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Title: The Black Cross
Author: Briggs, Olive M.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Black Cross" ***

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[Frontispiece: "Ah, mein Gott!" he cried, "It is Kaya!"]



THE BLACK CROSS


BY

OLIVE M. BRIGGS



_Frontispiece by_

SIGISMOND DE IVANOWSKI



NEW YORK

MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY

1909



Copyright, 1909, by

MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY

NEW YORK


Published, February, 1909



to

YAPHAH



THE BLACK CROSS


PART I


CHAPTER I

It was night in St. Petersburg.  The moon was high in the heavens, and
the domes, crowned with a fresh diadem of snow, glittered with a
dazzling whiteness.  In the side streets the shadows were heavy, the
façades of the great palaces casting strange and dark reflections upon
the pavement; but the main thoroughfares were streaked as with silver,
while along the quay all was bright and luminous as at noontide, the
Neva asleep like a frozen Princess under a breast-plate of shimmering
ice.

The wind was cold, the air frosty and gay with tinkling sleigh-bells.
A constant stream of people in sledges and on foot filled the Morskaïa,
hurrying in the one direction.  The great Square of the Mariínski was
alive with a moving, jostling throng, surging backwards and forwards
before the steps of the Theatre like waves on a rock; a gay,
well-dressed, chattering multitude, eager to present their tickets, or
buy them as the case might be, and enter the gaping doors into the
brilliantly lighted foyer beyond.

It was ballet night, but for the first time in the memory of the
Theatre no ballet was to be given.  Instead of the "Première Danseuse,"
the idol of Russian society, a new star had appeared, suddenly,
miraculously almost, dropped from a Polish Province, and had played
himself into the innermost heart of St. Petersburg.

The four strings of his Stradivarius, so fragile, so delicate and slim,
were as four chains to bind the people to him; four living wires over
which the sound of his fame sped from city to city, from province to
province, until there was no musician in all the Russias who could play
as Velasco, no instrument like his with the gift of tears and of
laughter as well, all the range of human emotions hidden within its
slender, resinous body.

So the people said as they gossiped together on the steps: "The great
Velasco!  The wonderful Velasco!"  And now he was on his way to
Germany.  It was his last concert, his "farewell."

The announcement had been blazoned about on red and yellow handbills
for weeks.  One Salle after the other had offered itself, each more
commodious than the last; but they were as nothing to the demands of
the box-office.  The list grew longer, the clamourings louder; and at
last the unprecedented happened.  At the request of a titled committee
under the signature of the Grand-Duke Stepan himself, the Mariínski,
largest and most beautiful of theatres, had opened its doors to the
young god; and the price of tickets went up in leaps like a barometer
after a storm;--fifteen roubles for a seat, twenty--twenty-five--and
finally no seat at all, not even standing-room.

The crowd melted away gradually; the doors of the foyer closed; the
harsh cries of the speculators died in the distance.  Behind the
Theatre the ice on the canal glimmered and sparkled.  The moon climbed
higher and the bells of the Nikolski Church rang out clearly,
resonantly above the tree-tops.

Scarcely had the last stroke sounded when a black sleigh, drawn by a
pair of splendid bays, dashed out of a side street and crossed the
Pozeluïef bridge at a gallop.  At the same moment a troïka, with three
horses abreast, turned sharply into the Glinki and the two collided
with a crash, the occupants flung out on the snow, the frightened
animals plunging and rearing in a tangled, inextricable heap.

The drivers rushed to the horses' heads.

"A pest on you, son of a goat!" screamed the one, "Have you eyes in the
back of your head that you can't see a yard in front of you?"

"Viper!" retorted the other furiously, "Damnation on you and your bad
driving!  Call the police!  Arrest the shark of an anarchist!"

Meanwhile the master of the black sleigh, a heavily built, elderly man,
had picked himself out of a drift with the assistance of his lackey and
was brushing the snow from his long fur cloak.  A fur cap, pulled down
over his eyes, hid his face, but his gestures were angry, and his voice
was high and rasping.

"Where is the fellow?" he snarled, "Let me see him; let me see his
face.  Away, Pierre, I tell you, go to the horses!  A mercy indeed if
their legs are not broken.  A pretty pass this, that one can't drive
through the streets of the capital, not even incognito!--Call the
police!"

The other gentleman, who seemed little more than a boy, stood by the
overturned troïka wringing his hands:

"Is it hurt, my little one, my treasure, is it scratched?  Keep their
hoofs away, Bobo, hold them still a moment while I raise one end."

He knelt in the snow and peered eagerly beneath the sleigh.

"Sacre--ment!" cried the older man, "What is he after?  Quick, on him,
Pierre!  Don't let him escape."

The lackey moved cautiously forward, and then gave a sudden leap back
as the boyish figure sprang to his feet, clasping a dark, oblong object
in his arms.

"A bomb, a bomb!  In the name of all the saints!  If he should drop it
they were doomed, they were dead men!"

The eyes of the lackey were bulging with terror and he stood riveted to
the spot.  In the meantime the young man had snatched out his watch and
was holding it up into a patch of moonlight.

"Twenty past the hour!" he exclaimed, "and old Galitsin fuming, I'll be
bound!  I'll have to make a run for it.  Hey, Bobo!"

As he spoke, an iron hand came down on his shoulder and he looked up
amazed into a pair of eyes, small and black and crossed, flashing with
fury.

"Drop it," hissed a voice, "and I'll throttle you as you stand!
Traitor!  Assassin!  Your driver obeyed orders, did he?  You knew?
Vermin, you ran us down!  How did you know?  Who betrayed me?--Who?"

The youth stood motionless for a moment in astonishment.  He was
helpless as a girl in that vicious grasp that was bearing him under
slowly, relentlessly.  "For the love of heaven," he cried, "Let go my
arm, you brute, you'll sprain a muscle!  Be careful!"

"Drop it, and I swear by all that is holy--"

"You old fool, you curmudgeon, you coward of an old blatherskite!"
cried the boy, "I wouldn't drop it for all the world, not if you went
on your bended knees.  Bobo, yell for the police!  Don't you touch my
wrist!  Look out now!  Of all unpleasant things--!

"Bobo, come here.  Never mind the horses.  I tell you he is ruining my
arm!--Hey!  Help!  You're an anarchist yourself, you fool!  Shout,
Bobo, shout!"

In the struggle the two had passed from the shadow into the moonlight
and they now confronted one another.  The master of the black sleigh
was still enveloped in his cloak, only the gleam of his eyes, small and
black and crossed, was visible under the cap, his beaked nose and the
upward twist of his grey mustache.

The youth stood erect and angry; his head was bare, thrown back as a
young lion at bay, his dark hair falling like a mane, clustered in
waves about his broad, overhanging brows; strange brows and strange
eyes underneath.  The mouth was sensitive, the chin short and rather
full, the whole aspect as of some one distinguished and out of the
ordinary.

They stared at one another for a moment and then the hand of the older
man dropped to his side.  "I beg your pardon," he said, with some show
of apology in his tone, "Surely I must have made a mistake.  Where have
I seen you before?  You are no anarchist; pray, pardon me."

The young man was feeling his arm ruefully: "Good gracious, sir," he
said, "but you are hasty!--I never felt such a grip.  The muscles are
quite sore already, but luckily it is the left arm, otherwise, Bózhe
moi[1], I vow I'd sue you!--If it were the fingers now, or the wrist--"

He took off his fur gloves and examined both hands carefully, one after
the other.  A scornful look came over the older man's face:

"There was no excuse, my friend, for the way your troïka rounded that
corner.  Such driving is criminal in a public street.  It's a mercy we
weren't all killed!  Still, you really must pardon me, these anarchist
devils are everywhere nowadays and one has to take precautions.  I was
hurrying to the Mariínski."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth, when there came the snapping of
two watch lids almost simultaneously, and both gentlemen gave a cry of
consternation.

"Oh, the deuce!" exclaimed the boy, "so was I, and look at the time if
you please; the House will be in an uproar!"

The older man hurried towards the already righted sleigh: "Most
unfortunate," he fumed, "and to-night of all nights!  The entire
concert will be at a standstill.  The rug, Pierre, quick the rug!  Are
the horses ready?  Hurry, you great lumbering son of an ox!"

