the same, light tone. "I should evacuate. Ah, mademoiselle," he went on,
addressing Maggie, "they have been attempting to frighten you, I
suspect, with their stories of disturbed peasantry. It is to keep up the
lurid local color. They must have their romance, these Russians."

And so the ball was kept rolling. There was never any lack of
conversation when Steinmetz and De Chauxville were together, nor was the
talk without sub-flavor of acidity. At length the centre of attention
himself diverted that attention. He inaugurated an argument over the
best cross-country route from Osterno to Thors, which sent Steinmetz out
of the room for a map. During the absence of the watchful German he
admired the view from the window, and this strategetic movement enabled
him to say to Etta aside:

"I must see you before I leave the house; it is absolutely necessary."

Not long after the return of Steinmetz and the final decision respecting
the road to Thors, Etta left the room, and a few minutes later the
servant announced that the baron's horse was at the door.

De Chauxville took his leave at once, with many assurances of lasting
gratitude.

"Kindly," he added, "make my adieux to the princess; I will not trouble
her."

Quite by accident he met Etta at the head of the state staircase, and
expressed such admiration for the castle that she opened the door of the
large drawing-room and took him to see that apartment.

"What I arranged for Thursday is for the day after to-morrow--Tuesday,"
said De Chauxville, as soon as they were alone. "We cannot keep them
back any longer. You understand--the side door to be opened at seven
o'clock. Ah! who is this?"

They both turned. Steinmetz was standing behind them, but he could not
have heard De Chauxville's words. He closed the door carefully, and came
forward with his grim smile.

"A nous trois!" he said, and the subsequent conversation was in the
language in which these three understood each other best.

De Chauxville bit his lip and waited. It was a moment of the tensest
suspense.

"A nous trois!" repeated Steinmetz. "De Chauxville, you love an epigram.
The man who overestimates the foolishness of others is himself the
biggest fool concerned. A lame horse--the prince's generosity--making
your adieux. Mon Dieu! you should know me better than that after all
these years. No, you need not look at the door. No one will interrupt
us. I have seen to that."

His attitude and manner indicated a complete mastery of the situation,
but whether this assumption was justified by fact or was a mere trick it
was impossible to say. There was in the man something strong and good
and calm--a manner never acquired by one who has anything to conceal.
His dignity was perfect. One forgot his stoutness, his heavy breathing,
his ungainly size. He was essentially manly, and a presence to be
feared. The strength of his will made itself felt.

He turned to the princess with the grave courtesy that always marked his
attitude toward her.

"Madame," he said, "I fully recognize your cleverness in raising
yourself to the position you now occupy. But I would remind you that
that position carries with it certain obligations. It is hardly
dignified for a princess to engage herself in a vulgar love intrigue in
her own house."

"It is not a vulgar love intrigue!" cried Etta, with blazing eyes. "I
will not allow you to say that! Where is your boasted friendship? Is
this a sample of it?"

Karl Steinmetz bowed gravely, with outspread hands.

"Madame, that friendship is at your service, now as always."

De Chauxville gave a scornful little laugh. He was biting the end of his
mustache as he watched Etta's face. For a moment the woman stood--not
the first woman to stand thus--between two fears. Then she turned to
Steinmetz. The victory was his--the greatest he had ever torn from the
grasp of Claude de Chauxville.

"You know," she said, "that this man has me in his power."

"You alone. But not both of us together," answered Steinmetz.

De Chauxville looked uneasy. He gave a careless little laugh.

"My good Steinmetz, you allow your imagination to run away with you. You
interfere in what does not concern you."

"My very dear De Chauxville, I think not. At all events, I am going to
continue to interfere."

Etta looked from one to the other. She had at the first impulse gone
over to Steinmetz. She was now meditating drawing back. If De Chauxville
kept cool all might yet be well--the dread secret of the probability of
Sydney Bamborough being alive might still be withheld from Steinmetz.
For the moment it would appear that she was about to occupy the
ignominious position of the bone of contention. If these two men were
going to use her as a mere excuse to settle a lifelong quarrel of many
issues, it was probable that there would not be much left of her
character by the time that they had finished.

She had to decide quickly. She decided to assume the role of peacemaker.

"M. de Chauxville was on the point of going," she said. "Let him go."

"M. de Chauxville is not going until I have finished with him, madame.
This may be the last time we meet. I hope it is."

De Chauxville looked uneasy. His was a ready wit, and fear was the only
feeling that paralyzed it. Etta looked at him. Was his wit going to
desert him now when he most needed it? He had ridden boldly into the
lion's den. Such a proceeding requires a certain courage, but a higher
form of intrepidity is required to face the lion standing before the
exit.

De Chauxville looked at Steinmetz with shifty eyes. He was very like the
mask of the lynx in the smoking-room, even to the self-conscious,
deprecatory smile on the countenance of the forest sneak.

"Keep your temper," he said; "do not let us quarrel in the presence of a
lady."

"No; we will keep the quarrel till afterward."

Steinmetz turned to Etta.

"Princess," he said, "will you now, in my presence, forbid this man to
come to this or any other house of yours? Will you forbid him to address
himself either by speech or letter to you again?"

"You know I cannot do that," replied Etta.

"Why not?"

Etta made no answer.

"Because," replied De Chauxville for her, "the princess is too wise to
make an enemy of me. In that respect she is wiser than you. She knows
that I could send you and your prince to Siberia."

Steinmetz laughed.

"Nonsense!" he said. "Princess," he went on, "if you think that the fact
of De Chauxville numbering among his friends a few obscure police spies
gives him the right to persecute you, you are mistaken. Our friend is
very clever, but he can do no harm with the little that he knows of the
Charity League."

Etta remained silent. The silence made Steinmetz frown.

"Princess," he said gravely, "you were indignant just now because I made
so bold as to put the most natural construction upon the circumstances
in which I found you. It was a prearranged meeting between De Chauxville
and yourself. If the meeting was not the outcome of an intrigue such as
I mentioned, nor the result of this man's hold over you on account of
the Charity League, what was it? I beg of you to answer."

Etta made no reply. Instead, she raised her eyes and looked at De
Chauxville.

"Without going into affairs which do not concern you," said the
Frenchman, answering for her, "I think you will recognize that the
secret of the Charity League was quite sufficient excuse for me to
request a few minutes alone with the princess."

Of this Steinmetz took no notice. He was standing in front of Etta,
between De Chauxville and the door. His broad, deeply lined face was
flushed with the excitement of the moment. His great mournful eyes,
yellow and drawn with much reading and the hardships of a rigorous
climate, were fixed anxiously on her face.

Etta was not looking at him. Her eyes were turned toward the window, but
they did not see with comprehension. She was stony and stubborn.

"Princess," said Steinmetz, "answer me before it is too late. Has De
Chauxville any other hold over you?"

Etta nodded, and the little action brought a sudden gleam to the
Frenchman's eyes.

"If," said Steinmetz, looking from one to the other, "if you two have
been deceiving Paul I will have no mercy, I warn you of that."

Etta turned on him.

"Can you not believe me?" she cried. "I have practised no deception in
common with M. de Chauxville."

"The Charity League is quite enough for you, my friend," put in the
Frenchman hurriedly.

"You know no more of the Charity League than you did before--than the
whole world knew before--except this lady's share in the disposal of the
papers," said Steinmetz.

"And this lady's share in the disposal of the papers will not be welcome
news to the prince," answered De Chauxville.

"Welcome or unwelcome, he shall be told of it to-night."

Etta looked round sharply, her lips apart and trembling.

"By whom?" asked De Chauxville.

"By me," replied Steinmetz.

There was a momentary pause. De Chauxville and Etta exchanged a glance.
Etta felt that she was lost. This Frenchman was not one to spare either
man or woman from any motive of charity or chivalry.

"Even if that is so," he said, "the princess is not relieved from the
embarrassment of her situation."

"No?"

"No, my astute friend. There is a little matter connected with Sydney
Bamborough which has come to my knowledge."

Etta moved, but she said nothing. The sound of her breathing was
startlingly loud.

"Ah! Sydney Bamborough," said Steinmetz slowly. "What about him?"

"He is not dead; that is all."

Karl Steinmetz passed his broad hand down over his face, covering his
mouth for a second.

"But he died. He was found on the steppe, and buried at Tver."

"So the story runs," said De Chauxville, with easy sarcasm. "But who
found him on the steppe? Who buried him at Tver?"

"I did, my friend."

The next second Steinmetz staggered back a step or two as Etta fell
heavily into his arms. But he never took his eyes off De Chauxville.




CHAPTER XXXVII


A DEUX

Steinmetz laid Etta on a sofa. She was already recovering consciousness.
He rang the bell twice, and all the while he kept his eye on De
Chauxville. A quick touch on Etta's wrist and breast showed that this
man knew something of women and of those short-lived fainting fits that
belong to strong emotions.

The maid soon came.

"The princess requires your attention," said Steinmetz, still watching
De Chauxville, who was looking at Etta and neglecting his opportunities.

Steinmetz went up to him and took him by the arm.

"Come with me," he said.

The Frenchman could have taken advantage of the presence of the servant
to effect a retreat, but he did not dare to do so. It was essential that
he should obtain a few words with Etta. To effect this, he was ready
even to face an interview with Steinmetz. In his heart he was cursing
that liability to inconvenient fainting fits that make all women
unreliable in a moment of need.

He preceded Steinmetz out of the room, forgetting even to resent the
large, warm grasp on his arm. They went through the long, dimly lit
passage to the old part of the castle, where Steinmetz had his rooms.

"And now," said Steinmetz, when they were alone with closed doors, "and
now, De Chauxville, let us understand each other."

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders. He was not thinking of Steinmetz
yet. He was still thinking of Etta and how he could get speech with her.
With the assurance which had carried him through many a difficulty
before this, the Frenchman looked round him, taking in the details of
the room. They were in the apartment beyond the large smoking room--the
ante-room, as it were, to the little chamber where Paul kept his
medicine-chest, his disguise, all the compromising details of his work
among the peasants. The broad writing-table in the middle of the room
stood between the two men.

"Do you imagine yourself in love with the princess?" asked Steinmetz
suddenly, with characteristic bluntness.

"If you like," returned the other.

"If I thought that it was that," said the German, looking at him
thoughtfully, "I would throw you out of the window. If it is any thing
else, I will only throw you down stairs."

De Chauxville bit his thumb-nail anxiously. He frowned across the table
into Steinmetz's face. In all their intercourse he had never heard that
tone of voice; he had never seen quite that look on the heavy face. Was
Steinmetz aroused at last? Steinmetz aroused was an unknown quantity to
Claude de Chauxville.

"I have known you now for twenty-five years," went on Karl Steinmetz,
"and I cannot say that I know any good of you. But let that pass; it is
not, I suppose, my business. The world is as the good God made it. I can
do nothing toward bettering it. I have always known you to be a
scoundrel--a fact to be deplored--and that is all. But so soon as your
villany affects my own life, then, my friend, a more active recognition
of it is necessary."

"Indeed!" sneered the Frenchman.

"Your villany has touched Paul's life, and at that point it touches
mine," continued Karl Steinmetz, with slow anger. "You followed us to
Petersburg--thence you dogged us to the Government of Tver. You twisted
that foolish woman, the Countess Lanovitch, round your finger, and
obtained from her an invitation to Thors. All this in order to be near
one of us. Ach! I have been watching you. Is it only after twenty-five
years that I at last convince you that I am not such a fool as you are
pleased to consider me?"

"You have not convinced me yet," put in De Chauxville, with his easy
laugh.

"No, but I shall do so before I have finished with you. Now, you have
not come here for nothing. It is to be near one of us. It is not Miss
Delafield; she knows you. Some women--good women--have an instinct given
to them by God for a defence against such men--such things as you. Is it
I?"

He touched his broad chest with his two hands, and stood defying his
life-long foe.

