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Title: High Noon - A New Sequel to 'Three Weeks' by Elinor Glyn
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "High Noon - A New Sequel to 'Three Weeks' by Elinor Glyn" ***

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                  [Illustration: NATALIE VSESLAVITCH

           _From a miniature in the Verdayne collection._]



                              HIGH NOON

                           A NEW SEQUEL TO

                            "THREE WEEKS"


                             _ANONYMOUS_



                               NEW YORK

                         THE MACAULAY COMPANY

                                 1911



                         COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY

                         THE MACAULAY COMPANY

       *       *       *       *       *



_FOREWORD_


I must make a confession.

It will not be needed by the many thousands who have lived with me the
wonderful sunrise of Paul's love, and the sad gray morning of his
bereavement. To these friends who, with Paul, loved and mourned his
beautiful Queen and their dear son, the calm peace and serenity of the
high noon of Paul's life will seem but well-deserved happiness.

It is to the others I speak.

In life it is rarely given us to learn the end as well as the
beginning. To tell the whole story is only an author's privilege.

Of the events which made Paul's love-idyl possible, but a mere hint
has been given. If at some future time it seems best, I may tell you
more of them. As far as Paul himself is concerned, you have had but
the first two chapters of his story. Here is the third of the trilogy,
his high noon. And with the sun once more breaking through the clouds
in Paul's heart, we will leave him.

You need not read any more of this book than you wish, since I claim
the privilege of not writing any more than I choose. But if you do
read it through, you will feel with me that the great law of
compensation is once more justified. As sorrow is the fruit of our
mistakes, so everlasting peace should be the reward of our heart's
best endeavor.

Sadness is past; joy comes with High Noon.

"The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!"

THE AUTHOR.



HIGH NOON

CHAPTER I


It was Springtime in Switzerland! Once more the snow-capped mountains
mirrored their proud heads in sapphire lakes; and on the beeches by
the banks of Lake Lucerne green buds were bursting into leaves.
Everywhere were bright signs of the earth's awakening. _Springtime in
Switzerland!_ And _that_, you know--you young hearts to whom the gods
are kind--is only another way of saying _Paradise_!

Towards Paradise, then, thundered the afternoon express from Paris,
bearing the advance guard of the summer seekers after happiness. But
if the cumbrous coaches carried swiftly onward some gay hearts, some
young lovers to never-to-be-forgotten scenes, one there was among the
throng to whom the world was gray--an English gentleman this, who
gazed indifferently upon the bright vistas flitting past his window.
The _London Times_ reposed unopened by his side; _Punch_, _Le Figaro_,
_Jugend_ had pleased him not and tumbled to the floor unnoticed.

There seemed scant reason for such deep abstraction in one who bore
the outward signs of so vigorous a manhood. Tall, well-formed,
muscular as his faultless clothes half revealed, half hid, his bronzed
face bearing the clear eyes and steady lips of a man much out of
doors, this thoughtful Englishman was indeed a man to catch and hold
attention. No callow youth, was he, but in the prime of life--strong,
clean, distinguished in appearance, with hair slightly silvered at
the temples; a man who had lived fully, women would have said, but who
was now a bit weary of the world.

Small wonder that the smart American girl sitting opposite in the
compartment stared at him with frank interest, or an elegantly gowned
Parisienne _demi-mondaine_ (travelling _incognito_ as the Comtesse de
Boistelle) eyed him tentatively through her lorgnette.

So Sir Paul Verdayne sat that afternoon in a compartment of the
through express, all unconscious of the scrutiny of his fellow
travellers; his heart filled with the dogged determination to face the
future and make the best of it like a true Englishman; somewhat
saddened--yes--but still unbroken in spirit by the sorrows that had
been his.

Many years ago it was, since he had vowed to revisit the Springplace
of his youth, Lucerne, a spot so replete with tender memories, and
each succeeding year had found him making anew his pilgrimage, though
a sombre warp of sorrow was now interwoven in the golden woof of his
young happiness.

This year he had decided should be the last. Not that his devotion to
his beloved Queen had lessened--far from that--but the latent spirit
of action, so innate to true British blood was slowly reasserting
itself. For Paul romance might still remain, but as a thing now past.
He was frank with himself in this respect, and he would be frank with
Isabella Waring too.

One more visit he would pay to the scenes of his love-idyl, to the
place where his beloved _Imperatorskoye_ had come into his life, there
to commune again with her in spirit, there to feel her regal presence,
to seek from her that final supreme consolation which his wounded
heart craved--this was Paul's quest. And then he would return to
England--and Isabella.

It was the consideration of this resolution which shut the flying
scenery from his gaze, which drew fine lines about the corners of his
firm lips, and set his face to such a look of dominant strength as
made the high spirited American girl muse thoughtfully and brought a
touch of colour to the face of the pseudo Countess which was not due
to the artifice of her maid.

Such men are masters of their own.

Paul Verdayne was not a man to shirk responsibilities. It is true,
dark days had come to him, when a crushing burden had well-nigh
smothered him, and a bullet to still his fevered brain had seemed far
sweeter to Paul than all else life might hold for him. But Paul was
strong and young. He learned his lesson well--that Time cures all and
that the scars of sorrow, though they form but slowly, still will heal
with the passing of the years.

Paul was still young and he had much to live for, as the world
reckons. He was rich (a thing not to be lightly held), one of the most
popular M. P.'s in England, and the possessor of a fine old name. It
would be a coward's part, surely, to spend the rest of his life in
bemoaning the dead past. He would take up the duties that lay near at
hand, become the true successor of his respected father, old Sir
Charles, and delight the heart of his fond mother, the Lady Henrietta,
by marrying Isabella Waring, the sweetheart of his boyhood days.

So Paul sat communing with himself as the train rushed noisily on,
sat and settled, as men will, the future which they know not of. Alas
for resolves! Alas for the Lady Henrietta! Alas for Isabella! For
Paul, as for all of us, the mutability of human affairs still existed.
Were it not so, this record never would have been written.



CHAPTER II


With much grinding of brakes and hiss of escaping steam, the express
at last stopped slowly in the little station and the door of Paul's
compartment was swung open by the officious guard with a "Lucerne,
your Lordship," which effectually aroused him from his reverie.

Paul quietly stepped out of the car, and waited with the air of one
among familiar scenes, while his man Baxter collected the luggage and
dexterously convoyed it through the hostile army of customs men to a
_fiacre_. In the midst of the bustle and confusion, as Paul stood
there on the platform, his straight manly form was the cynosure of all
eyes. A fond mamma with a marriageable daughter half unconsciously
sighed aloud at the thought of such a son-in-law. A pair of slender
French dandies outwardly scorned, but inwardly admired his athletic
figure, so visibly powerful, even in repose.

But all oblivious to the attention he was attracting, Paul waited with
passive patience for the survey of his luggage. For was not all this
an old, old story to him, a trifling disturbance on the path of his
pilgrimage? When one travels to travel, each station is an incident;
not so to him who journeys to an end.

But Paul was not destined to remain wholly uninterrupted. As the other
travellers descended from the carriage and formed a little knot upon
the platform, the Comtesse de Boistelle, now occupied with a betufted
poodle frisking at the end of a leash, strolled by him. As she passed
Paul she dropped a jewelled reticule, which he promptly recovered for
her, offering it with a grave face and a murmured "_Permettez moi,
Madame_."

The Comtesse gently breathed a thousand thanks, allowing her carefully
gloved hand to brush Paul's arm.

"Monsieur is wearied with the journey, perhaps?" she said in a low
voice. And her eyes added more than solicitude.

Paul did not deny it. Instead, he raised his green Alpine hat formally
and turned impassively to meet his man, who had by then stowed away
the boxes in the Waiting _fiacre_.

In the group of Paul's late companions stood the American girl who had
sat facing him all the way from Paris. He was no sooner out of earshot
than--

"Did you see, Mamma?" she whispered to the matron beside her.

"See what, Daisy?"

"That French creature--she tried to talk to my big Englishman, but he
snubbed her. What a fine chap he must be! I knew he had a title, and
I'm just dying to meet him. Do you suppose he'll stay at our hotel? If
he does, I'll find somebody who knows all about him. Now I understand
why so many American girls marry titled Englishmen. If they're all as
nice as this one, I don't blame them, do you?"

"Hush, child, hush!" her mother reproved. "How can you run on so about
a total stranger?"

But the girl merely smiled softly to herself in answer, as she watched
Paul's straight back receding down the platform.

Overwhelmed with a rush of memories, Paul climbed into the carriage.
It was a fine afternoon, but he did not see the giant mountains
rearing their heads for him as proudly in the sunshine as ever they
had held them since the world was new.

For Paul just now was lost in the infinite stretches of the past,
those immeasurable fields through which the young wander blithely, all
unconscious of aught but the beautiful flowers so ruthlessly trampled
on, the luscious fruits so wantonly plucked, the limpid streams drunk
from so greedily, and the cool shades in which to sink into untroubled
sleep.

Ah! if there were no awakening! If one were always young!

The _fiacre_ stopped; and soon Paul found himself in the hall of the
hotel, surrounded by officious porters. The _maître d'hôtel_ himself,
a white-haired Swiss, pushed through them and greeted him, for was not
Sir Paul an old and distinguished guest, who never failed to honour
him with his patronage each year? Himself, he showed Paul to the same
suite he always occupied, and with zealous care conferred with milord
over the momentous question of dinner, a matter not to be lightly
discussed.

"And the wine? Ah! the _Tokayi Imperial_, of a certainty. Absolutely,
Monsieur, we refuse to serve it to anyone but yourself. Only last week
it was, when a waiter who would have set it before some rich
Americans--but that is over, he is here no longer."

Paul smiled indulgently at the solicitous little man. It was good to
be here again, talking with Monsieur Jacques as in the old days.

"One moment, more, Monsieur, before I go. Is it that Monsieur desires
the same arrangements to be made again this year--the visit to the
little village on the lake, the climb up the Bürgenstock, the
pilgrimage to the Swiss farmhouse? Yes? Assuredly, Monsieur, it shall
be done, _tout de suite_."

And then with a confident air as of complete and perfect understanding
on the part of an old and trusted friend, the bustling little _maître
d'hôtel_ bowed himself out.

Paul proceeded, with his usual care, to dress for dinner, pausing
first to stand in the window of his dressing-room and gaze wistfully
upon the lake he loved so well, now dimming slowly in the Spring
twilight.

The last time! Ah, well, so be it, then. There must come an end to all
things. And Paul turned away with a sigh, drawing the draperies gently
together, as if to shut out the memories of the past.

How well he succeeded, we shall soon know.

He was the last to enter the restaurant, which was well filled that
evening. On his way to his accustomed place he passed the table at
which sat Miss Daisy Livingstone, his American fellow-traveller,
dining with her mother; and another where the Comtesse, by courtesy,
sat toying with a _pâté_. To Paul's annoyance, he was greeted further
down the room by a member of his club; Graham Barclay was not a
particular favourite of his, at any time, and furthermore Paul had no
desire, just now, to be reminded of London. As civilly as he could,
he declined an invitation to join the party, pleading fatigue from his
long journey, and moved on to the end of the room, where his old
waiter, Henri, stood, with hand on chair-back, ready to help him to a
seat.

"Deuced fine fellow, Verdayne," explained Barclay in parentheses to
his friends. "A bit abstracted sometimes, as you see. But he'll be all
right after tiffin. We'll gather him in for billiards later."

The eyes of more than one guest followed Paul as he walked the length
of the restaurant, for Verdayne possessed that peculiar quality--that
spiritual attraction--magnetism--(call it what you will, a few elect
mortals have it) that stamps a man indelibly. But of all those who
marked him as he moved among the tables, none regarded him more
closely than a lady who sat alone in a small recess, screened from
prying eyes by a bank of greenery.

A marvellous lady she was, with hair as black as the sweep of a
raven's wing, crowning a face as finely chiselled as any Florentine
cameo. And if the diamonds about her smooth white throat had wondrous
sheen they were not more lustrous nor more full of sparkling fire than
her opalescent eyes.

Unseen by the preoccupied Paul, she leaned across the cloth, scarcely
whiter than her pale face, and gazed at him with wonder--was it more
than that? With a slight movement of her tapering hand she dismissed
the liveried servant stationed behind her, and stayed on, with food
and wine untouched. And Paul knew it not.

So near to us can lie the hidden path of our strange destinies until
the appointed hour.



CHAPTER III


The next morning Paul breakfasted on the terrace. The gay greetings of
old friends, the pleasant babble in the breakfast room ill suited his
reflective mood.

And as he sat alone under the fragrant pergola enjoying his cigarette
and dividing his attention between his coffee and the Paris Edition of
the _Herald_, a pale, dark-haired lady passed by as she sought the
terrace for an early stroll. Paul's eyes were on his paper at that
moment--and if the lady's well-bred glance lingered on him for a brief
instant as he turned the pages of the daily, he was all unconscious of
her presence.

Perhaps the lady may have seen something about the strong, wholesome,
well-groomed Englishman that pleased her, perhaps she was simply glad
to be alive upon that glorious morning, with the bracing breeze
blowing fresh from the lake, and the sun sending his welcome rays down
upon the mountainside. At all events, her lips parted in the merest
shadow of a smile as she walked along the gravelled path with the
veriest air of a princess.

Alas! the smile and the dainty picture which the dark-haired lady made
as she moved down the flower bordered path in the sunshine, her
morning gown clinging gracefully about her slender figure, were alike
lost on the engrossed Paul. With his eyes glued to the criticism of a
sharpened writer on the last measure before Parliament, he read on,
all oblivious to his surroundings. Even here, at his beloved Lucerne,
the man of affairs could not escape the thrall of the life into which
he had thrown the whole effort of his fine mind.

Sir Paul had not quite finished the breezy article when, with an all
pervading blast of a sweet-toned, but unnecessarily loud Gabriel horn,
a big green touring car came dashing up to the gate of the little
hotel, and with a final roar and sputter, and agonized shriek of
rudely applied brakes, came to a sudden stop. From it there emerged,
like a monster crab crawling from a mossy shell, a huge form in a
bright green coat--a heavy man with a fat, colourless face and puffy
eyes, and Paul, glancing up at the ostentatious approach, recognized
in him a _nouveau riche_ whom a political friend had insisted on
introducing in London a few days before.

Schwartzberger, his name was (Paul had a peculiar trick of remembering
names)--the fellow was said to have made a fortune in old rags--no, it
was tinned meats--in Chicago. It was his proud boast that he started
in the business as a butcher's errand boy but a few years ago, and
now, no supper bill at the _Moulin Rouge_, no evening's play at Monte
Carlo, had ever made a material depletion in the supply of gold that
always jingled in the pockets of his loud clothes. His was the fastest
car and the gayest coloured on all the Continent, and he was alike the
hero and the easy dupe of every servant.

As the stout American came waddling uncertainly up the walk, with a
certain elephantine effort at jauntiness, he nearly collided with the
foreign lady who had crossed his path to reach the further limits of
the terrace. Not having a cautioning horn attached to his anatomy to
warn heedless trespassers from his way, the large person was forced to
give ground, but had some difficulty in veering from his course
sufficiently to avoid an accident. However, the _grande dame_ slipped
past him quickly and disappeared amid the shrubbery--but not before
her extraordinary beauty had dazzled the pork-packer's beady eyes.

He turned and stared at her.

"Gee! What a peach!" he murmured aloud, in words which came wheezing
from between thick lips. "I wonder if that's the Countess's lady
friend she spoke of."

Then, catching sight of Verdayne, and knowing him at once for the
swell English guy he had met at the Savoy, he panted up and slapped
Paul's shrinking back with his fat, white hand.

"Hullo, Verdayne! Just the man I'm looking for! I didn't know you were
in this part of the world. Hurry up with your breakfast and join me
and my friend, the Countess de Boistelle, in a spin around the lake.
Perhaps you know her already. No? That's easy arranged--she's a
particular friend of mine, and she's got a chum of her's staying here
too, I guess. Make up a foursome with us and I'll promise you this old
place won't be half slow. When it comes to making things hum, nobody's
got anything on the Countess."

"Damned bounder!" growled Paul under his breath; and aloud: "Thanks, I
have an engagement. Awfully sorry, and all that, you know." And he
rose, as if to end the interview.

"I'll bet you've got a date with that queen you were just talking to.
Verdayne, you're the foxy one. Well, I can't say you haven't got good
taste, anyhow, though she's a little too quiet for me."

"Talking with whom?" inquired Paul, in a cold voice.

"Why, that lady that just left here. She nearly ran into me getting
away."

"Schwartzberger," answered Paul, with great deliberation, as he folded
his newspaper, "I believe that a lively imagination is as necessary to
the ideal management of the pork-packing industry as to all other
business activities. Permit me to observe that I can predict for you
no cessation of the remarkable results you have achieved in your
chosen profession." And with a short nod he started down the path.

Schwartzberger's beady eyes blinked after Paul a moment.

"These Englishmen always do get up in the air over nothing," thought
the pork-packer, as he gazed after Paul with a puzzled look on the
wide expanse of his countenance. Then he turned his great bulk and
waddled ponderously into the hotel, in search of his particular
friend, the Comtesse de Boistelle.

Toward the landing on the lake Paul descended, with his heels biting
viciously into the gravel at every step.

"Confound these beastly people!" he growled. "Why are they allowed to
roam about the earth, making hideous the beautiful places." His soul
revolted at even the suggestion that he could have thought for any but
his beloved Lady--his Queen whom he had not seen for more than a
score of years, and would never, on this fair planet, behold again.

On a coign of vantage overlooking the steep slope the pale lady stood
with her face turned toward the Bürgenstock. She watched Paul as he
stalked angrily down the hillside, and in her mind compared him with
the monster she had just avoided. She gazed after him till he reached
the slip, where a small boat was ready for him; and she lingered on
while he stepped lightly into the skiff, picked up the oars, and rowed
away in the style an Eton man never forgets. Motionless she remained,
until he disappeared behind a fringe of larches that crept close to
the shelving shore. Then slowly, as with regret, she turned to resume
her stroll.

A faint colour had stolen into her cheeks; the wonderful eyes had
grown very bright and wistfully tender and deep. The rare old lace on
her bosom fluttered with her quickened breath, as softly she murmured:

"Ah! My entrancing one, now I have seen thee--and I understand!" And
the larches by the shore trembled as if in sympathetic emotion as the
gentle breeze echoed her sigh.

       *       *       *       *       *

A half-hour later the big green touring-car spluttered on its noisy
way again; but its tonneau contained no _partie carrée_. A smartly
clipped poodle perched in the centre of the wide seat--on one side of
him lounged the shapeless green form of the pork-packer, on the other
side gracefully reposed the Comtesse de Boistelle.

And if the complacent admiring glances which Schwartzberger heavily
bestowed on the lady of his choice were perhaps too redolent of the
proprietorship in which a successful pork-packer might indulge, they
were at least small coins in the mart of love, which is Springtime in
Lucerne.

       *       *       *       *       *

Up the lake Paul rowed briskly, working off his ill-humour in the
sheer exertion of his favorite sport. The splendid play of his
powerful muscles carried his light craft rapidly over the blue water,
until he reached a secluded little bay where he had often gone to
escape from troublesome travellers at the hotel. Beaching his skiff,
he threw himself at full length on the rocky shore, where he lay quite
still, drinking in the beauty of the prospect.

Occasionally the wind bore to him from some distant ridge or hidden
glen the tinkling of a cow-bell, as the herd wandered here and there
grazing upon the green uplands. Once--for an instant only--a mirage
appeared upon the southern sky, as if in mute testimony to the
transitory character of all earthy things, the fleeting phases of
human life. It seemed to Paul, with a score of years dimming the vista
of his young manhood, not more shadowy and unreal than the wonderful
scenes in which years before he had played all too brief a part.

Little by little, as he lay motionless, the sun stole toward the
zenith. But to Paul, alone with his memories, the earth seemed bathed
in a luminous pall--a mysterious golden shroud.

"Oh! God," he cried, out of the anguish of his soul, "what a hideous
world! Beneath all this painted surface, this bedizened face of earth,
lies naught but the yawning maw of the insatiable universe. This very
lake, with its countenance covered with rippling smiles, is only a
cruel monster waiting to devour. Everything, even the most beautiful,
typifies the inexorable laws of Fate and the futility of man's
struggle with the forces he knows not."

He looked far off, wistfully, to the great pile of the Bürgenstock,
the one place in the whole world that for him was most rich in tender
memories. And yet he knew that its undulating blueness hid hard,
relentless rock, as unyielding as the very hand of death itself.

"Love," he said slowly, his heart swelling with the deep sense of his
loss, "love should lead to happiness and peace--not to conflict,
murder, and sudden death."

And he lay there pondering, until at last, as always in the end, his
better genius triumphed. And when the evening sunshine turned the
windows of the distant hamlets into tongues of flame and set the
waters in the little bay a-dancing, he rowed slowly back to the hotel,
his own resourceful English self again.

Far up on the side of the Bürgenstock a dim light shone--a faint glow,
until a cloud bank, stealing ever nearer, nearer, crept between like
some soft curtain, and the silent mystery of the evening fell upon the
lake, and wrapped the mountains in a velvet pall.



CHAPTER IV


Nearly a week had passed since Paul reached the Mecca of his
pilgrimage. Other guests at the hotel had seen little of him, except
as they glimpsed him of a morning as he made an early start to some
favourite haunt; or again as he returned at night-fall, to pass
quickly through the chattering groups upon the terrace or about the
hall and retire to his suite, where usually his dinner was served in
solitary state.

His resolutely maintained seclusion was so marked that even his
English friends, accustomed as they were to the exclusiveness of their
kind, commented on it. Barclay openly lamented, for, as he said, "Was
not Sir Paul the best of company when he chose, and why come here to
this gay garden spot to mope?"

Daisy Livingstone, the American girl, from that meeting in the train
had found a peculiar attraction in her big Englishman, as she called
Verdayne playfully when speaking of him to her friends. She knew now,
of course, that he was the famous Sir Paul Verdayne, the personage so
prominent in British public affairs. And she remembered, too, with a
woman's quick intuition for a heart forlorn, Paul's sad, almost
melancholy face.

One balmy evening, as she was slowly strolling back and forth beside
her mother on the terrace, "Mother," she said in a low voice, "why
should Sir Paul look so _triste_? He has everything, apparently, that
a man could wish to make him happy--health, wealth, and a success that
can be the result only of his own efforts. And yet he is not happy.
What hidden sorrow can he have--some grief, I am sure--that should
keep him away from all companions? Every day he goes away alone. And I
have seen him almost every night, coming back to the hotel, only to
disappear in his rooms, where he must spend many lonely hours."

"Really, Daisy, you are much too interested in this Verdayne. When I
was a girl, I never should have paid such close attention to the
humour of a strange man. Don't you think that you are becoming
altogether too attracted by this Englishman?"

Mrs. Livingstone was an old-fashioned mother who was little in
sympathy with the free and easy point of view of radical latter-day
Americans.

"Not at all, mother. I find something to interest me in all the people
here. Sir Paul is merely a distinct type, just as that awful fat
American with the automobile is another in his own way, and that
horrid French creature who goes motoring with him every day."

"Then there is the beautiful dark-haired foreign lady, too--she is
more fascinating to study than all the rest. She must be a Russian
from her colouring, and, besides, she wears those wonderful
embroideries. And her servants, too, talk some outlandish gibberish
among themselves. Of course she belongs to the nobility, you can see
that, even in the way she walks."

"Really, mother, while I'm a true enough American not to be dazzled by
the glamour of a coronet, there is something in a long line of
well-bred ancestry. You know the old saying, 'Blood will tell.' I've
woven quite a fairy story about those wonderful eyes of hers. She is
the princess in the fairy story whom some fine prince will find and
wake up with a kiss. I wonder--perhaps my Englishman--"

She paused, quite carried away by her own fancy.

"Ah! there she is--my fairy princess--now, down there!" and the girl
indicated a rustic seat beneath a spreading cedar some distance below
them. As Daisy chattered on, she and her mother had drawn close to the
edge of the terrace. And there in the gathering dusk, looking out over
the lake, sat the pale-faced lady with the dark hair and the glorious
eyes.