The boy had already leaped into the troïka and was wrapping the fur
robes about his knees.  "We shall put in an appearance about the same
time, sir," he called back carelessly over his shoulder.  "You won't
miss anything, not a note, if that will comfort you.  Hey, Bobo, go
ahead!  The concert can't begin without me."

"Without you," interrupted the other, "eh, what--you?  Týsyacha
chertéi[2]!  What do you mean?"

The master of the black sleigh stood up suddenly and threw back his
cloak with a haughty gesture.  He was in uniform and his breast
glittered with orders.  His cap fell back from his face, and his eyes,
small and black and crossed, his beaked nose, his grey upturned
mustache, showed distinctly in the moonlight.  The face was known to
every Russian, young and old, rich and poor--the Grand-Duke Stepan.

The youth made a low obeisance; then he tossed the hair away from his
brows and laughed: "True, your highness," he said with mock humility,
"I should have said--'until we both get there,' of course.  Your
pardon, sire."

The Duke leaned forward: "Stop--!" he exclaimed, "Your face--certainly
somewhere I have seen it--Wait!"

The driver of the troïka reined in the panting horses three abreast.
They pawed the snow, still prancing a little and trembling, their bits
flecked with foam.  The youth saluted with one hand carelessly, while
with the other he grasped the dark, oblong object that was not a bomb.

"Au revoir, your Grace," he cried, "You have seen me before and you
will see me again, to-night, if this arm of mine recovers--"  He
laughed:--"I am Velasco."

As he spoke the horses leaped forward and the troïka, darting across
the moonlight of the Square, disappeared into the shadows behind the
Mariínski.

The Duke gazed after it petrified: "Velasco!" he said, "And I all but
twisted his wrist!--Ye gods!

"Go on, Pierre, go on!"


The Theatre was superbly lighted, crowded from the pit to the gallery,
from the orchestra chairs to the Bel-Etage with the cream of St.
Petersburg aristocracy.

It was like a vast garden of colour.

The brilliant uniforms of the officers mingled with the more delicate
hues of ecru and rose, sky-blue and palest heliotrope of the loggias.
Fans waved here and there over the house, fluttering, flashing like
myriads of butterfly wings.  The stage was filled with the black and
white of the orchestra and the musicians sat waiting, the conductor
gnawing his long mustache in an agony of doubt and bewilderment.

Gradually a hush stole over the House.  The fans waved less regularly;
the uniforms and the more delicate hues whispered together, glancing
first at a box on the first tier, which was still empty, and then at
the stage door and back again.

Where was the Grand-Duke Stepan, and where was the star, the idol, the
young god, who was to charm their hearts with his four strings?--for
whom they had paid fifteen roubles, twenty--twenty-five until there
wasn't a seat left, not even standing room; only the crimson-curtained
Imperial Loggia in the centre, solitary, significant.

The time passed; the minutes dragged slowly.

Suddenly the curtains moved.  An usher appeared and placed a chair.
Another moment of silence; then a tall, grey-haired, military figure
stepped to the front of the loggia and bowed to right and to left; his
eyes, small and black and crossed, glancing haughtily over the throng.
"At last!"--The applause was mechanical, in strict accordance with
etiquette, but there was a relieved note in it and the thousands of
straining eyes leaped back to the stage, eager and watchful.

All at once a small door in the wings opened slightly and a slim boyish
figure strode across the boards, a mane of dark hair falling over his
brows.

"Velasco!"  A roar went up from the House--"Velasco!
Ah--h--viva--Velas--co!"

Instantly, with a tap of his baton, the conductor motioned for silence,
and then, with the first downward beat, the orchestra began the
introduction to the concerto.

The young Violinist stood languidly, his Stradivarius tucked under his
arm, the bow held in a slim and graceful hand.  His dark eyes roamed
over the brilliant spectacle before him, from tier to tier, from top to
bottom.  He had seen it all before many times; but never so beautiful,
so vast an audience, such a glory of colour, such closeness of
attention.  Raising his violin, with a strange, dreamy swaying of his
young body, Velasco drew the bow over the quivering strings in the
first solo passage of the Vieuxtemps.

The tones rose and fell above the volume of the orchestra.  The depth
of them, the sweetness seemed to penetrate to the uttermost corner.  A
curious tenseness came over the listening audience.  Not a soul
stirred.  The Grand-Duke sat motionless with his head in his hands.
The strings vibrated to each individual heart-beat; the bow sighed over
them, and with the last note a murmur and then a roar went up.

Velasco stirred slightly, dropped his bow and bowed, without raising
his eyes.  Then, hardly waiting for the applause to subside, the second
movement began, slow and passionate.  The notes became fuller and more
sensuous.  The hush deepened.  The silence grew more intense; a strain
of listening, a fixed eagerness of watching.

Suddenly, in the midst, the Violinist raised his head from his
instrument, drawing the bow with a slow, downward, caressing pressure
over the E string.  His eyes, half veiled and dreamy, looked straight
across the House into a loggia next to the Imperial Box, impelled
thereto by some force outside of his own consciousness.

A girl with an exquisite flower-like face was leaning over the crimson
rail, her gaze on his, fixed and intent.  The gold of her hair
glistened in the light.  Her lips were parted, the bosom of her dress
rising and falling; her small hands clasped.

Velasco gazed steadily for a moment; then he dropped his head again,
and swaying slightly played on.

The bow seemed fairly to rend the strings.  He toyed with the
difficulties; his scales, his arpeggios were as a flash, a ripple of
notes tumbling over one another, each one a pearl.  His lion's mane
caressed the violin; his cheek pressed it like a living thing, closely,
passionately, and it answered like a creature possessed.

As the strings vibrated to the last dying note, the beauty of it, the
virtuosity, the abandon, drove the House mad with enthusiasm.  They
rose to him; they shouted his name eagerly, impetuously.

"Velasco!  Viva!--Velasco!  Bravo--bravissimo!"

Over the packed Theatre the handkerchiefs waved like a myriad of white
banners.  The bravos redoubled.  The women tore the flowers from their
girdles to fling on the stage; they lay piled on the white boards about
him, broken and sweet, their perfume filling the air.

The young Violinist bowed, his hand on his heart, smiled and bowed
again.  He went out by the little door, and then came back and bowed
and bowed.

The House rose as one man.

"Velasco!  Velas--co!"  It was deafening.

Suddenly out of the uproar, out of the crowd and the din, from someone,
from somewhere, a bunch of violets fell at his feet.  He raised them to
his lips with a smile.  "Viva--Velas--co--o!"  The clapping redoubled.

About the stems of the violets, twined and intertwined again, was a
twist of paper.  His eyes fell for an instant on the blotted words and
then the stage door closed behind him.  They were few and almost
illegible.

"_Will you help me--life or death--tonight?  Kaya._"  The rest was a
blot.  He scanned them again more closely and shook the hair from his
eyes.

"Velasco!  Velasco--Viva!"

When the young Violinist came forward for the third time, his dark eyes
flashed to the eyes of the girl like steel to a magnet.  They seemed to
plead, to wrestle with him.

"_Will you help me--life or death--tonight?  Kaya._"

Did her lips move; was it a signal?  Her hands seemed to beckon him.
He bowed low to the loggia, like one in a trance, once, twice, their
eyes still together.  And then, suddenly, he wrenched himself away
remembering the House, the shouting, cheering, waving House.

"Ah--h Velasco--o!"

Lifting his violin he began to play again slowly, dreamily, hardly
knowing how or why, a weird, chanting Polish improvisation like a love
song, a song without words.  His eyes opened and closed again.  Always
that gaze, pleading, wrestling, that flower-like face, those clasped
hands beckoning.

Who was she--Kaya?  His heart beat and throbbed; he was suffocating.
With a last wild and passionate note Velasco tore the bow from the
strings; it was as though the earth had opened and swallowed him up; he
was gone.



[1] My God.

[2] A thousand devils!



CHAPTER II

In one of the poorer quarters of St. Petersburg there is a street on a
back canal, and over the street an arch.  To the right of the arch is a
flight of steps, ancient and worm-eaten, difficult of climbing by day
by reason of a hole here, a worn place there, and the perilous tilting
of the boards; at night well nigh impassable without a lantern.  The
steps wind and end in a tenement, once a palace, spanning the water.