"Is it me that you follow? If so, I am here. Let us have done with it
now."

De Chauxville laughed. There was an uneasy look in his eyes. He did not
quite understand Steinmetz. He made no answer. But he turned and looked
at the window. It is possible that he suddenly remembered the threat
concerning it.

"Is it Paul?" continued Steinmetz. "I think not. I think you are afraid
of Paul. Remains the princess. Unless you can convince me to the
contrary, I must conclude that you are trying to get a helpless woman
into your power."

"You always were a champion of helpless ladies," sneered De Chauxville.

"Ah! You remember that, do you? I also--I remember it. It is long ago,
and I have forgiven you; but I have not forgotten. What you were then
you will be now. Your record is against you."

Steinmetz was standing with his back to what appeared to be the only
exit from the room. There were two other doors concealed in the oaken
panels, but De Chauxville did not know that. He could not take his eyes
from the broad face of his companion, upon which there were singular
blotches of color.

"I am waiting," said the German, "for you to explain your conduct."

"Indeed!" replied De Chauxville. "Then, my friend, you will have to
continue waiting. I fail to recognize your right to make enquiry into my
movements. I am not responsible to any man for my actions, least of all
to you. The man who manages his neighbor's affairs mismanages his own. I
would recommend you to mind your own business. Kindly let me pass."

De Chauxville's words were brave enough, but his lips were unsteady. A
weak mouth is apt to betray its possessor at inconvenient moments. He
waved Steinmetz aside, but he made no movement toward the door. He kept
the table between him and his companion.

Steinmetz was getting calmer. There was an uncanny hush about him.

"Then I am to conclude," he said, "that you came to Russia in order to
persecute a helpless woman. Her innocence or her guilt is, for the
moment, beside the question. Neither is any business of yours. Both, on
the contrary, are my affair. Innocent or guilty, the Princess Howard
Alexis must from this moment be freed from your persecution."

De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders. He tapped on the floor impatiently
with the toe of his neat riding-boot.

"Allons!" he said. "Let me pass!"

"Your story of Sydney Bamborough," went on Steinmetz coldly, "was a good
one wherewith to frighten a panic-stricken woman. But you brought it to
the wrong person when you brought it to me. Do you suppose that I would
have allowed the marriage to take place unless I knew that Bamborough
was dead?"

"You may be telling the truth about that incident or you may not," said
De Chauxville. "But my knowledge of the betrayal of the Charity League
is sufficient for my purpose."

"Yes," admitted Steinmetz grimly, "you have information there with
possibilities of mischief in it. But I shall discount most of it by
telling Prince Pavlo to-night all that I know, and I know more than you
do. Also, I intend to seal your lips before you leave this room."

De Chauxville stared at him with a dropping lip. He gulped down
something in his throat. His hand was stealing round under the fur
jacket to a pocket at the back of his trousers.

"Let me out!" he hissed.

There was a gleam of bright metal in the sunlight that poured in through
the window. De Chauxville raised his arm sharply, and at the same
instant Steinmetz threw a book in his face. A loud report, and the room
was full of smoke.

Steinmetz placed one hand on the table and, despite his weight, vaulted
it cleanly. This man had taken his degree at Heidelberg, and the Germans
are the finest gymnasts in the world. Moreover, muscle, once made,
remains till death. It was his only chance, for the Frenchman had dodged
the novel, but it spoiled his aim. Steinmetz vaulted right on to him,
and De Chauxville staggered back.

In a moment Steinmetz had him by the collar; his face was gray, his
heavy eyes ablaze. If any thing will rouse a man, it is being fired at
point-blank at a range of four yards with a .280 revolver.

"Ach!" gasped the German; "you would shoot me, would you?"

He wrenched the pistol from De Chauxville's fingers and threw it into
the corner of the room. Then he shook the man like a garment.

"First," he cried, "you would kill Paul, and now you try to shoot me!
Good God! what are you? You are no man. Do you know what I am going to
do with you? I am going to thrash you like a dog!"

He dragged him to the fire-place. Above the mantelpiece a stick-rack was
affixed to the wall, and here were sticks and riding-whips. Steinmetz
selected a heavy whip. His eyes were shot with blood; his mouth worked
beneath his mustache.

"So," he said, "I am going to settle with you at last."

De Chauxville kicked and struggled, but he could not get free. He only
succeeded in half choking himself.

"You are going to swear," said Steinmetz, "never to approach the
princess again--never to divulge what you know of her past life."

The Frenchman was almost blue in the face. His eyes were wild with
terror.

And Karl Steinmetz thrashed him.

It did not last long. No word was spoken. The silence was only broken by
their shuffling feet, by the startling report of each blow, by De
Chauxville's repeated gasps of pain.

The fur jacket was torn in several places. The white shirt appeared here
and there. In one place it was stained with red.

At last Steinmetz threw him huddled into one corner of the room. The
chattering face, the wild eyes that looked up at him, were terrible to
see.

"When you have promised to keep the secret you may go," said Steinmetz.
"You must swear it."

De Chauxville's lips moved, but no sound came from them. Steinmetz
poured some water into a tumbler and gave it to him.

"It had to come to this," he said, "sooner or later. Paul would have
killed you; that is the only difference. Do you swear by God in heaven
above you that you will keep the princess's secret?"

"I swear it," answered De Chauxville hoarsely.

Steinmetz was holding on to the back of a high chair with both hands,
breathing heavily. His face was still livid. That which had been white
in his eyes was quite red.

De Chauxville was crawling toward the revolver in the corner of the
room, but he was almost fainting. It was a question whether he would
last long enough to reach the fire-arm. There was a bright patch of red
in either liver-colored cheek; his lips were working convulsively. And
Steinmetz saw him in time. He seized him by the collar of his coat and
dragged him back. He placed his foot on the little pistol and faced De
Chauxville with glaring eyes. De Chauxville rose to his feet, and for a
moment the two men looked into each other's souls. The Frenchman's face
was twisted with pain. No word was said.

Such was the last reckoning between Karl Steinmetz and the Baron Claude
de Chauxville.

The Frenchman went slowly toward the door. He faltered and looked round
for a chair. He sat heavily down with a little exclamation of pain and
exhaustion, and felt for his pocket-handkerchief. The scented cambric
diffused a faint, dainty odor of violets. He sat forward with his two
hands on his knees, swaying a little from side to side. Presently he
raised his handkerchief to his face. There were tears in his eyes.

Thus the two men waited until De Chauxville had recovered himself
sufficiently to take his departure. The air was full of naked human
passions. It was rather a grewsome scene.

At last the Frenchman stood slowly up, and with characteristic thought
of appearances fingered his torn coat.

"Have you a cloak?" asked Steinmetz.

"No."

The German went to a cupboard in the wall and selected a long
riding-cloak, which he handed to the Frenchman without a word.

Thus Claude de Chauxville walked to the door in a cloak which had
figured at many a Charity League meeting. Assuredly the irony of Fate is
a keener thing than any poor humor we have at our command. When evil is
punished in this present life there is no staying of the hand.

Steinmetz followed De Chauxville through the long passage they had
traversed a few minutes earlier and down the broad staircase. The
servants were waiting at the door with the horse put at the Frenchman's
disposal by Paul.

De Chauxville mounted slowly, heavily, with twitching lips. His face was
set and cold now. The pain was getting bearable, the wounded vanity was
bleeding inwardly. In his dull eyes there was a gleam of hatred and
malice. It was the face of a man rejoicing inwardly over a deep and
certain vengeance.

"It is well!" he was muttering between his clenched teeth as he rode
away, while Steinmetz watched him from the doorstep. "It is well! Now I
will not spare you."

He rode down the hill and through the village, with the light of the
setting sun shining on a face where pain and deadly rage were fighting
for the mastery.




CHAPTER XXXVIII


A TALE THAT IS TOLD

Karl Steinmetz walked slowly upstairs to his own room. The evening sun,
shining through the small, deeply embrasured windows, fell on a face at
no time joyous, now tired and worn. He sat down at his broad
writing-table, and looked round the room with a little blink of the
eyelids.

"I am getting too old for this sort of thing," he said.

His gaze lighted on the heavy riding-whip thrown on the ground near the
door where he had released Claude de Chauxville, after the terrible
punishment meted out to that foe with heavy Teutonic hand. Steinmetz
rose, and picking up the whip with the grunt of a stout man stooping,
replaced it carefully in the rack over the mantelpiece.

He stood looking out of the window for a few moments.

"It will have to be done," he said resolutely, and rang the bell.

"My compliments to the prince," he said to his servant, who appeared
instantly, "and will he come to me here."

When Paul came into the room a few minutes later Steinmetz was standing
by the fire. He turned and looked gravely at the prince.

"I have just kicked De Chauxville out of the house," he said.

The color left Paul's face quite suddenly.

"Why?" he asked, with hard eyes. He had begun to distrust Etta, and
there is nothing so hard to stop as the growth of distrust.

Steinmetz did not answer at once.

"Was it not _my_ privilege?" asked Paul, with a grim smile. There are
some smiles more terrible than any frown.

"No," answered Steinmetz, "I think not. It is not as bad as that. But it
is bad enough, mein lieber!--it is bad enough! I horsewhipped him first
for myself. Gott! how pleasant that was! And then I kicked him out for
you."

"Why?" repeated Paul, with a white face.

"It is a long story," answered Steinmetz, without looking at him. "He
knows too much."

"About whom?"

"About all of us."

Paul walked away to the window. He stood looking out, his hands thrust
into the side-pockets of his jacket, his broad back turned
uncompromisingly upon his companion.

"Tell me the story," he said. "You need not hurry over it. You need not
trouble to--spare me. Only let it be quite complete--once for all."

Steinmetz winced. He knew the expression of the face that was looking
out of the window.

"This man has hated me all his life," he said. "It began as such things
usually do between men--about a woman. It was years ago. I got the
better of him, and the good God got the better of me. She died, and De
Chauxville forgot her. I--have not forgotten her. But I have tried to do
so. It is a slow process, and I have made very little progress; but all
that is my affair and beside the question. I merely mention it to show
you that De Chauxville had a grudge against me--"

"This is no time for mistaken charity," interrupted Paul. "Do not try to
screen any body. I shall see through it."

There was a little pause. Never had that silent room been so noiseless.

"In after-life," Steinmetz went on, "it was our fate to be at variance
several times. Our mutual dislike has had no opportunity of diminishing.
It seems that, before you married, De Chauxville was pleased to consider
himself in love with Mrs. Sydney Bamborough. Whether he had any right to
think himself ill-used, I do not know. Such matters are usually known to
two persons only, and imperfectly by them. It would appear that the
wound to his vanity was serious. It developed into a thirst for revenge.
He looked about for some means to do you harm. He communicated with your
enemies, and allied himself to such men as Vassili of Paris. He followed
us to Petersburg, and then he had a stroke of good fortune. He found
out--who betrayed the Charity League!"

Paul turned slowly round. In his eyes there burned a dull, hungering
fire. Men have seen such a look in the eyes of a beast of prey, driven,
famished, cornered at last, and at last face to face with its foe.

"Ah! He knows that!" he said slowly.

"Yes, God help us! he knows that."

"And who was it?"

Steinmetz moved uneasily from one foot to the other.

"It was a woman," he said.

"A woman?"

"A woman--you know," said Steinmetz slowly.

"Good God! Catrina?"

"No, not Catrina."

"Then who?" cried Paul hoarsely. His hands fell heavily on the table.

"Your wife!"

Paul knew before the words were spoken.

He turned again, and stood looking out of the window with his hands
thrust into his pockets. He stood there for whole minutes in an awful
stillness. The clock on the mantel-piece, a little travelling timepiece,
ticked in a hurried way as if anxious to get on. Down beneath them,
somewhere in the courtyards of the great castle, a dog--a deep-voiced
wolf-hound--was baying persistently and nervously, listening for the
echo of its own voice amid the pines of the desert forest.