As the two Americans stood gazing down the declivity, a small boat cut
across their line of vision and came up to the slip with a sweep which
only the expert oarsman can achieve.

"The Englishman--Sir Paul!" exclaimed the girl. "You'll see him soon
coming up the path that passes close to the big cedar."

And even as she spoke, the figure that jumped from the skiff started
up the narrow trail. The lady, too, must have been watching him, for
she rose suddenly from her seat and quickly gained the terrace, which
she crossed immediately to enter the hotel.

"Why did she leave when she saw him coming?" the girl asked, quick to
divine the hidden impulse. "Why did she run away like that? I'd rather
have stayed and had a good look at him! I wonder if she doesn't want
him to see her. Now that I think about it, she never stays where he
can meet her."

"Come, child! Don't be absurd!" said Mrs. Livingstone, and locking her
arm within that of her daughter's, she drew gently away.

With lagging steps Paul climbed the hill. The natural quieting effect
of the day spent in tender cherishing of old-time memories had not
been dispelled by his recent violent exercise, and the rustic bench
invited him more than the bustling hotel and the prospect of a dreary
dinner. But he forced himself to his tub and evening clothes, and once
more dined alone. The fixed habits of a lifetime are not to be lightly
set aside for some passing whim.

That night would be Paul's last at Lucerne. The week had been one of
strain, and there had come over him a fatigue scarcely less intense
than he could have felt had he actually experienced anew the scenes he
had been living over in imagination. But with weariness had come a
resignation which at last seemed final--a renunciation of his
dream-life. Now must he put away forever the haunting memories that
seemed always outlined, however, dimly, on the tablets of his brain.
To-morrow he would be speeding on his way westward, to London and
duty. Can we blame Paul if he shrank a bit from defining the latter
too precisely.

He dined very late, and after an hour spent with his cigar, a
newspaper, and letters that demanded attention, he felt the oppression
of the room and stepped out into the night, where myriads of stars
dotted the sky with their bright points. On the bench beneath the
great cedar, a little distance down from the terrace, Paul seated
himself to enjoy a final cigar. The cool air put new life into him; he
felt calmer--more at peace with the world--than had been the case for
many years.

All was settled now. He was sure of his ability to return to England,
to go straight to Isabella and tell her all. That she would marry him,
he had no doubt. Too much of the old fondness still persisted between
them for any other outcome to be possible. Indeed, he could see no
reason why they should not make each other contented.

Paul no longer used the word happy, even in his solitary thoughts.
Happiness, that priceless elusive treasure, can come only to a heart
at peace in the warm sunshine of love. Material things can make for
contentment, but ah! how uncertain is that will-o'-the-wisp happiness.

As he sat pondering over the future, which now lay before him more
definitely almost than he had dared to think, a faint sound caught his
ear--the merest stir as of something moving above him. The stairway
leading from the terrace to the path below formed a partial shelter
for the bench. He turned instinctively, gazing at the landing, but saw
nothing.

He had just decided that his nerves were playing him a trick, when the
sound was repeated. This time he felt sure that some one, some thing,
was stirring close back of him. Again he turned and scanned the flight
of steps, gray in the bright starlight, until suddenly his eyes stood
still. They rested as if stopped by some mysterious compelling
power--some living magnet that seemed to hold them against his will.
And then in the luminous light the delicate outlines of a face seemed
to establish themselves, like a shadowy canvas painted by some fairy
brush.

It was a face Paul knew right well, for it had scarcely left him,
waking or sleeping, for many, many years. Framed in the dark foliage,
it leaned toward him over the parapet, half visible, half obscured.

In a twinkling the weight of a score of years slipped like a cloak
from Paul's shoulders. With a wild, choking cry he leaped to his feet,
and stretching both his arms above him, "My Queen! my Queen!" he
called.

But as he moved the vision vanished. And Paul knew that it was only a
cruel jest of Fate, and himself to be as ever but the plaything of his
evil genius, which never ceased to torture him. Relentlessly the load
of years crept back upon him and like an Old Man of the Sea wound
themselves about his shoulders and clutched him in a viselike grip,
and he sank with a convulsive gasp upon the bench again.

Soon the spasm passed. But for Paul the night was no longer beautiful.
Only unutterable sadness seemed to pervade the place. The very air
seemed heavy with oppressive grief. And rising, he tottered like an
old man around to the foot of the steps and dragged himself slowly up.

He had reached the landing immediately above the bench he had just
quitted when he saw a blur of white--an indistinct patch in the
half-light. He reached forward, and his trembling fingers closed upon
a lady's handkerchief. And then--he caught the faintest breath of a
perfume, strange yet hauntingly familiar, as if the doors of the dead
past had opened for an instant.

Heavens! Her perfume! His brain reeled. He rushed up to his
sitting-room, and there, under the bright light, he examined the
trophy. It was real--there was no doubt about that. Paul had half
fancied that after all it was only another trick of his imagination.
But there lay the scrap of filmy stuff upon his table, as tangible as
the solid oak on which it rested.

He folded it carefully and placed it in his pocket. For some moments
he pondered over the strange coincidence, and as he thought, the
clouds lifted from his brain again. If this were chance, surely there
was some consistency in it all. Fortune always sets mile-posts on the
road to her, and with a thrill Paul realized that he was still a young
man and that this tiny suggestion from the destiny which directs poor
mortals' affairs was not to be disregarded. The time for action had
come.

He descended briskly to the hall and scanned the visitors' list. The
names--most of them--meant nothing. Except for Barclay and his party
Paul knew no one in the place. Indeed, he had held himself aloof from
chance acquaintances.

By this time no guests remained about the lounge. In the doorway stood
Monsieur Jacques. Paul went up to him.

"I found a handkerchief outside just now," he said, forcing a careless
voice. "Perhaps the lady to whom it belongs has just come in?"

"No one has entered for a _quart d'heure_, Sir Paul. _Hélas!_ It was
not so in the old days. It was always gay then at this time of the
night, with the band playing and all the guests chattering like mad."
The _maître d'hôtel_ breathed a gentle sigh for the halcyon days of
long ago.

Momentarily baffled, to his rooms Paul turned again, and threw himself
into a big armchair, where he sat wondering till in the gray light of
morning the formless shadows around him took the shape of the
luxurious furnishings of his suite.

What face had peered at him through the branches? In spite of the
token he had found on the steps, Paul could scarcely believe that the
vision had been one of flesh and blood. The handkerchief with the
familiar scent?--merely an odd coincidence. But still--well, the
puzzle might be worth the solving.

At last he rose, and drawing the heavy hangings close to keep out the
insistent light, he lay down upon his bed, to fall into a troubled
sleep.



CHAPTER V


When he awoke it was almost noon, and too late to catch the Paris
train. Fate again! And yet there arose no feeling of rebellion in Sir
Paul. If he were in the hands of a great will, let that same will
direct. There would be another train in the evening, but Paul would
have none of it. His mood had changed. He could not leave the place
quite yet. So he dressed leisurely; and it was not till mid-afternoon
that his flannel-clad figure appeared upon the lawn. He had no energy
for a walk or row, and spent the time till dinner reading and smoking.

That night he did not wish to dine alone. The approach of darkness,
with its eerie suggestion of his strange experience of the night
before, made him crave the society of his kind. As he passed through
the lounge, carefully groomed as ever, his friend Barclay called to
him.

"I say, Verdayne! Join us to-night, won't you, old chap? We will be
dining early."

The cheery English voice was what Paul needed, and though he had all
the week avoided the party--there were three men--now he gladly
greeted them. Barclay, totally unable to account for Paul's sudden
recension from his aloofness, nevertheless secretly rejoiced. He
greatly admired Verdayne, and had felt rather hurt at his keeping
quite so much to himself. With a wisdom beyond his usual capabilities,
however, he refrained from making any comment and only showed the
pleasant eagerness of a cordial host.

They were the first to enter the restaurant, and as they sat there
with talk of familiar things in Paul's ears he began to feel himself
again.

After dinner Paul played billiards, and then took a hand at bridge,
and when at length the game broke up he was sure of himself; the
amusement of the evening had been sane enough to convince Paul that
there would be no visions for him that night. He took a few turns back
and forth before the hotel, and then, rounding a corner of one of the
wings, he came upon a little rustic tea-house hidden away among a
wealth of shrubbery and young trees.

A fancy to explore it seized him, and he followed the path that led
toward it. The heavy vines clustering completely over the structure
made the interior of an inky blackness. Paul halted on the threshold
and struck a match. At first, as the phosphorus flared, the darkness
beyond seemed intensified. Then, as the flame subsided, Paul saw--the
face again, looking straight into his--the same beautiful face, it
seemed, that had gazed at him on that memorable night years before,
the same red lips, the same wonderful eyes.

The blazing match fell from his fingers, and in another moment he
clasped a warm and clinging figure in his arms. Without a word their
lips met in one long kiss. To Paul it was as if he had been
transported to some distant sphere, and in some mystic fashion
transcending time and space, he held his lady in his arms again.

But it was no dream; that kiss was a reality.

       *       *       *       *       *

A low cry suddenly broke the silence--a quick exclamation of alarm. It
was a language Paul remembered well, for his Queen had often talked to
him caressingly in her own strange tongue. He started and turned his
head, to see a tongue of flame leaping shoulder-high behind him. The
match had fallen on some inflammable drapery and set the place afire.
He seized a rug and tried to smother the blaze, but the little house
was a tinder box.

The lady had not moved meanwhile. But as the sound of running feet and
a loud call of "_Au feu! Au feu!_" shattered the quiet, she sprang
like a frightened fawn out into the darkness. An instant later,
blinded by the glare of the conflagration, Paul followed. He was too
late. The darkness had swallowed her completely, and with the blaze
still dazzling his eyes Paul could scarcely see even the hurrying
forms that came racing up the path.

In a few moments the tea-house was a ruin. Paul hurried to the hotel,
where several startled guests had gathered in somewhat scanty attire,
alarmed by the cry of fire ringing out into the still night. But the
lady of the midnight kiss was not there.



CHAPTER VI


Too stirred within his heart to sleep, Paul paced the lawn, in the
vain hope of seeing her again.

He was walking lightly over the wet grass with almost silent feet, so
occupied with his thoughts that he came near to walking into a couple
talking beneath a tree.

When, however, he beheld them, he came to a sudden standstill, all his
senses alive, his quick intuition telling him he was in the presence
of some matter of moment.

A little portly man with an evident air of authority was talking to a
woman in a flowing cloak. Emphasizing his remarks with true Gallic
gestures, but with all his excitement making an evident effort to be
guarded in his tone, he was all oblivious to Paul's presence.

The girl Paul could not see plainly, but it was with some
unaccountable notion of doing her a service, and not with the remotest
idea of eavesdropping, that he stepped softly and silently to the
further side of a tree trunk.

Then he heard the girl's voice saying in low, quiet, earnest accents:

"Why will you not let me rest? Why do you pursue me in this way?
Surely it is inhuman to adopt these methods. Is it fair to follow me
to a place like this and insult me in this way?"

The man mumbled something which Paul could not catch.

Then he heard the girl utter a little cry.

"Look!" she exclaimed eagerly. "Look! I will make you an offer. Free
me from this horrible nightmare, give me your word that you will not
persecute me further, and I will give you these."

Paul heard the rustle of draperies, and was conscious that the girl
reached out her hands.

The man greedily took something from her. His head was bent over the
object, whatever it might be, long and earnestly.

Then he heard a thick voice say in French: "They are beautiful, very
beautiful. But what are they to us? You think they are worth a hundred
thousand roubles, eh? Suppose they are--what of that? Do you think a
hundred thousand roubles will save you? Bah!"

The man chuckled thickly.

"But they are very pretty baubles," he went on, "and since you offer
them to me, I see no reason why I should not keep them."

"Ah!" cried the girl. "Then Boris will be satisfied?"

"Satisfied!" exclaimed the man, "satisfied, for this much! Not he!
Why, it's ridiculous."

"Then give them back to me," said the girl, quietly, with a quaver in
her voice. "Give them back to me. Would you rob me?"

"I am not robbing you," answered the man, sullenly. "I am taking what
you offered me. I shall not give them back. It is impossible for you
to make me. You would cry out, would you? What good would that do? Cry
out, call for help--do what you like--but think first what will it
mean for you. Give them back? Not I! I--"

But his speech ended suddenly at this point, for Paul, always quick
to action, took quick action now.

Moving round the trunk of the tree, he caught the man deftly by the
collar of his coat, kicked his heels from under him, and brought him
with a heavy crash to the ground.

The man lay still.

In a second Paul was on his knees beside the prostrate figure. With
swift fingers he searched the man's clothing and found a mass of
jewels in the breast-pocket of his outer coat.

In a twinkling he had them out, and, rising to his feet, he held a
heavy string of diamonds towards the girl.

"Madam," he cried, "permit me to befriend you. I do not know who you
are, but--"

His voice trailed away into a little gasp, for the frightened face
that stared at him in the moonlight with starting eyes was the face
of the lady he was seeking.

Paul stood still gazing mutely at the girl and holding out the jewels
towards her.

When he had recovered from his great surprise he moved a step nearer
to her.

"Madam," he said, "permit me to insist that you shall take these
things back."

Without a word she stretched out her hand and took the jewels from
him. She hid them quickly in the folds of her cloak, and all the while
the expression of amaze and fear on her face did not abate.

At last she pointed to the man lying beneath the tree.

"You have not killed him?" she asked, in a low voice.

For answer, Paul turned again and knelt at the fat man's side. He
inserted his hand skilfully over the unconscious man's heart, and
then rose to his feet again.

"No," he said, almost with a laugh. "Just knocked him out; that is
all. He will be all right directly, and I fancy he will be glad to
walk away without assistance. I imagine he is not a character who
would care for much fuss and attention at this time of the night."

Again Paul drew near to the girl and peered gravely and keenly, but at
the same time with all deference, into her face.

"I think," he said quietly, "that it will be better for you to walk
away while we are still undisturbed. If you will allow me, I will
accompany you toward the hotel. If I may be permitted to say so, it is
hardly fitting that a lady carrying so much property about with her
should be strolling here unattended."

His tones were so kind and cheering that the lady smiled back at him.

"At least," she said, "you are a very sturdy escort."

She walked beside him without saying anything more, apparently
satisfied to be in his charge.

Paul said not another word except, "This is the way," and then,
guiding the girl through the trees, he reached the main path and
helped her to step over the low iron railing; thence he piloted her in
silence until the hotel was in sight.

As the building loomed up in the darkness, Paul stopped, and said
earnestly:

"I trust you will permit me to wait and see you safely on your road.
Apparently one never knows what may happen, and, believe me, I have no
wish you should suffer a second adventure such as the one through
which you have just passed."

"Thank you," said the girl in a scarcely audible voice. Then turning
towards him, she stretched out her hand impulsively.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you. I cannot tell you how much I thank
you. You are a gentleman. It is not necessary to ask you as a
gentleman not to mention to anyone in the world what you have seen or
heard to-night."

Paul bowed.

"You may trust me absolutely," he said. "I give you my word of honour
that not one single word of this shall pass my lips. But may I say
something else? May I be allowed to make an offer of help? I have
money, I have many resources at my command. I would willingly pledge
myself to serve you in any way. I should be only too proud, too glad
to help."

"No, no!" cried the girl, sharply, with a piteous little gesture and
a note almost of agony in her voice.

The distress in her tones was so real that Paul made no further effort
to persuade her. So, lifting his hat, he stood waiting for her to take
leave of him. Once more she stretched out her hand impulsively, and he
took it in his own.

"Thank you," she said, in the same low, earnest voice, "thank you
again and again." Then she turned and walked quickly away.

Paul strolled slowly back to the hotel, in a more perplexed state of
mind than before. Was it possible that he had stepped suddenly into
the midst of some tragic mystery? What sorrow, what terror had made
the eyes of the girl so wistful and so beckoning?

That she might be suffering some profound grief, or might be the
centre of some bit of distressing family history, might well be
conceived. But what extraordinary combination of inappropriate events
could possibly cause her to seek to buy quittance of such a man as he
had left insensible?

He sat far into the night, turning all these things over in his mind.

Obviously it was not some question of personal honour which involved
the necessity of maintaining some sordid and disgraceful secret, or
the lady would not be risking her personal safety, and to a great
extent her reputation, by being present at such a rendezvous.

Whatever it might be--the mystery which embraced her--Paul determined,
whether it pleased her or not, that he would range himself on her
side.

To do this, however, it would be necessary to discover what the
mystery was, and he proceeded to set up and then demolish a thousand
and one theories to account for her plight; and he was still far from
the solution when he fell asleep.



CHAPTER VII


Again the mid-day sun was gilding the canopy of his couch when Paul
awoke. He sprang up and dressed hurriedly. That day he must discover
who the lady was.

Renewed inquiries of Monsieur Jacques yielded no further information.
Rose-red lips and coils of raven hair no longer made on the _maître
d'hôtel_ the same impression as in the golden days when the band
played dreamy waltzes and dashing gentlemen leaned caressingly over
dazzling shoulders.

Of the man he had felled, Paul spoke never a word. Apparently he had
vanished as he had come--unknown.

"Truly, Sir Paul, there has been no lady here to answer your
description. But stop! A Russian lady perhaps, you say? _Il est
possible._" Monsieur Jacques laid a searching finger on his
speculative brow. "Mademoiselle Vseslavitch, _peut-être_. Yes--tall,
surely,--a brunette, too, like most of those Russians. She left this
morning, quite early."

Paul's heart leaped, only to stop again at the last sentence.

"Left? Where did she go, _mon ami_?" He and Monsieur Jacques were good
friends, and Paul knew that his interest, though perhaps unaccountable
to the old inn-keeper, was still in safe hands.

"That I do not know. But we shall see what we shall see. One moment,
Monsieur."

Calling a porter, the _maître d'hotel_ gesticulated with him for a
moment. Then he returned to where Paul waited impatiently.

"Emil here says that he purchased bookings to Langres for the lady,"
he said.

Langres! Isabella and London were a million miles from Langres at that
instant! The memory of that kiss alone remained.

Paul's mind was made up. He would start for Langres that very day. He
hurried to his rooms, where Baxter was soon packing his boxes. And
then Paul's eye fell on the table, on the picture of Isabella that he
had brought with him. She had given him an excellent likeness, in a
leather case, the day he came away. Her frank eyes seemed to smile at
him amusedly.

Paul pulled himself together.

"I am mad!" he told himself--"to be carried away by a momentary
impulse, to forget all for a fancied resemblance!... Paris! Baxter!"
he said curtly, turning to his valet.

And when Paul reached the station it was with the firmest of
resolutions to hurry home, stopping only one night in Paris to break
the tiresome journey.

"_En voiture!_" the guards sang out, and Paul climbed into his
carriage, once more the staid M. P. he thought--But was he? Could he
ever be again?

       *       *       *       *       *

Toward Paris, then, the fast mail bore him rapidly; and at the same
time toward Langres. When they reached Bâle, Baxter telegraphed to the
_Hôtel du Rhin_ in Paris for a suite. At Belfort Paul directed him to
send another message cancelling the reservation. And--alas for Paul's
good resolutions!--at the station of Langres-Marne, a mile from the
old cathedral town itself, he left the train, taking only a big
Gladstone bag with him, and sent Baxter on alone to Paris, to wait
until he should arrive.

Another short journey remained, so in company with the inevitable
soldier, priest, and old lady with a huge umbrella, Paul took a seat
in one of the open cars of the little rack-and-pinion railway that
runs up the steep hill through the apple orchards to the old cathedral
city. In a few minutes the train stopped at a miniature station.

It had begun to rain, and Paul was conscious that he was an object of
interest as he stood on the steps of the station looking about him in
search of a _fiacre_.

No vehicle was in sight, so he set himself to tramp up the hill to the
_Hôtel de l'Europe_, at which he had stayed long years before, and of
which he still entertained a lively recollection of its cleanness and
its quaintness.

The _hôtel_ slept, and Verdayne heard the bell pealing through the
silent house as he stood shivering and waiting on the doorstep.

Presently he heard the sound of bolts being withdrawn and a
shock-headed night porter thrust his face out into the damp evening
air.

The sight of Sir Paul's tall figure drew his immediate attention.

"What does Monsieur require?" he asked in accents which were at once
civil and surprised.

"Let me in," said Verdayne, "and I will do my best to explain."

The man led the way to a delightfully large and airy room, half
_salon_, half _chambre à coucher_, where Paul was glad to remove the
stains of travel.

First he took the precaution of drawing a couple of half-crowns from
his pocket and slipping them into the man's hand.

"You need not be alarmed at my appearance," he said. "I am not a
fugitive from justice. I am merely an English gentleman who has lost
his friends and who is in search of them.

"Tell me if you have staying in this hotel a tall young lady with dark
hair and brilliant eyes? It is possible that she is travelling
_incognito_, but if she has given her right name it will be
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch."

The man scratched his head and looked worried.

"I would help Monsieur if I could," he said, "but I can only assure
him that there is no lady staying in this hotel at all. Alas! the
season is very bad, and we have few visitors."

That this dark-haired lady was not at the _Hôtel de l'Europe_ did not
disconcert Verdayne very much. He had foreseen that she was hardly
likely to stay in the hotel with which English tourists would be
acquainted.

"It is many years," he said to the man, "since I stayed here. In fact,
I have practically no recollection of Langres except of this hotel and
the cathedral. I should therefore be very much obliged if you could
furnish me with a complete list of all the other hotels."

"Why now," said the man, "that is an exceedingly simple affair." And
he rattled off a list.

Paul repeated them after him.

"And you think," he asked, "that this is a complete list?"

"Quite complete, I should say," said the man, "for Monsieur's purpose.

"Permit me to help Monsieur," he went on. "Monsieur will pardon me,
but possibly this may be some romance."

He shrugged his shoulders, but with such an air of civility and
respect that Verdayne could not quarrel with him.

"At any rate, it is not my business to inquire. For the time it is
merely my end to serve Monsieur well. Be seated for a moment while I
make coffee and bring rolls and butter. It will fortify Monsieur
against the damp air."

Laughing a little, Paul suffered the man to bustle about. The fellow
was deft indeed, and soon Verdayne was glad that he had listened to
his counsel.

Midnight drew near and the porter turned the lights out, but Paul sat
until cockcrow, smoking and pondering on the strange paths into which
one's feet are sometimes led.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shortly after eight, the man, who had been busy cleaning boots,
returned and made a gesture towards the sunlight, which was streaming
into the room.

"If Monsieur is in haste," he said, "I will not seek to detain him. By
this time the other hotels will be open. If Monsieur's mission is
urgent he should continue his search."

His air was so friendly and so charming that Paul resorted to the only
expression of appreciation of which he could conceive. He gave the man
another ten francs, and pledged him to silence. None the less, he had
little faith that the man would keep his tongue still. A Frenchman
must talk.

After a light breakfast Paul went out into the fresh morning air and
began his search. In turn he visited the _Hôtel de la Poste_, _le
Grand_, _de la Cloche_, and the rest of them, wandering around the
cobbled streets of the sleepy village, and strolling through the
market-place, gay with the green and red and russet of its vegetables,
the blue and crimson of the umbrellas over the stalls. Then, in the
unclouded sunshine, he walked around the ancient ramparts, from which
point of vantage he looked down upon wide stretches of sunlit country,
dotted here and there with vineyards.

It cost him a pretty sum to purchase the confidence of half-suspicious
porters, but by the time he had worked through the list with which the
friendly servitor had provided him he had come to the conclusion that
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch was, of a certainty, not in one of these
hostelries.

Was she still in Langres? The doubt troubled Paul greatly.

All the time, as he walked on through the narrow streets, Paul's eyes
sought the object of his quest in vain. Apparently he was the only
foreigner in the town. It was nearly twelve as he turned into the
_Promenade de la Blanche Fontaine_, a fine wide avenue of chestnut
trees which recalled to Paul the Broad Walk at Oxford, and being the
only pedestrian abroad at that hour, he said a few swear-words to
himself by way of consolation.