It was midnight.

A cloud had come over the moon, light and fleecy at first, but
gradually growing blacker and spreading until finally it hung like a
huge drop-curtain screening the stars.

The street lay in darkness.  From a window in the top of the arch a
single light was visible, pale and flickering as the ray from a candle;
otherwise the grey bulk of the building seemed lost in the shadows,
lifeless and silent.

Suddenly the light went out.

"Hist--st!"  As if at a signal something moved on the staircase,
creeping forward, and then from the shadow of the tenement, from under
the archway, emerged other shadows, moving slowly like wraiths,
hesitating, stopping, losing themselves in the general blackness, and
then stirring again; shadows within shadows creeping.

Presently a door at the top of the steps opened and shut.  Every time
it opened, a shadow passed through and another crept forward.  No word
was spoken, no sound; not a step creaked, not a board stirred.  It was
a procession of ghosts.

Behind the door was a long stone passage, narrow and dark like a cave.
The shadows felt the walls with their hands softly, gropingly, but the
hands were silent like the feet.  Except for a hurried breathing in the
darkness the passage seemed empty.

Beyond were more steps leading down, and another passage, and then a
second door locked and barred.  Before this door the shadows halted,
huddled together.  "Hist--st!"  Instantly the floor under them began to
quiver and drop, inch by inch, foot by foot, down a well of continued
blackness.  The minutes passed.  They still dropped lower and lower, so
low that they were now below the level of the canal; down, down into
the very foundations of the tenement, once a palace.  All of a sudden
the darkness ceased.

The room into which the elevator entered was large, low-raftered and
lighted by a group of candles at the far end.  In the centre was a
black table, and about the table thirteen chairs also black.  The one
at the head was occupied by a figure garbed in a cloak and hood, with a
black mask drawn down to the lips.  The other chairs were empty.

By the light of the candles the shadows now took shape, the one from
the other, and twelve black-cloaked and hooded figures stole forward,
also masked to the lips.  They passed one by one before the seated
mask, touching his hand lightly, fleetingly, as one dipping the fingers
into holy water, and then around the table to their seats, each in
turn, until all were placed.

Some of the figures were tall, broad-shouldered and heavy, others small
and slight.  From the height, the strength or delicacy of the chin, the
shape and size of the hand, was it alone possible to distinguish the
sex; the rest was shrouded in a mystery absolute and unfathomable.

As the last and thirteenth chair was filled, the mask at the head
leaned forward and pointed silently to a dark object at the far end of
the room about which the candles flickered and sparkled.  It was a huge
Black Cross suspended as above an altar.  Below it lay an open bier,
roughly hewn out of the stone, and across it a name in scarlet
lettering.  The bier was empty.

The twelve other masks turned towards the Cross, reading the name, and
they made a sign with the hands in unison, a rapid crisscross motion
over the breast, the forehead, the eyes, ending in the low murmur of a
word, unintelligible, like a pledge.  Then the first mask to the left
rose and bowed to the Head.

"Speak," he said, "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth.  Of what is this man accused?"

There was a moment of silence, intense and charged with significance;
then the mask spoke.

"In the province of Pskof there is a Commune.  One night, last winter,
the peasants rose without warning.  They shot, they maimed, they
hacked, they burned alive every Jew in the village, men, women and
children; not one escaped.  The police were behind them.  The
instigator of the police was--"

The Head raised his hand: "Do you know this for a fact, from personal
information?"

"I know it for a fact, from personal information."

The first mask took his seat and the second rose, a gaunt figure, the
shoulders bowed and crippled under the cloak.  His voice was deep and
full, with tones plaintive and penetrating.

"A month ago there were seven men arrested.  They were taken to 'Peter
and Paul' and thrust into dungeons unspeakable.  They received no
trial; they were convicted of no crime; they never saw their families
again.  Three of these men are now in the mines.  Two are still in the
cells.  Two are dead."

"Why were they arrested and by whose order?"

"They were workmen who had attended a meeting of the Social Democrats
and had helped to circulate Liberal papers.  It was done by the order
of--"

The third mask sprang to his feet.  His fists were clenched, and he was
breathing hard like one who has been running.

"It is my turn," he cried, "Let me--speak!  You know--you haven't
forgotten!--On the Tsar's birthday, a band of students marched to the
steps of the Winter Palace.  They went peacefully, with trust in their
hearts, no weapon in their hands.  They were surrounded by Cossacks,
who beat them with knouts, riding them down.  They were boys, some of
them hardly out of the Gymnasium, the flower of our youth, brave sons
of Russia ready to fight for her and die."  He hesitated and his voice
broke.  "At the foot of the Alexander Column, they were mown down like
grass without warning, or mercy; their blood still sprinkles the
stones.  Many were killed, hundreds arrested, few escaped.  At the head
of the Cossacks rode--"

A sigh stirred the room deepening into a groan, and then came a hush.
Some buried their faces in their hands, weeping silently behind the
masks.  After a while the Head raised his hand and the fourth rose,
slowly, reluctantly, speaking in a woman's voice so faint and low it
could scarcely make itself heard.  The masks bent forward listening.

"Last week," it murmured, "the Countess Petrushka was suspected.  She
was torn from her home, imprisoned"--The voice grew lower and lower.
"She was beaten--tortured by the guards; she never returned,--yesterday
she was--buried."  The voice broke into sobs.  "The man who signed the
paper was--"

So the trial went on amid the stillness, more and more solemn, more and
more impressive, as one accusation followed the other in swift
succession; the candles dropping low in their sockets, the light
growing dimmer, the room larger and lower and more ghostly, the night
waning.

In every case the name was left a blank; but in that strange pause, as
if for judgment, the eyes of the masks sought the bier, resting with
slow fascination on the words across it, gleaming scarlet beneath the
flickering candles, vivid and red like blood.

The final accusation had been made.  The twelfth and last mask had sunk
back in his chair and the leader rose.  The silence was like a pall
over the table.  When his voice broke through, it was sharp and stern,
as the voice of a judge admonishing a court.

"You have all heard," he said, "You are aware of what this man has
done, is now doing, will continue to do.  Does he merit to live?--Has
he deserved to die?  For the sake of our country, our people,
ourselves, deliberate and determine.--His fate rests in the hands of
the _Black Cross_."

He bowed his head on his breast and waited.  No one moved or spoke.  At
the far end of the room, the candles dripped one by one on the bier,
falling lower and lower.  Occasionally the wax flared up, lighting the
darkness; then all was dim.

Suddenly, as from some mysterious impulse, the thirteen sprang to their
feet, and again their hands flashed out in that curious crisscross
motion over the breast, the forehead, the eyes, and a murmur went from
mouth to mouth like a hiss.

"_Cmeptb_--Death!" rising into a sound so intense, so terrifying, so
muffled and suppressed and menacing, it was as the cry of an animal
wounded, dying, about to spring.  Falling on their knees, they remained
motionless for a moment; then, following the leader, each stepped
forward in turn and took their places about the bier.

The ceremony that followed was strange and solemn; one that no outside
eye has ever gazed on, no lips have ever dared to breathe.  They stood
in the shadow of death, their own and another's.  Their heads were
bowed.  Their bodies shook and trembled.  With hands raised they took
the oath, terrible, relentless, overpowering, gripping them from now on
as in a vice; both sexes alike, with voices spent and faint with
emotion.

"_In the name of the Black Cross I do now pledge myself, an instrument
in the service of Justice and Retribution.  On whomsoever the choice of
Fate shall fall, I vow the sentence of Death shall be fulfilled, by
mine own hands if needs be, without weakness, or hesitation, or mercy.
And if by any untoward chance this hand should fail, I swear--I swear,
before the third day shall have passed, to die instead--to
die--instead._"

The words ended in a whisper, low, intense, prescient of a woe not to
be borne.

"_I swear--I pledge myself--by mine own hands if needs be._"

A sigh broke the stillness.  The masks stirred, recovered themselves
and bent over the bier, drawing out, one after the other, a slip of
paper folded.  There were thirteen slips.  Twelve were blank; on one
was a Black Cross graven.