Steinmetz watched Paul's motionless back with a sort of fascination. He
moved uneasily, as if to break a spell of silence almost unbearable in
its intensity. He went to the table and sat down. From mere habit he
took up a quill pen. He looked at the point of it and at the inkstand.
But he had nothing to write. There was nothing to say.

He laid the pen aside, and sat leaning his broad head upon the palm of
his hand, his two elbows on the table. Paul never moved. Steinmetz
waited. His own life had been no great success. He had had much to bear,
and he had borne it. He was wondering heavily whether any of it had been
as bad as what Paul was bearing now while he looked out of the window
with his hands in his pockets, saying nothing.

At length Paul moved. He turned, and, coming toward the table, laid his
hand on Steinmetz's broad shoulder.

"Are you sure of it?" he asked, in a voice that did not sound like his
own at all--a hollow voice like that of an old man.

"Quite; I have it from Stepan Lanovitch--from the princess herself."

They remained thus for a moment. Then Paul withdrew his hand and walked
slowly to the window.

"Tell me," he said, "how she did it."

Steinmetz was playing with the quill pen again. It is singular how at
great moments we perform trivial acts, think trivial thoughts. He dipped
the pen in the ink, and made a pattern on the blotting-pad with dots.

"It was an organized plan between husband and wife," he said.
"Bamborough turned up at Thors and asked for a night's lodging, on the
strength of a very small acquaintance. He stole the papers from Stepan's
study and took them to Tver, where his wife was waiting for them. She
took them on to Paris and sold them to Vassili. Bamborough began his
journey eastward, knowing presumably that he could not escape by the
western frontier, but lost his way on the steppe. You remember the man
whom we picked up between here and Tver, with his face all cut to
pieces?--he had been dragged by the stirrup. That was Sydney Bamborough.
The good God had hit back quickly."

"How long have you known this?" asked Paul, in a queer voice.

"I saw it suddenly in the princess's face, one day in Petersburg--a sort
of revelation. I read it there, and she saw me reading. I should have
liked to keep it from you, for your sake as well as for hers. Our daily
life is made possible only by the fact that we know so little of our
neighbors. There are many things of which we are better ignorant right
up to the end. This might have been one of them. But De Chauxville found
it out, and it is better that I should tell you than he."

Paul did not look around. The wolf-hound was still barking at its own
echo--a favorite pastime of those who make a great local stir in the
world.

"Of course," said Paul, after a long pause, "I have been a great fool. I
know that. But--"

He turned and looked at Steinmetz with haggard eyes.

"But I would rather go on being a fool than suspect any one of a
deception like this."

Steinmetz was still making patterns on the blotting-pad.

"It is difficult for us men," he said slowly, "to look at these things
from a woman's point of view. They hold a different sense of honor from
ours--especially if they are beautiful. And the fault is
ours--especially toward the beautiful ones. There may have been
temptations of which we are ignorant."

Paul was still looking at him. Steinmetz looked up slowly, and saw that
he had grown ten years older in the last few minutes. He did not look at
him for more than a second, because the sight of Paul's face hurt him.
But he saw in that moment that Paul did not understand. This strong man,
hard in his youthful strength of limb and purpose, would be just, but
nothing more. And between man and man it is not always justice that is
required. Between man and woman justice rarely meets the difficulty.

"Comprendre c'est pardonner," quoted Steinmetz vaguely.

He hesitated to interfere between Paul and his wife. Axioms are made for
crucial moments. A man's life has been steered by a proverb before this.
Some, who have no religion, steer by them all the voyage.

Paul walked slowly to the chair he usually occupied, opposite to
Steinmetz, at the writing-table. He walked and sat down as if he had
travelled a long distance.

"What is to be done?" asked Steinmetz.

"I do not know. I do not think that it matters much. What do you
recommend?"

"There is so much to be done," answered Steinmetz, "that it is difficult
to know what to do first. We must not forget that De Chauxville is
furious. He will do all the harm of which he is capable at once. We must
not forget that the country is in a state of smoldering revolt, and that
we have two women, two English ladies, entrusted to our care."

Paul moved uneasily in his chair. His companion had struck the right
note. This large man was happiest when he was tiring himself out.

"Yes; but about Etta?" he said.

And the sound of his voice made Steinmetz wince. There is nothing so
heartrending as the sight of dumb suffering.

"You must see her," answered he reflectively. "You must see her, of
course. She may be able to explain."

He looked across the table beneath his shaggy gray eyebrows. Paul did
not at that moment look a likely subject for explanations--even the
explanations of a beautiful woman. But there was one human quantity
which in all his experience Karl Steinmetz had never successfully
gauged--namely, the extent of a woman's power over the man who loves, or
at one time has loved her.

"She cannot explain away Stepan Lanovitch's ruined life. She can hardly
explain away a thousand deaths from unnatural causes every winter, in
this province alone."

This was what Steinmetz dreaded--justice.

"Give her the opportunity," he said.

Paul was looking out of the window. His singularly firm mouth was still
and quiet--not a mouth for explanations.

"I will, if you like," he said.

"I do like, Paul. I beg of you to do it. And remember that--she is not a
man."

This, like other appeals of the same nature, fell on stony ground. Paul
simply did not understand it. In all the years of his work among the
peasants it is possible that some well-spring of conventional charity
had been dried up--scorched in the glare of burning injustice. He was
not at this moment in a mood to consider the only excuse that Steinmetz
seemed to be able to urge.

The sun had set long ago. The short twilight lay over the snow-covered
land with a chill hopelessness. Steinmetz looked at his watch. They had
been together an hour--one of those hours that count as years in a life
time. He had to peer into the face of the watch in order to see the
hands. The room was almost dark, and no servant ever came to it, unless
summoned.

Paul was looking down at his companion, as if waiting to hear the time.
At great moments we are suddenly brought face to face with the limits of
human nature. It is at such moments that we find that we are not gods,
but only men. We can only feel to a certain extent, only suffer up to a
certain point.

"We must dress for dinner," said Steinmetz. "Afterward--well, afterward
we shall see."

"Yes," answered Paul. And he did not go.

The two men stood looking at each other for a moment. They had passed
through much together--danger, excitement, and now they were dabbling in
sorrow. It would appear that this same sorrow runs like a river across
the road of our life. Some of us find the ford and plash through the
shallows--shallow ourselves--while others flounder into deep water.
These are they who look right on to the greater events, and fail to note
the trivial details of each little step. Paul was wading through the
deep water, and this good friend of his was not inclined to stand upon
the bank. It is while passing through this river that Fortune sends some
of us a friend, who is ever afterward different from all others.

Paul stood looking down at the broad, heavy face of the man who loved
him like a father. It was not easy for him to speak. He seemed to be
making an effort.

"I do not want you to think," he said at last, "that it is as bad as it
might have been. It might have been worse--much worse--had I not made a
mistake in regard to my own feelings when I married her. I will try and
do the right thing by her. Only at present there does not seem to be
much left, except you."

Steinmetz looked up with his quaintly resigned smile.

"Ah, yes," he said, "I am there always."




CHAPTER XXXIX


HUSBAND AND WIFE

Karl Steinmetz had shown the depth of his knowledge of men and women
when he commented on that power of facing danger with an unruffled
countenance which he was pleased to attribute to English ladies above
all women. During the evening he had full opportunity of verifying his
own observations.

Etta came down to dinner smiling and imperturbable. On the threshold of
the drawing-room she exchanged a glance with Karl Steinmetz; and that
was all. At dinner it was Maggie and Paul who were silent. Etta talked
to Steinmetz--brightly, gayly, with a certain courage of a very high
order; for she was desperate, and she did not show it.

At last the evening came to an end. Maggie had sung two songs. Steinmetz
had performed on the piano with a marvellous touch. All had played their
parts with the brazen faces which Steinmetz, in his knowledge of many
nations, assigned to the Anglo-Saxon race before others.

At last Etta rose to go to bed, with a little sharp sigh of great
suspense. It was coming.

She went up to her room, bidding Maggie good-night in the passage. In a
mechanical way she allowed the deft-handed maid to array her in a
dressing gown--soft, silken, a dainty triumph in its way. Then, almost
impatiently, she sent the maid away when her hair was only half
released. She would brush it herself. She was tired. No, she wanted
nothing more.

She sat down by the fire, brush in hand. She could hardly breathe. It
was coming.

She heard Paul come to his dressing-room. She heard his deep, quiet
voice reply to some question of his valet's. Then the word "Good-night"
in the same quiet voice. The valet had gone. There was only the door now
between her and--what? Her fingers were at the throat of her
dressing-gown. The soft lace seemed to choke her.

Then Paul knocked at the door. It was coming. She opened her lips, but
at first could make no sound.

"Come in!" she said at length hoarsely.

She wondered whether he would kill her. She wondered whether she was in
love with her husband. She had begun wondering that lately; she was
wondering it when he came in. He had changed his dress-coat for a
silk-faced jacket, in which he was in the habit of working with
Steinmetz in the quiet room after the household had gone to bed.

She looked up. She dropped the brush, and ran toward him with a great
rustle of her flowing silks.

"Oh, Paul, what is it?" she cried.

She stopped short, not daring to touch him, before his cold, set face.

"Have you seen any one?" she whispered.

"Only De Chauxville," he answered, "this afternoon."

"Indeed, Paul," she protested hastily, "it was nothing. A message from
Catrina Lanovitch. It was only the usual visit of an acquaintance. It
would have been very strange if he had not called. Do you think I could
care for a man like that?"

"I never did think so until now," returned Paul steadily. "Your excuses
accuse you. You may care for him. I do not know; I--do--not--care."

She turned slowly and went back to her chair.

Mechanically she took up the brush, and shook back her beautiful hair.

"You mean you do not care for me," she said. "Oh, Paul! be careful."

Paul stood looking at her. He was not a subtle-minded man at all. He was
not one of those who take it upon themselves to say that they understand
women--using the word in an offensively general sense, as if women were
situated midway between the human and the animal races. He was
old-fashioned enough to look upon women as higher and purer than men,
while equally capable of thought and self-control. He had, it must be
remembered, no great taste for fictional literature. He had not read the
voluminous lucubrations of the modern woman writer. He had not assisted
at the nauseating spectacle of a woman morally turning herself inside
out in three volumes and an interview.

No, this man respected women still; and he paid them an honor which,
thank Heaven, most of them still deserve. He treated them as men in the
sense that he considered them to be under the same code of right and
wrong, of good and evil.

He did not understand what Etta meant when she told him to be careful.
He did not know that the modern social code is like the Spanish
grammar--there are so many exceptions that the rules are hardly worth
noting. And one of our most notorious modern exceptions is the married
woman who is pleased to hold herself excused because outsiders tell her
that her husband does not understand her.

"I do not think," said Paul judicially, "that you can have cared very
much whether I loved you or not. When you married me you knew that I was
the promoter of the Charity League; I almost told you. I told you so
much that, with your knowledge, you must have been aware of the fact
that I was heavily interested in the undertaking which you betrayed. You
married me without certain proof of your husband's death, such was your
indecent haste to call yourself a princess. And now I find, on your own
confession, that you have a clandestine understanding with a man who
tried to murder me only a week ago. Is it not rather absurd to talk of
caring?"

He stood looking down at her, cold and terrible in the white heat of his
suppressed Northern anger.

The little clock on the mantel-piece, in a terrible hurry, ticked with
all its might. Time was speeding. Every moment was against her. And she
could think of nothing to say simply because those things that she would
have said to others would carry no weight with this man.

Etta was leaning forward in the luxurious chair, staring with haggard
eyes into the fire. The flames leaped up and gleamed on her pale face,
in her deep eyes.