Clearly, this search for the lady might prove a case for Sherlock
Holmes, while Paul's own detective ability, he admitted, was more of
the Dr. Watson order.



CHAPTER VIII


It was after twelve when Paul sought the shade of the _Hôtel de
l'Europe_ again. There the few sounds that pierced the mid-day
stillness were chiefly those that penetrated from the kitchen, where
_Monsieur le Cusinier_ and his assistants were busily engaged in the
preparation of _déjeuner_. And it was not long before Paul sat down to
a delightful meal, served in a vine-framed window. He was alone in the
room, and feeling the need of encouragement he invited the genial
landlord to share a bottle of Burgundy with him.

The two men sat there, toasting each other more and more gaily as the
red nectar fell lower in the long bottle, until finally, perceiving
his host to be in a confidential mood, Paul questioned him about
tourist travel.

"Ah! Monsieur! May the _bon Dieu_ bless you! You are the first to
visit us this summer. It is early yet. But soon they will come to see
our wonderful cathedral, and stay a day or two with us."

Paul's spirits drooped again at this information, but for an hour
after finishing his demi-tasse he lingered at the table, hoping for
some clue, while _Monsieur le Propriétaire_ chattered on.

There was indeed but little to amuse the traveller in Langres, after
the cathedral, beyond the quaint streets and the beautiful old
timber-framed houses. Doubtless Monsieur Verdayne--he did not know
Paul's title--would wish to see the cathedral that very afternoon; it
would be pleasant to go to vespers. A little later for himself, he
would recommend another walk to the ramparts to see the sun-set.

Meanwhile, he knew of some truly marvellous Chartreuse in the cellar
below. Would not Monsieur compliment him by tasting it? Monsieur
would, with much pleasure; and accordingly a dusty bottle was soon
forthcoming.

So another slow hour wore away. And again, in the cool of the
afternoon, Paul ventured forth on another tour of inspection.

This time the search was successful. In a narrow street he discovered
a small hotel which went by the name of the _République_. Here his
question put to the plump Madame who opened the door, at once kindled
interest.

"Yes, there was most decidedly a Russian lady staying there--a young
Russian lady of most distinguished appearance. She had arrived about
noon on the day before, and said she intended to stay there for a
couple of days, as she expected friends."

"Had the friends arrived?"

"No, not as yet. Perhaps Monsieur was the friend for whom she waited?"

Verdayne was hardly prepared for this, and found the situation a
trifle awkward to explain.

"No," he said to the fat Madame, he was not the friend whom
Mademoiselle had come to meet. He was, however, an acquaintance, and
would call later in the day.

Contenting himself with this, he lifted his hat and strolled down the
street, followed by the shrewd, smiling eyes of the landlady.

He walked on until he felt sure he was no longer observed; then he
walked back again.

On the opposite side of the street to the _République_, a few doors
up, he discovered a _café_ of humble aspect, provided with tables
beneath an awning, at which the thirsty could sit and refresh
themselves.

At one of these tables Paul took a chair, and at the risk of violent
indigestion called for more coffee. He sat and sipped the sweet and
chicory-flavoured liquid and turned about in his mind the best means
of discovering the reason of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch's visit to
Langres.

He debated with himself whether it would not be better to go boldly
over to the hotel and made his presence known; but he reflected that
such a course might be unwise. Indeed, the very knowledge of his
presence might result in her abandoning the business which had called
her so suddenly from Lucerne.

As time went on he glanced up and down the street, watching everyone's
approach with interest. Towards half-past four his attention was
aroused by the appearance of a man whose aspect was out of keeping
with the little street.

The stranger was above middle height, and bore himself with a certain
air of quiet dignity. He was dressed in black, his clothes being well
cut, though of obviously foreign tailoring.

It was the man's face, however, which riveted Paul's attention. It was
very dark, and the nose was somewhat flat; not at all the prevailing
French type. Yet it was a face of great refinement and distinction,
accentuated in a strange way by a long, black, and well-trimmed
beard.

The man, plainly, was not a Frenchman, nor, Paul decided, was he a
German; certainly he was not an Italian nor an Austrian. A subtle
something about the man's whole appearance, indeed, brought Verdayne
to the conclusion that he was a Russian.

And then that rare gift of intuition which had always been Paul's
great aid in times of trouble told him that this dignified and
daintily-walking stranger was in some manner connected with
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch's presence at the _Hôtel de la République_.

So certain of this was he that at once he took the precaution of
drawing further back into the _café_, where he could sit in the
shadows and watch the passage of the stranger without arousing any
interest himself.

Twice the black-bearded man walked up the street, glancing sharply at
the _République_, and twice he walked back with the same meditative
and dilatory air. Then he turned the corner and disappeared.

The proprietor of the inn busied himself about the _café_, and,
seeming curious about the visitor's long sojourn, Paul ordered a
further supply of the chicory-like coffee.

It was not long before his patience was rewarded. There was some
bustle about the door of the inn, and then he saw the fat landlady
bowing and scraping on the white doorstep, and out of the shadows into
the sunshine stepped the girl he had come to find.

Dressed all in black and thickly veiled, Mademoiselle Vseslavitch
came quickly out of the doorway and walked down the street.

Paul, who had previously taken the precaution to settle his score,
immediately rose and walked after her.

The street was so narrow and there were so many people about that he
had to follow pretty closely in order to avoid losing her. He noted
with some surprise that she walked straight ahead, as though with
studied purpose, never faltering and never so much as glancing to the
right or to the left.

Down the hill they went and so into the space about the cathedral,
where busy women had set out their wares--poultry, pottery, vegetables
and the like.

More than one head was turned to note the quick, silent passage of
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch. Hers, indeed, was a physique which could
not have escaped notice, no matter what its surroundings.

On the market-square, having a clearer view before him, Paul slackened
his pace and allowed the distance to increase between them.

Still the beautiful Russian lady walked straight ahead, as one who
follows an oft-trodden path and knows full well whither that path
leads.

She moved up the cathedral steps, and as she did so Paul saw
approaching the sombre figure of the black-bearded man whose presence
in the little street by the _Hôtel de la République_ had aroused his
interest earlier in the morning.

But though their steps were evidently leading them to the same spot,
neither the black-bearded man nor Mademoiselle Vseslavitch made the
least sign that either was aware of the other's presence. The girl
passed into the cathedral, the man following closely on her heels.

In fear of losing sight of them Paul almost ran across the square and
darted up the cathedral steps. But for all his speed his feet fell
silently, so that neither the girl nor the man who followed her,
heard.



CHAPTER IX


Once in the cathedral, Paul paused in his pursuit.

The picturesque interior was aglow with the declining rays of the sun,
which streamed through a large window behind the organ upon a great
silver Calvary surmounting the high altar, and gilded the white caps
of a handful of old _bourgeoises_ sprinkled here and there in the
straight-backed pews.

The bell tolled and a low murmuring began. They were reciting the
Office of the Rosary. Paul was stirred by the scene as never before by
any devotional services and in spite of his eager desire to learn more
about the dark-eyed lady, all through the prayers and responses he
was rapt as in some mystic spell. With the _bénédicité_ by the young
abbe, a column of incense rose before the Calvary, a moving
pearl-coloured shaft in the soft light, for the sun had set. And as
the cantors and the pious folk at worship sang _Tantum ergo_ the Host
was borne out through the gate at the east end of the choir to the
Lady altar.

To Paul it seemed as if the full meaning of the Roman Catholic faith
was borne upon him for the first time. With a tremendous influence
upon his emotions, its intimate relation with the soul and the
sentiment of the human hearts gathered there quickened the utmost
depths of his nature. Having thus witnessed that impressive service,
it was impossible for him to feel that he was not one with it, and of
it; and all differences of religious creeds escaped his mind.

Surely, he thought, this is a communion of the spirit--the fruit of
simple feeling and natural impulse. For the moment he had forgotten
that he was the descendant of a long line of staunch supporters of the
Church of England.

The singing ceased, and still Paul stood with head uncovered. In his
exaltation the thought came to him that this vision so like his Queen,
which he was seeking here in this byway of the earth, had been sent to
him by his dear Lady. Had she not told him that although parted from
him in the flesh, she would always be with him in the spirit? And now
that her beautiful being had been borne away from this world of
strife, was it not possible that by some intercession she had been
able to send another, almost as divine as herself, to comfort and
strengthen him?

From that time the impulse which had sent Paul on his search was fired
by some mysterious, guiding hand. His quest became a sacred duty.
Filled with the new mission, seized by a sudden fervour as were the
knights in olden days, crusaders who had made their vows on the cross
in that very sanctuary, Paul moved quietly towards the chancel, there
to bespeak a blessing.

With outstretched hand the priest murmured the words Paul craved. Then
he rose, and was walking slowly toward the door of the transept, when
he came to an image of the Virgin, before which a single candle
burned. And there, before the sacred figure, knelt the lovely object
of his pilgrimage. Impressed by a reverence of the scene, Paul passed
on, filled with a holy joy. At last he felt a strange exalting peace.

Paul little dreamed the nature of the lady's prayers. Conscious of the
suddenly awakened love, which that feverish kiss had stirred to life
within her, she had come to the cathedral to seek for spiritual help.
She had felt the need of some higher will than her own to strengthen
her resolve to steel her heart against this fiery wooer. She was
filled with an almost irresistible longing to throw herself into his
arms and confess her quickening love. And that she knew too well she
must not do.

At last she lifted her bowed head, and rising slowly to her feet, she
genuflected before the altar. Then she turned and slipped through a
door of a small side chapel, into which the black-bearded man closely
followed. Paul's instinct was to follow, too, and, in the calm
security of a mind made up, he retraced his steps down the aisle.

He saw that it would be impossible for him to approach the side chapel
by the same way as the black-bearded stranger had, if he wished to
remain unobserved. So he turned aside and drew near to the chapel by
another way, sheltering himself behind the pillars, which cast deep
shadows on the floor.

Paul was following his old stalking habit, which he had acquired when
in pursuit of big game among the Rockies. Yet with all his care he
almost blundered into his quarry. For, as he moved silently round a
pillar, he became conscious that he was so near to the lady that he
could have stretched out his hand and touched her.

In an instant he drew back and stood still behind a massive column. He
could see nothing, but he could hear the voices of the girl and her
companion in low and earnest conversation.

At first it was the man who did most of the talking, and from what few
of his words he could catch Paul judged him to be speaking in French.
He droned on for some minutes, and then his voice died away.

Mademoiselle Vseslavitch now asked several questions in quiet, low
tones. The man answered sharply and incisively, and it seemed to Paul
that there was command in his voice.

For a while there was a complete silence, which at last was broken by
long, choking sobs. Edging a little farther round the pillar, Paul saw
the lady kneeling upon a _prie-dieu_ as though in an abandonment of
grief. She was crying as though her heart would break, her face
buried in her hands. The sombre man stood by like some tall shadow,
silent and unmoving.

A quick and great desire to go to her aid, to gather her into his arms
and comfort her, took possession of Verdayne. But great as his desire
was, he forced it down, recognizing that the moment had not come for
him to intervene.

Presently the sombre man moved closer to Mademoiselle Vseslavitch's
side, and, putting out a gloved hand, touched her lightly, and with
the air of one offering silent sympathy, on the shoulder.

Paul heard him murmuring what must have been words of comfort, and
before long she lifted her face and resolutely wiped away her tears.
Then she rose and went forward to the altar, on the steps of which she
knelt and prayed. Finally she came back to the black-bearded man and
held out her hand, and Paul saw with still growing wonder that the man
bent over it as though with great respect and brushed her fingers with
his lips. Without any further word she walked quickly and quietly
away, making for the door through which she had entered the cathedral.

The man, with a little sigh, picked up his hat and followed her, Paul
hard upon his heels.

Outside in the sunshine, Verdayne watched the fair Russian make across
the square by the way which she had come. Her companion turned
abruptly to the right and walked rapidly away.

Paul followed her till she came to the _Hôtel de la République_, when
she disappeared through the doorway.

       *       *       *       *       *

Darkness fell and Paul saw no more of his beautiful Russian. In spite
of all his efforts she still remained as great a mystery as ever.
Almost beside himself with impatience, he returned to the hotel. Many
wild, almost boyish, schemes, by which he hoped he could meet the lady
entered his head. Most of them Paul rejected--and none of them could
be put into execution, for the one responsible for their conception
remained hid in the little _hôtel_.

Considerably at odds with the world, he went in to dinner, the
excellence of which did not dispel his gloom.

"Confounded silly, this!" he complained to himself. "Here I am, a
lonely knight, eating a marvelously good dinner in enforced solitude,
with a beautiful lady imprisoned in the upper rooms of the castle. In
the rare old days I could go up and knock the jailers' heads
together, break in the door, and bear the captive damsel away on my
charger. But in this unromantic age I can't even send in my card."



CHAPTER X


All unconscious of Paul's presence only a few short steps away
Mademoiselle Natalie Vseslavitch, for so we will call her until she
herself chooses to reveal more, had rushed to her rooms, her heart
almost overwhelmed by a new and dreadful burden.

The tidings she had left Lucerne to know, whose bearer was the
black-bearded gentleman, which had so aroused Paul's curiosity, were
simply these. Her hand was sought in marriage.

Truly not such news as ought to make a maiden weep, you say, and yet
what base political ends have not been served through the holy offices
of the marriage service. And when a suit bears the approbation of
one's sovereign, is it not more nearly a command?

The cousin of our beautiful Natalie, one Prince Boris Ivanovitch, had
long been a persistent suitor. What booted it that she would have none
of his attentions? Was he not an heir apparent, and should a girl's
whim, her likes or dislikes, stand in the way of a powerful union? The
Tsar of all the Russias had given him official sanction; to Prince
Boris, and alas! to Natalie, the ceremony was as good as performed.

But what of the desires of her own tender girlish heart, her hopes,
her sacred mission? Were all to be sacrificed on the altar of a great
political alliance? Natalie cast herself on a divan in a paroxysm of
grief and rage, and the imperial note, heavy with a gold crest and
seals, fluttered in tiny pieces on the floor. In vain her maid
essayed to comfort her. This latest blow was too heavy. Why did Boris
not let her give him the vast estates, why must he insist upon
_her_?--her love he never had, never could have. Once more the couch
shook with her choking sobs.

After the first dreadful shock was over, Natalie calmed herself, and
the innate strength, the quiet determination which had carried her so
far on her mission asserted itself. She would obey--the thought of
disobedience cannot come to faithful subjects--but there was no haste.
Time can accomplish much.

Then, as the events of the past few days flitted before her mental
vision there crept into her cheeks a faint tinge of colour as she
thought of Paul. "Ah, my beloved--yes, beloved, though you know it
not. I must see you once more." And the sudden memory of the hour
when she last saw him so eager, so loving, all the fine lines of his
virile strength thrown on the black screen of darkness, by the light
of the burning summer house, mantled her cheek anew in crimson.

He of all the men she had ever seen was the one most worth loving. And
then in confusion again at this admission, deep though it was in her
thoughts, she dismissed her maid and curling up before the fire set
her woman's wit to match the machinations of her greedy relation.

And as she pondered, she smiled. If she _had_ acted on a sudden
impulse once, she felt that she could be deliberate now. Having been
somewhat indiscreet in the rustic tea-house, with a woman's
inconsistency she was determined to veer to a course of conduct
exactly opposite.

She felt too well her power to draw Paul to her--indeed, what woman
does not know her own capability to attract? And here was an
opportunity to gain a brief respite from the grim path on which her
destiny seemed to be leading her. She _would_ see him again.

Her bright eyes roved to the dainty table near at hand. She picked up
a perfumed note, and read it again, and as she read, a happier look
smoothed away the sharp lines of mental anguish which had marked the
beautiful face but a short time before. The crested sheet bore the
address of the Dalmatian Embassy in Paris, and was from the lovable
old Countess Oreshefski, whose husband was the honoured Ambassador.

"My dearest little Natalie," the cordial note of invitation began, and
concluded with a reassurance that the Countess expected her on the
ninth of May, without fail.

Yes--the ninth of May--that was to-morrow. The Comtesse was insistent,
and the Ambassador himself had charged his spouse to invite her. Very
well! She would be there.

And Mademoiselle Vseslavitch called her maid and gave her instructions
to be ready to leave for Paris by the morning train.

The next day the little _café_ across the street from the humble
_Hôtel de la République_ was the richer by a generous gold piece, and
the rubicund _propriétaire_ marvelled to his equally rubicund wife
over the peculiar habits of the Englishman, who preferred to drink
much black coffee and smoke many black cigars sitting at the little
table in the doorway, rather than see the beautiful cathedral, as did
all the other tourists.

Finally, Paul, impatient at his lengthy vigil, elicited the
information, so much desired and yet so disappointing, that a _grande
dame_, for surely she must be such to have so many servants, had
honoured the humble hotel across the way by her presence for a brief
twenty-four hours and only that morning had taken the train for Nice.

After this bit of information, mingled with much more voluble, mine
host had further occasion to remark on the strange actions of "these
English." For Paul's sudden departure cut short what the landlord
considered a really capable flight of oratory on his beloved
cathedral.



CHAPTER XI


Paul did not reach Nice in a particularly pleasant mood. He knew that
the task of finding the lady was much less simple than it had been at
Langres. But he made a thorough search through the visitors' lists of
all the hotels.

His persistence, however, found no reward. He could find no trace of
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch whatever.

He had been in Nice two days, and his unsuccessful search began to
tell upon his nerves. Realizing the need of relaxation of some
sort--some diversion which might for the time being, turn his mind
upon trivial things--he decided to spend an evening at Monte Carlo.

Paul was no great gambler--it was a sport in which he had never taken
more than a passing interest, but just then he thought it would serve
his purpose.

He found himself after dinner therefore in the Casino at Monte Carlo,
in a room flooded with light and with many people present--a quiet
room for all that, for there was little sound except the monotonous
cry of _croupiers_ and the sharp rattle of a ricochetting roulette
ball.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the light he stepped forward into the
room, only to stand still again and remain motionless, as though
turned to stone.

For there, at a long table in the centre of the room, with piles of
gold and notes before her, heavily veiled, sat--Mademoiselle
Vseslavitch.

A little cry which Paul could not prevent breaking from his lips drew
the eyes of all upon him. Mademoiselle herself glanced up and saw his
gaze upon her.

She started and instantly Paul turned away and endeavoured to hide
himself amid the odd jumble of men who stood round the table watching
the play.

"What was she doing here?" Paul thought. A thousand bewildering
conjectures flashed into his brain, only to prove inadequate.

Try as he might he could not reconcile the so obvious fact that she
was a lady with the peculiar incidents which trod hard upon each
other's heels. He recalled the meeting with the strange Frenchman,
which still remained a most baffling mystery.

Unconsciously, Paul took note of the men who hemmed the table in.
Every type of face presented itself--the fleshy cheeks of middle-aged
Jews, of pale clerks and salesmen, prosperous-looking men who might
have been commercial travellers, and here and there a more
refined-looking man in evening-dress.

A few were still playing, but the majority were watching the fortunes
of the veiled lady. She was, besides, the only woman in the room.

Paul stood for a few moments and watched her play. Nor was it
difficult, even to his unpracticed eye, to see that she had begun to
wage a losing fight against the bank.

Draped in a long opera cloak from which her bare arms were thrust, she
sat forward eagerly in her chair, her lips trembling, her eyes bright
as stars.

Her face and figure were in extraordinary contrast to her
surroundings.

Every man in the room, Paul thought, appeared to feel that he was in
the presence of one who not only had the right, but the power, to
command respect, and the coarse faces by which she was surrounded
surveyed her with a certain deference.

As the game went on and the _croupier_ monotonously raked in the
winnings of the bank, Paul suddenly divined the motive which had
induced the lady to come there. Undoubtedly it was the hope that she
might win enough to satisfy the cruel demands of those who persecuted
her.

Quite evidently disturbed by his entrance, for the next few minutes
she had apparently lost all track of the successful theory which she
had been following. And Paul knew well enough that if a good player
once becomes unnerved, his luck, for some strange reason, will change
with his mood, and no efforts, however bold or desperate, will avail
him anything.

It amazed Verdayne beyond measure that the lady could play such a game
with so consummate a skill and so much evidence of experience. He
judged that at some time or other she had had a little fling at Monte
Carlo, and that profiting by such knowledge as she had acquired
before, she had now been playing an inspired game for some
incalculable stake.

If she won against the bank it would release her from her torment; no
other theory was possible.

It made his heart grow cold with rage as he appreciated that he had
been made the innocent instrument of such a hard experience for her.

So convinced did he become of this fact that he shouldered his way
through the crowd, and leaning over her chair, whispered into her ear:

"Don't be alarmed. I see you have been greatly upset. Please allow me
to assist you."

The man at her right hand scowled angrily, but Paul turned to him with
an urbane smile. "As you do not seem to be playing," he said, "perhaps
you will allow me to have your chair?"

Nor had the man any alternative but to vacate his seat.

Paul's spirits rose as for the first time in his life he found himself
seated by the lady's side, playing on her behalf, to win a desperate
game.

But the girl's inspiration was gone, and Paul's knowledge of this form
of gambling availed him nothing. Time after time they lost until
practically nothing remained of the great pile of money which had been
stacked on the table before her when he had entered the room.

The girl watched the money dwindle with every evidence of
consternation.

Paul sought to console her.

"Don't despair," he whispered. "I think I have enough with me to see
us through."

When he had at first sat down to assist her she had stared at him with
considerable astonishment. Now she appeared utterly confused.

"I don't understand," she said in a low voice. "You have certainly
done your best to help me, but I cannot see why you wish me to win."

Paul turned and looked her full in the eyes.

"How long will it be," he asked in a low voice, "before you come to
trust me?"

Without further word he drew from his pocket the liberal supply of
bank-notes with which he had prepared himself for his evening's play,
and laid them on the table before his astonished companion.

As this little scene had attracted more attention from those about him
than pleased Verdayne, he indicated with a slight nod to the
_croupier_ to proceed, and calmly placed a pile of gold pieces of
large denomination on the green double nought.

The wheel spun. The ball clicked slower and slower. The gaming spirit
of the devotees once more claimed them and the veiled lady and her
chivalrous escort were forgotten in the interest centered on the
little ivory sphere.

Slower and slower and slower it ran, until it settled in place with a
last click.

The company drew a mingled long breath. The monotonous sing-song
voice of the _croupier_ chanted, "Twenty-six and the black wins," and
he raked away the stake from before the veiled lady.

Paul's face never changed, nor did the lady speak. Once more the gold
was piled, and once more raked away. The other players, forgetting the
strange entrance of the lady's champion, were now absorbed in
following his failing fortune.

Again and again Paul lost, until finally the last of the generous pile
was swept away. With a truly stoical British smile Paul reached for
his cheque book, and glanced about him for some one who possibly could
identify him. But the lady rose from the table with a little gasp and
steadied herself with her hands on the back of her chair.

At the same moment the door by which Paul had entered opened again,
and in there came two gentlemen in evening dress. A third man
followed closely behind them, and a flush of irritation crept up the
back of Paul's neck as he recognized Schwartzberger.

The room was quite hushed. The men about the table had been awed by
the vast sum of money which the mysterious lady had staked and lost.

As she moved a step forward as though to go, they drew aside to give
her free passage, so that now she found herself face to face with the
men who had just entered.

Looking over her head, Paul saw the pork-packer glance quickly at him,
his face a complete study in astonishment. He bowed to the lady, but
said nothing. It was Paul who spoke.

"This is most unfortunate," he said.

"What do you mean?" asked the lady.

"Your loss," said Paul hastily. "This is no fit place for you to
remain in. Allow me to show you the way out at once."

He thrust himself between her and the two men who had entered,
whereupon Schwartzberger burst forth in an angry voice that was
perfectly audible to all.

"You damned British hypocrite!" he roared. His face was purple and he
seemed suddenly to become inarticulate with rage.