They drew in silence; no start, no movement, no trembling of the
muscles betrayed the one fated.  Twelve drew blanks.  Which of them had
the Cross; which?  They stared dumbly, questioningly, fearfully from
one to the other.  One was the assassin.  Which?  The answer was
shrouded behind the masks.

Lower and lower the candles burned in their sockets, flickering
fitfully.  The room grew darker and the figures, cloaked and hooded,
seemed to melt back into the shadows from whence they had emerged, less
and less distinct, until finally the shadow was one, more and more
vapoury, filling the darkness.

Suddenly, a scream cut the silence, like a knife rough and jagged.  In
a twinkling the lights went out.  There was a scuffling, a struggling
in the corridor, cries and shouting, the sound of wood splintering, the
blows of an axe,--a rushing forward of heavy bodies and the trampling
of feet.  The doors burst open, and a cordon of police dashed over the
wreckage, cursing, shouting--and then stopped on the threshold, staring
in amazement and panting with mouths wide open.

"Oï!--Oï! Týsyacha chertéi!"

The room was empty, dark, deserted save for an old woman, half-witted,
who was crouching on the floor before the sacred Icon, rocking herself
and mumbling.  They questioned her, but she was deaf and answered at
random:

"Eh, gracious sirs--my lords--eh?  So old--so poor, so wretched!  See,
there is nothing!--A copeck, for the love of heaven--half a copeck--a
quarter, only a little quarter!  Ah!  Rioumka vodki[1]--rioumka--vodki!"

The police brushed her aside and searched the room.  In the corner was
a low cot, hanging on a nail was an old cloak; on the table the remains
of a black loaf and an empty cup.  They searched and searched in vain;
tapping the walls, tearing at the stone foundations, peering up at the
rafters, tumbling over one another in their eagerness.

"Chórt vozmí[2]--!" shouted the captain, "We are on the wrong track.
The scream came from the other side.  Head them off!  Run, men, run!
Here, this passage, and then straight ahead!  Devil take the old
beggar!  Shut up, you hag, or I'll strangle you!--Head them off!"

Gradually the hurrying footsteps died away in the distance.  The
shouting ceased on the stairs.  It was still as the grave, silent,
deserted.  The old woman glanced over her shoulder.  She was still
crouching before the Icon, rocking herself backwards and forwards; the
beads of the rosary slipping through her fingers one by one; mumbling
to herself.

Suddenly she stopped and listened.  The rosary fell to the floor.  Her
eyes watched the wreckage of the doorway closely, suspiciously, like an
animal before a trap.  The shadows encircled her, they were here,
there, everywhere; but none moved, none crept.

Snatching a slip of paper from her bosom, she bent over it, her eyes
dilated, her mouth twisted with agony.  In the centre of the paper,
clearly graven against the white, was a Black Cross.

She moaned aloud, wringing her hands.  Her teeth gnawed her lips.  She
clung to the foot of the Icon, sobbing, struggling with herself,
glancing around fearfully into the shadows.  A gleam from the candle
fell on her hood; it had slipped slightly and a strand of her hair hung
from under the cowl.  It sparkled like gold.

She staggered to her feet, still sobbing and trembling, catching her
breath.  Then she went to the nail on the wall and took down the cloak.
The woman stood alone in the midst of the shadows; they were heavy,
motionless.  Glancing to right and left, behind her, to the wreckage of
the door, to the furthermost corner, back to the Icon again, her eyes
roved, darting from side to side like a creature hunted.  Clasping the
cloak to her quivering bosom she approached the candle slowly,
stealthily.  Her steps faltered.  She hesitated.  She stooped
forward--another glance over her shoulder, and blowing with feeble
breath, the spark went out.



[1] A small glass of brandy.

[2] "The devil take you!"



CHAPTER III

Velasco sat in his Studio before the great tiled fire-place, dreaming,
with his violin across his knees.  His servant had gone to bed and he
was alone.

The coals burned brightly, and the lamp cast a golden, radiant light on
the rug at his feet, rich-hued and jewel tinted as the stained rose
windows of Notre Dame.  Tapestries hung from the walls, a painting here
and there, a few engravings.  In the centre stood an Erard, a
magnificent concert-grand, open, with music strewn on its polished lid
in a confusion of sheets; some piled, some fluttering loose, still
others flung to the floor where a chance breeze, or a careless hand,
may have scattered them.  Near it was the exquisite bronze figure of a
young satyr playing the flute, the childish arms and limbs, round and
molded, glowing rosy and warm in the lamp light.  In one corner was a
violin stand, a bow tossed heedlessly across it; and all about were
boxes, half packed and disordered.  The curtains were drawn.  The
malachite clock on the mantel-piece was striking two.

Velasco stirred suddenly and his dark head turned from the fire light,
moving restlessly against the cushions.  He was weary.  The applause,
the uproar of the Mariínski was still in his ears; before his eyes
danced innumerable notes, tiny and black, the sound of them boring into
his brain.

"Ye gods--ye gods!"

The young Violinist sprang up and began pacing the room, pressing his
hands to his eyes to drive away the notes, humming to himself to get
rid of the sound, the theme, the one haunting, irrepressible motive.
He walked up and down, lighting one cigarette after the other, puffing
once, twice, and then hurling it half-smoked into the coals.

Every little while he stopped and seemed to be listening.  Then he went
back to his seat before the fire-place and flinging himself down began
to play, a few bars at a time, stopping and listening, then playing
again.  As he played, his eyes grew dreamy and heavy, the brows seemed
to press upon them until they drooped under the lids, and his dark hair
fell like a screen.

When he stopped, a strange, moody look came over his face and he
frowned, tapping the rug nervously with his foot.  Sometimes he held
the violin between his knees, playing on it as on a cello; then he
caught it to his breast again in a sudden fury of improvisation--an
arpeggio, light and running, his fingers barely touching the
strings--the snatch of a theme--a trill, low and passionate--the rush
of a scale.  He toyed with the Stradivarius mocking it, clasping it,
listening.

His overwrought nerves were as pinpoints pricking his body.  His brain
was like a church, the organ of music filling it, thundering,
reverberating, dying away; and then, as he lay back exhausted, low,
subtle, insinuating ran the theme in his ears, the maddening motive.

Beside him was a stand, with a decanter of red wine and a glass.  The
wine was lustrous and sparkling.  He drank of it, and lit another
cigarette and threw it away.  Presently Velasco took from his pocket a
twist of paper blotted, and studied it, with his head in his hands.

"_Will you help me--life or death--tonight?  Kaya._"

He listened again.

The theme was still running, the black notes dancing; but between them
intertwined was a face, upturned, exquisite, the eyes pleading, the
lips parted, hands clasped and beckoning.  That night at the
Mariínski--ah!

He had searched for her everywhere.  Ushers had flown from loggia to
loggia, ransacking the Theatre.  Next to the Imperial Box, or was it
the second?  To the right?--no, the left!  Below, or perhaps on the
Bel-Etage?--All in vain.  Was it only a dream?  He stared down at the
twist of paper blotted "_Kaya--to-night._"

Her name came to his lips and he repeated it aloud, smiling to himself,
musing.  His eyes gazed into the coals, dreamy, heavy, half open,
gleaming like dark slits under the brows.  They closed gradually and
his head fell lower.  His hands relaxed.  The violin lay on his breast,
his pale cheek resting against the arch.

He was asleep.

All of a sudden there came a light tap on the door.  A pause, a tap,
still lighter; then another pause.

Velasco raised his head and tossed back his hair restlessly; his eyes
drooped again.

"Tap--tap."

He started and listened.

Some one was at the Studio door--something.  It was like the flutter of
a bird's wing against the oak, softly, persistently.

"Tap--tap."

He rose slowly, reluctantly to his feet and went to the door.  It was
strange, inexplicable.  After two, and the moon was gone, the night was
dark--unless--An eager look came into his eyes.

"Who is there?" he cried, "Who are you?  What do you want?"

A silence followed, as if the bird had poised suddenly with wings
outstretched, hovering.  Then it came again against the oak: "Tap--tap."

Velasco threw open the door: "Bózhe moi!"