"I suppose," she said, without looking at him, "that you will not
believe me when I tell you that I hate the man. I knew nothing of what
you refer to as happening last week; his attempt to murder you, I mean.
You are a prince, and all-powerful in your own province. Can you not
throw him into prison and keep him there? Such things are done in
Russia. He is more dangerous than you think. Please do it--please--"

Paul looked at her with hard, unresponsive eyes. Lives depended on his
answer.

"I did not come here to discuss Claude de Chauxville," he said, "but
you, and our future."

Etta drew herself up as one under the lash, and waited with set teeth.

"I propose," he said, in a final voice which made it no proposition at
all, "that you go home to England at once with--your cousin. This
country is not safe for you. The house in London will be at your
disposal. I will make a suitable settlement on you, sufficient to live
in accordance with your title and position. I must ask you to remember
that the name you bear has hitherto been an unsullied one. We have been
proud of our princesses--up to now. In case of any trouble reaching you
from outside sources connected with this country, I should like you to
remember that you are under my protection and that of Steinmetz. Either
of us will be glad at any time to consider any appeal for assistance
that you may think fit to make. You will always be the Princess Howard
Alexis."

Etta gave a sudden laugh.

"Oh, yes," she said, and her face was strangely red, "I shall still be
the Princess Alexis."

"With sufficient money to keep up the position," he went on, with the
cruel irony of a slow-spoken man.

A queer, twisted smile passed across Etta's face--the smile of one who
is in agony and will not shriek.

"There are certain stipulations which I must make in self-defence," went
on Paul. "I must ask you to cease all communication of whatever nature
with the Baron de Chauxville. I am not jealous of him--now. I do not
know why."

He paused, as if wondering what the meaning of this might be. Etta knew
it. The knowledge was part of her punishment.

"But," continued her husband. "I am not going to sacrifice the name my
mother bore to the vanity of a French coxcomb. You will be kind enough
to avoid all society where it is likely that you should meet him. If you
disregard my desires in this matter, I shall be compelled to take means
to enforce them."

"What means?"

"I shall reduce your allowance."

Their eyes met, and perhaps that was the bitterest moment in Etta's
life. Dead things are better put out of sight at once. Etta felt that
Paul's dead love would grin at her in every sovereign of the allowance
which was to be hers. She would never get away from it; she could never
shake off its memory.

"Am I to live alone?" asked Etta, suddenly finding her voice.

"That is as you like," answered Paul, perhaps purposely misunderstanding
her. "You are at liberty to have any friend or companion you wish.
Perhaps--your cousin."

"Maggie?"

"Yes," answered Paul. For the first time since he had entered the room
his eyes were averted from Etta's face.

"She would not live with me," said the princess curtly.

Paul seemed to be reflecting. When he next spoke it was in a kinder
voice.

"You need not tell the circumstances which have given rise to this
arrangement."

Etta shrugged her shoulders.

"That," went on Paul, "rests entirely with yourself. You may be sure
that I will tell no one. I am not likely to discuss it with any one
whomsoever."

Etta's stony eyes softened for a moment. She seemed to be alternating
between hatred of this man and love of him--a dangerous state for any
woman. It is possible that, if he had held his hand out to her, she
would have been at his feet in a wild, incoherent passion of self-hatred
and abasement. Such moments as these turn our lives and determine them.
Paul knew nothing of the issue hanging on this moment, on the passing
softness of her eyes. He knew nothing of the danger in which this woman
stood, of the temptation with which she was wrestling. He went on in his
blindness, went on being only just.

"If," he said, "you have any further questions to ask, I shall always be
at your service. For the next few days I shall be busy. The peasants are
in a state of discontent verging on rebellion. We cannot at present
arrange for your journey to Tver, but as soon as it is possible I will
tell you."

He looked at the clock, and made an imperceptible movement toward the
door.

Etta glanced up sharply. She did not seem to be breathing.

"Is that all?" she asked, in a dull voice.

There was a long silence, tense and throbbing, the great silence of the
steppe.

"I think so," answered Paul at length. "I have tried to be just."

"Then justice is very cruel."

"Not so cruel as the woman who for a few pounds sells the happiness of
thousands of human beings. Steinmetz advised me to speak to you. He
suggested the possibility of circumstances of which we are ignorant. He
said that you might be able to explain."

Silence.

"Can you explain?"

Silence. Etta sat looking into the fire. The little clock hurried on. At
length Etta drew a deep breath.

"You are the sort of man," she said, "who does not understand
temptation. You are strong. The devil leaves the strong in peace. You
have found virtue easy because you have never wanted money. Your
position has always been assured. Your name alone is a password through
the world. Your sort are always hard on women who--who--What have I
done, after all?"

Some instinct bade her rise to her feet and stand before him--tall,
beautiful, passionate, a woman in a thousand, a fit mate for such as he.
Her beautiful hair in burnished glory round her face gleamed in the
firelight. Her white fingers clenched, her arms thrown back, her breast
panting beneath the lace, her proud face looking defiance into his--no
one but a prince could have braved this princess.

"What have I done?" she cried a second time. "I have only fought for
myself, and if I have won, so much the greater credit. I am your wife. I
have done nothing the law can touch. Thousands of women moving in our
circle are not half so good as I am. I swear before God I am----"

"Hush!" he said, with upraised hand. "I never doubted that."

"I will do any thing you wish," she went on, and in her humility she was
very dangerous. "I deceived you, I know. But I sold the Charity League
before I knew that you--that you thought of me. When I married you I
didn't love you. I admit that. But Paul--oh, Paul, if you were not so
good you would understand."

Perhaps he did understand; for there was that in her eyes that made her
meaning clear.

He was silent; standing before her in his great strength, his marvellous
and cruel self-restraint.

"You will not forgive me?"

For a moment she leaned forward, peering into his face. He seemed to be
reflecting.

"Yes," he said at length, "I forgive you. But if I cared for you,
forgiveness would be impossible."

He went slowly toward the door. Etta looked round the room with drawn
eyes; their room--the room he had fitted up for his bride with the
lavishness of a great wealth and a great love.

He paused, with his hand on the door.

"And," she said, with fiery cheeks, "does your forgiveness date from
to-night?"

"Yes!"

He opened the door.

"Good-night!" he said, and went out.




CHAPTER XL


STEPAN RETURNS

At daybreak the next morning Karl Steinmetz was awakened by the familiar
cry of the wolf beneath his window. He rose and dressed hastily. The
eastern sky was faintly pink; a rosy twilight moved among the pines. He
went down stairs and opened the little door at the back of the castle.

It was, of course, the starosta, shivering and bleached in the chilly
dawn.

"They have watched my cottage, Excellency, all night. It was only now
that I could get away. There are two strange sleighs outside Domensky's
hut. There are marks of many sleighs that have been and gone.
Excellency, it is unsafe for any one to venture outside the castle
to-day. You must send to Tver for the soldiers."

"The prince refuses to do that."

"But why, Excellency? We shall be killed!"

"You do not know the effect of platoon firing on a closely packed mob,
starost. The prince does," replied Steinmetz, with his grim smile.

They spoke together in hushed voices for half an hour, while the
daylight crept up the eastern sky. Then the starosta stole away among
the still larches, like the wolf whose cry he imitated so perfectly.

Steinmetz closed the door and went upstairs to his own room, his face
grave and thoughtful, his tread heavy with the weight of anxiety.

The day passed as such days do. Etta was not the woman to plead a
conventional headache and remain hidden. She came down to breakfast, and
during that meal was boldly conversational.

"She has spirit," reflected Karl Steinmetz behind his quiet gray eyes.
He admired her for it, and helped her. He threw back the ball of
conversation with imperturbable good humor.

They were completely shut in. No news from the outer world penetrated to
the little party besieged within their own stone walls. Maggie, fearless
and innocent, announced her intention of snow-shoeing, but was dissuaded
therefrom by Steinmetz with covert warnings.

During the morning each was occupied in individual affairs. At luncheon
time they met again. Etta was now almost defiant. She was on her mettle.
She was so near to loving Paul that a hatred of him welled up within her
breast whenever he repelled her advances with uncompromising reticence.

They did not know--perhaps she hardly knew herself--that the opening of
the side-door depended upon her humor.

In the afternoon Etta and Maggie sat, as was their wont, in the
morning-room looking out over the cliff. Of late their intercourse had
been slightly strained. They had never had much in common, although
circumstances had thrown their lives together. It is one of the ills to
which women are heir that they have frequently to pass their whole lives
in the society of persons with whom they have no real sympathy. Both
these women were conscious of the little rift within the lute, but such
rifts are better treated with silence. That which comes to interfere
with a woman's friendship will not often bear discussion.

At dusk Steinmetz went out. He had an appointment with the starosta.

Paul was sitting in his own room, making a pretence of work, about five
o'clock, when Steinmetz came hurriedly to him.

"A new development," he said shortly. "Come to my room."

Paul rose and followed him through the double doorway built in the
thickness of the wall.

Steinmetz's large room was lighted only by a lamp standing on the table.
All the light was thrown on the desk by a large green shade, leaving the
rest of the room in a semi-darkness.

At the far end of the room a man was standing in an expectant attitude.
There was something furtive about this intruder, and at the same time
familiar to Paul, who peered at him through the gloom.

Then the man came hurriedly forward.

"Ah, Pavlo, Pavlo!" he said in a deep, hollow voice. "I could not expect
you to know me."

He threw his arms around him, and embraced him after the simple manner
of Russia. Then he held him at arm's length.

"Stepan!" said Paul. "No, I did not know you."

Stepan Lanovitch was still holding him at arm's length, examining him
with the large faint blue eyes which so often go with an exaggerated
philanthropy.

"Old," he muttered, "old! Ah, my poor Pavlo! I heard in Kiew--you know
how we outlaws hear such things--that you were in trouble, so I came to
you."

Steinmetz in the background raised his patient eyebrows.

"There are two men in the world," went on the voluble Lanovitch, "who
can manage the moujiks of Tver--you and I; so I came. I will help you,
Pavlo; I will stand by you. Together we can assuredly quell this
revolt."

Paul nodded, and allowed himself to be embraced a second time. He had
long known Stepan Lanovitch of Thors as one of the many who go about the
world doing good with their eyes shut. For the moment he had absolutely
no use for this well-meaning blunderer.

"I am afraid," he said, "that it has got beyond control. We cannot stamp
it out now except by force, and I would rather not do that. Our only
hope is that it may burn itself out. The talkers must get hoarse in
time."

Lanovitch shook his head.

"They have been talking since the days of Ananias," he said, "and they
are not hoarse yet. I fear, Pavlo, there will never be peace in the
world until the talkers are hoarse."

"How did you get here?" asked Paul, who was always businesslike.

"I brought a pack on my back and sold cotton. I made myself known to the
starosta, and he communicated with good Karl here."

"Did you learn any thing in the village?" asked Paul.

"No; they suspected me. They would not talk. But I understand them,
Pavlo, these poor simple fools. A pebble in the stream would turn the
current of their convictions. Tell them who is the Moscow doctor. It is
your only chance."

Steinmetz grunted acquiescence and walked wearily to the window. This
was only an old and futile argument of his own.

"And make it impossible for me to live another day among them," said
Paul. "Do you think St. Petersburg would countenance a prince who works
among his moujiks?"

Stepan Lanovitch's pale blue eyes looked troubled. Steinmetz shrugged
his shoulders.

"They have brought it on themselves," he said.

"As much as a lamb brings the knife upon itself by growing up," replied
Paul.

Lanovitch shook his white head with a tolerant little smile. He loved
these poor helpless peasants with a love as large as and a thousand
times less practical than Paul's.

In the meantime Paul was thinking in his clear, direct way. It was this
man's habit in life and in thought to walk straight past the side
issues.

"It is like you, Stepan," he said at length, "to come to us at this
time. We feel it, and we recognize the generosity of it, for Steinmetz
and I know the danger you are running in coming back to this country.
But we cannot let you do it--No, do not protest. It is quite out of the
question. We might quell the revolt; no doubt we should--the two of us
together. But what would happen afterward? You would be sent back to
Siberia, and I should probably follow you for harboring an escaped
convict."