Paul pushed the baize-covered door open and first bowed the lady out.

"Mademoiselle," he said, in a formal voice, "you will greatly oblige
me by stepping to the other end of the passage. I have something to
say to these gentlemen."

Making a little inclination with her head, the lady walked slowly
away, leaving Paul to confront Schwartzberger. And Paul by no means
minced matters.

"Pardon me," he said, facing about once more, "but your assistance is
not required. You will be kind enough to call on me at the _Hôtel
Métropole_ to-morrow morning, when I shall ask you for an explanation.
Till then I have no further need of you." And he turned and passed
through the door, leaving the man once more speechless.

With a few steps Paul reached the lady, who was waiting for him. As he
approached she turned to him, lifting the heavy veil which had hid her
features, and then, leaning toward her in the subdued light of the
passage-way, Paul gazed with amazement into the face of--the Comtesse
de Boistelle.



CHAPTER XII


There come times in every one's life when explanations, even if one
might give them, are useless. And Sir Paul Verdayne realized that fact
to its fullest when he faced the quasi Countess in the Casino
vestibule.

What unhappy inspiration had caused her to dress herself in a manner
almost identical with that in which Mademoiselle Vseslavitch had
appeared at Lucerne? Mentally, Paul roundly damned a score of times
the imitative instinct of the sex. He could not forgive himself for
having mistaken a person of the Comtesse's stamp for the lady whom he
had sought.

But there the Comtesse stood. And Paul was conscious that in the
glance she bent on him there was more than amazement at his Quixotic
replenishing of her vanished fortunes. In the excitement of the losing
play, she had no thought of the motive which might have prompted
Paul's act. Now that it was done, she had instantly decided, after the
manner of her kind, that it was a tremendous bid for her favour. And
the unconcern with which such a sum had been placed at her disposal
appealed to just such a temperament as hers.

The Comtesse de Boistelle was not one to place too low a value upon
her own attractiveness. The attentions lavished on her by her porcine
American admirer had lacked the artistic touch of this _coup_ of the
English nobleman, and she was willing to capitulate on the spot in
favour of the latter.

All this--and more--Paul read in the warm, admiring glance of the
Comtesse which met his astonished gaze. The horrible futility of any
attempt at explanation struck a chill to his heart, and started the
perspiration on his forehead. Flight, ignominious flight, seemed the
only escape, and yet at this, the sturdy British spirit of Sir Paul
rebelled. A flash of inspiration--a memory from his school-days, came
to mind, as he groped for a plan, in the line from Virgil, "In the
middle way lies safety."

With a bow whose courtesy was irreproachable, Paul spoke first:

"Permit me to send you to your hotel, fair partner of a losing
venture." He smiled grimly at the unconscious truth in his chance
phrase. "To-morrow may give me the great pleasure of a further
acquaintance--and under less depressing circumstances."

Then, before the Comtesse could quite marshal her vocabulary to reply
in a fitting manner, Paul had bowed her through the great entrance;
the door of the carriage shut, and she was driven away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The uncomfortable sense of having made a thorough-going ass of himself
was not conducive to sound slumber on the part of Sir Paul that night.
Nor did it aid in preserving his temper during the unpleasant scene
the following morning when Schwartzberger, still furious with rage,
called at the _hôtel._

It was a relief, however, to Paul to have some object on which to vent
his pent-up feelings, and if the pork-packer did not quite understand
all that he said, Paul at least left no mistake in Schwartzberger's
mind as to the total lack of grounds for the latter's jealousy, and
filled him with a proper awe of the wrath of an Englishman once
aroused.

Paul realized that by the time she met Schwartzberger, if not before,
the Comtesse would discover the veiled emphasis on mere probability in
his parting suggestion as to any future meeting. So he was not
surprised to see the tonneau of the big green motor car with its
customary occupants whirling past him as he drove to the station that
afternoon.

Well! the unbelievable _faux pas_ which he had committed--thanks to
chance and his own imbecility--had turned him from his search. He no
longer had the heart to linger about Nice peering into strange ladies'
faces. The Lord only knew what blunder he would make next if he
continued to look for her there!



CHAPTER XIII


When Paul stepped down from a railway-carriage in the _Gare de l'Est_
in Paris two days later, his language had improved slightly. But he
was still cursing himself for a consummate ass.

Baxter, who had received instructions to meet him, relieved him of his
travelling bag, and a taximeter cab, whisking him quickly to the
_Place Vendôme_, soon deposited him at the _Hôtel du Rhin._

As for the Russian lady, Paul was a bit discouraged over the
adventure. Langres and Paris were two entirely different places. What
chance had he of finding her here?

He confessed to himself that it was not a promising undertaking, yet
sooner or later everyone came to Paris. Here he was, and here would he
stay, for a time at least. Perhaps,--who knew?--he might find her more
easily than he dared hope. And from his apartments he looked out over
the tree-tops.

The sight of miles and miles of chimney pots were not at all
reassuring.

"Well! I'll never find her, mooning away up here," he thought. "I'll
go down to dinner--and then for a plan of action."

That night he went to the theatre, but his thoughts were not for the
elegantly gowned daughters of respectable _bourgeoises_ who disported
themselves for his amusement. What if they did play the parts of grand
duchesses better than those great ladies themselves know how? Only one
woman on earth interested Paul. And--confound his luck!--he did not
know where in this great town he could find her.

Our Paul was not in a particularly pleasant frame of mind when he
strolled out upon the pavement--not waiting even for the piece to end.

Another hour spent at a boulevard table impressed him as the height of
stupidity. He chafed under the enforced inaction of the situation.
"How many more wasted hours must he endure?" he asked himself.

He saw them slowly stretching out before him--days into months--months
into years--years into eternity. Ah! God! that must not be!

       *       *       *       *       *

And while Paul was wondering, speculating over what seemed well-nigh
impossible, the lights of the Dalmatian Embassy in the _Faubourg St.
Germain_ gleamed brightly out upon the asphalt pavement.

In a sitting room on one of the upper floors sat Natalie Vseslavitch
and the wife of the Ambassador. The guests of the evening had gone,
and they were having one of those little, intimate ante-retiring chats
so dear to the hearts of all women.

"Now, my dear," the elder lady was saying, "I insist that it is high
time you were married. It is ridiculous for a charming girl like you
to take the stand you have. Let me see--you're thirty now--and not a
single man will you encourage--scarcely tolerate--except a few
grey-beards like my own good husband."

Natalie feigned gay laughter, though a bitter pang shot through her
heart at the unconscious stab of the good Countess.

"Just because you fell in love," she replied, "you expect me to do the
same at will. I repeat to you, as to all the rest, I would not give a
_kopeck_ for any man I have ever met. _Pouf_! they do not interest me.
Look! my adored one, I warn you that I shall prove a most intractable
guest if you attempt to inveigle me into any alliance. Ah! you look
guilty already! You see, I know you of old, you dear maker of
marriages!"

The Countess reddened slightly at the charge, but laughed away her
momentary embarrassment. It was true her interest in her young
companion had led her to manage _rencontres_ with various eligibles of
the Countess's acquaintance, and she had already in mind two or three
new possibilities--men prominent in the younger diplomatic set.

"Ah, well! you pretty little incorrigible!" the Countess sighed, "some
day you will thank your dear old friend for sheltering you under the
wings of her experience."

And thus they said good-night affectionately and parted--Madame to
plan some new way of entrapping her charming friend into matrimony;
Natalie to fall into a deep study as she prepared for the night.

The subject of her thoughts, she felt sure, could no longer be in
Langres. Fortunately, one can shift his thought-scenes around the
world in a twinkling. Paul, on the other hand, had spent some seven
dragging hours on his journey to Paris.

The next morning as she glanced over the columns of the _Matin_, the
Countess exclaimed:

"_Voila_! Sir Paul Verdayne is at the _Hôtel du Rhin._ You are too
young to have known him, my dear. Those sad years you were fortunately
away at the Convent." And the kind-hearted old lady's eyes filled at
the remembrance of Paul's sad story. "A charming man, truly. I shall
send him a note at once, asking him to dine with us to-night--we need
one more, and he is the very person. It is some years since I have
seen him, but in London he came often to the Embassy."

The elder lady did not perceive the somewhat startled look on the face
of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch.

"I shall have him take you in to dinner, my dear," she continued. "He
is most charming company when he wishes to be, I assure you."

"Oh, Countess, no!" the young woman cried. "Let some one else have
your wonderful Englishman. Good old Baron Lancret will amuse me
sufficiently, my dear."

"Ah, but no. The dear soul has grown quite deaf since you last saw
him. I can not think of allowing it. Be a good child now. This is no
plot. Sir Paul is an incurable misogynist--the only man I know who
would not fall in love with you. See! your old friend is doing her
best to provide you with an ideal dinner-partner. What more could you
wish? It is settled."

And a servant was promptly dispatched to the _Hôtel du Rhin_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do the Count and myself the favor to dine with us this evening,"
Paul read when he opened the note. "You will not have forgotten your
old friends of a half-dozen years ago? We shall be charmed to see you
again--and I shall expect you without fail."

Well, he had no engagement for that night--and Paul sent back a polite
note of acceptance. He remembered many pleasant functions that he had
attended in years past at the Dalmatian Embassy in London. After all,
he had to do something. He could not go about searching for the
vanished lady every moment of the day and night. That much
distraction, at least, he would allow himself.

It was now eleven o'clock. He would wait until _déjeuner_ was over,
and then he would go out somewhere--anywhere--so long as there were
moving crowds of people to furnish some chance of his meeting her
again. Next time, without fail, he would manage a conversation.

That afternoon then he stepped out of the _hôtel_ and engaged a
_fiacre_--a taximeter would be of no use, Paul thought. Tearing
through the streets at break-neck speed annihilated distance rather
than time. He told the driver to take him anywhere he pleased, and
leaned back listlessly as he was piloted slowly through the avenues.

Paris, beautiful Paris, always intoxicated Paul. He had not cared for
it when he was younger. But in those days he was less cosmopolitan
than now. Our insular John Bull sees nothing outside our own tight
little island. But to Paul an awakening had come. Since those
wonderful weeks he had known in Switzerland and Venice--now long years
ago--he had looked out upon the world with different eyes. The
pulsating life of the streets quickened his own blood.

"To the _Bois de Boulogne_!" he directed the _cocher_, finally, and
soon they swung into the gay stream that flowed down the _Avenue du
Bois de Boulogne_ toward the most wonderful pleasure ground in the
world.



CHAPTER XIV


Paul found the _Bois_ as beautiful as ever, with its lakes and
rippling streams hidden away in the forests. But he was conscious of a
feeling of solitude as he rode along among the hundreds upon hundreds
of jangling equipages.

All the world was there it seemed to Paul. _Grande dames_ there were,
with gorgeous footmen on the box; and elegant little victorias
containing wonderfully gowned _demoiselles_. Paul recognized one of
the latter as a lady who had caused the disruption of a kingdom. There
were less conspicuous carriages, too, whose occupants seemed to be
having the best time of all--whole families, there, with father and
mother and laughing children.

Suppose the lady were somewhere in that wonderful throng of
pleasure-seekers? In what fashion would she drive abroad?

"God knows," he muttered hoarsely to himself, "who or what she may be.
Princess or lady's maid, I must find her."

So he rode on through the limitless _Bois_, that wonderful wilderness
of green trees and country pleasures, of _fêtes_ and promenades.

At last they turned into the _Route de Suresnes_, which soon led them
to the _Lac Supérieur_. There Paul dismissed his _cocher_, for he had
a fancy to stroll along the borders of the lake.

The banks were alive with boys and girls running about like young
savages, to the distraction of their nurses. Paul threaded his way
among them contentedly, for he loved children and had all too little
opportunity to be with them. He stood for a time and watched with much
amusement a game of blind-man's-buff--_colin-maillard_ the little
beggars called it, but if the name was different, the play was the
same that Paul had known in his own boyhood at Verdayne Place.

Many fine ships were sailing along the lake's shore, navigated by
brave mariners of eight and ten. Paul had just turned away from
watching one spirited race when a scream arrested his attention. At
first he saw only an excited group gathered at the lake's edge, and
then his eye caught sight of a tell-tale hat, floating on the surface.
With a few bounds he was in the water, to emerge soon with a little
limp body in his arms. He laid his burden down gently on the pebbly
bank and then gave place to a man who pushed his way through the
crowd with the brisk professional air a doctor is wont to assume. In a
few moments the sturdy _enfant_ breathed again.

Paul felt anything but a hero. He had never been wetter--and moreover
he had lost his hat. It would be a wonder, too, if any _cocher_ would
let him get into his carriage with the water running off him in
rivulets.

He was standing by the road-side bargaining with one of that tribe and
had nearly exhausted his stock of dignified French when he happened to
glance over his shoulder as a carriage passed close by him. Beneath a
parasol a lady's face stood out clearly from the moving maze around
him--her face again.

The smile in her eyes made Paul mad.

He thrust a twenty-franc note into the hand of the astonished
_cocher_, and springing into the cab directed the man to hurry on.

And then the impossibility of the situation dawned upon him. A fine
sight he was! to go dashing off the Lord knew where after a lady he
did not know! Such an adventure attempted by as bedraggled a cavalier
as he, might easily land him in a police station. He had no relish for
being dragged off by a _gendarme_, he reflected, and even if that
should not occur, the best he could possibly manage would be to make
an ass of himself. And he had been far too successful in that line
once before.

With the thought, his customary sober judgment returned.

"_L'Hôtel du Rhin!_" he shouted savagely to his _cocher_, and with one
last glance at the back of the carriage ahead (if it were only an
automobile!--then there'd be a number on it! he thought) Paul was
turned sharply around and carried toward the main entrance to the
_Bois_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even some hours later, when he was ready to start for the Dalmatian
Embassy, his rage had not cooled greatly; it was therefore in a tone
strangely at variance with his unruffled evening dress that he
directed his chauffeur. As for Baxter, he had never seen his master in
so villainous a humour. Indeed, had it not been for an uncommonly
pretty _femme de chambre_ in the hotel, whose acquaintance he had made
the evening before, he would have been tempted to give his employer
notice.

"His langwidge was somethink dreadful!" he confided to her after Paul
had gone.

The pleasant ride through the _Faubourg St. Germain_ served to mollify
Paul somewhat; and when he walked up to the brilliantly lighted
entrance, where a resplendent flunky opened the massive doors for him,
he was more himself again. He was soon greeting his host and hostess,
whose genuine pleasure at seeing him once more was so evident that the
last vestige of Paul's ill-humour vanished before their welcoming
smiles.

Presently the Countess turned to Paul and said:

"Come! I want to present you to a young Russian friend of mine whom
you are to take in to dinner," and taking his arm she led him into an
adjoining room.

And there Paul met his vision, face to face; the lady of his quest.



CHAPTER XV


At first Paul could hardly believe his senses. He was conscious, as he
gazed into the depths of two marvellous eyes, of a tall supple figure
all in black, a crimson rose in her dark hair lending a touch of
color--that, and her red lips.

This was the face that had burned its lineaments into the tablets of
his memory--the face so sweetly known at Lake Lucerne.

The babble of the arriving guests--the strains of the
orchestra--became as the faint murmurs of a far off sea.

For Paul, one fact, and only one, existed--it was she--his Lady of the
Beauteous Countenance; no vision, but a bewitching creature of flesh
and blood whose gloved hand rested for a moment in his own.

As in a dream Paul heard the lady's name--the same that he had learned
at Lucerne--and he felt himself murmuring something--what the words
were he scarcely knew.

Not by so much as the quiver of an eyelash did Mademoiselle give sign
of recognition, or memory of any previous meeting. She merely smiled
as she told Paul that her old friend the Countess had often spoken of
him.

His heart was athrob with curious emotions, when he heard the
Countess' voice:

"Come! we are going in. You two can become better acquainted at
table." And he felt his partner's arm rest lightly within his; its
merest touch electrified him.

"Damn the dinner!" Paul swore softly to himself, for he had no wish
to share his good fortune with a roomful of people.

To his great disgust, a silly ass of a young German _attaché_, who sat
on the other side of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch, began talking with her
as soon as they had reached their places.

When Paul did have her to himself occasionally, she talked to him of
England, the last subject he was interested in then. Not for a minute
did she allow him an opportunity to lead her in the direction of
Langres or Lucerne.

"I have never been across the Channel," she told him. "But I have long
wished to go. You English are such a remarkable people--you are all so
sane and sensible compared with my own countrymen. What Russian can
talk with a woman for five minutes without making violent love to
her?--but you cold-blooded Anglo-Saxons are so refreshingly
different."

Paul did not see the mischievous merriment in the lady's eyes. And his
gallant answer was interrupted by some inanity from Herr von Mark.

If ever the Anglo-German diplomatic relations were in danger, an
observer would have promptly decided that they were at that instant.
That the conceited young German did not immediately expire was only
due to the fact that dagger glances cannot cause a fatal wound.

Paul tried to learn more about the lady. Was she to be long in Paris?
Really, she could not say. She liked the country so much more than the
town that it was always hard for her to stay many days away from the
open. She never knew when the whim might seize her to go--to get
aboard a train and hurry to some distant spot which she felt impelled
to visit. Who knew? To-morrow, perhaps, might find her on her way to
the château of a friend who lived in the Bukowina, near the foothills
of the Carpathian Mountains.

"Ah!"--and she turned to Paul with a radiant face that made him long
to catch her in his arms--"do you know that wonderful country? Those
fissured peaks, with their precipitous and inaccessible crests--their
rock-cumbered valleys, concealing deep and lovely lakes? And the
beautiful pine-woods creeping down to the foot of the mountains? I
could spend all my life in that wonderful place, living in some
peasant's hut, if need be."

"Tell me more!" Paul leaned toward her, forgetful now of all else but
this divine and fascinating being.

"Ah!" she breathed, "you are a devotee of Nature, too, I know. You are
a great traveller,--the Countess has said it," she continued quaintly.
"You have been around the whole world. While as for me, I know Europe
only, and of course Russia best of all countries. I have seen much of
her--those wonderful rolling _steppes_, and rugged mountains. The
North Sea, too, for I love the sea as my own soul.

"Often do I feel as though the sea were really in my soul itself. And
as in the sea there are hidden water-plants, which only come to the
surface at the moment they bloom, and sink again as soon as they fade,
so at times do wondrous flower-pictures form in the depths of my soul,
and rise up, shed perfume around, and gleam and vanish.... Then the
ships that sail by! As you walk along the shore, is it not a pretty
sight to see them--their great white sails look like stately swans.
And still more beautiful is the sight when the setting sun throws
great rays of glory round a passing bark."

In silence Paul gazed at her. He hardly breathed, lest some banal word
should frighten this wonderful nymph away.

"And then at night,"--she went on dreamily--"what a strange and
mysterious sensation the meeting with strange ships at sea produces.
You fancy that perhaps your best friends, whom you have not seen for
years, are sailing silently by, and that you are losing them
forevermore."

Paul was strangely moved. He loved the sea himself, as well as the
mountains--his Queen had taught him its call years ago--and he often
wandered about the shore, pondering over the strange old legends with
which centuries have wreathed it.

"You are wonderful!" he whispered to the lady. "You're like some
water-maiden--and I believe your eyes are a bit of the sea itself!"

"Ah! Now you are like all the rest--French and Russians and Germans!
Why spoil my rhapsody with personalities?"

"Forgive me!" Paul looked sufficiently penitent, and Mademoiselle with
a playful gesture of absolution spoke again.

"It puts me in a strange and curious mood when I ramble along the
shore in the twilight. Behind me are the flat dunes, before me the
vast, heaving, immeasurable ocean, and above me the sky like an
infinite crystal dome. Then I seem to be a very insect; and yet my
soul expands to the size of the world. The high simplicity of Nature
which surrounds me, elevates and oppresses me at the same time, more
so than any other scene, however sublime. There never was any
cathedral dome vast enough for me."

She stopped short, as if suddenly realizing she had stumbled upon
dangerous ground.

And at that moment the Countess picked up the ladies with her eyes and
they rose, to leave the men over their cigars. So Paul was left, to be
drawn, willy-nilly, into a discussion of an international alliance,
which did not interest him in the least.

Later when the men joined the ladies in the _salon_, Paul sought his
sprite, but she was careful, or so it seemed, not to be left alone
with him. And it was not until he said good-night that he could
express to her the wish to see her again.

"You are such an uncertain lady," he said to her, smiling, "so
restless within the confines of a town-house, that I hope you will let
me call to-morrow--before you suddenly go dashing off to climb some
peak, or to visit some foreign coast."

"Come for tea, to-morrow, if you wish." She looked up at him
quickly--searchingly, Paul thought--and his blood raced madly through
his veins.

Adieus were said, and Paul found himself again in his taximeter cab.
In a state of mind quite different from that which had obsessed him on
his way to the dinner, he arrived once more at the _hôtel_.

"Ah! these mad English!" Paul's chauffeur said to himself as he
pocketed an extravagant _pourboire_. "We see too few of them! Milord
Rosbif must have been having some famous old wine over in the
_Faubourg St. Germain_, is it not so?" he asked himself.

But it was the more exalted intoxication of the soul that sent Paul up
the steps with the elastic stride of youth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Who was she? Paul did not know, even now. Mademoiselle Vseslavitch had
said nothing of her family or her home. Beyond the fact that she was
Russian, and a friend of the Dalmatian Ambassador's wife--herself a
Slav--Paul was still ignorant. Indeed, for all he knew, she might be
some poor relation--lack of fortune was the only possible reason he
could ascribe for her being unmarried. Beautiful and attractive women,
of good family--if they were rich--did not wander over the Continent
long without husbands. Well--that mattered nothing. Thank heaven, he
was not bound by any necessity of fortune.

Before he switched off his light that night Paul took from one of his
boxes a small flat object of red morocco inlaid with gold. He lifted a
tiny lid and there, through wide-set and strangely fascinating eyes a
lady looked at him. It was the most amazing miniature Paul had ever
seen. And the face depicted there with some unknown master's
consummate skill--how often had it proved for him the only consolation
he could find in the whole world.

His eyes dimmed as they conveyed to him the image of his still beloved
_Imperatorskoye_--he pressed the bauble to his lips. Ah! God! the cold
glass! How different from her melting kiss!

Not easily did he control his emotions. Of late years he seldom opened
the portrait because of the almost overwhelming rush of memories it
always brought to him.

"There is a strange resemblance," he mused, after he had carried the
miniature where the light shone full upon it. Was it the strong
predominance of the Russian type which stamped alike the features of
his dead Queen and the living lady he had seen that evening? Paul
could not tell. He closed the case reluctantly. Never had he expected
to see another comparable to his long lost love. Well, he was
drifting, perhaps. Who knew?

And yet he felt again, as his hand rested upon the precious casket,
that _she_ in her wisdom must be cognizant of it all. Indeed, Paul had
gone through the years of his manhood with a feeling that her presence
was always near to him. The conviction that had come to him as he had
stood in the Cathedral at Langres was too strong to be shaken off.
Whatever happened--and Paul meant to win the woman he had that night
left in the _Faubourg St. Germain_--he felt sure his Queen had willed
it.

Such is the inexplicable influence that the dead sometimes exert. I
will not try to tell you more of that now. It would take too long. And
I should first have to tell you about many sad things that happened a
score of years ago, if you do not know them already. And then I might
become melancholy. It is my pleasure instead to tell another story
altogether, which is joyful and appropriate. And it is this very story
which I mean to tell in this book.



CHAPTER XVI


When Paul rang the bell at the Dalmatian Embassy the next afternoon it
was with a firm determination to learn more of the Countess's guest.
If she would not tell him about herself, then he would find out from
the wife of the Ambassador.

The Countess had always warmly welcomed Paul, when Count Oreshefski
presided over the legation house in London, and Paul had responded to
her motherly interest by opening his heart to a greater extent even
than to his own mother, the proud Lady Henrietta. For the Countess had
known and loved his Queen--a fact which formed an unalterable bond of
sympathy between them.