As he did so, a woman's figure, slim and small, hooded and wrapped in a
long, black cloak, darted inside, and snatching the door from his hand,
closed it behind her rapidly, fearfully, glancing back into the
darkness.  The woman was panting under the hood.  She braced herself
against the door, still clasping the bolt as though a weapon.  Her back
was crooked beneath the cloak and she seemed to be crippled.

Velasco drew back.  His eagerness vanished and the light died out of
his face.  "Who in the name of--"  He hesitated: "What in the world--"
Then he hesitated again, his dark eyes blinking under his brows.

The woman stretched her hands from under the cloak, clasping them.  She
was fighting hard for her breath.

"Tell me, Monsieur," she whispered, "Tell me quickly--are you married?
Are you going alone to Germany?"  Her voice shook and trembled: "Oh,
tell me,--quickly."

"Married, my good woman!" exclaimed Velasco.  His eyes opened wide and
he drew back a little further: "Why really, Madame--Of course I am
going alone to Germany.  What do you mean?  How extraordinary!"

"Quite alone?" repeated the woman, "no friend, no manager?  Oh then,
sir, do me the little favour, the kindness--it will cost you nothing--I
shall never forget it--I shall bless you all the days of my life."

She took a step forward, limping.  Velasco recovered himself.

"Sit down, Madame," he said, "and explain.  You are trembling so.  Let
me give you some wine.--Wait a minute.  There,--is it money you want?
Tell me."

His manner was that of a prince to a beggar, lofty, authoritative,
kindly, indifferent.  "Sit down, Madame."

The woman shrank back against the door and her hand fled to the bolt as
if seeking support.  "No--no!" she murmured.  "You don't understand.
It's not for--not money!  I'm in trouble, danger.  Don't you see?  I
must flee from Russia--now, at once.  You are going to Germany alone,
to-morrow night.  Take me with you--take me with--you!"

An irritated look came over Velasco's face.  Was the creature mad?
"That is nonsense," he said, "I can't take any one with me, and I
wouldn't if I could.  Besides there is only one passport."

The woman put her hand to her breast.  It was throbbing madly under the
cloak.  "You could take--your--wife," she whispered, "Your wife.  No
one would suspect."

"Really, my dear Madame!"

Velasco yawned behind his palm.  "What you say is simply absurd.  I
tell you I have no wife."

She stretched out her hands to him: "You are a Pole, a Pole!"  Her
voice rose passionately.  "Surely you have suffered; you hate Russia,
this cruel, wicked, tyrannous government.  Your sympathy is with us,
the people, the Liberals, who are trying--oh, I tell you--I must go, at
once!  After tomorrow it is death, don't you understand,--death?  What
is it to you, the matter of another passport?  You are Velasco?--Every
one knows that name, every one.  Your wife goes with you to Germany.
Oh, take me--take me--I beseech you."

The Violinist stared down at the hooded face.  Her voice was tense and
vibrating like the tones of an instrument.  It moved him strangely.  He
felt a curious numbness in his throat and a wave passed over him like a
chill.  She went on, her hands wrung together under the cloak:

"It isn't much I ask.  The journey together--at the frontier we
part--part forever.  The marriage, oh listen--that is nothing, a
ceremony, a farce, just a certificate to show the police--the police--"

Her voice died away in a whisper, broken, panting.  She fell back
against the door, bracing herself against it, gazing up into his eyes.

Velasco stood motionless for a moment; then he turned on his heel and
strode over to the fire-place, staring down into the coals.  The sight
of that bent and shrinking figure, a woman, old and feeble, trembling
like a creature hunted, unmanned him.

"I can't do it," he said slowly, "Don't ask me.  I am a musician.  I
have no interest in politics.  There is too much risk.  I can't,
Madame, I can't."

He felt her coming towards him.  The flutter of her cloak, it touched
him, and her step was light, like a bird limping.

"You read it?" she whispered, "I saw you at the Mariínski; and
there--there are the violets on the table, by the violin.  Have you
forgotten?"

Velasco started: "Who are you?" he exclaimed.  "Not Kaya!"  He wheeled
around and faced her savagely: "You Kaya, never!  Was it you who threw
the violets--you?"

His dark eyes measured the shrinking form, bent and crippled, shrouded;
and he cried out in his disappointment like a peevish boy: "I thought
it was she--she!  Kaya was young, fair, her face was like a flower; her
hair was like gold; her lips were parted, arched and sweet; her
eyes--You, you are not Kaya!--Never!"

His voice was angry and full of scorn: "It was all a dream, a mistake.
Go--out of my sight; begone!  I'll have nothing to do with anarchists."

He snatched the violets from the table and flung them on the hearth:
"Begone, or I'll call the police."  He was in a tempest of rage.  His
disappointment rose in his throat and choked him.

The old woman shrank back from him step by step.  He followed
threateningly:

"Begone, you beggar."

His heart beat unpleasantly.  Devil take the old woman!  Impostor!  She
was old and ugly as sin.  He was sleepy and weary.  Why had he taken
the violets; why had he read the note?  If the girl were not Kaya, then
who--who?

"Come," he cried sharply, "Be off!"

Suddenly the woman buried her head in her hands.  She began to sob in
long drawn breaths; they shook her form.  She fell back against the
Erard, trembling and sobbing.

Velasco stared down at her.  His anger left him like a flash and his
heart softened.  Poor thing, poor creature!  She was old and feeble,
and crippled.  He had forgotten.  He had only thought of her, Kaya, the
girl with the flower-like face.  He shook himself, as if out of a
dream, and his hand patted the woman's shoulder soothingly.  His voice
lost its sharpness.

"Don't," he said, "Don't cry like that, my dear Madame--no, don't!  It
will be all right.  I was hasty.  Don't mind what I said,--don't--no!"

She dashed his hand from her shoulder and broke into passionate
weeping: "You play like a god," she cried, "but you are not; you are a
brute.  You have no heart.  It is your violin that has the heart.
Don't touch me--let me go!  It was so little I asked, so little!"

She struggled away from him, but Velasco pursued her.  His heart
misgave him.  He grasped her cloak with one hand, the hood with the
other, trying to raise it; "Stop!" he said, "I can't stand a woman
crying, young or old.  I can't stand it; it makes me sick.  Stop, I
tell you!  I'll do anything.  I'll--I'll marry you--You shall go to
Germany with me.  Only stop for heaven's sake.  Don't cry like
that--don't!"

He stooped over the shrinking figure still lower; his arm pressed her
shoulder.  She struggled with him blindly, still sobbing.

"Now, by heaven," cried Velasco, "If you are to be my wife, I'll see
your face at least.  Be still, Madame, be still!"

The woman cowered away from him, holding out her hands, pressing him
back.  "I beg of you--I beseech you," she said, "Not my face!  No--no,
Monsieur!"

She gazed at him in terror, and as she gazed, the hood slipped back
from her hair; it fell in a golden flood to her shoulders, curling in
little rings and waves about her forehead, her neck; veiling her face.
She gave a cry.

Velasco stood for a moment petrified, staring down into the frightened
eyes that were like twin wells of blue fixed on his own.  Then he
leaped forward, snatched at the cloak, flung out his arms,--he had
clasped the air.  She was gone.  The door slammed back in his face and
the sound of her hurrying footsteps, light as a bird's, fled in the
distance.

He was all alone in the room.

Velasco rubbed his eyes with his hand and stared about him, strangely,
mechanically, like a sleep-walker.  "What a dream!  Ye gods, what a
dream!"  He stretched his limbs yawning and laughed aloud; then he
paled suddenly.  Was it a dream; or no--impossible.  On the sleeve of
his black velvet jacket something glistened and sparkled, a thread as
of gold, fine and slender like silk, invisible almost as the fibrous
strings of his bow.

He raised it between his fingers.  Then slowly, heavily, he went back
to his seat before the fire-place and flung himself down.

The lamp-light fell on the Persian rug dimly, flickeringly, the colours
were soft as an ancient fresco; the jewels were gone, and the coals
burned lower, dying.  He lit a cigarette and began to smoke.  The
violin was in his arms.  He played low to himself, dreamily, fitfully,
his eyes half closed, dark slits beneath the brows.