The face of the impulsive philanthropist dropped pathetically. He had
come to his friend's assistance on the spur of the moment. He was
destined, as some men are, to plunge about the world seeking to do good.
And it has been decreed that good must be done by stealth and after
deliberation only. He who does good on the spur of the moment usually
sows a seed of dissension in the trench of time.

"Also," went on Paul, with that deliberate grasp of the situation which
never failed to astonish the ready-witted Steinmetz; "also, you have
other calls upon your energy. You have other work to do."

Lanovitch's broad face lightened up; his benevolent brow beamed. His
capacity for work had brought him to the shoemaker's last in Tomsk. It
is a vice that grows with indulgence.

"It has pleased the Authorities," went on Paul, who was shy of religious
turns of phrase, "to give us all our own troubles. Mine--such as they
are, Stepan--must be managed by myself. Yours can be faced by no one but
you. You have come at the right moment. You do not quite realize what
your coming means to Catrina."

"Catrina! Ah!"

The weak blue eyes looked into the strong face and read nothing there.

"I doubt," said Paul, "whether it is right for you to continue
sacrificing Catrina for the sake of the little good that you are able to
do. You are hampered in your good work to such an extent that the result
is very small, while the pain you give is very great."

"But is that so, Pavlo? Is my child unhappy?"

"I fear so," replied Paul gravely, with his baffling self-restraint.
"She has not much in common with her mother, you understand."

"Ah, yes!"

"It is you to whom she is attached. Sometimes it is so with children and
parents. One cannot tell why."

Steinmetz looked as if he could supply information upon the subject: but
he remained silent, standing, as it were, in an acquiescent attitude.

"You have fought your fight," said Paul. "A good fight, too. You have
struck your blow for the country. You have sown your seed, but the
harvest is not yet. Now it is time to think of your own safety, of the
happiness of your own child."

Stepan Lanovitch turned away and sat heavily down. He leaned his two
arms on the table, and his chin upon his clenched hands.

"Why not leave the country now; at all events for a few years?" went on
Paul, and when a man who is accustomed to command stoops to persuade, it
is strong persuasion that he wields. "You can take Catrina with you. You
will be assuring her happiness, which, at all events, is something
tangible--a present harvest! I will drive over to Thors now and bring
her back. You can leave to-night and go to America."

Stepan Lanovitch raised his head and looked hard into Paul's face.

"You wish it?"

"I think," answered Paul steadily, "that it is for Catrina's happiness."

Then Lanovitch rose up and took Paul's hand in his work-stained grip.

"Go, my son! It will be a great happiness to me. I will wait here," he
said.

Paul went straight to the door. He was a man with a capacity for prompt
action, which seemed to rise to demand. Steinmetz followed him out into
the passage and took him by the arm.

"You cannot do it," he said.

"Yes, I can," replied Paul. "I can find my way through the forest. No
one will venture to follow me there in the dark."

Steinmetz hesitated, shrugged his shoulders, and went back into the
room.

The ladies at Thors were dressed for dinner--were, indeed, awaiting the
announcement of that meal--when Paul broke in upon their solitude. He
did not pause to lay aside his furs, but went into the long, low room,
withdrawing his seal gloves painfully, for it was freezing as it only
can freeze in March.

The countess assailed him with many questions, more or less sensible,
which he endured patiently until the servant had left the room. Catrina,
with flushed cheeks, stood looking at him, but said nothing.

Paul withdrew his gloves and submitted to the countess' futile tugs at
his fur coat. Then Catrina spoke.

"The Baron de Chauxville has left us," she said, without knowing exactly
why.

For the moment Paul had forgotten Claude de Chauxville's existence.

"I have news for you," he said; and he gently pushed the chattering
countess aside. "Stepan Lanovitch is at Osterno. He arrived to-night."

"Ah, they have set him free, poor man! Does he wear chains on his
ankles--is his hair long? My poor Stepan! Ah, but what a stupid man!"

The countess collapsed into a soft chair. She chose a soft one,
obviously. It has to be recorded here that she did not receive the news
with unmitigated joy.

"When he was in Siberia," she gasped, "one knew at all events where he
was; and now, mon Dieu! what an anxiety!"

"I have come over to see whether you will join him to-night and go with
him to America," said Paul, looking at her.

"To--America--to-night! My dear Paul, are you mad? One cannot do such
things as that. America! that is across the sea."

"Yes," answered Paul.

"And I am such a bad sailor. Now, if it had been Paris----"

"But it cannot be," interrupted Paul. "Will you join your father
to-night?" he added, turning to Catrina.

The girl was looking at him with something in her eyes that he did not
care to meet.

"And go to America?" she asked, in a lifeless voice.

Paul nodded.

Catrina turned suddenly away from him and walked to the fire, where she
stood with her back toward him--a small, uncouth figure in black and
green, the lamplight gleaming on her wonderful hair. She turned suddenly
again, and, coming back, stood looking into his face.

"I will go," she said. "You think it best?"

"Yes," he answered; "I think it best."

She drew a sharp breath and was about to speak when the countess
interrupted her.

"What!" she cried. "You are going away to-night like this, without any
luggage! And pray what is to become of me?"

"You can join them in America," said Paul, in his quietest tone. "Or you
can live in Paris, at last."




CHAPTER XLI


DUTY

It was not now a very cold night. There were fleecy clouds thrown like
puffs of smoke against the western sky. The moon, on the wane,--a small
crescent lying on its back,--was lowering toward the horizon. The
thermometer had risen since sunset, as it often does in March. There was
a suggestion of spring in the air. It seemed that at last the long
winter was drawing to a close; that the iron grip of frost was relaxing.

Paul went out and inspected the harness by the light of a stable lantern
held in the mittened hand of a yemschick. He had reasons of his own for
absenting himself while Catrina bade her mother farewell. He was rather
afraid of these women.

The harness inspected, he began reckoning how many hours of moonlight
might still be vouchsafed to him. The stableman, seeing the direction of
his gaze, began to talk of the weather and the possibilities of snow in
the near future. They conversed in low voices together.

Presently the door opened and Catrina came quickly out, followed by a
servant carrying a small hand-bag.

Paul could not see Catrina's face. She was veiled and furred to the
eyelids. Without a word the girl took her seat in the sleigh, and the
servant prepared the bear-skin rugs. Paul gathered up the reins and took
his place beside her. A few moments were required to draw up the rugs
and fasten them with straps; then Paul gave the word and the horses
leaped forward.

As they sped down the avenue Catrina turned and looked her last on
Thors.

Before long Paul wheeled into the trackless forest. He had come very
carefully, steering chiefly by the moon and stars, with occasional
assistance from a bend of the winding river. At times he had taken to
the ice, following the course of the stream for a few miles. No snow had
fallen; it would be easy to return on his own track. Through this part
of the forest no road was cut.

For nearly half an hour they drove in silence. Only the whistle of the
iron-bound runners on the powdery snow, the creak of the warming leather
on the horses, the regular breathing of the team, broke the stillness of
the forest. Paul hoped against hope that Catrina was asleep. She sat by
his side, her arm touching his sleeve, her weight thrown against him at
such times as the sleigh bumped over a fallen tree or some inequality of
the ground.

He could not help wondering what thoughts there were behind her silence.
Steinmetz's good-natured banter had come back to his memory, during the
last few days, in a new light.

"Paul," said the woman at his side quite suddenly, breaking the silence
of the great forest where they had grown to life and sorrow almost side
by side.

"Yes."

"I want to know how this all came about. It is not my father's doing.
There is something quick, and practical, and wise which suggests you and
Herr Steinmetz. I suspect that you have done this--you and he--for our
happiness."

"No," answered Paul; "it was mere accident. Your father heard of our
trouble in Kiew. You know him--always impulsive and reckless. He never
thinks of the danger. He came to help us."

Catrina smiled wanly.

"But it _is_ for our happiness, is it not, Paul? You know that it
is--that is why you have done it. I have not had time yet to realize
what I am doing, all that is going to happen. But if it is your doing, I
think I shall be content to abide by the result."

"It is not my doing," replied Paul, who did not like her wistful tone.
"It is the outcome of circumstances. Circumstances have been ruling us
all lately. We seem to have no time to consider, but only to do that
which seems best for the moment."

"And it is best that I should go to America with my father?" Her voice
was composed and quiet. In the dim light he could not see her white
lips; indeed, he never looked.

"It seems so to me, undoubtedly," he said. "In doing this, so far as we
can see at present, it seems certain that you are saving your father
from Siberia. You know what he is; he never thinks of his own safety. He
ought never to have come here to-night. If he remains in Russia, it is
an absolute certainty that he will sooner or later be rearrested. He is
one of those good people who require saving from themselves."

Catrina nodded. At times duty is the kedge-anchor of happiness. The girl
was dimly aware that she was holding to this. She was simple and
unsophisticated enough to consider Paul's opinion infallible. At the
great cross-roads of life we are apt to ask the way of any body who
happens to be near. Catrina might perhaps have made a worse choice of
counsel, for Paul was honest.

"As you put it," she said, "it is clearly my duty. There is a sort of
consolation in that, however painful it may be at the time. I suppose it
is consolatory to look back and think that at all events one did one's
duty."

"I don't know," answered Paul simply; "I suppose so."

Looking back was not included in his method of life, which was rather
characterized by a large faith and a forward pressure. Whenever there
was question of considering life as an abstract, he drew within his
shell with a manlike shyness. He had no generalities ready for each
emergency.

"Would father have gone alone?" she asked, with a very human thrill of
hope in her voice.

"No," answered Paul steadily, "I think not. But you can ask him."

They had never been so distant as they were at this moment--so cold,
such mere acquaintances. And they had played together in one nursery.

"Of course, if that is the case," said the girl, "my duty is quite
clear."

"It required some persuasion to make him consent to go, even with you,"
said Paul.

A rough piece of going--for there was no road--debarred further
conversation at this time. The sleigh rolled and bumped over one fallen
tree after another. Paul, with his feet stretched out, wedged firmly
into the sleigh, encouraged the tired horses with rein and voice.
Catrina was compelled to steady herself with both hands on the bar of
the apron; for the apron of a Russian sleigh is a heavy piece of leather
stretched on a wooden bar.

"Then you think my duty is quite clear?" repeated the girl at length.

Paul did not answer at once.

"I am sure of it," he said.

And there the question ended. Catrina Lanovitch, who had never been
ruled by those about her, shaped her whole life unquestioningly upon an
opinion.

They did not speak for some time, and then it was the girl who broke the
silence.

"I have a confession to make and a favor to ask," she said bluntly.

Paul's attitude denoted attention, but he said nothing.

"It is about the Baron de Chauxville," she said.

"Ah!"

"I am a coward," she went on. "I did not know it before. It is rather
humiliating. I have been trying for some weeks to tell you something,
but I am horribly afraid of it. I am afraid you will despise me. I have
been a fool--worse, perhaps. I never knew that Claude de Chauxville was
the sort of person he is. I allowed him to find out things about me
which he never should have known--my own private affairs, I mean. Then I
became frightened, and he tried to make use of me. I think he makes use
of every-body. _You_ know what he is."

"Yes," answered Paul, "I know."

"He hates you," she went on. "I do not want to make mischief, but I
suppose he wanted to marry the princess. His vanity was wounded because
she preferred you, and he wanted to be avenged upon you. Wounds to the
vanity never heal. I do not know how he did it, Paul, but he made me
help him in his schemes. I could have prevented you from going to the
bear hunt, for I suspected him then. I could have prevented my mother
from inviting him to Thors. I could have put a thousand difficulties in
his way, but I did not. I helped him. I told him about the people and
who were the worst--who had been influenced by the Nihilists and who
would not work. I allowed him to stay on here and carry out his plan.
All this trouble among the peasants is his handiwork. He has organized a
regular rising against you. He is horribly clever. He left us yesterday,
but I am convinced that he is in the neighborhood still."