Paul wandered about the drawing-room, when the footman had departed
with his card, too restless--too eager--to be seated. In one of his
turns about the room his eyes alighted on an object which instantly
arrested his idle steps. It was a woman's photograph, lying on a small
table, as though placed there by a careless hand and then forgotten. A
tiny object to work such an effect, but it was enough to bring Paul to
a round halt.

There, looking up at him from the card, was the face of the woman he
had come to see--Mademoiselle Vseslavitch. There was a wistful,
touching expression to the pictured face, but it was a remarkably fine
likeness, and Paul glowed with secret joy as he hid it away in his
breast-pocket, murmuring inaudibly to be forgiven for the theft,
but--alas for the cause of honesty--gleefully unrepentant.

He scarcely had time to move from the table, as his ear caught the
rustle of approaching silk, when the fair original of the photograph
entered, alone, and greeted him cordially.

"I am so sorry!" she said, as she held out her hand toward Paul. "The
Countess has been suddenly called to Etampes, where her sister is ill.
I am left to do the honours at the tea-table. You won't mind, I hope?"

Paul expressed himself as sorry to learn of the illness of the
Countess's sister; he did not know the lady. And he spoke the usual
regrets over missing the charming society of the Ambassador's wife.
But there was a light in his eye which denied any great grief. As a
matter of fact, he was overjoyed that he would have the Countess's
guest to himself.

"Come into the library," said Mademoiselle Vseslavitch, "and we will
have the tea things brought in there. It's not too early for you, is
it?"

Paul laughed at the idea of its ever being too early for an
Englishman's tea. Under pressure of work, when Parliament was sitting,
he drank innumerable cups. And even when he was spending his time at
Verdayne Place he always had tea ready to drink between sets of
tennis.

The Verdayne tea was famous all over the countryside. It was a Russian
variety. Paul always steadfastly refused to divulge to anyone--ever
the Vicar's wife--the place where he bought it, and he always had it
prepared in a Russian _samovar_.

Once in the library, a great sombre room to which an open coal fire
lent a cheerful touch, Paul's companion seated herself at a low
tea-table and busied herself with the _samovar_.

"This is Russian tea," she said, smiling. "You may not care for it."

"On the contrary," Paul replied, sipping the steaming amber fluid--"I
always use this same kind at home. One can't fail to detect the
peculiar aromatic flavour which tea retains when it has travelled
overland, but which most of the leaves sold in England lose in coming
by sea."

"This is my own--which I always carry with me," Mademoiselle
Vseslavitch remarked. "We have used no other in our family for many
years."

"And where, Mademoiselle, if I may ask, does this highly
discriminating family reside? Perhaps, in the course of my wanderings
there might come a time when it would be a most important matter for
me to obtain a cup of this truly remarkable brew."

Mademoiselle Vseslavitch laughed mischievously at Paul. She had
motioned him to a chair where the firelight reached his face, whereas
her own was more in shadow. He did not see the amusement in her eyes
when she replied:

"Oh! You can find tea like that in many houses east of the Balkans. It
is really not wonderful at all."

Paul saw that the lady did not care to tell him much of herself, and
he did not venture to press her further just then. But now that the
Countess was not there to question, he felt that he must make some
effort later.

As they sat there the lady talked to him of things in Paris, of the
Luxembourg, the Louvre, Nôtre Dame, the boulevards, and then she
wickedly mentioned the _Bois de Boulogne_. But Paul did not prove very
responsive on that subject. The remembrance of the spectacle he had
presented the afternoon before did not please him.

He knew right well that she was teasing him, though she did not
mention the incident. He almost wished she would--it might give him an
opportunity to say to her the words that he longed to say.

As for Lucerne--or Langres--Mademoiselle nimbly avoided those
spots--it was as if they had no place on her map of Europe. And try as
he could, Paul could not bring himself to mention them.

At last the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on him. Suppose he
should boldly recall to Mademoiselle the _rencontre_ in the rustic
tea-house at Lucerne? Clearly, he might commit an unfortunate _faux
pas_ by such a move. No, he dared not speak to her of an incident so
unconventional. He must ignore the fact that he had ever seen her
before, unless she herself mentioned it. It was clear that she would
demand careful wooing. This was a time when he must keep himself well
in hand.

And just as Paul had reached this conclusion something happened--it
was but a little thing--that upset all his well-laid plans.

As the lady held out more tea for Paul and he drew near to take it, he
caught once more, as at Lucerne, the faintest breath of that strange
perfume so dear to his memory. His hand shook with such sudden
agitation that he set the cup upon the table, lest it fall.

The lady looked up quickly at Paul, and as he stood there over her
their eyes met fairly. All skillful fencing was over. The time had
come when the truth must be told.

"Let us drop the mask, Mademoiselle," he said with a slight choke in
his voice. Without warning the thrill of youth had fired his blood and
he cast prudence to the four winds. What mattered conventionality?
What mattered anything? He only knew that he cared more for her than
for all else in the whole world, and he took her hand in his with a
tumultuous heart.

"I love you, dear," he said simply. "You yourself are the beautiful
lady I have sought constantly since that time I first saw you, as I
looked up into the starry skies. At first I thought your eyes also
were stars."

She gazed up at him for a moment, her hand motionless in his, while
neither stirred.

"My heart misgives me!" she said then. "Words are so easily said--they
are often spoken idly--_pour passer le temps_--and soon forgotten. Ah!
Sir Paul! forgive me, I beg of you--if I was mad once. I promise
myself it shall never happen again. It was unfortunate--but there are
things one cannot explain."

"But I love you," Paul repeated.

"Are you sure it is love?" she asked him.

Ah! how well Paul knew now, and he bent toward the face of his dreams.

"No! no! not that!" she said, and rose from her place. "You don't know
what you do. Please go! go! quickly, for I must be alone."

And then as Paul hesitated for an instant, she fled through the heavy
draperies into the room beyond, leaving but a breath of the faint,
sweet perfume to hallow the air.

With heart bowed down Paul passed out through the great doorway, the
words from an old play ringing through his brain:

"She was lovable, and he loved her; but he was not lovable, and she
loved him not."



CHAPTER XVII


With the many details of the evening that Paul spent, I will not weary
you, dear reader. Wandering about the boulevards he went, like one
walking in a dream, at times stopping to rest at some quiet table
apart from the throng of merry-makers, entirely disregardful of the
laughing faces, the friendly glances that now and then searched him
out. Like a canker worm misery gnawed at his heart.

He stopped at a cable office and despatched to his mother, the Lady
Henrietta, a message which, though she knew it not, was pregnant with
meaning.

     "Delayed indefinitely in Paris."

Paul wondered afterward, as he sat quietly sipping his coffee in a
small _café_, that in the little breast of one mortal there could be
such room for infinite wretchedness. Within his heart that night was
nothing but darkness and pain. He felt as though his very heart was
breaking and bleeding. The sweat lay cold upon his brow and he sighed
deeply.

Alas it was all true. He loved her, though she loved him not; he gave
her all, and she gave him nothing; and yet he could not part from her.
He could not help his unlucky passion.

Contrary to his wont, he did not, as he sat alone, dream his way back
into the past. He looked rather into the mystic haze of the future,
and heard not the confused sound of the voices of men and women, nor
the gay music which filled the place.

Paul, after all, was no seer. As to what the outcome would be, all the
dreaming he might do would tell him nothing. He rose and proceeded to
his _hôtel_.

       *       *       *       *       *

But to return for a moment to the source of Paul's unhappiness. He
might not have been so wretched as he sat in the little _café_ could
he have seen her in her boudoir, now weeping with wild uncontrollable
sobs, now smiling radiantly through her tears.

For Mademoiselle Natalie Vseslavitch was at once the happiest and the
most miserable of women. She had taken advantage of the privilege of
her sex when she feigned to doubt Paul's fervent declaration that
afternoon. She _did_ believe him. Her keen feminine instinct told her
that his simple "I love you" were not the idle words she pretended to
think them.

And yet with the joy of being loved by the one who was the dearest to
her own heart came also the crushing remembrance of the dreadful
barrier by which she was forever shut from happiness. However, the
indomitable will of her proud ancestry finally asserted itself. She
sat down at her dainty writing table, and in a steady hand she wrote:

     "I am going away to-morrow, and I may never see you again. When
     this reaches you I shall be gone. Whether we meet again sometime
     will depend upon many things. As for those which concern me, I
     cannot write you now. And you? Can you not imagine obstacles for
     yourself? Has it not occurred to you, even now, that I--a strange
     woman--may be many things you had not, at first, dreamed of?
     There are those, as you must surely know, whose business it is to
     roam about the centers of Europe. And for what purpose? None know
     their missions, or what master they may serve, except the one
     whose will they implicitly obey. You have told me that you love
     me. Are you sure, my friend, that that would not all be changed
     if I were some one--something--that I seemed not? Think well over
     this, I pray you. It may mean much to me.

    "Meanwhile do not try to find me, for I shall be hidden far
    away. Some day, perhaps, you may know all."

When Paul received this letter the following morning it was almost
more than he could bear. How could she have misjudged him so! A
longing seized him to find her--in spite of her charge. The situation
was unendurable--he must seek her out and convince her that it was
she herself alone that mattered. What was position to him? He had
position. He was endowed with worldly goods. And he could marry whom
he chose. He looked at the note again.

What could she mean?

Ah! he had it! She was a secret agent--there was no doubt--working
probably in the service of the Dalmatian government. Well, for all
that Paul cared nothing. The only course of action open to him was to
follow her, to the ends of the world, if need be.

He would convince her--she _must_ be convinced--and then, he hoped,
all would be well. She cared for him, somewhat--the tone of the letter
seemed to show that--though she tried to conceal it, evidently. The
Countess was expected back that day--he would seek her help.

Paul wasted no time. Another hour found him at the Dalmatian Embassy,
face to face with the Countess Oreshefski, who was instantly all
sympathy as she noted his agitation.

"My dear lady," he said to her, "you will not think it strange, I
hope, if I ask your help in a matter of great importance to me?"

"What is it, Sir Paul? You know that if I can be of assistance to you
in any way it will make me only too happy." And the Countess regarded
him with a tender look.

Paul had a strange attraction for women, as I have said, and this fine
woman, having lost her only son--Paul's own age--many years before,
had always felt a mother's interest in him.

"You are very kind," Paul continued, "and I will be quite frank with
you. I shall have to presume upon your good nature to ask your advice
and help once more. To come to the point at once: Yesterday, here in
your house, I told Mademoiselle Vseslavitch that I loved her. To-day
she is gone,--where I do not know." Paul looked at his companion with
appealing eyes.

"My dear friend!" the Countess exclaimed, with truly feminine
irrelevancy, "I am delighted. I would not be a woman if I were not
always ready to enlist in the cause of a lover. And as for helping
you, I would do anything for Sir Paul Verdayne which lay in my power.
You want to find her at once?" she asked him.

"Yes, Madame."

"Then you are going to Russia--to-day, if I read your face rightly.
Well, it is a long journey. I will tell you in two words where to find
her--near Kieff. Go to that city; from there a ride of some fifty
miles across country awaits you--to the Vseslavitch estate. Everyone
in Kieff knows the place. You will have no great difficulty finding
it--beyond the inevitable discomforts of travel in that corner of the
world. But what are hardships to a man in love?" And she smiled at
Paul in a manner so infectious that he already felt his spirits
rising.

"You are too kind, my dear lady!" he exclaimed. "You are a real
fairy-god-mother. See, with your magic wand you have touched the
mountain in my path--and it is gone. And now, god-mother," he said,
almost gaily, "tell me--who is this beautiful lady?"

"Ah! that you must learn from her own lips. Simply Mademoiselle
Vseslavitch she must be to you until she wills it otherwise." She
laughed as she read the sudden disappointment written on Paul's face.

"You remember the old tale of the knight whose kiss transformed the
beggar-maid into a king's daughter? Some such method I would suggest,
perhaps."

"But I've tried that already!" Paul almost said. But he caught himself
in the nick of time.

"How can I ever thank you enough?" he said as he rose to go. "You saw
Mademoiselle yourself before she went?" he asked.

"No. She left hurriedly this morning, very early, before my return. My
maid told me that she had gone back to her home."

With grateful words Paul made his adieu and hurried away. The door had
scarcely closed behind him when a footman entered the morning-room. In
his hand he carried a small tray--and on it there lay a letter.

"A note which Mademoiselle Vseslavitch directed me to give you,
Madame," he said.

The Countess opened it.

     "DEAR LADY:

     "I am going home. Forgive my seeming rudeness. You know my
     moods too well, I think, not to understand that I have
     suddenly felt the call of the _steppe_. And I charge you, my
     old friend, as you love me, tell no one of my whereabouts.
     Ever your devoted

     "NATALIE."

That was all.

"This note, François--why was it not given me before?" she asked the
footman sharply.

"Ah, pardon Madame--they did not tell me you had returned until just
now. And Mademoiselle charged me to deliver it to you with my own
hands."

The Countess motioned him away. Had she been indiscreet to take Sir
Paul so quickly into her confidence? It was still not too late,
probably, for a messenger to catch him at the _Hôtel du Rhin_ before
he left. He was too much a gentleman, she knew, not to consider as
unsaid the information she had given him, if she asked it of him.

"_Pouf_!" she exclaimed, with a shrug. "This is but the whim of a girl
who does not know her own mind. Come--I will be a consistent fatalist.
The affair is out of my hands. After all, it is just what I have long
wished--though I never dreamed for such good fortune as that it would
be Sir Paul Verdayne. She'll simply have to forgive me"--and the
Countess smilingly hummed an old Dalmatian love-song as she left the
room.

Meanwhile, Paul paced the floor of his sitting-room impatiently while
Baxter packed his luggage. A strange exultation moved him, and he
dreamt of joy and love. To him, his dreams were more than mere
bubbles--before his eyes lay all the glory of the earth, and a whole
Heaven besides. Ah! if the good god-mother could only have endowed him
with seven-leagued boots! He could scarcely wait for the long journey
to be finished. And it had not yet begun.

"Hurry, Baxter!" he called, as he looked again at his watch. And
Baxter, thinking of the pretty _femme de chambre_, once more was
tempted to give notice.



CHAPTER XVIII


On and on, during long days and restless nights, our Don Quixote
journeyed--for was not Paul like that noble knight, endeavouring to
recall a long dead past unto life? After all, there was only one
Dulcinea del Tobosa--and she was still, and ever would be, the most
beautiful woman in the world.

One morning, at length, Paul awakened from a troublous sleep. The
train had stopped, and looking out of the window in the early mist he
saw some strange figures standing by the side of the track--bearded
men, mostly, with brilliant scarlet shirts, and trousers tucked into
huge clumsy boots--some of them half-covered with long white aprons.
He recognized these gentry as customs officials and porters. At last
he had reached the Russian frontier!

He dressed quickly, eager, for the first time in his life, to have his
baggage examined and his passports inspected. Usually Paul regarded
such performances as a violation of the Heaven-sent rights of an
Englishman to wander unmolested over the face of the earth. But
now--once the ceremony was over--it meant that he was one step nearer
the goal.

Having satisfied the zealous subjects of the Tsar that he was neither
a Nihilist nor a Jew, and that his luggage contained no high
explosives, nor other contraband goods, Paul's history was carefully
written down in a leather covered book, and he was granted the right
as an English gentleman to seek amusement where he would throughout
the domains of the Little Father at St. Petersburg.

The other passengers having in their turn been duly examined, the
train at last moved on, to drag itself monotonously for hour after
hour through countless cornfields and stretches of forest. At
last--and Paul had begun to think the time would never come--he
stepped down and stretched his tired muscles in the railway station at
Warsaw. The prospect of a good hotel, with a tub, a well-served dinner
and a real bed once more, Paul considered for a moment. But no! he
would push on at once. He could rest at his journey's end--this was no
time to look after the comfort of his body; the cry of his soul must
first be satisfied.

And after a brief delay he found himself again _en route_.

On his travels in out-of-the-way corners of the globe, Paul had long
ago accustomed himself to discomfort--even hardship. But he shuddered
as he thought of his dainty lady being subjected to the vicissitudes
of a long trip on those primitive Russian railways. For two days and a
night, in a heaving, swaying train, in a carriage full of reeking
people smoking rancid tobacco, he was forced to curb his eagerness. As
the time of his arrival drew nearer Paul found it all the more
difficult to endure the delay.

It seemed as if the end would never come. The country was almost all
forest now and more bleak and mournful than any Paul had ever seen.
The innumerable willow trees, with their branches drooping to earth as
if they, of all living things, denied the joys of spring, exerted on
him a strangely depressing influence.

But finally, to Paul's relief, the country became more open, and at
last, as the train rolled along the edge of a clear upland, Paul saw
the sheen of the glorious Dnieper, a silver thread beyond which rose a
low range of brown hills covered with woods. And soon he made out the
spires and domes of Kieff.

A little while longer--and then with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction
he felt the firm earth under foot once more. Kieff at last! Paul could
scarcely believe it.

Into one of the open vans that meet the weary traveller Paul climbed,
and rode across the hills to the fashionable quarter of the town. The
Grand Hotel, he found, was very comfortable, and he retired that night
in a calmer frame of mind than he had known since he left Paris.

For he felt that he was on the threshold.

From Kieff Paul proceeded the next morning, accompanied by his
faithful Baxter, who held in true British contempt the "houtlandish
Russians," and grumbled far more than he was wont as he stowed into
the _droskie_ such necessities as a week's absence required. But
Paul's eagerness proved infectious, and before the sun had arisen they
were far on their way.

It seemed a bit unconventional to Paul's English mind to appear at a
lady's house without an invitation--even warning of his coming. But
there was nothing for it--it was the only course that offered. Those
living in Russian country-houses, he knew, were used to entertaining
such travellers as came their way unbidden. In sparsely settled
districts, where there were not even wretched inns for shelter, it
was a custom that had come about quite naturally.

Paul had never been in that part of Russia before, and it was with
more than passing interest that he observed the scenes around him. At
first he could not understand the passion which he knew Mademoiselle
Vseslavitch felt for her own country, for near Kieff the land was
sterile--the scenery somewhat uneventful. But as the leagues put
themselves between him and the town the aspect of the landscape
changed. It was early Summer or late Spring then, you remember, and
after some hours Paul found himself driven through luxuriant
vegetation. As his eye traversed the great billows of the grassy sea
he saw that one might easily become lost in the verdure. And yet what
glorious reward awaited the bold adventurer! Somewhere, beyond this
emerald ocean, waited the lady he sought.

At mid-day they stopped before a peasant's hut, in the doorway of
which a _moujik_ stood, wrapped in sheepskin and with long and shaggy
hair and beard.

"Good-day, brother; how goes it?" asked Paul, for he knew a little of
the language.

"Good-day, little father; thank God, it goes well with me," the man
answered. "What is your pleasure? How can I serve you?" and his face
unbent with a welcoming smile.

"A little food, brother, if you will," Paul replied, "for we have come
many leagues."

The _moujik_ made sign for Paul and his men to enter, and soon at a
rude table they were eating black bread and drinking _kvass_.

Fresh from the _cafés_ of Paris, Paul delighted in this primitive
simplicity. The transition from the boulevards to the _steppe_ was
most refreshing. When after a short rest they were ready to start on
again, Paul would have the man accept money for their entertainment.
But the peasant waved the coin away.

"To take payment for the bread and salt which a passing stranger
consumes in thy dwelling is a great sin," he said. "I am happy to have
served thee."



CHAPTER XIX


Once more on the road, the driver urged on his horses, already tired.
The country was fast becoming rougher, and more wooded, and now and
then Paul caught sight of hills in the distance. As the afternoon wore
on he saw that they would be fortunate if night-fall did not overtake
them before they arrived at their destination. The road was full of
deep ruts--at some stages almost impassable--and when, just as
darkness was close upon them, they came upon a large and comfortable
appearing house--evidently the home of some great landed
proprietor--Paul told the driver to turn in.

The house showed little sign of any life about it until two great
wolf-hounds came bounding out and barked loudly at the travellers.
Then a servant appeared at the door, and bidding the dogs begone,
asked Paul to alight and enter, directing Baxter and the driver to the
court-yard in the rear.

The man-servant led Paul through a dark hall into a great
drawing-room. As he entered the room a woman laid down a book and
rose. She must in her time have been uncommonly beautiful, Paul
thought. She was beautiful even now, though her eyes were very tired
and her face when in repose was hard and set. Her hair would have at
once aroused suspicion that it was dyed, for it was lustrous and
brilliant as burnished copper. But the suspicion would have been
without justification, in the same way as would have been the notion
that the very pronounced colour on the woman's cheeks was artificial
too.

She seemed to hesitate a little, and just as Paul was about to crave
pardon for his unceremonious intrusion (the servant had merely opened
the door for him and he had entered unannounced) a man, dressed, like
Paul, in ordinary tweeds, stepped quickly out of the darkness into the
rays of the candelabra.

For a moment he gazed at Paul with curiosity without addressing him.
Paul saw a man with an olive face set with dark, almond-shaped eyes
beneath a pair of oblique and finely-pencilled brows; his nose was
aquiline and assertive, his mouth shrewd and mean and scarcely hidden
by a carefully-trained and very faintly-waxed moustache. He was
exceedingly tall and astonishingly spare in build.

"Ah, a traveller, I see," the Russian said at length in careful
English. "You are most welcome, I assure you, sir. We are delighted to
have your company. It is a pleasure which seldom comes to us in this
lonely spot. My name," he added, stretching out his hand to Paul, "is
Boris Ivanovitch, and this lady," turning to his companion, "is--my
sister."

Paul bowed to the red-haired woman.

"Aldringham is my name," he said, as he grasped the gentleman's
outstretched hand. He did not like the look in the heavy-lidded eyes
of his host, and some quick instinct prevented him from giving his own
name--so he fell back upon that of his mother's family.

And now a third occupant of the house entered--a tall young man of
the most unpleasant appearance.

"My cousin Michael," said Ivanovitch in an even voice, "Michael, this
is Mr. Aldringham, an English traveller."

The newcomer had very light blue eyes, closely set together, and a
large, red, hawk-like nose. His hands too were large and red, with
immense knuckles and brutal, short, stubbed nails. Paul took one of
the huge red hands with a barely repressed shudder. It was cold and
clammy and strong as a vise.

"If ever," thought the baronet to himself, "I have touched the hand of
a murderer, I have touched one now."

The tall young man sat down presently and carefully watched Paul with
his narrow, light blue eyes, which glinted and flashed all over Paul's
face. Boris Ivanovitch looked at him sidelong. The red-haired woman
alone gazed at him openly and frankly with eyes that were almost
honestly blue.

There was a little pause while conversation hung fire. There was
nothing for this curious collection of human beings to talk about
except the traveller himself, and on this subject their tongues had to
be silent as long as he remained.

Suddenly the door opened, and a portly man with a sallow, greasy face
came quickly in. He stood still, with his hand on the panel of the
door, and gave a short, quick gasp which caused Paul to look at him
sharply. That form struck Paul as strangely familiar.

The fat man closed the door behind him gently, and came into the
centre of the room.

"Mr. Aldringham," said Ivanovitch, "allow me to present Monsieur
Virot, who acts as manager of our estates."

The Frenchman's sallow and greasy countenance broke into a hideously
affable smile as Paul shook hands with him.

The pause which followed this introduction became so embarrassing that
the lady suggested that they go in to tea; and in a cheerful
dining-room Paul found himself looking curiously at the collection of
tea and coffee pots, _vodka_ decanters, bacon and eggs, and muffins
and cakes, which were spread promiscuously on the clean white
tablecloth.

The conversation turned on many things, but for the most part upon the
weather. Paul's host finished before the rest, and, pleading business,
begged to be excused, and left the room.

When the others of the odd little party had eaten and drunk their fill
of the heterogeneous meal they returned to the drawing-room and Paul
saw before him a most uncomfortable evening. "A strangely assorted
company," he thought, "to find here in this far-away spot." Clearly,
they were all people of the world, and yet there seemed a curious
restraint upon them. Paul guessed, somehow, that it was because of his
presence.