At his feet lay the violets crushed and strewn; a twist of paper
creased, blotted.

The light of the lamp grew dimmer.  The malachite clock struck again
and again.  The night passed.



CHAPTER IV

Below the Nicholai Bridge, on the right quay of the Neva, stands the
palace of the Grand-Duke Stepan, a huge, granite structure, massive in
form and splendid in architecture.

The palace was ablaze with light.  In the famous ball-room thousands of
electric bulbs twinkled and sparkled, star-shaped and dazzling.  Its
lofty, dome-like vault, resting on marble columns, was encircled by a
balcony, narrow and sculptured, from which the music of the band rose
and fell, soft, entrancing, invisible, as from the clouds.  The walls
were of reddish marble rounded at the corners.  The floor, shining,
polished as a mirror, reflected the swaying forms of the dancers as
they whirled to and fro.

Beyond, on the grand stair-case, the guests ascended slowly in groups
of twos and threes, flecking the marble with splashes of colour,
radiant, vivid, like clusters of rose leaves strewn on the steps.  The
perfume was intoxicating, languorous.  Light trills as of laughter and
snatches of talk, gay and fleeting, mingled with the rhythm of the
violins.

The ball was at its height.

In an arch of the stair-case stood a young officer.  He was leaning
nonchalantly against the carved balustrade; the scarlet and gold of his
uniform shone against a green background of palms, distinguishing his
broad shoulders from among the rest.  The palms screened him as in a
niche.

The officer was swarthy of complexion with a short, black mustache, and
his eyes, small and near together, roamed carelessly over the throng.
As the groups approached the head of the stair-case, one after the
other, he saluted smiling, half heeding, and his eyes roved on still
more carelessly; sometimes they crossed.

Whenever they crossed, his eyes would remain fixed, intent, for a
moment, on some one advancing to the foot of the stair-case, eagerly
watching as the form came nearer and nearer.  Then the muscles relaxed.
He frowned impatiently, tapping his sword against the carvings.

"Hiss-s-t--Prince Michel!"

The whisper came from behind the leaves of the palms and they swayed
slightly, trembling as from a movement, or a breath.

The officer started, turning his black eyes swiftly, fiercely on the
green, and then looked away again.

"Ha, Boris!" he muttered, hardly moving his lips, "How you come
creeping behind one!--What is it, a message?"

"Hist-st!  Speak low."

The voice was like the faint murmur of crickets on a hot summer's day.
"The Duke has gone."

"Gone?  What!  The devil he has!"

"Sh-h!--not five minutes ago!  A message came from the Tsar himself.
He has just slipped away."

The officer gazed straight ahead of him smiling, and bowed to a couple
ascending the stair-case.  His lips parted as if in greeting.  "Did he
send you to tell me?"

"No, the Duchess.  She has made some excuse and is receiving alone.  No
one suspects, not yet; but the guests must be diverted, or else--"

"Be still, Boris, be still, you shake the leaves like a bull.  When
will he return?"

"By midnight, Prince.  Could you start the mazurka at once?"

"Presently, Boris.  Go and tell my mother I will--presently.  The
Countess is late, unaccountably late!  Is the snow heavy to-night on
the quay; are the sledges blocked?  Hiss-st!--There she comes!"

The trembling of the leaves ceased suddenly and the young officer
leaned forward, his sword clanking, his eyes crossed and fixed on a
vague white spot in the distant foyer.

"She is coming!  How slowly she moves!  What a throng!--There, she
comes, white and sweet like a lily, a flower!"  The Prince waved his
hand; his sword clanked again.  "No, she doesn't see me; her eyes are
on the ground--and her hair, it gleams like a crown."

The two figures climbing the grand marble stair-case moved forward
slowly, step by step, mingling with the flash and colour of the crowd,
lost for a moment at the bend, then reappearing again.  The man,
evidently a general, was magnificent in his uniform; his breast regal
with orders and medals, his grey head held high and his form stiff and
straight.  On his arm was the Countess, his daughter.

She clung to him, her lips were smiling and her white robes trailed the
marble behind her.  She was like a young queen, charming and gracious,
bowing to right and to left.  As the groups drew aside to let her pass,
they whispered together, looking up at the carved balustrade; then the
crowd closed again.

At the top of the stair-case the Prince sprang forward.  He greeted the
General hastily, saluting.  Then the watchers behind saw how the
Countess paused, hesitated, and then, at a few whispered words from the
Prince, placed her hand on his arm and the two young figures, the white
and the scarlet, disappeared within the doorway.

The violins rose and fell in a dreamy measure.  From the sculptured
gallery the sound came mysterious, enchanting, swaying the feet with
the force of its rhythm.

"Not to-night," said the Countess, "No!"  She drew herself away from
the arm of the Prince and her lashes drooped over her eyes.  "I am
tired--later perhaps, Prince."

Her voice, low and remonstrating, was lost in the swing of the waltz.
With a sudden, swift movement the scarlet and white seemed welded
together, whirling into the vortex of light and of motion.

No word was exchanged.  They whirled, gliding, twisting in and out
among the dancers; and suddenly, swiftly, as at a signal, the music
broke into the measure of the mazurka.  A cry went up from the throng.
In a twinkling the floor was cleared, the crowd pressed back against
the columns; under the reddish marble of the dome four couples
gathered, poised hand in hand.

The uniforms of the officers glowed in the light, rich and scarlet,
faced with silver and gold.  The gowns of their partners were brocade
and velvet, purple and crimson, lilac and pearl.  Then from the
balcony, high up, unseen, the rhythm changed again like a flash, and
with it the national dance began.

At first the movements were slow, the steps graceful; the feet seemed
scarcely to move, barely gliding over the floor.  One by one the
couples retreated, the last left alone; and then interchanging.  The
music grew faster.  In that moment, when they were left alone, the
Prince bent his head to the slim, swaying whiteness by his side:

"Why did you come so late?" he whispered, "Where were you?"

The Countess' hand was cold like ice.  She drew it away and danced on;
then she whispered back:

"The Duke!  Where is he to-night?  He is not here!  Why is the mazurka
so early, tell me."

They interchanged again.

"Hush," said the Prince, "You noticed?--Don't speak.  He has gone to
the Tsar.--What is it?  Are you ill?"

"He has--gone?"

"Dance, Countess, dance.  Don't stop; are you mad?  Come nearer.
Hush!--The Tsar sent for him, but he will be back at midnight.  No one
must know."

The figure of the mazurka grew stranger and more complicated.  When
they were thrown together again, the Countess lifted her blue eyes to
the eyes of the Prince.  They seemed to look at her and yet to look
past her; they were crossed.  She shivered slightly and turned her
head.  Her white figure, slender and light as thistledown, floated away
from him, and then in a moment she was back, their hands had touched;
they were whirling together faster and faster, the tips of her slippers
scarcely touching the floor.  She closed her eyes.

"You won't tell, not a soul, I can trust you?" whispered the Prince.
"Come closer, closer.  There is a plot to-night.  Boris told me.  The
Secret Service men are everywhere, watching.  Don't be frightened,
Countess--your hand is so cold.  Can you hear me?  Bend your head--so!
They hope to make arrests before he returns."

"When--when does he return?"

"Sh--h!  At midnight.  Dance faster, faster--Let yourself go!"

The music broke into a mad riot of rhythm; the violins seemed to run
races with one another in an intoxication of sound, pulsing,
penetrating, overpowering.  The white figure twirled in the Prince's
arms, her gold hair a blot against the scarlet of his sleeve, faster
and faster.  Her head drooped; her eyes closed again.

The rhythm was alive, tempting, subtle, like a madness in the veins;
and as they whirled, the rubato, dreamy, sudden, caught them as in a
leash; the steps faltered, slower, more lingering; slower, still slower
until the music stopped, dying away into the dome of the vault in a
last faint echo of sound.

The Countess swayed suddenly.

Her face was white as the lace on her bosom, and her eyes grew dark and
big, with black shadows sweeping her cheeks.  Others stepped forward to
the dance; their places were filled and the music commenced again.

"Lean on me," whispered the Prince, "Are you ill?  Countess, lean on my
arm--so."

His voice was hoarse and excited.  He was swaying a little himself from
the intoxication of the dance.