She stopped and reflected. There was something wanting in the story,
which she could not supply. It was a motive. A half-confession is almost
an impossibility. When we speak of ourselves it must be all or
nothing--preferably, nothing.

"I do not know why I did it," she said. "It was a sort of period I went
through. I cannot explain."

He did not ask her to do so. They were singularly like brother and
sister in their mental attitude. They had driven through twenty miles of
forest which belonged to one or other of them. Each was touched by the
intangible, inexplicable dignity that belongs to the possession of great
lands--to the inheritance of a great name.

"That is the confession," she said.

He gave a little laugh.

"If none of us had worse than that upon our consciences," he answered,
"there would be little harm in the world, De Chauxville's schemes have
only hurried on a crisis which was foreordained. The progress of
humanity cannot be stayed. They have tried to stay it in this country.
They will go on trying until the crash comes. What is the favor you have
to ask?"

"You must leave Osterno," she urged earnestly; "it is unsafe to delay
even a few hours. M. de Chauxville said there would be no danger. I
believed him then, but I do not now. Besides, I know the peasants. They
are hard to rouse, but once excited they are uncontrollable. They are
afraid of nothing. You must get away to-night."

Paul made no answer.

She turned slowly in her seat and looked into his face by the light of
the waning moon.

"Do you mean that you will not go?"

He met her glance with his grave, slow smile.

"There is no question of going," he answered. "You must know that."

She did not attempt to persuade. Perhaps there was something in his
voice which she as a Russian understood--a ring of that which we call
pig-headedness in others.

"It must be splendid to be a man," she said suddenly, in a ringing
voice. "One feeling in me made me ask you the favor, while another was a
sense of gladness at your certain refusal. I wish I was a man. I envy
you. You do not know how I envy you, Paul."

Paul gave a quiet laugh--such a laugh as one hears in the trenches after
the low hum of a passing ball.

"If it is danger you want, you will have more than I in the next week,"
he answered. "Steinmetz and I knew that you were the only woman in
Russia who could get your father safely out of the country. That is why
I came for you."

The girl did not answer at once. They were driving on the road again
now, and the sleigh was running smoothly.

"I suppose," she said reflectively at length, "that the secret of the
enormous influence you exercise over all who come in contact with you is
that you drag the best out of every one--the best that is in them."

Paul did not answer.

"What is that light?" she asked suddenly, laying her hand on the thick
fur of his sleeve. She was not nervous, but very watchful.
"There--straight in front."

"It is the sleigh," replied Paul, "with your father and Steinmetz. I
arranged that they should meet us at the cross-roads. You must be at the
Volga before daylight. Send the horses on to Tver. I have given you
Minna and The Warrior; they can do the journey with one hour's rest, but
you must drive them."

Catrina had swayed forward against the bar of the apron in a strange
way, for the road was quite smooth. She placed her gloved hands on the
bar and held herself upright with a peculiar effort.

"What?" said Paul. For she had made an inarticulate sound.

"Nothing," she answered. Then, after a pause, "I did not know that we
were to go so soon. That was all."




CHAPTER XLII


THE STORM BURSTS

The large drawing-room was brilliantly lighted. Another weary day had
dragged to its close. It was the Tuesday evening--the last Tuesday in
March five years ago. The starosta had not been near the castle all day.
Steinmetz and Paul had never lost sight of the ladies since breakfast
time. They had not ventured out of doors. There was in the atmosphere a
sense of foreboding--the stillness of a crisis. Etta had been defiant
and silent--a dangerous humor--all day. Maggie had watched Paul's face
with steadfast, quiet eyes full of courage, but she knew now that there
was danger.

The conversation at breakfast and luncheon had been maintained by
Steinmetz--always collected and a little humorous. It was now dinner
time. The whole castle was brilliantly lighted, as if for a great
assembly of guests. During the last week a fuller state--a greater
ceremony--had been observed by Paul's orders, and Steinmetz had thought
more than once of that historical event which appealed to his admiration
most--the Indian Mutiny.

Maggie was in the drawing-room alone. She was leaning one hand and arm
on the mantel-piece, looking thoughtfully into the fire. The rustle of
silk made her turn her head. It was Etta, beautifully dressed, with a
white face and eyes dull with suspense.

"I think it is warmer to-night," said Maggie, urged by a sudden
necessity of speech, hampered by a sudden chill at the heart.

"Yes," answered Etta. And she shivered.

For a moment there was a little silence and Etta looked at the clock. It
was ten minutes to seven.

A high wind was blowing, the first of the equinoctial gales heralding
the spring. The sound of the wind in the great chimney was like the
moaning of high rigging at sea.

The door opened and Steinmetz came in. Etta's face hardened, her lips
closed with a snap. Steinmetz looked at her and at Maggie. For once he
seemed to have no pleasantry ready for use. He walked toward a table
where some books and newspapers lay in pleasant profusion. He was
standing there when Paul came into the room. The prince glanced at
Maggie. He saw where his wife stood, but he did not look at her.

Steinmetz was writing something on half a sheet of notepaper, in pencil.
He pushed it across the table toward Paul, who drew it nearer to him.

"Are you armed?" were the written words.

Paul crushed the paper in the hollow of his hand and threw it into the
fire, where it burned away. He also glanced at the clock. It was five
minutes to seven.

Suddenly the door was thrown open and a manservant rushed in--pale,
confused, terror-stricken. He was a giant footman in the gorgeous livery
of the Alexis.

"Excellency," he stammered in Russian, "the castle is surrounded--they
will kill us--they will burn us out----"

He stopped abashed before Paul's pointing finger and stony face.

"Leave the room!" said Paul. "You forget yourself."

Through the open door-way to which Paul pointed peered the ashen faces
of other servants huddled together like sheep.

"Leave the room!" repeated Paul, and the man obeyed him, walking to the
door unsteadily with quivering chin. On the threshold he paused. Paul
stood pointing to the door. He had a poise of the head--some sudden
awakening of the blood that had coursed in the veins of hereditary
potentates. Maggie looked at him; she had never known him like this. She
had known the man, she had never encountered the prince.

The big clock over the castle boomed out the hour, and at the same
instant there arose a roar like the voice of the surf on a Malabar
shore. There was a crashing of glass almost in the room itself. Already
Steinmetz was drawing the curtains closer over the windows in order to
prevent the light from filtering through the interstices of the closed
shutters.

"Only stones," he said to Paul, with his grim smile; "it might have been
bullets."

As if in corroboration of his suggestion the sharp ring of more than one
fire-arm rang out above the dull roar of many voices.

Steinmetz crossed the room to where Etta was standing, white-lipped, by
the fire. Her clenched hand was gripping Maggie's wrist. She was half
hidden behind her cousin. Maggie was looking at Paul. Etta was obviously
conscious of Steinmetz's gaze and approach.

"I asked you before to tell me all you knew," he said. "You refused.
Will you do it now?"

Etta met his glance for a moment, shrugged her shoulders, and turned her
back on him. Paul was standing in the open door-way with his back turned
toward them--alone. The palace had never looked so vast as it did at
that moment--brilliantly lighted, gorgeous, empty.

Through the hail of blows on the stout doors, the rattle of stones at
the windows, the prince could hear yells of execration and the wild
laughter that is bred of destruction. He turned and entered the room.
His face was gray and terrible.

"They have no chance," he said, "of effecting an entrance by force; the
lower windows are barred. They have no ladders, Steinmetz and I have
seen to that. We have been expecting this for some days."

He turned toward Steinmetz as if seeking confirmation. The din was
increasing. When the German spoke he had to shout.

"We can beat them back if we like. We can shoot them down from the
windows. But"--he paused, shrugged his shoulders, and laughed--"what
will you! This prince will not shoot his father's serfs."

"We must leave you," went on Paul. "We must beware of treachery.
Whatever happens, we shall not leave the house. If the worst comes, we
make our last stand in this room. Whatever happens, stay here till we
come."

He left the room, followed by Steinmetz. There were only three doors in
the impregnable stone walls; the great entrance, a side door for use in
times of deep snow, and the small concealed entrance by which the
starosta was in the habit of reaching his masters.

For a moment the two men stood at the head of the stairs listening to
the wild commotion. They were turning to descend the state stairs when a
piercing shriek, immediately drowned by a yell of triumph, broke the
silence of the interior of the castle. There was a momentary stillness,
followed by another shriek.

"They are in!" said Steinmetz. "The side door."

And the two men looked at each other with wide eyes full of knowledge.

As they ran to the foot of the broad staircase the tramp of scuffling
feet, the roar of angry voices, came through the passages from the back
of curtained doorways. The servants' quarters seemed to be pandemonium.
The sounds approached.

"Half-way up!" said Paul, and they ran half-way up the broad staircase
side by side. There they stood and waited.

In a moment the baize doors were burst open, and a scuffling mass of men
and women poured into the hall--a very sewer of humanity.

A yell of execration signalized their recognition of the prince.

"They are mad!" said Steinmetz, as the crowd surged forward toward the
stairs with waving arms and the dull gleam of steel; with wild faces
turned upward, wild mouths bellowing hatred and murder.

"It is a chance--it may stop them!" said Steinmetz.

His arm was outstretched steadily. A loud report, a little puff of smoke
shooting upward to the gilded ceiling, and for one brief moment the
crowd stood still, watching one of their ringleaders, who was turning
and twisting on his side half a dozen steps from the bottom.

The man writhed in silence with his hand to his breast, and the crowd
stood aghast. He held up his hand and gazed at it with a queer
stupefaction. The blood dripped from his fingers. Then his chin went up
as if some one was gripping the back of his neck. He turned over slowly
and rolled to the bottom of the stairs.

Then Paul raised his voice.

"Listen to me!" he said.

But he got no farther, for some one shot at him from the background,
over the frantic heads of the others, and missed him. The bullet lodged
in the wall at the head of the stairs, in the jamb of the gorgeous
door-way. It is there to-day.

There was a yell of hatred, and an ugly charge toward the stairs; but
the sight of the two revolvers held them there--motionless for a few
moments. Those in front pushed back, while the shouters in the safe
background urged them forward by word and gesture.

Two men holding a hundred in check! But one of the two was a prince,
which makes all the difference, and will continue to make that
difference, despite halfpenny journalism, until the end of the world.

"What do you want?" cried Paul.

"Oh, I will wait!" he shouted, in the next pause. "There is plenty of
time--when you are tired of shouting."

Several of them proceeded to tell him what they wanted. An old story,
too stale for repetition here. Paul recognized in the din of many voices
the tinkling arguments of the professional agitator all the world
over--the cry of "Equality! Equality!" when men are obviously created
unequal.

"Look out!" said Paul; "I believe they are going to make a rush."

All the while the foremost men were edging toward the stairs, while the
densely packed throng at the back were struggling among themselves. In
the passages behind, some were yelling and screaming with a wild
intonation which Steinmetz recognized. He had been through the Commune.

"Those fellows at the back have been killing some one," he said; "I can
tell by their voices. They are drunk with the sight of blood."

Some new orator gained the ears of the rabble at this moment, and the
ill-kempt heads swayed from side to side.

"It is useless," he cried, "telling him what you want. He will not give
it you. Go and take it! Go and take it, little fathers; that is the only
way!"

Steinmetz raised his hand and peered down into the crowd, looking for
the man of eloquence, and the voice was hushed.

At this moment, however, the yelling increased, and through the door-way
leading to the servants' quarters came a stream of men--bloodstained,
ragged, torn. They were waving arms and implements above their heads.

"Down with the aristocrats! kill them--kill them!" they were shrieking.