"I trust that you will pardon me, Mademoiselle," and he turned to the
lady--"but I have travelled all the way from Kieff to-day, and
to-morrow morning I must rise early to go on my way to the Vseslavitch
estate. I would prove but a dull companion at dinner, I am afraid. If
you will permit me, I think I had better go up to my room."

There was no dissent to Paul's suggestion. In fact, Cousin Michael
smiled slightly behind one of his great red hands as if in approval
of the idea.

So, to the evident relief of all, Paul said good-night. He was glad to
escape from his strange companions.



CHAPTER XX


Hearing the sound of lightly-falling footsteps behind him, Boris
Ivanovitch ceased his investigations of Sir Paul's kit-bag and
cautiously turned his head.

As he did so, he experienced a painful sensation. He felt a little
cold ring of steel pressed against his right temple, and from past
experience, both objective and subjective, he knew that a Colt
cartridge was held, so to speak, in leash within five inches of his
head.

For several infinitely long seconds Boris did not entirely revel in
the pause that followed.

It was, indeed, with some relief that he heard Paul's distinctly
pleasant, though slightly mocking, voice break the accentuated
silence and say:

"Don't be alarmed, Ivanovitch. I mean you no harm. I am simply
psychologically interested in your movements. The fact that I am
attempting to protect the contents of my kit-bag from your attentions
is of comparatively small importance."

Boris drew a little breath of relief, not the less sincere because he
was conscious that the muzzle of the revolver was withdrawn from his
temple.

He heard the door of the chamber close softly; then the pleasant voice
spoke again, though with a slightly harder ring in its tones.

"Stand up, Ivanovitch," said the voice, "and be seated. I have a good
deal to say, and it is not my habit to talk to any man when I find him
on his knees."

Boris rose a little unsteadily and faced about, to find the most
disconcerting eyes of Sir Paul bent full upon him.

Still retaining the revolver in his hand, the baronet seated himself
upon the edge of his bed and then motioned to his host to sit down
upon a chair.

For a few minutes the two men gazed at each other with curiosity and
interest. Swiftly, however, it came to Paul that a man in Boris's
apparent position was not likely to be engaged in theft. There sprang
into his brain the notion that the man was simply searching through
his belongings with the idea of blackmail.

It almost made Paul laugh to think that any man should attempt to
blackmail him. He had nothing to disguise, nothing to hide.

Indeed, as he sat easily on the edge of the bed, looking at the dark,
disconcerted face before him, he had half a mind to throw his weapon
aside and to tell Ivanovitch to go his way in peace.

"What did you find?" Paul asked.

Boris did not even blink his heavy-lidded eyes.

"Nothing," he said.

"Yet," rejoined Paul, almost meditatively, "you must have been here
some minutes at least before I arrived."

"I tell you," said Boris, almost earnestly, "that I found nothing."

"That is to say," said Paul, "nothing which you could turn to your own
good account."

Boris smiled a sour yet demure little smile.

"Precisely," he said evenly.

"Permit me," said the baronet, just as quietly, "to inform you that
you are a liar. I think you will be able to hand me something that is
of interest to us both."

"I was not aware that I could," replied Boris, with a touch of sarcasm
in his voice.

Paul picked up again the six-shooter which he had laid carelessly at
his side.

"Try," he said, and his voice was gently persuasive.

Just a flicker of vindictiveness crept into Boris' eyes, and under the
suasion of firearms he turned again to the bag.

After a few moments Paul, now schooled to infinite placidity, inquired
for the second time if he had found anything.

"Only a few papers," said Boris, crossly.

"Pardon me," said the baronet, "if I am not mistaken you have found
something that seems of interest to you. Be kind enough to hand it to
me."

The Russian turned about, and with a carefully-manicured hand offered
Paul a photograph which Paul had seen protruding from his pocket.

Paul took it and looked at it casually, though the muscles on his
closed jaws stood out in a manner that was not wholly pleasant to look
upon. It was, however, with unfathomable eyes that he surveyed the
portrait before him.

The photograph revealed the features of a girl with an astonishingly
quiet face. Her cheeks were round and soft, and her chin was round and
soft, too, but her mouth, a little full and pronounced, was distinctly
sad and set. A pair of large eyes looked out upon the world
unwaveringly and serenely, if a little sorrowfully, beneath a pair of
finely pencilled, level brows, which formed, as it were, a little bar
of inflexible resolve. A mass of dark hair was coiled upon the girl's
head after the manner of early Victorian heroines. It was a face at
once striking and wistful in its splendour.

Paul looked up from the picture to Ivanovitch.

"You," he said simply, "know everybody hereabouts. Therefore I feel
confident that you will be able to tell me the name of this girl. That
is all I ask you--at present."

Boris laughed and then checked his laughter.

"The lady," he said, "is Mademoiselle Vseslavitch, who, as you are
probably aware, lives no great distance away."

"So!" murmured Paul, and he nodded his head.

"Yes," said Boris, "and if it is of any interest to you to know it, I
propose to marry the lady."

"Indeed!" said Paul.

He placed the picture carefully in his breast-pocket.

"You must forgive my being rude," he added, "but I should not now be
in this country if I had not every intention of marrying the lady
myself."

Boris was a man used to being hard hit. He was steeled against
cunningly and swiftly-dealt blows, such as he himself administered,
but this declaration of Sir Paul's, that he intended to marry
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch, took him quite back.

"Oh!" he exclaimed softly, and his voice had a certain note of
surprise in it.

The baronet smiled a little grimly, but his eyes were as serene and as
cold as ever.

Boris's "Oh!" had told him much.

He realized that he had dealt his host an exceedingly well-landed
blow. Then the baronet's smile died, for, following the train of his
suspicious thoughts, he instinctively grasped and held on to the idea
that just as Boris had been searching his kit-bag for the purpose of
blackmail, so that individual purposed marriage with Mademoiselle
Vseslavitch to the same end.

This notion disquieted him greatly.

It disturbed him so much that the hard eyes hardened. Only the
baronet's friends knew that they sometimes hardened because of the
softness behind their gaze.

Paul's heart, indeed, rose in revolt against the suggestion that this
man should for a moment presume to reach out and touch the hand of
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch. Not for such a man as Boris was the girl
with the calm yet, at the same time, troubled eyes, that had looked
out from the picture.

Paul made a shrewd guess that if Boris had his hopes set on her, the
girl with the dark hair and steadfast eyes stood in some peril.

The mere thought of it quickened his blood, and the quickening of his
blood livened his brain still more, so that he watched, almost
cat-like, the glance of Boris's eyes as they followed the placing of
the lady's picture in Paul's pocket.

For a couple of minutes nothing was said. Each man knew instinctively
that he must move to the attack, but realized that a mistake at the
opening of the game might possibly spell disaster.

It was the baronet who broke the silence.

"No man, except one such as you," he said, "would dream of regarding
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch as a possible wife unless he were so
equipped with all the arts of blackmail that he had some reason to
hope for his success."

By this time Boris had got back his composure.

"You seem," he said casually, "to endow me with an exceedingly poor
character."

"Not exactly," said Paul. "I endow you with an exceedingly dangerous
one."

There was another pause, and the two pairs of eyes sought each other,
and the heavy-lidded, slumberous eyes of Boris flickered and faltered
beneath those of Paul.

"I am about to present to you an argument," continued the baronet,
"which unswervingly follows my present conception. Long experience of
this wicked world--by which I mean that particular kind of
vulture-like humanity which preys upon better men than itself--enables
me to assume that you are without question a blackmailer, a bad
blackmailer, and a blackmailer of no common type.

"But I have also learnt this, that no blackmailer can stand alone. His
offence is the most cowardly offence in the world. A blackmailer is
always a coward, and a coward is invariably afraid of isolated action.
I am therefore very certain that you do not stand alone in this
attempt."

It had come upon Paul suddenly that this man was connected in some way
with the scene he had witnessed at Lucerne--that he was the one for
whom the fat man had acted as agent. And then, in a flash, he recalled
the name "Boris" which Mademoiselle Vseslavitch had spoken; at that
moment, too, Paul placed the personality of the Frenchman Virot. He
and the fat man of Lucerne were one.

Boris's eyes left those of Paul and studied the panel behind the
baronet's head.

"I should say," Paul continued, "that you were the headpiece, the
brain-piece, of a well-planned scheme of crime."

The faint colour in Boris's face became fainter still. Paul believed
he was pursuing the right trail.

"Now with such men as yourself--mind, I am not speaking so much from
knowledge as from an intuition as to what I should do myself were I
placed in similar circumstances--it is probable that you have
sufficient intelligence, not only to rob your victims, but to rob your
friends.

"Another piece of life's philosophy that roughing it has taught me is
that the robber is always poor. I come, therefore, to the natural
deduction that you are hard up."

Paul's whole expression of face changed suddenly. The coldness left
it. And his keen eyes smiled with a smile that invited confidence from
the man before him.

"Well?" said Boris. "And what of it?"

"Then," Paul continued coolly, "such a sum as two hundred thousand
roubles would not come amiss to you. Such a sum I am prepared to pay
you--under certain conditions."

All the pleasantness in Paul's face vanished again, and he looked at
Boris with narrowed eyes.

"You realize that in my offering you such a sum," he said, "it will,
of course, cost you something to earn it. A man who speculates must
spend his own money to gain other people's. A criminal--you must
forgive the word, but it is necessary--who seeks to make a great
_coup_ at the expense of others must put up a certain amount of money
to bring it off.

"I think, however, that I am offering you quite enough to enable you
to buy either the silence or the inactivity of your fellow criminals.
Two hundred thousand roubles is a good deal of money, and your gang
cannot be so large that you will not be able to afford a sufficient
sum to render them your servants."

"Have a care," cried Boris, angrily, at last; "you don't know what you
say."

"What do you mean?" demanded Paul.

"I mean," said Boris, "that I do not propose to be insulted any longer
in my own house. Your offer of money is an affront which you will pay
well for." He looked thoughtfully away for a few moments; then he
turned sharply.

"I will be perfectly frank with you," he said with an amazingly good
attempt at breezy honesty. "All of my friends are not particularly
nice people, and if they had any idea that you were objectionable to
me, not even the consideration of tapping your vast wealth would
restrain them from putting you out of the way."

"There is such a thing," said Paul, lightly, "as killing the goose
which lays the golden eggs."

"Yes," replied Boris, gravely, "but even a supply of golden eggs may
be retained at too dear a price.

"However," he went on with an air of gaiety, "this is rather too
serious a matter to consider to-night. I simply intended to throw out
a kindly hint."

"I'm sure you are very good," said Paul, with a fine sarcasm. "I had
not looked to you for such consideration."

Boris laughed, showing his fine teeth, and gave Paul a quizzical look.

"Don't you think," he began softly, "that you had better turn back and
retrace your steps to-morrow?"

Paul looked at him scornfully.

"Do you think I have set out on this errand to be turned back by you?"
he said to Boris.

"I suppose," Paul cried, with a certain tone of irony in his voice,
"that you think I am a mere society butterfly. What do you think I
care for all the scented drawing-rooms in the world, for polo, for
Hurlingham, for a stuffy reception in some great house in town?
Nothing--nothing! Give me the open prairie land, the tall, brown
grass, the open sky, the joy of the weary body that has ridden hard
all the day!"

He laughed shortly.

"Do you think," he continued to the astonished Boris, "that there is
any soft, silk-bound pillow in Mayfair that could appeal to me when I
could sleep under the stars?

"Heavens!" He reached out his arms and brought them to his sides again
with a strenuous motion, all his muscles contracted. "I have learnt,"
he cried, "the lesson that life is not only real and earnest, but that
life is hard, that life is a battle--a battle to be won!"

His eyes fell upon his strong, sinewy, brown hands, and he clenched
his fists.

"I am not going back to England. I am going on--to win that girl of
the picture--from you!"

Boris regarded him pleasantly.

"It seems," he said, "that you are not in a very good humour this
evening."

"My humour suits me very well," answered Paul. He rose and walked over
to the door, and held it open.

"For the present," he said, "you may go, but if I were you I would be
careful how I indulged in any villainy."

Boris laughed lightly as he paused in the doorway.

"I am still thinking of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch," he said.

"Then you make a vast mistake," Paul answered. "She is not for you."

"We shall see what we shall see," tauntingly replied Boris, as he
closed the door behind him.

But his remarks did not prevent Paul, when he retired, from promptly
going to sleep.



CHAPTER XXI


During the night Paul was awakened--for a moment he thought he heard
the sound of some struggle in the hall outside his door, and the sound
of excited whispers. Then a woman's voice, in low, forceful tones,
penetrated the stillness, and Paul heard distinctly:

"Come away, for God's sake!"

Then all was still.

Verdayne was no coward--but his fingers closed instinctively on the
butt of the revolver that he had placed within easy reach. Puzzled, he
lay awake for a time in the darkness, but finally nothing further
happening, he fell asleep once more.

When he awoke the grey dawn was creeping into his windows and he rose
immediately, anxious to escape the eerie atmosphere of the house, and
begin the final stage of his journey. What an uncanny lot these
Russian beggars were, to be sure.

He determined to leave as unceremoniously as he had come, and wrote a
hasty note which he placed upon his dresser where it could easily be
seen. As he stole quietly down the long hall, in an attempt not to
awaken the household, he came suddenly upon Mademoiselle Ivanovitch
seated in a chair drawn into a windowed recess. She started as he came
upon her, but instantly recovered her calm poise of the evening
before.

Paul apologized for the stealthy manner of his leave-taking, pleading
the necessity of an early start.

She listened to him patiently, then glancing over her shoulder to see
that she was not observed, "Forgive my being so blunt," she said, "but
I think you are playing an exceedingly dangerous game. You have
nothing to gain and everything to lose."

Paul turned to her almost sharply and said: "Are you sure that I have
nothing to gain?"

She looked at him quickly, and her eyes were startled; the brilliant
colour had left her face. Then she caught the baronet by the coat.

"Sir Paul," she cried in a low voice, "you are a young man. Do not
destroy your life for a piece of folly. Cut yourself adrift from this
while there is still time. Turn back, and never come to this wicked
country again."

Paul took her hand and looked at her kindly. "Thank you, thank you
very much. But I am moved to go, my dear lady," he said.

She made no answer to Paul's calmly voiced determination, save a
despairing gesture, then turned silently away, and Paul, after a
moment, continued on his quiet departure. The faithful Baxter had
roused the driver in good season and was waiting at the steps as Paul
emerged from the door. If he, too, had had an interruption in his
slumbers, he gave no sign.

The driver, with an awkward jerk of his head, which Paul interpreted
as a salutation, whipped up the horses, and once more they were on
their way.

Not till Paul had ridden some distance did it strike him that the lady
of the copper coloured hair had used his real name.

"The devil!" he said aloud, "how could she have known me?" But rack
his memory as he would, he could not recall ever having seen her
before.

What did she mean anyhow, with her words of ill-omen? He could not
guess. It was all a mystery.

Paul was scarcely in a happy frame of mind that day. He liked to see
his difficulties plain before him rather than to be hemmed about with
mysteries that he could not understand. And difficulty seemed to be
piling itself upon difficulty.

Much, of course, remained to be explained. He was not sure of the
different parts which the weirdly associated people whom he had met
that afternoon played in Boris's game. The young man Michael, with the
large, cruel, red hands, was probably Boris's principal striking force
in times of trouble. Boris himself, he imagined, furnished the brains.

But what of the red-haired woman? That she had her part allotted to
her in the strange drama unfolding itself Paul could not doubt. But
what part?

Paul hardly believed that she was really Boris's sister.

But what tie bound her to him? What tie kept her within the confines
of this strange collection of human beings?

For a moment Paul's heart grew light within him. Was she his wife? If
he could but establish that, then Boris's boast that he would marry
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch was vain indeed.

Sir Paul was, indeed, confronted by a very Gordian knot of problems.
He laughed a little as he made the simile to himself, until he
reflected that he was not an Alexander armed with a sword who could
disperse the problems at one blow. His, indeed, would be the laborious
task of unravelling them one by one; nor could he see any better way
than by beginning at the very beginning, which, so far as he was
concerned, meant a full knowledge of Boris's intimates and
surroundings.

Not indeed till his guide turned and told him, some hours later, that
they were nearing the Vseslavitch house did Paul put the matter out of
his mind, and then, as they swung into a long avenue bordered with
pines, his thoughts were all for the lady whom he sought.

The house was a very old one, built of stone and massive oaken timbers
which showed the ravages of many years.

Paul gazed almost affectionately at the rambling mansion as it
disclosed itself to his eager eyes--for did it not shelter the one who
was for him the dearest lady in the whole world?

The door opened quickly in answer to his knock and Paul found himself
in a great hall furnished with a lavishness which surprised him, in
such an out of the way corner of the world. On the lofty walls hung
priceless old engravings, and paintings on silk, with marvellous
needlework cunningly aiding the artist's brush. Paul had seen such
ancient works of art in the great Continental museums--but never a
collection like this. Bear-skin rugs lay strewn about the floor, and
as he warmed himself at the huge porcelain stove--for it was a cool
morning--he admired them with all the enthusiasm of an ardent
sportsman.

He turned, as a door opened at the further end of the room, and there
at last stood his dear lady. With quick strides Paul reached her and
pressed her hand to his lips. She made no objection to his
salutation--perhaps that custom was too prevalent in her own country
to bear much significance.

As she first gazed at him a glad smile lighted her face--and then she
grew quite sober.

"Ah!" she said, "you have disobeyed. How could you?"

"Dear lady," answered Paul, "you imposed on me the only command I
could not follow. Surely I may be forgiven, I hope, for entering the
Promised Land?"

She smiled at him--almost sadly, Paul thought, and then she said, with
a far-off look in her wonderful eyes, as if she forgot his presence
for the moment--

"It is passing strange--that events should take this turn--that you
should have come at this time. There are, I know now, divinities that
shape our ends." And then she turned to Paul and said quickly:

"What madness has brought you here? My friend, believe me, you should
never have followed me. This one day you may stay--because I'm
weak--and then, I beg of you, go while there is yet time."

The strange iteration of his earlier warning made Paul wonder.

"Tell me," he cried, as he looked searchingly into her face, "what
hidden meaning lies beneath your words? And those of the red-haired
woman at the home of Boris Ivanovitch?" And he repeated to her the
other's warning--almost identical with hers.

"Oh!" she gasped, and grew quite white, "you did not stay at that
house? And yet you are here? Thank God for that." Then, though Paul
pressed her, she would say no more.

"Come," she said after a brief pause, "my brother is in the library.
You must know him." And she led the way through a short passage to a
room beyond.

A handsome man of about thirty-five, who resembled Mademoiselle
strikingly, rose as they entered.

"Peter," she said, "this gentleman is Sir Paul Verdayne. He is an old
friend of the Countess Oreshefski. I met him at her house in Paris.
Sir Paul will be our guest--until to-morrow," she added.

The young man grasped Paul's hand warmly.

"A friend of the good Countess is most welcome," he exclaimed. "I am
only sorry that your stay is to be so short."

Clearly, Mademoiselle was determined that Paul should not remain with
them long.

"Will you pardon me, Sir Paul," the young man continued, "if I leave
you on my sister's hands for the moment? Our overseer wishes to see
me on a matter of some importance and I shall not be free until
luncheon."

While he was speaking a large man entered--a wonderfully fine specimen
of Russian manhood. As he stood there, proud but respectful, his
flaming red beard falling over his broad chest, he looked like some
Viking who had just stepped out of an old myth.

"Alexander Andrieff, our overseer," Peter explained, and the man bowed
low to Paul.

"And now, Natalie, if you will entertain Sir Paul for the next hour he
will perhaps overlook my rudeness."

"Not at all, sir," Paul interrupted, "I am the one who should
apologize for having so imposed upon your hospitality." And with
Mademoiselle Vseslavitch he retired.

So her name was Natalie! Paul liked the name--it seemed to fit her
excellently. And he looked lovingly at the charming girl beside him.

"We will take a stroll in the garden, if it pleases you," she
suggested.

Paul was delighted. They stepped outside the house into a large
enclosure surrounded by a high stone wall. Beyond a small lake which
filled the center of the garden, they came to a seat hidden by
screening shrubs from the windows that gave upon the spot.

As they sat there under that wonderful Southern sky, with the air
laden with the perfume of countless cherry blossoms, Paul felt that he
had been translated into fairy-land, and he was almost afraid to speak
lest he break the spell and suddenly find himself back in blasé
Western Europe again.

He took her hand gently in both of his. It was a beautiful hand, so
white and tender and aristocratic. On the third finger was a ring with
a blue antique; on her forefinger--worn in the Russian fashion--a
diamond. It seemed a talisman to Paul, and as he looked at it he was
happy. Feeling the touch of these fingers, his reason stopped dead and
a sweet dream came over him--the continuation, as it were, of some
interrupted fairy-scene.

"Beautiful Princess!" he whispered softly, as he leaned toward her
pale, smiling, gentle face.

Her delicately curved red lips played with mingled melancholy and
happiness, and almost childish impulse; and when she spoke, the words
were deeply toned, sounding almost like sighs, yet with rapid and
impetuous utterance, like a warm shower of blossoms from her
beauteous mouth.

"My lover," she said, and Paul's heart leaped with wild joy at the
words, "my lover for this one day--listen while I tell what I can hide
from you no longer."

And then with halting words she told him of her peril.

"That house where you stayed last night," she said, "it is the home of
my cousin Boris," and a sudden shudder passed over her as she spoke
the name. "He has long wished to marry me--and I have steadfastly
refused; I cannot tell you how I loathe him. It was to escape his
importunities that I went to Switzerland--and alas! now I have come
back, at the order of the Tsar, who commands me to yield to him." She
paused. Paul drew her close in tender sympathy.

"I thought once," she went on, "when I left Paris a week ago, that I
could force myself to do this hateful thing. A faithful subject must
obey the Tsar. But now I know not what the outcome will be. I cannot
make up my mind to consent--and Boris grows more impatient every day.
Tell me," she turned her wonderful eyes up to Paul--"what manner of
people had he with him?"

And Paul described to his lady the villainous Michael with the red
hands, and Virot, the oily Frenchman. And as he told of Mademoiselle
Ivanovitch, the red-haired woman, the lady's lip curled scornfully.

"A tissue of lies!" she cried. "Those men are the scum of Europe,
blackguards of the worst type--the kind Boris has always gathered
round him from his boyhood. And the woman--bah!--he has no sister. She
is but a mistress he would have long since cast off were it not that
she sometimes is of assistance in his wicked plans."

Then Paul told her of the disturbance of the night before, and of his
encounter with the woman that very morning.

Natalie clasped Paul's hand--he thrilled beneath the sudden tightening
of her fingers.

"Ah!" she breathed, in sudden agitation, "they must in some way have
known your mission all the time. I tremble when I think of the peril
you were in. Boris is hot-headed, and it must have angered him almost
beyond endurance when he knew that he entertained a rival beneath his
own roof. Some men, it is said, have entered that evil house never to
be seen more by mortal eyes."

Paul tried to quiet her fears. But, though she soon grew calmer, he
saw that a great dread still lay upon her. And even when they
returned to the house, she started apprehensively at every sudden
sound.

Paul found brother Peter to be indeed a most gracious host. He had
been educated in England, it appeared, and like Paul was an Oxford
man. Indeed, the two found many things to talk about, for Peter well
remembered the stories he had heard of Paul's record as an oarsman on
the 'Varsity eight--traditions of the sort that are handed down from
year to year unto succeeding classes.

But as they talked, Paul noticed that Peter's eyes often rested with a
troubled look upon his sister. In fact, it seemed to Paul that a black
shadow of direful portent hung over them throughout the meal.



CHAPTER XXII


That afternoon Paul and his love--for a day, as she had told
him--walked down the long avenue of pine-trees. And pacing back and
forth beneath the shade he told her many things, some of which she
knew already.

She could not repress a smile as he recounted to her the manner in
which he had walked up and down the terrace at Lucerne, while--though
he knew it not--she saw him from her window.