"Take me away somewhere, some quiet place," she whispered back.  "Let
me rest--I am faint."

He drew her after him and the two figures, the scarlet and the white,
passed under the archway into a salon beyond.  The Prince raised a
curtain: "This is the Duke's own room," he said in her ear, "Go
under--be quick!"

The curtain fell heavily behind them and the two stood alone in the
Grand-Duke's room.  There was a desk in the corner littered with
papers, a lamp stood beside, heavily shaded, and back in the shadowy
recesses was a couch.

"Help me there," whispered the Countess, "And then go--go, Prince,
leave me.  My head is on fire!  See, my cheeks, my hands, how they
burn?  Help me to the couch."

She staggered and almost fell as they approached it, burying her face
in her hands.

"I can't leave you," said the Prince.  He was on his knees beside her,
kissing her hands, trying to draw them down from her face.  "Kaya, what
is the matter?  Don't hide your eyes--look at me.  Shall I call some
one?   Are you ill?"

The Countess drew back against the cushions, shuddering, pushing him
from her: "Don't call any one," she said, "Give me that water on the
table there."  Her eyes were wide open now and dilated; the hair fell
disordered in golden rings and waves about the oval of her face.  She
drew her breath heavily; her bosom rising and falling like waves after
a storm.  One hand pressed her lace as if to clutch the pulsing and
steady it; the other held the glass to her trembling lips.

The Prince hovered over the couch.  He was pale and the crossing of his
eyes was more pronounced than ever.  "Drink now," he whispered
soothingly as if to a child in trouble, "Drink it slowly.  It is wine,
not water, and will bring back your strength.  It was the dance; ah, it
was so fast, so mad.  You were wonderful!  The blood beats in my veins
still; I can feel the rhythm throbbing, can you?  Speak to me,
Countess--are you better?"

"Is any one here," said the girl faintly, "Are we alone?"

"Yes, yes, we are alone."

"Will the Duke come in?"

"Not yet.  Put your head back against the cushions and rest.  The
colour is gone from your cheeks and you are pale like a broken flower.
Listen--do you hear the violins in the distance?  Your feet move like
mine; every pulse in your body is tingling and throbbing.  Rest; don't
speak, and in a moment--Kaya--"

Again the Countess pushed him back, her blue eyes sparkling, flashing
on his: "Prince, hush!  Don't speak to me like that.  You don't know,
how can you!  Poor boy--poor boy!  Don't look at me; I tell you, don't
look at me.  In the dusk it might be the Duke himself, his very self!
Go--Leave me a little.  If he were good like you--but you will be bad
too when you are older, wicked, cruel--the blood is there in your
veins.  You will be like the rest.  Keep away from me, Michel.  Don't
kiss my hands, not--my--hands!"

The Countess tore them away and gazed at the young officer, her eyes
wild and dilated.  She gave a little cry as of pain.

"No--no!  I can bear all the rest, but not this--not this!  Get up off
your knees Prince.  Leave me--leave me for a little while--I must
think; I must be alone and think."

Her hair sparkled and gleamed against the cushions.  One hand was still
clasped to her breast.  He stooped over her, panting.

"Come and dance with me, Kaya--dearest.  You are well now; your cheeks
are like roses.  The wine is so strong when one is giddy.  Let me put
my arms about you--come!  I love you.  Ah, your hair is like a halo;
your lips are trembling.  The tears in your eyes are like dew, Kaya."

The Countess rose slowly to her feet.  "Yes, you are like your father
already," she cried, "Already you are cowardly.  You are strong and you
think I am weak."  Her head was thrown back; she measured him
scornfully, "Go and dance, sir.  Leave me, I tell you."

The Prince held out his hands.  "Leave you!" he cried, "No, Kaya, no.
Come and dance."

"Leave me--leave me."

He came nearer: "Are you still faint?  Will you rest and let me come
back?  When?  How soon?"

"Leave me."

He took out his watch: "Nearly midnight," he cried, "then the Duke will
return.  When the clock strikes, Kaya, it will be our dance.  You will
waltz with me then--once more?  As soon as the clock strikes?"

"Leave me."

"A quarter of an hour, Kaya, no more?  I will send word to Boris.  He
will guard the curtain so no one will enter, unless it is the Duke
himself.  As soon as the clock strikes, you promise, we will waltz
together?"

"Go, Michel, go--I promise."

The Prince made a step forward as though to gather the shrinking figure
in his arms.  He hesitated; then he moved towards the curtain;
hesitated again and looked behind him.  Then the heavy folds fell and
the girl was alone.

She stood for a moment, watching the folds, then she put her hands to
her eyes and swayed as though she were falling.

"God!" she cried, "Must I do it?  Is there no other--no other
instrument?"  She sobbed to herself in little broken words, catching
her breath: "_I vow--I vow--without weakness, or hesitation, or
mercy--with mine own hands if--needs be._"

She staggered forward, still sobbing, and bent over the desk.
Something white fluttered and fell from her lace; she smoothed it with
her fingers; gazed at it.

"God!" she cried, "Oh, God!"

Then she clasped her breast again and drew something out, something
dark and hard.  She gave a startled glance about the room, covering it
with her arms; her form shivering as though in a chill.

"_In the name of the Black Cross I swear--I swear--_"

Then she crept back to the couch and sank on the floor behind it,
covering her face with her hands.  As she did so, the door on the
corridor opened a crack, then wider, slowly wider, and some one came
in.  The form was that of a man.  He looked about him.  The room was
still, deserted, and he gave a sigh of relief, hurrying over to the
desk.  When he turned up the lamp, the light revealed a bundle of
papers which he laid on the desk, examining them one after the other,
putting his face close to the lamp, studying, absorbed.

The face was that of the Grand-Duke Stepan; his beaked nose, his grey,
upturned mustache, his eyes small and crossed.  They were fixed on the
sheets.  All of a sudden he started violently.

Beside him on the desk, just under the lamp, was a slip of paper.
There was nothing on the paper but a Black Cross graven, above it:
_Cmeptb_.

As the Duke gazed at it, his face grew ashen, his mouth twitched, his
eyes seemed fairly to start from his head; his knees knocked together.
He glanced fearfully around, trying vainly to steady his hands.

"_Without weakness, without hesitation, or mercy, by mine own hands if
needs be, I swear--_"

Was it a voice shrieking in his ears?  He cowered backwards, huddled
together, shivering.

"_I swear--_"

Suddenly there came the click of a revolver.  A shot rang out; a moan.
The Duke stood motionless for a second; then he faltered, twisted and
fell on his face with his arms outstretched.



CHAPTER V

It was snowing steadily.  The drops came so thick and so fast that the
city was shrouded as in a great white veil, falling from the sky to the
earth.  Drifts were piled in the streets; they were frozen and padded
as with a carpet, and the sound of sleigh-bells rang muffled in the
distance.  It was night and dark, with a bitter wind that came
shrieking about the corners, blowing the snow, as it fell, into a riot
of feathery flakes; sudden gusts that raided the drifts, driving the
white maze hither and thither, flinging it up and away in a very fury
of madness.  The cold was intense.

Before the door of a house on the little Morskaïa stood a karéta.  It
was large and covered.  Behind and on top several boxes were strapped,
protected from the snow by wrappings of oil-cloth, and on the driver's
seat was a valise.

The horses pawed the snow impatiently, tossing their heads and snorting
whenever the icy blast struck them.  The wind was sharp like a whip.
Occasionally the karéta made a sudden lurch forward; then, with
guttural oaths and exclamations, the animals were reined back on their
haunches, slipping and sliding on the ice, plunging and foaming.  The
foam turned to ice as it fell, flecking their bits.  The breath from
their nostrils floated out like a vapour, slender and hoary.

The driver, muffled in furs, swung his arms against his breast, biting
his fingers, stamping his feet to keep them from freezing.  The karéta,
the driver and the horses were covered with snow, lashed by it, blinded
with it.  They waited wearily.  From time to time the driver glanced up
at the door of the house and then back at the carriage, shaking his
head and muttering fiercely:

"Stand still, you sons of the devil, stand still!  You prance and shy
as if Satan himself had stuck a dart in you!  Hey, there!--Back, back,
you limb!  Will the Bárin never come?"