A little volley of fire-arms further excited them. But vodka is not a
good thing to shoot upon, and Paul stood untouched, waiting, as he had
said, until they were tired of shouting.

"Now," yelled Steinmetz to him in English, "we must go. We can make a
stand at the head of the stairs, then the door-way, then----" He
shrugged his shoulders. "Then--the end," he added, as they moved up the
stairs step by step, backward. "My very good friend," he went on, "at
the door we must begin to shoot them down. It is our only chance. It is,
moreover, our duty toward the ladies."

"There is one alternative," answered Paul.

"The Moscow Doctor?"

"Yes."

"They may turn," said Paul; "they are just in that humor."

The new-comers were the most dangerous. They were forcing their way to
the front. There was no doubt that, as soon as they could penetrate the
densely packed mob, they would charge up the stairs, even in face of a
heavy fire. The reek of vodka was borne up in the heated atmosphere,
mingled with the nauseating odor of filthy clothing.

"Go," said Steinmetz, "and put on your doctor's clothes. I can keep them
back for a few minutes."

There was no time to be lost. Paul slipped away, leaving Steinmetz alone
at the summit of the state stairway, standing grimly, revolver in hand.

In the drawing-room Paul found Maggie, alone.

"Where is Etta?" he asked.

"She left the room some time ago."

"But I told her to stay," said Paul.

To this Maggie made no answer. She was looking at him with an anxious
scrutiny.

"Did they shoot at you?" she asked.

"Yes; but not straight," he answered, with a little laugh, as he hurried
on.

In a few moments he was back in the drawing-room, a different man, in
the rough, stained clothes of the Moscow Doctor. The din on the stairs
was louder. Steinmetz was almost in the door-way. He was shooting
economically, picking his men.

With an effort Paul dragged one or two heavy pieces of furniture across
the room, in the form of a rough barricade. He pointed to the hearthrug
where Maggie was to stand.

"Ready!" he shouted to Steinmetz. "Come!"

The German ran in, and Paul closed the barricade.

The rabble poured in at the open door, screaming and shouting.
Bloodstained, ragged, wild with the madness of murder, they crowded to
the barricade. There they stopped, gazing stupidly at Paul.

"The Moscow Doctor--the Moscow Doctor!" passed from lip to lip. It was
the women who shouted it the loudest. Like the wind through a forest it
swept out of the room and down the stairs. Those crowding up pushed on
and uttered the words as they came. The room was packed with them.

"Yes!" shouted Steinmetz, at the top of his great voice, "and the
prince!"

He knew the note to strike, and struck with a sure hand. The barricade
was torn aside, and the people swept forward, falling on their knees,
grovelling at Paul's feet, kissing the hem of his garment, seizing his
strong hands in theirs.

It was a mighty harvest. That which is sown in the people's hearts bears
a thousandfold at last.

"Get them out of the place--open the big doors," said Paul to Steinmetz.
He stood cold and grave among them.

Some of them were already sneaking toward the door--the ringleaders, the
talkers from the towns--mindful of their own necks in this change of
feeling.

Steinmetz hustled them out, bidding them take their dead with them. Some
of the servants reappeared, peeping, white-faced, behind curtains. When
the last villager had crossed the threshold, these ran forward to close
and bar the great doors.

"No," said Paul, from the head of the stairs, "leave them open."

So the great doors stood defiantly open. The lights of the state
staircase flared out over the village as the peasants crept crest-fallen
to their cottages. They glanced up shamefacedly, but they had no word to
say.

Steinmetz, in the drawing-room, looked at Paul with his resigned
semi-humorous shrug of the shoulders.

"Touch-and-go, mein lieber!" he said.

"Yes; an end of Russia for us," answered the prince.

He moved toward the door leading through to the old castle.

"I am going to look for Etta," he said.

"And I," said Steinmetz, going to the other entrance, "am going to see
who opened the side door."




CHAPTER XLIII


BEHIND THE VEIL

"Will you come with me?" said Paul to Maggie. "I will send the servants
to put this room to rights."

Maggie followed him out of the room, and together they went through the
passages, calling Etta and looking for her. There was an air of gloom
and chilliness in the rooms of the old castle. The outline of the great
stones, dimly discernible through the wall-paper, was singularly
suggestive of a fortress thinly disguised.

"I suppose," said Paul, "that Etta lost her nerve."

"Yes," answered Maggie doubtfully; "I think it was that."

Paul went on. He carried a lamp in one steady hand.

"We shall probably find her in one of these rooms," he said. "It is so
easy to lose one's self among the passages and staircases."

They passed on through the great smoking-room, with its hunting
trophies. The lynx, with its face of Claude de Chauxville, grinned at
them darkly from its pedestal.

Half-way down the stairs leading to the side door they met Steinmetz
coming hastily up. His face was white and drawn with horror.

"You must not go down here," he said, in a husky voice, barring the
passage with his arm.

"Why not?"

"Go up again!" said Steinmetz breathlessly. "You must not go down here."

Paul laid his hand on the broad arm stretched across the stairway. For a
moment it almost appeared to be a physical struggle, then Steinmetz
stepped aside.

"I beg of you," he said, "not to go down."

And Paul went on, followed by Steinmetz, and behind them, Maggie. At the
foot of the stairs a broader passage led to the side door, and from this
other passages opened into the servants' quarters, and communicated
through the kitchens with the modern building.

It was evident that the door leading to the grassy slope at the back of
the castle was open, for a cold wind blew up the stairs and made the
lamps flicker.

At the end of the passage Paul stopped.

Steinmetz was a little behind him, holding Maggie back.

The two lamps lighted up the passage and showed the white form of the
Princess Etta lying huddled up against the wall. The face was hidden,
but there was no mistaking the beautiful dress and hair. It could only
be Etta. Paul stooped down and looked at her, but he did not touch her.
He went a few paces forward and closed the door. Beyond Etta a black
form lay across the passage, all trodden underfoot and dishevelled. Paul
held the lamp down, and through the mud and blood Claude de Chauxville's
clear-cut features were outlined.

Death is always unmistakable, though it be shown by nothing more than a
heap of muddy clothes.

Claude de Chauxville was lying across the passage. He had been trodden
underfoot by the stream of maddened peasants who had entered by this
door which had been opened for them, whom Steinmetz had checked at the
foot of the stairs by shooting their ringleader.

De Chauxville's scalp was torn away by a blow, probably given with a
spade or some blunt instrument. His hand, all muddy and bloodstained,
still held a revolver.

The other hand was stretched out toward Etta, who lay across his feet,
crouching against the wall. Death had found and left her in an attitude
of fear, shielding her bowed head from a blow with her upraised hands.
Her loosened hair fell in a long wave of gold down to the bloodstained
hand outstretched toward her. She was kneeling in De Chauxville's blood,
which stained the stone floor of the passage.

Paul leaned forward and laid his fingers on the bare arm, just below a
bracelet which gleamed in the lamplight. She was quite dead. He held a
lamp close to her. There was no mark or scratch upon her arm or
shoulder. The blow which had torn her hair down had killed her without
any disfigurement. The silken skirt of her dress, which lay across the
passage, was trampled and stained by the tread of a hundred feet.

Then Paul went to Claude de Chauxville. He stooped down and slipped his
skilled fingers inside the torn and mud-stained clothing. Here also was
death.

Paul stood upright and looked at them as they lay, silent, motionless,
with their tale untold. Maggie and Steinmetz stood watching him. He went
to the door, which was of solid oak four inches thick, and examined the
fastenings. There had been no damage done to bolt, or lock, or hinge.
The door had been opened from the inside. He looked slowly round,
measuring the distances.

"What is the meaning of it?" he said at length to Steinmetz, in a dull
voice. Maggie winced at the sound of it.

Steinmetz did not answer at once, but hesitated--after the manner of a
man weighing words which will never be forgotten by their hearers.

"It seems to me," he said, with a slow, wise charity, the best of its
kind, "quite clear that De Chauxville died in trying to save her--the
rest must be only guesswork."

Maggie had come forward and was standing beside him.

"And in guessing let us be charitable--is it not so?" he said, turning
to her, with a twist of his humorous lips.

"I suppose," he went on, after a little pause, "that Claude de
Chauxville has been at the bottom of all our trouble. All his life he
has been one of the stormy petrels of diplomacy. Wherever he has gone
trouble has followed later. By some means he obtained sufficient mastery
over the princess to compel her to obey his orders. The means he
employed were threats. He had it in his power to make mischief, and in
such affairs a woman is so helpless that we may well forgive that which
she may do in a moment of panic. I imagine that he frightened the poor
lady into obedience to his command that she should open this door.
Before dinner, when we were all in the drawing-room, I noted a little
mark of dust on the white silk skirt of her dress. At the time I thought
only that her maid had been careless. Perhaps you noticed it,
mademoiselle? Ladies note such things."

He turned to Maggie, who nodded her head.

"That," he went on, "was the dust of these old passages. She had been
down here. She had opened this door."

He spread out his hands in deprecation. In his quaint Germanic way he
held one hand out over the two motionless forms in mute prayer that they
might be forgiven.

"We all have our faults," he said. "Who are we to judge each other? If
we understood all, we might pardon. The two strongest human motives are
ambition and fear. She was ruled by both. I myself have seen her under
the influence of sudden panic. I have noted the working of her great
ambition. She was probably deceived at every turn by that man, who was a
scoundrel. He is dead, and death is understood to wipe out all debts. If
I were a better man than I am, I might speak well of him. But--ach Gott!
that man was a scoundrel! I think the good God will judge between them
and forgive that poor woman. She must have repented of her action when
she heard the clatter of the rioters all round the castle. I am sure she
did that. I am sure she came down here to shut the door, and found
Claude de Chauxville here. They were probably talking together when the
poor mad fools who killed them came round to this side of the castle and
found them. They recognized her as the princess. They probably mistook
him for the prince. It is what men call a series of coincidences. I
wonder what God calls it?"

He broke off, and, stooping down, he drew the lapel of the Frenchman's
cloak gently over the marred face.

"And let us remember," he said, "that he tried to save her. Some lives
are so. At the very end a little reparation is made. In life he was her
evil genius. When he died they trampled him underfoot in order to reach
her. Mademoiselle, will you come?"

He took Maggie by the arm and led her gently away. She was shaking all
over, but his hand was steady and wholly kind.

He led her up the narrow stairs to her own room. In the little boudoir
the fire was burning brightly; the lamps were lighted, just as the maid
had left them at the first alarm.

Maggie sat down, and quite suddenly she burst into tears.

Steinmetz did not leave her. He stood beside her, gently stroking her
shoulder with his stout fingers. He said nothing, but the gray mustache
only half concealed his lips, which were twisted with a little smile
full of tenderness and sympathy.

Maggie was the first to speak.

"I am all right now," she said. "Please do not wait any longer, and do
not think me a very weak-minded person. Poor Etta!"

Steinmetz moved away toward the door.

"Yes," he said; "poor Etta! It is often those who get on in the world
who need the world's pity most."

At the door he stopped.

"To-morrow," he said, "I will take you home to England. Is that
agreeable to you, mademoiselle?"

She smiled at him sadly through her tears.

"Yes, I should like that," she said. "This country is horrible. You are
very kind to me."

Steinmetz went down stairs and found Paul at the door talking to a young
officer, who slowly dismounted and lounged into the hall, conscious of
his brilliant uniform--of his own physical capacity to show off any
uniform to full advantage.

He was a lieutenant in a Cossack regiment, and as he bowed to Steinmetz,
whom Paul introduced, he swung off his high astrakhan cap with a
flourish, showing a fair boyish face.

"Yes," he continued to Paul in English; "the general sent me over with a
sotnia of men, and pretty hungry you will find them. We have covered the
whole distance since daybreak. A report reached the old gentleman that
the whole countryside was about to rise against you."

"Who spread the report?" asked Steinmetz.