"And now," he said at last, pausing to look down into her dear face,
"forsake, I beg of you, this scene of trouble. Leave this strange
land, half West, half East, and come away with me to England. There I
will try to make you happy, and the day will come, I hope, when you
will forget that this threatening evil ever came into your life. I do
not know even yet the reasons that seem to demand this marriage with
your cousin. Come! it shall not be, even though the Tsar demands it.
By marrying me, you will become a British subject, and we then can
laugh at any human will that would take you from me."

And then he saw a tear upon her lovely cheek. Like a pearl upon the
snow it was. Paul took her in his arms, and her beautiful weary head
sank upon his shoulder.

"You weep, dear heart!" he said to her, for she was sobbing softly.
"Surely this dreadful union must not be. Come--early to-morrow we will
start for Kieff, and then--in a few days more--England and freedom!"

She recovered quickly and shook her head.

"No!" she told him. "That can not be. To-morrow morning you must leave
this unhappy place. To stay here would be of no avail. It would only
make matters worse. Boris is furious now, I know. And it will only
make my lot harder if you remain."

Paul could not move her though he pleaded with her for a long time;
and his heart was heavy as they at last drew near the house again.

That night, at dinner, Natalie tried bravely to be gay, but even the
brilliancy of her conversation and her brother's effort to entertain
his guest did not conceal from Paul the strain of the situation. A
young relative, Alexis Vseslavitch by name, was present at the board,
having ridden in that afternoon from his estate back in the hills. He
was a high-spirited youth and loved dearly to tease his cousin
Natalie. But even he saw that for once an unusual restraint seemed
upon her.

Afterward, they passed the long evening in the great hall where Paul
had waited in the morning. The room was ablaze with candles--and even
then the pale lady rang for a servant to bring in more. It was a wild
night. A storm had come with the darkness, and outside the wind howled
a savage symphony to accompanying crashes of thunder. Mademoiselle sat
by her brother, with her hand on the head of an old wolf-hound which
frequently looked up at her in dumb adoration as she chattered with
the men upon a hundred topics--chiefly travel--for they all loved it.

"Hush, Moka!" she said to the great beast when he sprang up once with
a sudden growl. "He does not like the thunder," she explained. "Some
people who were not welcome came here once, on a wild night like this,
when he was but a puppy. They forced their way into this very
room--and the old fellow never has forgotten."

In spite of her soothing words, the old dog was restless, and when, as
the hour grew late, Paul said good-night, he noticed that the faithful
brute was bristling as with anger at some unseen enemy.

Paul reached his chamber by the light of an ancient oil-lamp held
aloft by a servant--a hulking chap of somewhat forbidding appearance.
Baxter had already prepared Paul's room for the night and was not
waiting for his master. Paul said good-night to his attendant, and had
turned his back upon the man--when he heard a shout which appeared to
come from the hall below. He stopped short and turned--a movement
which he always thought afterward must have saved his life--to receive
a glancing, though still a stunning blow, from the butt of a revolver.

Like a log, Paul fell with a crash that shook the room, and knew no
more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Paul was right. The shout did come from below. It was Peter's voice
that had sent out that alarming cry.

Paul, it seems, had been gone but a few minutes, when the door of the
great hall was flung open and a half-dozen men burst in. It was then
that Peter gave a great shout to alarm the household, and in response
to which a handful of servants rushed in, Alexander Andrieff, the
red-bearded overseer, among them.

All the men were masked, not only their foreheads, but their faces
right down to their chins being hidden in black.

The man who led them stepped forward and ordered the servants back;
and they retreated.

A couple of armed and masked men sufficed to keep the few domestics
penned in the corner. Two others were stationed on the stairs to check
any advances in that direction, while two others kept the passages
closed against all further comers.

At the head of the intruders the leader walked swiftly towards Peter,
who had advanced to meet him.

"Get back, Peter Vseslavitch," said the leader, still in a pleasant
and easy voice; "get back, or I will not answer for your life."

Peter checked himself, but craned his head forward.

"By heaven!" he said in a low voice, "I believe that is you, Boris!"

"Never mind who I may be, but keep your tongue still. Unless you wish
it to be forever quieted, refrain from mentioning names in my
presence.

"Now turn about, if you please, and get back near the wall."

Mademoiselle's brother was a strong, courageous man. But what may one
do against such odds? He looked straight and steadily at the veiled
eyes of the intruder, and declined to turn about. So for a brief
instant they stood.

The bluster of the storm had effectually drowned any noise of the
disturbance except for those who had heard Peter's cry for help. Among
them was Baxter. At a glance, he had taken in the position of
affairs.

Nor did he hesitate for a moment. Breaking into a run, he dashed
across the hall toward a wall where hung a heavy sword, an heirloom
that had not been used for a hundred years. Before he could be stopped
he tore it from its fastenings and started toward the nearest of the
ruffians, who brought him to a standstill with a revolver.

The leader noted his progress, and turned about and cried, "Keep that
man away. If he moves another foot--shoot!"

Baxter threw one contemptuous glance at Boris (for it was he) and came
on. The man hesitated to fire.

"Fire! you fool," shouted Boris, but the man still held his hand and
hesitated so long that Baxter had gripped the barrel of his revolver
in his left hand before the fellow quite realized what was happening.

If the man had scruples, Boris had none. His revolver spoke quickly,
and Baxter, with a little cough, fell forward on his face.

Turning from his butcher's work, Boris whipped round to meet the
terror-stricken eyes of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch.

"It is not my fault," he said, "that you have been compelled to look
on this."

Then his voice rang out clear and hard.

"Gentlemen," he cried, "I have no desire to create further
disturbance. If you will listen to me all will be well."

Turning for a second to Peter, he said, "Get back to the corner of the
room."

Peter had no other course but to obey.

Boris next proceeded to deal with the others.

"All of you," he said in a tone of easy command, "all of you get back
into the corner, except Mademoiselle."

He watched the retreat through his mask, and when all had crowded
together at the end of the room he gave them further orders.

"Let no man move," said he, "if he desires to see another day-break.
And if one of you stirs for a quarter of an hour after we leave this
room, he will be shot down from yonder window like a dog."

"Now, Mademoiselle," he cried, almost gaily, "take the arm of my
fascinating friend here. He will escort you out."

Natalie did not move. Instead she faced him with flaming eyes, the
very picture of defiance, and stood there, looking scornfully at Boris
and his men.

"Very well," he said. And he motioned to a tall figure a few paces
distant. Then a huge red hand seized Natalie roughly by the arm and
dragged her to the door.

Peter and his cousin, and the others in the corner hesitated, looking
one to another; then Alexis, more bold than the rest, jumped forward,
crying, "Never, you dirty scoundrel!" And dashed across the floor.

Boris let him come on, and it said something for the coolness of the
man that he did not even fire, but waited till the lad was upon him.
Then he swung round, and catching him back of the ear with the butt of
his pistol, sent him sprawling senseless to the floor.

After that there was no demonstration of any kind. It was obvious that
Boris and his scoundrels had provided against every contingency and
had counted on complete success.

They backed toward the door, through which Michael, the pseudo-cousin,
had dragged his captive, and Boris was the last to leave the hall. As
he stood there, he made a little bow of mockery.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have to thank you for your hospitality and
for your generosity. With your kind permission I will now withdraw."



CHAPTER XXIII


Out into the storm Michael thrust the lady with his murderous hands;
and at once, with an ease his great strength gave him, he tossed her
on his horse, which was tied with others in the court-yard. Then he
swung himself into the saddle, and an instant later, when the rest of
the pack came tumbling out into the night, they were off.

One wanton villain--it was the French gutter-snipe, Virot--paused a
moment to ride up to a window of the hall and discharge his revolver
through the glass. Fortunately his aim was as evil as his intent.
Beyond shattering a priceless vase, the bullet did no damage.

The night was black as pitch, and Michael cursed his horse roundly as
the willing animal, jumping under the spur, grazed the great gate as
he sprang through it. Soon they were all out on the main road, where
the thoroughbred that carried a double burden settled down into a long
swinging stride that fairly devoured the distance, league after
league.

Looking out on the country in the flashes of lightning, Natalie's
heart gave a little jump, for she recognized the high hedges between
which they were running as those that lined the great highway to the
west, which led to the château her cousin maintained, a day's journey
distant from his shooting lodge near her own family estate. They were
taking her there, then! And her heart sank at the thought.

Nor was she wrong. For at last, after a cruel ride, in which they
covered the journey in half the usual time, the steaming, panting
horses were urged up a smooth road, which climbed in curves up the
face of a steep hill. Then they came to a small plateau and stopped
soon before a gate on which someone knocked loudly.

Several fierce dogs began baying. Light began to show in the east now,
and Natalie saw a man push open the massive gate. Then, in another
minute, she was in the château.

In a waiting-room, which projected over a vast cliff, Boris faced his
captive. As he stood there a woman entered--the red-haired creature
whom Boris had introduced to Paul as his sister.

He beckoned her to draw near.

"This," he said to Natalie, "is Madame Estelle. You see, I have
provided a chaperone," he remarked with something like a sneer.

Natalie looked coldly at the two, but said nothing.

Madame Estelle flushed slightly under Natalie's scornful scrutiny as
she led the way into an immense dining-room.

To reach this room they had traversed a long passage, and Natalie
appreciated the fact that the château was very curiously built. It
consisted, indeed, of two portions, which were linked together by a
long stone-flagged corridor.

Boris helped himself liberally to neat brandy, while Madame Estelle
sent for a servant and told him to order tea.

Natalie had been filled with an intense foreboding as she entered the
house, a foreboding which increased as she slowly recognized that she
and Madame Estelle were apparently the only women in the place.

For the tea was brought in by a man, not a farmhand or an honest
countryman, but a villainous-looking individual with a pock-marked
face and little gold earrings in the lobes of his frost-bitten ears.
He walked with his feet wide apart, and with a slightly rolling gait.
He had an immense bull neck, and the hands with which he grasped the
tray were large, grimy and hairy. Natalie set him down as a sailor;
nor was she wrong.

When tea was over, Boris lit a cigarette, and drawing Madame Estelle
on one side conversed with her for some time in whispers.

At the end of the conference between the two the woman left the room
without so much as a word to Natalie or even a glance in her
direction.

Boris turned round with a baleful light in his eyes.

"Now, my lady," he said, "we can have this matter out."

Natalie's afflictions had only increased her old habit of command and
her natural dignity. Though in reality she was the prisoner, she might
have been the captor.

"Before you speak, Boris," she said, "I also have something to say.
How long do you intend to keep me here? I ask this, not for my own
sake, but for my brother's."

"That," said Boris, with a malicious grin, "depends entirely on
yourself."

"By this time, of course," Natalie continued, "a great hue-and-cry
will have been raised after me. Again I ask this question for my
brother's sake. He should be informed of my whereabouts at once; for
you must remember that he will take this very much to heart."

"He will not be informed of your whereabouts at present," said Boris,
shortly. "Because," he continued, with a villainous leer, "I am only
cruel to be kind. I want to have all the details of our marriage
settled as soon as possible. A night of waiting will soften your dear
brother's heart, and he will probably listen to reason in the
morning."

Natalie shuddered and drew a little further away from Boris. "You
coward," she said, and looked at him with infinite contempt.

Again a dangerous light leapt into his eyes.

"Have a care," he cried, "what names you call me here. I do not wish
to be compelled to make you feel your position. But if necessary I
shall--"

Natalie did not take her scornful eyes from his face, and Boris at
last looked shiftily away.

As he apparently did not intend to speak again, she put to him another
question:

"Who is the woman," she asked, "you have here with you?"

"That is no business of yours," snarled Boris, "though you can, if you
wish to speak to or allude to her, call her Madame Estelle, as I
introduced her to you."

"I merely asked," said Natalie, "because I was curious to know how she
came to be associated with a rascal like you."

"Ah! my dear cousin, that is something you will understand better a
little later." He said this with an insinuating air which filled
Natalie with loathing.

"Boris," she said coldly, "I decline altogether to allow you to insult
me."

She turned her back on him, and Boris swore at her without disguise.
But she paid no heed.

Presently he walked round the room so that he could come face to face
with her.

"It is early," he said, "but early hours will do you good. If you will
be so kind as to accompany me I will show you to your room."

He led the way up three flights of stairs till they came to a small
landing. Out of this there opened only one door, and through this
Boris passed.

Natalie now found herself in a large, square room, simply and yet
fairly well furnished, partly as a bedroom and partly as a
sitting-room.

"It is here," said Boris, "that I am unfortunately compelled to ask
you to make your decision.

"You are at perfect liberty to scream to your heart's content. There
is no one here who will mind in the least. You are also at perfect
liberty to make what efforts at escape you choose. I fear that you
will only find them futile."

He went out quickly and closed the door after him. Natalie, listening
in the badly-lighted room, could hear a key grate in the lock and
bolts shot in both at the top and the bottom of the door.

Quickly and methodically she made an examination of her prison. She
looked into the cupboards and into the drawers and the massive bureau.
But there was nothing about the room of the remotest interest to her
which offered the faintest suggestion, sinister or otherwise.

It was, indeed, only when she looked out of the windows, of which
there were three, that she discovered to the full how utterly helpless
was her position.

The window on the south side was apparently over the window of the
dining-room, and, as she peeped over the sill, looked sheer down the
face of the precipice beneath her.

The west window, she found, looked down into a stone court-yard, while
the window on the east overhung the moat. Apparently she was
imprisoned in a tower.

When Boris had reached the ground floor he sought out Madame Estelle,
and drew a chair to the table at which Madame sat at breakfast.

"Estelle," he said, "the crisis in our fortunes has arrived to-day. I
want all the help you can give me, and you will want all your nerve."

Madame Estelle eyed him calmly.

"Indeed," she said. "But even though the crisis in our fortunes
arrived within the next ten minutes there are certain questions which
I must ask you first."

Boris fidgeted impatiently. He realized that he could no longer baulk
the question of Natalie, and the sooner he got himself out of the
difficulty the better for his day's work. He had all along concealed
from Estelle the fact that he meant to marry his cousin.

"Boris," said Madame, stretching out her right hand and brushing
Boris's lightly with her fingers, "are you playing me false?"

"Playing you false?" he cried, with a fine show of indignation. "What
do you mean?"

"I mean that either you have told me too much or too little. If I am
to believe you, this girl we hold is worth at least half a million
roubles to us. You say you are certain of the money, and that the
moment it is yours we are to be married and leave this miserable mode
of life. If this is so I am content. But now I suspect something else.
Is it not true that as part of the bargain you are to be permitted to
marry her?"

Boris jumped out of his chair.

"It's a lie!" he shouted, "and I'll take my oath that that
rattle-brained fool Verdayne is responsible for your stupid fancies."

"But are they fancies?" urged Madame.

"Fancies! Of course they are fancies. What good do you think it would
do me to be tied to a girl like that? Surely half a million should
content any man. I wish to be free to pursue my life with you. The
sooner indeed I am free from all this business the better."

Madame Estelle looked greatly troubled.

"Are you sure, Boris," she asked again, "that this is absolutely true?
Oh! be sure that I dislike to distress you in this way, but I cannot
help it."

"My dear Estelle," Boris cried, with a greater show of tenderness than
he had yet exhibited, "surely I have been true enough and faithful
enough all these years for you to believe me now. Indeed, you must
believe in me, because if you don't believe in me and give me your
support the cup of happiness which is so near our lips may be dashed
away from them.

"Wait!" he went on, "and see whether I am speaking the truth or not."

Nevertheless, Madame was restless and ill at ease.

"If I had seen that girl before to-day," she said, "I should never
have entered into this business with you."

"Then you would have been a fool," said Boris, rudely.

"Possibly, but still, even at the risk of your displeasure, there are
a few things which I do not care to do."

Boris glanced at her sharply.

"Of course," she continued, "it is too late now. I have made up my
mind, and we will go through with it, but frankly, I don't like this
business."

"Never mind," said Boris; "it will not last forever. To-morrow ought
to settle it."

As Madame at this point started to leave the room, Boris enjoined her
to silence; and though Madame promised that she would not discuss his
affairs with Natalie, she was, if the truth were told, not quite
decided whether she would keep her word.

Then Boris sent for Michael.

"Mark you, Michael," he said, "I will have no hanky-panky games in
this house. And, mark you, too, I have no desire to have Madame
Estelle and Mademoiselle Vseslavitch becoming too friendly. You never
can rely on women. They are funny creatures, and Madame is far too
sympathetic with the girl already. So I shall look to you to stop
anything of that sort.

"For the rest, you will know what to do if certain contingencies
should arise. I have not brought the dogs here for nothing." He broke
off and shuddered a little himself as at some short distance from the
house he could hear the baying of the great hounds.

"They are loose, I suppose?" he asked.

Michael nodded.

"Then Heaven help the stranger," he rejoined with a cruel laugh, and
pulling a rug over himself he lay down to sleep on the sofa.



CHAPTER XXIV


Boris had left no instructions in regard to Mademoiselle's food, and
as she did not consider it advisable to let the unfortunate girl
starve, Madame set a tray, with the intention of carrying it up to
Natalie's room.

Before she could do this, however, it was necessary to send for
Michael in order to obtain the key.

When she asked for it, he shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.

"I have very strict orders," he said.

"What do you mean?" Madame demanded sharply. "What do you mean?"

"Simply that the master said that you and the young lady were not to
get talking too much. He said nothing about food, or of waiting on
her highness, and it didn't occur to me until this morning that it was
a bit awkward for a chap like myself to wait on her.

"However," he added, with a smirk, "I don't so much mind."

But Michael's clumsy utterances had aroused all Madame's sleeping
suspicions. There was no reason why she should keep silence.

She laughed in Michael's face.

"It was hardly necessary for your master to give you any orders,
seeing that he gave certain instructions to me. He said that since
there was no other woman in the house it would be my place to take
Mademoiselle anything that she actually needed. I am going to take up
her breakfast now. Give me the key."

Michael hesitated a moment, but finally handed over the key. Madame
put it on the breakfast tray and went upstairs.

Natalie, as she heard the bolts drawn back and the key turned in the
lock, suffered fresh apprehension. For she had caught the rustle of
Madame's skirts outside, and she would rather have faced Boris than
the woman.

With very little apology Madame Estelle entered, and, setting the
breakfast down, immediately withdrew.

In half an hour's time she went up for the tray, and then she faced
Natalie boldly and looked her in the eyes.

"Mademoiselle," she said, "I am really ashamed to meet you here in
such a way. I will not ask you to forgive me, for you will not
understand. I can only tell you that I am a very loving and also a
very jealous woman."

Madame Estelle paused, and was conscious that Natalie looked at her
in great surprise.

"I want," she continued, "to ask you a question which means much to
me. Is it, or is not, one of Boris Ivanovitch's conditions that you
shall marry him?"

"Yes," answered Natalie, very quietly, "it is."

Madam's rather flushed face grew white, and her eyes blazed with
passion. She clenched her fists and beat the air with them.

"Oh, the liar!" she cried, "the liar! Oh! it is hard to be treated
like this when I have done so much for him."

Natalie drew back, startled and amazed.

"I assure you that you need have no fear so far as I am concerned.
Both my brother and myself have refused to comply with that
condition, and we shall refuse to the end."

Madame, however, paid but little heed to Natalie; she was beside
herself with rage.

"Ah, ah!" she cried, "wait till he returns! I'll kill him! I'll kill
him!"

So distorted with fury was the woman's face that Natalie became
alarmed for her sanity. She drew near to her and endeavoured to catch
her hands in her own, imploring her to be calm.

By-and-by Madame Estelle listened to her, and in a sudden revulsion of
feeling fell on her knees, sobbing bitterly.

Natalie bent over her, doing her best to console her, and presently,
as the woman grew calmer, she endeavoured to turn the situation to her
own advantage.

"The best way to defeat his scheme," she urged, "is to release me."

But at that Madame Estelle leaped to her feet.

"Ah! not that," she cried, "not that! If I distrust him, I distrust
you still more. Your pretty face may look sad and sorrowful, and you
may declare to me that you will never consent, but I will wait and
see. I'll wait until Boris returns and confront you with him. Then
perhaps I shall learn the real truth."

Natalie made a little despairing gesture with her hands; argument, she
saw, would be useless.

Gathering herself together, Madame blundered, half blind with tears,
out of the room, and Natalie with a sinking heart heard the bolts
drawn again.

All through the day Estelle sat brooding, sending Natalie's lunch and
tea up to her by Michael.

All the evening she still sat and brooded, until she had worked
herself up into a hysteria of rage.

It was long after dark when a knock sounded on her door. It was Boris.

"Ah!" she cried, as he entered, "what do you think I have gone
through? What do you think I have suffered? What do you think I have
found out?"

Boris looked at her in alarm.

"Is it Mademoiselle?" he asked. "Is she safe?"

"Safe! Oh, yes, she is safe," she cried, with a peal of uncanny
laughter. "Safe for your kisses and for your caresses. Oh, you liar!
you liar! I have been true to you in all respects, and you have been
false to me in everything that mattered. So you will marry the pretty
Natalie, will you? Oh, but you won't! Never! Never!"

She rushed at Boris, as though to strike him, but Boris, jaded though
he was, was quick and strong.

He caught her brutally, as he might a dog, by the neck, and threw her
into the dining-room, the door of which stood open, and, utterly
careless as to what harm he might do to her, sent the unhappy woman
sprawling onto the floor. In a second he had banged the door to and
turned the key in the lock.

He heard Estelle pick herself up and hurl herself in blind and
impotent fury against the door.

He listened as shriek after shriek of frenzy reached his ears.

Up in the tower Natalie heard these shrieks, too, and shuddered. A
horrible fear took possession of her heart that there was murder being
done below.

She sat on the edge of her bed with her hands pressed to her heart,
listening in fascinated horror.

The shrieks died away, and there was complete silence in the house for
full half an hour.

Then she heard a sudden shout, a crashing of glass and a scrambling,
tearing noise, the hideous bay of the boarhounds in the court-yard, a
scream, and a thud.

Stabbing the other noise with sharp precision came the sound of
shots.



CHAPTER XXV


Meanwhile, at the estate of Peter Vseslavitch, the day dawned clear
and fine--but upon what a scene of uproar!

All night the household had been corked up as if tight in a bottle--as
far as following the marauders was concerned; for when, a few minutes
after that last intimidating shot of Virot's, they had burst out of
the house and run quickly to the stables, it was only to discover that
all the horses were gone.

"By the ever-to-be-praised apostles!" swore Andrieff, his red beard
wagging in impotent rage, "the devils have turned the horses loose on
the _steppe_. Every box is empty!"

It was true--and almost frantic with distress Peter and the overseer
had been forced to turn back into the house to wait till day-break.

Well! there was work there for them while they waited. Paul and the
lad Alexis were soon brought back to consciousness with nothing more
serious than badly swollen and throbbing heads. But poor Baxter still
lay in a heap on the floor. He seemed not to have stirred. And Peter
thought, as he knelt over him, that he would never move again.

They lifted his sagging body to a couch and then Andrieff, who was
something of an amateur surgeon, examined him carefully.

The bullet had ploughed a furrow just above his temple; but after some
probing Andrieff decided it had passed on without penetrating the
skull. His heart was still beating faintly and they forced spirits
between his lips until after a time he revived. Paul himself helped
put the wounded man in bed and would not leave him until he saw that
Baxter had dropped off into a natural sleep.

Then with the others he paced the floor impatiently until it began to
grow light. There were four of them--and with the help of as many more
trusty servants they felt they could give Boris and his crew a pretty
fight--if they could only find him!

Not till they came to decide on what men they would take with them did
Paul recall how he had been disposed of earlier in the night.

"That big _moujik_ who showed me to my room last evening!" he cried
suddenly, turning to Peter. "Where is the dog? It was he who struck me
down!"

"By the Lord!" exclaimed Andrieff, "that explains why the horses are
gone! The cur is a traitor! I'll cut his heart out this day!"

"He took old Moka out of the room, too, do you remember?" Peter asked.
"He must have been in Boris's pay all the while--the man has been with
us but a short time. Oh! if I could but get my hands upon his
villainous throat!" But of what avail were imprecations? The four men
finally ceased to talk, but the fierce determination which grimly
lighted each face, boded ill for Boris' cut-throat gang, when they
should be come up with, on the morrow.

At last day dawned, and as soon as they could catch horses enough--the
brutes had wandered back toward the stables as it became lighter--they
were off.

The heavy rain, which had kept up nearly all the night, had completely
obliterated the fugitives' tracks. Without a trail their first step
seemed to be to visit the shooting-lodge whence Boris had made his
sally.

Two hours' hard riding brought them to the place. It looked deserted,
but Paul rode his horse close to the door and knocked viciously upon
it. There was no response.

"It seems," said Peter, with a politeness that his looks belied, "that
our friends are not at home."

Verdayne's answer sounded very much like an oath. He gave the door one
final kick, and finding his rough summons ineffectual, turned to his
companions.

"Look you!" he said. "I am not at all sure that this house is as empty
as it seems. I'm going to ride alongside the garden wall so that I can
climb over the top. I want to go investigating."

In a twinkling he had put his plan into execution and dropped over the
wall into the garden. He walked round the house and found it
shuttered, dark and silent. He whistled a long whistle to himself.

"I wonder," he thought, "if all the birds have flown. I wonder if they
really have left the house entirely empty." Just then Andrieff joined
him, and putting their shoulders against the rear door that opened
into the garden, they easily forced an entrance. With drawn revolvers
they leaped inside, and began to prowl about the place. Finally in a
wardrobe on an upper floor they discovered a servant hiding. As they
dragged him out at first he showed fight, but one blow from Andrieff's
sledge-like fist beat him into submission, and in another moment they
had him pinned against the wall.

"Tell me where your master is," said Andrieff in a fierce voice.

The man remained silent.

"Tell me," he said again, "and tell me quickly. Tell me at once or you
will regret it."

The man gave a sudden wrench and twisted one of his arms free. He
reached out and grasped a heavy silver candlestick.

But Andrieff was too quick for him. He dealt him a blow on the muscles
of his shoulder which half paralyzed the creature's arm. The
candlestick dropped with a clatter from his hand.

Then Andrieff gave his pent-up passion full play, and it was a miracle
that he did not kill his man.

He wrenched an antimacassar from a chair and used it as a gag. With
one powerful hand he dragged the captive by the neck to the window;
with the other he threw up the casement and whistled sharply for
Peter, who soon came running up the stairs and through the open door.

"We'll bind this cur," said the overseer through his teeth, and he
thrust the man back into a deep, cane-hooded chair. Then he and Peter
securely lashed the man's feet together, tying his hands behind his
back.

This work done, they paused and listened; but, in spite of the scuffle
there had been, there was no sound of approaching footsteps, nor,
indeed, any sign that they had been overheard.

"Now, then," said he of the red beard, "heat that poker in the fire."

Peter quickly thrust the poker between the bars of the grate, in which
the coals were red.

"_Stoi_!" cried the man--"Stop! They have gone to the old _Château
Ivanovitch_."

"If you're lying," said Andrieff, "we'll come back and cut you into
ribbons for the dogs."

"By the beard of my father," the man gasped, "I am telling you the
truth. God strike me if I am not!" and he looked at the reddening
poker with frightened eyes.

"I believe the hound speaks truly," said Peter. "Come! we have no time
to waste here." Leaving the whimpering peasant tied, they hurried down
to the court-yard, and soon were in the saddle again.

The splendid animals they rode responded nobly. They were of a famous
Arabian strain, which his grandfather had introduced into his stable
many years before, and Peter, who led the little band, did not spare
them. On and on they raced, but it was late afternoon when they neared
the end of the trail, for several hours had been consumed in the
detour to the hunting-lodge.

About a half mile from the foot of the eminence on which the château
stood, they came to a halt, and after a short consultation decided it
would be best to wait till after dark before trying to effect an
entrance. Accordingly, they dismounted, and leading their horses a
little distance into a sheltering wood, they waited impatiently until
night fell. Even then they agreed, though reluctantly, that it would
be the wiser plan to wait another two hours at least, when there would
probably be fewer people stirring about the château.

At last, and it seemed an eternity to Paul, as he waited in the gloomy
wood with his heart heavy with anxiety for his dear love--at last he
heard the signal given which told him the time had come. And soon they
were in the road again.

It was intensely dark beneath the trees, and Paul could feel light
boughs and sometimes heavy branches scrape along his shoulders.

Suddenly they stopped, and Paul saw that they were in a little
clearing. Then the flame of a match outlined the shape of a gate.

"Here we are," cried Peter, in a low voice.

They dismounted and, gathering around Peter, discussed the situation
quickly. It was agreed at length that Verdayne, with Andrieff and
Alexis, should pass the gate and proceed to the château to
reconnoitre, while Peter remained with the others at the gate until
they should return.

Paul started forward therefore with the overseer and Peter's cousin.
He pulled back the iron catch and to his surprise found that the gate
was unlocked.

"Come!" he said, as he pulled it open, and the three went in
together.



CHAPTER XXVI


But as Paul strode in his eager foot found no foothold, and he pitched
forward, to find himself plunged up to the neck in icy water.

So great was the shock that a little involuntary exclamation escaped
him as he spluttered and blew the water from his mouth. A couple of
strokes brought him back to the gate again, and as he clutched it he
looked up at the silent house.

Even as he did so he caught a little spit of flame from one of the
windows and a bullet splashed into the water beside his head. There
was another spit of flame, and he felt his knuckles tingle as though
they had been rapped with a red-hot iron.

Then Andrieff gripped him by the collar, and with his aid he
scrambled back onto the path.

Alexis, who had been quick to see the necessity of instant action, was
by this time firing back at the place from which the little spits of
flame had come far above them. In the darkness he answered shot for
shot.

After the sound of the shots came a complete silence, and Paul, as he
stood stock-still beside the gate, which was now swinging idly over
the moat, could hear the patter of the water on the path as it dripped
from his clothes.

Andrieff, as soon as he had seen that Paul was safe, had run along the
hedge, and now he gave a shout.

"This is the gate we want," he cried.

But a third spit of flame came from the darkness overhead, and Paul
heard the overseer swearing softly under his breath. Whoever their
unknown assailant might be, he was no mean marksman.

Paul and Alexis ran to Andrieff's aid.

"What's up?" asked Paul.

"Nothing," answered Andrieff, and he got the gate opened. The three
men dashed up the path and reached a small door; but it was made of
stout oak, and securely fastened within.

They thrust their shoulders against it without avail, and then stood
looking at one another, panting, and for the moment baffled.

It was then that Paul's quick ear caught a woman's voice. He whipped
round and looked across the sheet of water. His eyes were now well
accustomed to the gloom, and he saw the form of a woman leaning far
out of a window and gesticulating wildly.

He held up his hand to the others for silence, and then once more
came a voice which he instantly recognized. It was the voice of the
red-haired woman.

"Be quick! Be quick!" she cried. "If you don't wish to be too late,
you must swim the moat--the door is barred."

Paul cast a quick glance behind him, and his eyes fell on the gate.

"Use that as a battering ram," he ordered, and then his jaws closed
over the butt of his revolver.

Without hesitation he waded in, and a few strong strokes brought him
beneath the window out of which Madame Estelle leant and waved.

He knew instinctively by her accents that she was terrified beyond
measure and that he need not expect treachery from her.

With one hand he clutched the sill, with the other he reached up and
shifting the safety-catch on with his thumb, let his revolver fall
into the room.

Soaked as he was with water, it was not an easy task to hoist himself
up and clamber through the window, and when at last he stood within
the room he leant against the wall partially exhausted and breathing
hard.

Madame Estelle stood before him wringing her hands.

"Be quick!" she said again. "Be quick! be quick! or you will be too
late. That fiend Boris is at his work."

By the light of the candles which flickered on the mantelpiece Paul
made his way to the door.

Seizing the handle, he turned it, but the lock held fast. He examined
it swiftly, and to his joy saw that it opened outwards. He drew back a
yard, and then sent the whole of his weight crashing against the
panels. And with good fortune the door of the room, although stoutly
built, was partially rotten. It burst wide open and sent him sprawling
onto his face in the passage.

As he lay there half-stunned his pulses throbbed again as the noise
which came from the main entrance told him that Alexis and Andrieff
were making good use of the gate.

He dragged himself up to his knees, still clutching his revolver, and
at the same moment the outer door gave up its resistance, and Alexis
and Andrieff came headlong into the hall-way.

He heard them give a warning shout as he struggled to his feet,
steadying himself by the pillars of the banisters.

Looking up the stairs, he saw the brutal face of the villain Michael
on the landing, his strong, yellow teeth bared in a vicious snarl.

Paul heard the sound of a shot, and at the same time felt the hands of
Madame Estelle give him a push.

Her intention was unselfish, almost heroic; she saved Paul's life, but
lost her own.

With a little gasping sigh she pitched forward and lay still, huddled
on the stairs. Then Paul heard a second shot rap out from behind his
back, and saw Michael stagger on the landing. The man reeled for a
couple of paces and then fell heavily.

Verdayne had by this time fully got back his senses and his breath;
and now he heard coming from somewhere high above him scream after
scream of dreadful terror.

He plunged up the staircase, and stepping across the body of Michael
as it lay on the landing, raced up the second flight of stairs. For a
moment he paused in the hall, in order to make doubly sure whence the
terrified scream came.

Then he heard it again, louder and shriller than before. There was a
dreadful note of fear in it. It was the scream of a woman.

As he stood there trying to locate the direction of the cry, a servant
bearing a lantern in his hand ran toward him. The man was unarmed,
apparently.

"What is that?" Paul demanded of him. But the man merely shrugged his
shoulders.

Then there came the scream again, louder and more terror-stricken than
before. Paul did not hesitate.

Before the servant had time to utter any protest he had snatched the
lantern from his hand and was racing up the third flight to the
topmost landing.

Again came the scream, and Paul suddenly found his way barred by a
door across the corridor.

Now there was no longer any doubt as to where the cries came from.
Paul dashed at the door, only to find it locked. In a second he had
his shoulder against the panel, and the door went in with a crash,
disclosing a small anteroom, formed by the end of the hall-way. And
then Paul saw before him another door, before which stood the fat
Frenchman, Virot, with a shining knife in his hand. Paul covered him
with his revolver.

"Drop that knife," he ordered.

"Not me!" said the portly rogue.

"Drop it!" said Paul again, with an unmistakable threat in his voice.

And this time the man dropped it.

"Now," Paul cried, "away with you, before I send you to hell before
your time."

Virot smiled in appreciation of the compliment, and at once started
down the hall as fast as his short legs could carry him. The rascal
was always careful of his precious skin.

Paul turned the handle of the door, only to find, as he had expected,
that the key on the inner side had been turned and he groaned within
himself. He was living in some awful nightmare at which a door faced
him at every turn.

He emptied his revolver in the lock and hurled himself in frenzy
against this further obstruction. It gave way, and he tottered into
the room, the lights of which for a moment dazzled him.

His half-blinded eyes were greeted by the sight which he had dreaded
ever since he had come to the farm on the hill.

Natalie was fighting desperately, and for life, with Boris.

With a great cry Paul leapt forward, but he was too late to exercise
that vengeance which had now full possession of his soul.

Boris flung Natalie to one side, and for a second turned his pallid
face, in which his eyes were burning like a madman's, full on Paul as
he dashed on him.

Then without a sound he leapt aside, and vaulting on to the sill of
the open window, jumped out.

Instinctively Paul knew what was coming, and catching Natalie to him,
held her head against his breast, stopping her ears with his hands.
Then as he stood there with his eyes bent on her hair, he heard the
sickening sound of Boris's body thud on to the stones below.

Releasing Natalie's ears, he put his hand under her chin and lifted up
her face. He marvelled that she had not fainted, but the dreadful
horror in her eyes struck into his heart like a blow.

He had to hold her to prevent her falling to the floor, and so he
stood for some few seconds with her form limp and shivering in his
arms.

Bracing himself for one last effort, Paul lifted her up and bore her
out of the room. Half-dazed, he stumbled down the stairs with her
until he reached the hall.

In the doorway he saw Peter, who came running forward with
outstretched arms.

"Just a minute," said Paul quickly, and he walked into the room, the
door of which he had shattered.

In the meantime Andrieff and the lad had picked up Madame Estelle and
carried her into the same room, and now she lay on the couch, her
face growing grey with the shadows of death, and her breath coming
fast and feebly. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling with an intense and
horrible fixity.

Paul pushed an armchair round with his foot and set his lady down on
it so that her back was turned to the dying woman.

Peter fell on his knees beside the chair, and seizing his sister's
hands, held them against his breast.

Paul crossed over to Madame Estelle and stood over her. He put his
hand against her heart and listened to her breathing.

"I am afraid," he said in a low voice to Andrieff, "that we can do
nothing for her. It is a bad business. Heaven forgive her for anything
she has done amiss! She did her best to make amends."

Then he drew Alexis out of the room and told him to fetch a lamp.

When he had fetched the lamp Paul took it and began rapidly to examine
round the ground floor of the rambling building. He was seeking for
the court-yard into which Boris had fallen.

At last they found it, and found, too, all that remained of Boris
Ivanovitch. He was battered and crushed and bruised almost beyond
recognition.

Paul set his face and straightened the twisted and distorted body out.

Then he straightened himself, and picking up the lamp led the way back
into the house.

By this time Natalie, though very pale and still shaken, was quite
composed. Indeed, she was now more self-possessed than her brother.
She was doing her utmost to quiet his still painful agitation.

Paul looked into her face, and seeing how strong and resolute it was,
felt no hesitation in speaking before her.

"Sir," he said very quietly to Peter, "Boris is dead."

Peter glanced at him quickly and then turned to his sister.

"Thank heaven!" he cried.

"Hush," said Natalie, gently, and taking her brother by the arm she
pointed to Madame Estelle.

Andrieff had done what he could, and the unhappy woman had, to some
extent, come back to consciousness.

She was indeed sufficiently alive to catch Paul's words. She brought
her fast fading eyes down from the ceiling and searched his face.

"Boris!" she muttered to herself: "Boris!"

Paul drew near and knelt down by the couch. He took one of her hands,
which was even then growing cold.

"Boris?" she asked again in a voice scarcely above a whisper.

Paul put his mouth down to her ear and said slowly, "He is dead."

The shock of the news acted on the woman in a most extraordinary way.
With a convulsive movement she suddenly gathered herself together and
sat bolt upright on the couch. She would have fallen back again had
not Paul caught her in his arms.

The woman opened her mouth and made two or three efforts before she
spoke again, and then she only breathed the word "Boris!"

Paul's gaze wandered over the side-board.

"See if you can find any brandy," he said to Andrieff, who instantly
produced a decanter.

Paul took the glass from his hand and pressed it to Madame Estelle's
lips. She revived a little, and suddenly spoke clearly and in almost
her normal voice.

"Sir Paul," she said, "forgive!" Then her eyes became fixed and
staring, and it was Paul who drew the dead woman's eyelids down.

"Sir Paul," said Peter, earnestly, "it is simply impossible that I
shall ever be able to repay you the great service you have rendered
me. But, believe me, if there is anything in the world it is within my
power to give you, you have but to ask to receive it."

Paul looked across at Natalie, but said nothing. The time had not yet
come when he could ask Peter for that which would a thousand times
repay him.



CHAPTER XXVII


Paul never quite knew how he retraced the distance to the Vseslavitch
mansion. The combined effects of the blow he had received at the hands
of the treacherous servant, the fall at the gate, and the long hours
of mental anguish he had undergone, were quite enough to befog his
brain. He rode back reeling in his saddle, and once in his bed he
stayed there for two days before he was himself again.

When he joined the others at last he found that the household had
recovered its equanimity. They had feared at first some serious
consequences as a result of the fight at the château, with three
people lying dead there. But the Frenchman had apparently decided
that his own precious skin would be safer if the matter were hushed up
with as little ado as possible. He did not know, it appeared, that
Baxter had not been killed by the shot from Boris's revolver, and he
had no wish to admit any connection with that affair. Accordingly, as
Peter learned later, Virot had reported to the authorities that Boris
had shot Madame Estelle and Michael during a fit of jealousy, and
then, seized with remorse, had taken his own life.

The whole bearing of Mademoiselle Vseslavitch and her brother had
changed--Paul noticed that immediately. Now that with Boris's death
the cause of their former disquiet had been removed forever they were
two entirely different persons. It made Paul's heart glad to hear the
buoyant note in Natalie's voice as she talked with them gaily. And
his own spirits rose as well, for now, he thought, the obstacle to his
suit had been brushed aside.

That day passed quickly, for there was much to talk about. Alexis
Vseslavitch was still there, for he had refused to leave while Paul
seemed in any danger. And the four discussed at length the events of
those two memorable nights.

That night Paul went once more with Natalie to the garden. As the soft
night received them in its warm embrace, it seemed to Paul that in
that spot lay all the glory of the earth, and a whole Heaven besides.
For very joy, he could have died while looking into her eyes. How
madly he loved her! How beautiful she was! As he gazed at her pale
face, shining forth from her dark tresses, it seemed to Paul like the
very moon above, gleaming from the dusky clouds. He took her cool
hand and pressed it to his eyes, till the ringing in his heart was
still. All nature seemed enchanted. For a time, Paul could not speak.
He only knew that God had created men to admire the glories of the
world, and that here was a wonderful night--and a no less wonderful
woman.

Once more they sat down upon the bench where they had talked two short
days before--but what a difference! Then his heart was sorely
troubled--now all was peace.

Like a sea of life, Spring covered the world. The snowy blossom-foam
fluttered on the trees; all was bathed in a wondrous hazy glow.
Everywhere miracles were working. And then Paul awoke from his dream
and spoke.

"Natalie!" he said, "I cannot part from you. I have told you that I
love you." And then with moist eyes and flaming lips he cried: "Be
mine--and love me!"

Oh! then fell the evening gold upon Paul's soul! Like a fairy bell
came the sound of her voice upon his ears:

"My Knight of Love," she said, "what wouldst thou have more?"

And at those words, Paul folded her within his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later as they sat there in the moonlight, she told Paul more of the
unworthy marriage which had been so nearly forced upon her; how Boris
being heir-apparent of a Balkan state--Sovna--had been able to enlist
the help of the Tsar in coercing her. Many of the Sovnian subjects
were Slavs who had emigrated from her own province and the Tsar felt
that such a union would do much toward cementing the friendship
between the two countries. As for Boris, political reasons had little
to do with the suit. Her fortune was all he cared for. And at the
thought of his perfidy, so nearly triumphant, she trembled anew with
horror.

And then as Paul comforted her, he told her with amusement how he had
interpreted the note that she had written him in Paris--that he had
thought her a secret agent of the Dalmatian government.

The lady laughed at that.

"And when, pray, were you disillusioned?" she asked him. "Two days ago
you called me 'Princess'--in the garden here. How did you know that?"

Paul looked at her in amazement.

"Princess!" he repeated. And then he remembered that he had used the
word--as an endearing name, that seemed so well to fit his love.

"What do you mean, my Natalie?" he cried. "Are you really of royal
blood?"

"Yes, Paul," she answered. "You did not know it then? I wanted to
appear to you as a commoner--just a normal, every day woman. And see!
you loved me when you thought I was a mere servant! That is the
wonderful part of it all to me."

Yet Paul's heart sank as the possible meaning of the news started
forth to his consciousness. Was not her rank an impassable barrier
between them? he asked himself. Must he again return to England to
drag out the rest of life alone, with his love the width of a
continent away?

He asked these things with a rush of words that fell from his
trembling lips.

"Ah, Paul!" the lady said, caressingly, "fear not. I am tired of being
only a princess! The world sees but the glittering show of royalty,
and does not know it for the sham it really is. The trappings, the
gorgeous robes that kings and queens assume when they are crowned hide
bleeding hearts and sorrowful breasts. I have seen too much of the
cares of state--the awful tragedy--the bitter grief. Long since I
decided that I would have no more of it. Better a dinner of herbs,
where love is, you know. And so Peter and I came here to this quiet
spot--the old home of my mother--and took her name. And here we
thought to live like simple gentle-folk, till Boris broke rudely into
our Arcadia.

"And now, Paul," she continued, looking up at him with the love-light
shining in her eyes, "the time has come when you may know all.
Forgive me, dear, for the long waiting. But I had to be sure as you
will see."

She drew from her bosom a folded paper and placed it in his hand.

Paul opened it, and saw it was a letter. He held it closer, and then,
in the white moonlight pouring from that Southern sky--great God!--he
saw the writing of his Lady of Long Ago!

And this is what Paul read:

"MY SWEET SISTER:

     "I know that I must leave this beautiful earth. Already I
     feel beside me, waking as well as sleeping, a mysterious
     presence, who lays his cold hand upon my naked breast, and
     claims me for his own. It is Death, my Natalie, that stalks
     beside me, and that day is not far distant when his icy
     fingers will close relentlessly upon my quivering heart--and
     it will beat no more.

     "Ah! my little one, God keep thee safe from such griefs as I
     have borne. But God grant thee the happiness I have also
     known.

     "And now, child, I must talk to thee as to the woman thou
     wilt be when thy dear eyes read these words--a score of
     years from now! Thou wilt be a beautiful woman then--and
     I--a little dust will still remain, perhaps.

     "But, listen. My son, the baby Prince--thou wilt watch over
     him with tender care, I know. And then--for thee the time
     will pass quickly, while I lie slowly crumbling--before thou
     knowest it, almost, he will be a man--and crowned.

     "Then, Natalie, thou wilt read this message from the living
     dead, for from that time on Paul Verdayne will need thee. He
     is my true lover, sweetheart, and when his son is set apart
     from his life forever by the necessities of state--then will
     he know his hour of greatest need. Search him out, Natalie,
     my sister--Paul Verdayne, the Englishman.

     "Go to Lucerne, in May (and here followed the name of the
     Swiss hotel Paul knew so well) and there thou wilt find him,
     without fail.

     "Comfort him, I charge thee. It must ever be for thee a
     sacred duty. And, child! I would not have my lover left
     alone, to go through life with the shadow of his great grief
     hanging ever over him. There will still be sunlight in the
     world--and love. And Paul will be in his prime.

     "Then will it be the high noon of his life. But what of
     love, for him? Ah! I scarce dare dream that dream. But
     believe this, sweet Natalie, Death would lose half its dread
     could I but know that Paul and thou couldst love."

Paul sat like one who saw a vision. Unknowingly he plucked the young
buds from the rose-tree by the bench--and crushed them. Far away
mourned a delirious nightingale; and a weeping willow softly shivered.
The moon looked down from the midst of heaven; the infinite celestial
vault increased until it became yet more infinite; it burned and
breathed; all the earth gleamed with silvery lustre; the air was
wonderful, at once fresh and overpowering, full of sweetness; it was
an ocean of perfumes.

Divine night! Magical night! The forests, full of shade, were
motionless, and cast their vast shadows. The pools were calm; the cold
and darkness of the waters lay mournfully enclosed in the dark walls
of the garden. The virgin thickets of young cherry trees timidly
stretched their roots into the chill earth, and from time to time
shook their leaves, as if they were angry and indignant that the
beautiful Zephyr, the wind of night, glided suddenly toward them and
covered them with kisses.

All the landscape slept. On high all breathed--all was
beautiful--solemn. The vastness and wondrousness possessed Paul's
soul; and crowds of silvery visions emerged softly from their hiding
places. Divine night! Magical night!

Suddenly all came to life; the forests, the pools, the _steppes_. The
majestic voice of the nightingale burst forth again, now in a paeon of
praise. It seemed as if the moon, to listen to it, stood still in the
midst of heaven. Then the song ceased. All was silent.

Paul and his lady rose then, and hand in hand, walking softly as if in
the presence of one that was not dead, but sleeping, they sought the
house together. And as they reached the doorway, Paul saw there for
the first time, inscribed on the lintel in letters of gold, now
strangely silvered in that marvellous light:

    "_On thy house will the blessing of the Lord rest for
    evermore._"


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *





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