"I believe it originated down at the wharfs. It has been traced to an
old man and his daughter,--a sort of pedler, I think, who took a passage
down the river,--but where they heard the rumor I don't know."

Paul and Steinmetz carefully avoided looking at each other. They knew
that Catrina and Stepan Lanovitch had sent back assistance.

"Of course," said Paul, "I am very glad to see you, but I am equally
glad to inform you that you are not wanted. Steinmetz will tell you all
about it, and when you are ready for dinner it will be ready for you. I
will give instructions that the men be cared for."

"Thanks. The funny thing is that I am instructed, with your approval, to
put the place under martial law and take charge."

"That will not be necessary, thanks," answered Paul, going out of the
open door to speak to the wild-looking Cossacks sent for his protection.

In Russia, as in other countries where life is cheaply held, the death
formalities are small. It is only in England, where we are so careful
for the individual and so careless of the type, that we have to pay for
dying, and leave a mass of red-tape formalities for our friends.

While the young officer was changing his uniform for the evening finery
which his servant's forethought had provided, Paul and Steinmetz
hurriedly arranged what story of the evening should be given to the
world. Knowing the country as they did, they were enabled to tell a true
tale, which was yet devoid of that small personal interest that gossips
love. And all the world ever knew was that the Princess Howard Alexis
was killed by the revolted peasants while attempting to escape by a side
door, and that the Baron Claude de Chauxville, who was staying in the
neighborhood, met his death in attempting to save her from the fury of
the mob.

On the recommendation of Karl Steinmetz, Paul placed the castle and
village under martial law, and there and then gave the command to the
young Cossack officer, pending further instructions from his general,
commanding at Tver.

The officer dined with Steinmetz, and under the careful treatment of
that diplomatist inaugurated a reign of military autocracy, which varied
pleasingly between strict discipline and boyish neglect.

Before the master of the situation had slept off the effect of his
hundred-mile ride and a heavy dinner, the next morning Steinmetz and
Maggie were ready to start on their journey to England.

The breakfast was served in the room abutting on the cliff in the dim
light of a misty morning.

The lamps were alight on the table, and Paul was waiting when Maggie
came down cloaked for her journey. Steinmetz had breakfasted.

They said good-morning, and managed to talk of ordinary things until
Maggie was supplied with coffee and toast and a somewhat heavy, manly
helping of a breakfast-dish. Then came a silence.

Paul broke it at length with an effort, standing, as it were, on the
edge of the forbidden topic.

"Steinmetz will take you all the way," he said, "and then come back to
me. You can safely trust yourself to his care."

"Yes," answered the girl, looking at the food set before her with a
helpless stare. "It is not that. Can I safely trust Etta's memory to
your judgment? You are very stern, Paul. I think you might easily
misjudge her. Men do not always understand a woman's temptations."

Paul had not sat down. He walked away to the window, and stood there
looking out into the gloomy mists.

"It is not because she was my cousin," said Maggie from the table; "it
is because she was a woman leaving her memory to be judged by two men
who are both--hard."

Paul neither looked round nor answered.

"When a woman has to form her own life, and renders it a prominent one,
she usually makes a huge mistake of it," said the girl.

She waited a moment, and then she pleaded once more, hastily, for she
heard a step approaching.

"If you only understood every thing you might think differently--it is
because you cannot understand."

Then Paul turned round slowly.

"No," he said, "I cannot understand it, and I do not think that I ever
shall."

And Steinmetz came into the room.

In a few minutes the sleigh bearing Steinmetz and Maggie disappeared
into the gloom, closely followed by a couple of Cossacks acting as guard
and carrying despatches.

So Etta Sydney Bamborough--the Princess Howard Alexis--came back after
all to her husband, lying in a nameless grave in the churchyard by the
Volga at Tver. Within the white walls--beneath the shadow of the great
spangled cupola--they await the Verdict, almost side by side.




CHAPTER XLIV


KISMET

Between Brandon in Suffolk and Thetford in Norfolk runs a quiet river,
the Little Ouse, where few boats break the stillness of the water. On
either bank stand whispering beech-trees, and so low is the music of the
leaves that the message of Ely's distant bells floats through them on a
quiet evening as far as Brandon and beyond it.

Three years after Etta's death, in the glow of an April sunset, a
Canadian canoe was making its stealthy way up the river. The paddle
crept in and out so gently, so lazily and peacefully, that the dabchicks
and other waterfowl did not cease their chatter of nests and other April
matters as the canoe glided by.

So quiet, indeed, was its progress that Karl Steinmetz--suddenly
white-headed, as strong old men are apt to find themselves--did not heed
its approach. He was sitting on the bank with a gun, a little rifle,
lying on the grass beside him. He was half-asleep in the enjoyment of a
large Havana cigar. The rays of the setting sun, peeping through the
lower branches, made him blink lazily like a large, good-natured cat.

He turned his head slowly, with a hunter's consciousness of the approach
of some one, and contemplated the canoe with a sense of placid
satisfaction.

The small craft was passing in the shadow of a great tree--stealing over
the dark, unruffled depth. A girl dressed in white, with a large
diaphanous white hat and a general air of brisk English daintiness, was
paddling slowly and with no great skill.

"A picture," said Steinmetz to himself with Teutonic deliberation. "Gott
im Himmel! what a pretty picture to make an old man young!"

Then his gray eyes opened suddenly and he rose to his feet.

"Coloss-a-al!" he muttered. He dragged from his head a lamentable old
straw hat and swept a courteous bow.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "ah, what happiness! After three years!"

Maggie stopped and looked at him with troubled eyes; all the color
slowly left her face.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. And there was something like fear
in her voice.

"No harm, mademoiselle, but good. I have come down from big game to
vermin. I have here a saloon rifle. I wait till a water-rat comes, and
then I shoot him."

The canoe had drifted closer to the land, the paddle trailing in the
water.

"You are looking at my white hairs," he went on, in a sudden need of
conversation. "Please bring your boat a little nearer."

The paddle twisted lazily in the water like a fish's tail.

"Hold tight," he said, reaching down.

With a little laugh he lifted the canoe and its occupant far up on to
the bank.

"Despite my white hairs," he said, with a tap of both hands on his broad
chest.

"I attach no importance to them," she answered, taking his proffered
hand and stepping over the light bulwark. "I have gray ones myself. I am
getting old too."

"How old?" he asked, looking down at her with his old bluntness.

"Twenty-eight."

"Ah, they are summers," he said; "mine have turned to winters. Will you
sit here where I was sitting? See, I will spread this rug for your white
dress."

Maggie paused, looking through the trees toward the sinking sun. The
light fell on her face and showed one or two lines which had not been
there before. It showed a patient tenderness in the steady eyes which
had always been there--which Catrina had noticed in the stormy days that
were past.

"I cannot stay long," she replied. "I am with the Faneaux at Brandon for
a few days. They dine at seven."

"Ah! her ladyship is a good friend of mine. You remember her charity
ball in town, when it was settled that you should come to Osterno. A
strange world, mademoiselle--a very strange world, so small, and yet so
large and bare for some of us!"

Maggie looked at him. Then she sat down.

"Tell me," she said, "all that has happened since then."

"I went back," answered Steinmetz, "and we were duly exiled from Russia.
It was sure to come. We were too dangerous. Altogether too quixotic for
an autocracy. For myself I did not mind, but it hurt Paul."

There was a little pause, while the water lapped and whispered at their
feet.

"I heard," said Maggie at length, in a measured voice, "that he had gone
abroad for big game."

"Yes--to India."

"He did not go to America?" enquired Maggie indifferently. She was idly
throwing fragments of wood into the river.

"No," answered Steinmetz, looking straight in front of him. "No, he did
not go to America."

"And you?"

"I--oh, I stayed at home. I have taken a house. It is behind the trees.
You cannot see it. I live at peace with all men and pay my bills every
week. Sometimes Paul comes and stays with me. Sometimes I go and stay
with him in London or in Scotland. I smoke and shoot water-rats, and
watch the younger generation making the same mistakes that we made in
our time. You have heard that my country is in order again? They have
remembered me. For my sins they have made me a count. Bon Dieu! I do not
mind. They may make me a prince, if it pleases them."

He was watching her face beneath his grim old eyebrows.

"These details bore you," he said.

"No."

"When Paul and I are together we talk of a new heaven and a new Russia.
But it will not come in our time. We are only the sowers, and the
harvest is not yet. But I tell Paul that he has not sown wild oats, nor
sour grapes, nor thistles."

He paused, and the expression of his face changed to one of
semi-humorous gravity.

"Mademoiselle," he went on, "it has been my lot to love the prince like
a son. It has been my lot to stand helplessly by while he passed through
many troubles. Perhaps the good God gave him all his troubles at first.
Do you think so?"

Maggie was looking straight in front of her across the quiet river.

"Perhaps so," she said.

Steinmetz also stared in front of him during a little silence. The
common thoughts of two minds may well be drawn together by the
contemplation of a common object. Then he turned toward her.

"It will be a happiness for him to see you," he said quietly.

Maggie ceased breaking small branches and throwing them into the river.
She ceased all movement, and scarcely seemed to breathe.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"He is staying with me here."

Maggie glanced toward the canoe. She drew a short, sharp breath, but she
did not move.

"Mademoiselle," said Steinmetz earnestly, "I am an old man, and in my
time I have dabbled pretty deeply in trouble. But taking it all around,
even my life has had its compensations. And I have seen lives which,
taken as a mere mortal existence, without looking to the hereafter at
all, have been quite worth the living. There is much happiness in life
to make up for the rest. But that happiness must be firmly held. It is
so easily slipped through the fingers. A little irresolution--a little
want of moral courage--a little want of self-confidence--a little pride,
and it is lost. You follow me?"

Maggie nodded. There was a great tenderness in her eyes--such a
tenderness as, resting on men, may bring them nearer to the angels.

Steinmetz laid his large hand over hers.

"Mademoiselle," he went on, "I believe that the good God sent you along
this lonely river in your boat. Paul leaves me to-morrow. His
arrangements are to go to India and shoot tigers. He will sail in a
week. There are things of which we never speak together--there is one
name that is never mentioned. Since Osterno you have avoided meeting
him. God knows I am not asking for him any thing that he would be afraid
to ask for himself. But he also has his pride. He will not force himself
in where he thinks his presence unwelcome."

Steinmetz rose somewhat ponderously and stood looking down at her. He
did not, however, succeed in meeting her eyes.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "I beg of you most humbly--most
respectfully--to come through the garden with me toward the house, so
that Paul may at least know that you are here."

He moved away and stood for a moment with his back turned to her,
looking toward the house. The crisp rustle of her dress came to him as
she rose to her feet.

Without looking round, he walked slowly on. The path through the trees
was narrow, two could not walk abreast. After a few yards Steinmetz
emerged on to a large, sloping lawn with flower beds, and a long, low
house above it. On the covered terrace a man sat writing at a table. He
was surrounded by papers, and the pen in his large, firm hand moved
rapidly over the sheet before him.

"We still administer the estate," said Steinmetz, in a low voice. "From
our exile we still sow our seed."

They approached over the mossy turf, and presently Paul looked up--a
strong face, stern and self-contained; the face of a man who would
always have a purpose in life, who would never be petty in thought or
deed.

For a moment he did not seem to recognize them. Then he rose, and the
pen fell on the flags of the terrace.

"It is mademoiselle!" said Steinmetz, and no other word was spoken.

Maggie walked on in a sort of unconsciousness. She only knew that they
were all acting an inevitable part, written for them in the great
libretto of life. She never noticed that Steinmetz had left her side,
that she was walking across the lawn alone.

Paul came to meet her, and took her hand in silence. There was so much
to say that words seemed suddenly valueless; there was so little to say
that they were unnecessary.

For that which these two had to tell each other cannot be told in
minutes, nor yet in years; it cannot even be told in a lifetime, for it
is endless, and it runs through eternity.

THE END





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