He swore vigorously to himself under his beard, and the flakes fell
from him in a shower.  After a while the door of the house opened; some
one appeared on the steps and a voice called out:

"Bobo, eh Bobo!  Is that you, are you ready?  Heavens, what a night!"

"All ready, Monsieur Velasco, all ready."

"The boxes on?"

"Yes, Bárin."

"You took my valise, did you?"

"Yes, Bárin."

The figure disappeared for an instant within the doorway and the light
went out; then he reappeared, carrying a violin-case under his arm,
which he screened from the wet with the folds of his cloak, carefully,
as a mother would cover the face of her child.  He leaped to the
carriage.

"All right, Bobo, go ahead.  Wait a moment until I get the latch open.
Ye gods!  I never felt such cold.  My fingers are like frozen sticks.
There!  Now, the Station: Warchávski Voksál--as fast as you can!  Ugh,
what a storm!"

The Violinist flung himself back in the corner of the karéta, huddling
himself in the furs; the windows were shut and his breath made a steam
against the panes.  The carriage was black as a cave.

"There ought to be another fur!" he said angrily to himself.  His teeth
were chattering and his whole body shivered against the cushions.  "I
told Bobo to put in an extra fur.  The devil now, where can it be?"

He groped with his hands, feeling the seat beside him, when all of a
sudden he gave an exclamation, alarmed, half suppressed, his eyes
staring into the darkness, trying vainly to penetrate.

What was it?  Something was there, moving, breathing, alive, on the
seat close beside him.  Gracious heaven!  He wasn't alone!  Velasco
crouched back instinctively, putting out both hands as if to ward off a
blow.  He listened, peering.  Surely something breathed--there, in the
corner!  He could make out a shadow, an outline.--No, nothing--it was
nothing at all.

His pulses beat rapidly; he groped again with his hands, slowly,
fearfully, hesitating and then groping again.  It was as though
something, someone were trying to elude him in the darkness.  His
breath came fast; he listened again.

Something cowered and breathed--"Bózhe moi!"  He gripped his lip with
his teeth and hurled himself forward, grappling into the furthermost
recesses of the karéta.  His hands grasped a cloak, a human shoulder, a
body.  It dragged away from him.  He clutched it and something shrank
back into the shadows.  His eyes were blind; he could see nothing, he
could hear nothing; he could only feel.  It was breathing.

His hand moved cautiously over the cloak, the shoulder.  It resisted
him, trying vainly to escape; and then, as the carriage dashed on
through the darkness, he dragged the thing forward, nearer--nearer,
struggling.  The breath was on his cheeks.  He felt it distinctly--the
rustle of something alive.

Velasco clenched his teeth together, clutching the thing, and held it
under the window-pane, close, close, straining forward.  As he did so
the rays of a street lamp fell through the glass, a faint, pale light
through the steam on the panes; a flash and it was over.  Velasco gave
a cry.

Beside him was a woman, slight and veiled, and she was crouching away
from him, holding her hands before her face, panting, frightened, even
as he was.

"Who are you?" cried Velasco, "What are you?  Speak, for the love of
heaven!  I feel as if I were going mad.  Speak!"

He shook the cloak in his trembling grasp and, as he did so, a hand
pressed into his own.  It was bare, and soft like the leaf of a rose.
He grasped it.  The fingers clung to him, alive and warm.  Velasco
hesitated.  Then he dropped the hand and from his pocket he snatched a
match, striking it against the side of the carriage.  It sputtered and
went out.  He struck another.  It flickered for a moment and he held it
between his hands, coaxing it.  It burned and he held it out, gazing
into the corner, coming nearer and nearer.  The eyes gleamed at him
from behind the veil; nearer--He could see the oval of the face, the
lips.  Then the match went out.

"Kaya--Kaya!"

He snatched at her hand again in the darkness and held it under the
fur.  "You came after all," he whispered hoarsely, "I thought I had
dreamed it.  Speak to me; let me hear your voice."

He felt her bending towards him; her shoulder touched his.  "You
promised--I hold you to your promise."

"Yes; yes!"

"Have you changed your mind?"

"No.--Don't take your hand away.  No!  It is horrible, the storm and
the blackness.  Hear the wind shriek!  The hoofs of the horses are
padded with snow; they are galloping.  How the carriage lurches and
sways!  Are you afraid, Kaya?  Don't--don't take your hand away."

Velasco's voice was husky and forced like a string out of tune.  It was
strange, extraordinary to be sitting there in that dark, black cave,
his hand clasping the hand of a woman, a stranger.  The two sat silent.
The horses plunged forward.

Suddenly they stopped.  Velasco started as out of a dream and sprang to
the window, wiping the steam from the panes with his sleeve.

"Bobo!" he cried, "Madman!  This is not the Station.  Where are you
going, idiot--fool!"

His voice was smothered suddenly by a hand across his lips.

"Hush, Monsieur, have you forgotten?  The driver knows, he is one of
us.  Come with me; and I pray you, I beseech you, don't speak, don't
make a sound; step softly and follow."

In a moment the girl was out of the carriage and Velasco behind.  Her
veil fluttered back; her cloak brushed his shoulder.  The storm and the
wind beat against them.  He ran blindly forward, battling with the
gale; but fast as he went she went faster.  He could scarcely keep up.
In the distance behind them, the carriage and horses were lost in a
white mist, a whirl.

"Here," she cried, "Bow your head, quick, the arch--and then through
the gate--run!  Take my hand in the court--let me lead you.  I know
every step.  Run--run!  You waited so long; we shall be late.  There is
barely time before the train.  Ah, run, Monsieur--run!"

The two figures dashed through the alley and into an open cloister,
running with their heads bowed against the wind, struggling with the
snow in their eyes, in their throats; blinded, panting.

"Stop!" gasped Velasco, "I can't run like this.  Stop!  You mad thing,
you witch!  Where, where are you going?  Stop, I tell you!"

She dragged at his hand.  "Come--a moment further.  Come, Monsieur.
Ah, it is death--don't falter.  Run!"

She caught at a little door under the wall and pushed it madly.  It
yielded.  He sprang in behind her; and then he stood blinking, amazed.

They were alone in the dark, ghostly nave of a huge Church.  The long
rows of columns stretched out in the distance, tall and stately like
pines in a forest; the aisles were broad and shadowy, leading far off
in a distant perspective to the outline of an altar and a high cross
suspended.  They were dim, barely visible.

"Where are we?" he murmured, faltering.  "Kaya, speak--tell me."

She put up her face close to his and he saw that her lips were
quivering, her eyes blurred with tears.  Her veil was white with the
snow, like a bride's.  She dragged at his hand, and he followed her
dumbly, their footsteps echoing, a soft patter across the marble of the
church.

It was absolutely dark; only on the far distant altar three candles
were lighted, three sparks, red and restless, like fireflies gleaming.
Otherwise the nave, the chancel, the transepts were as one vast
blackness stretching before them.  They fled on in silence; their goal
was the candles.

At first the space before the altar seemed empty, deserted, like the
rest of the Church; but as they approached, nearer and nearer, three
forms seemed to melt from the back of the choir and stood on the steps;
two were figures in cloaks; the third was a priest.  His surplice shone
in the shadows against the outline of the columns.  He mounted the
steps of the altar and stood with his face to the cross.  They seemed
to be waiting.

To Velasco the sound of his footsteps echoed and reverberated on the
marble, filling the darkness.  The noise of them was terrible.  He
would have covered his ears with his hands, but the girl urged him
forward.  The soft fingers crept about his own like a vine, clinging,
irresistible.

"Come," she breathed, "ah, come, Monsieur--come!"

Then he followed, moving forward hurriedly, blindly, like one
hypnotized.  His senses were dulled; his will was inert.  When he came
to himself he was kneeling beside her on the marble, and he heard the
voice of the priest, chanting slowly in Slavonic:


"Blessed is our God always, and ever, and unto ages of ages.

"In peace let us pray to the Lord for the servant of God, Velasco, and
for the hand-maid of God, Kaya, who now plight each other their troth,
and for their salvation. . . .  That he will send down upon them
perfect and peaceful love. . . .  That he will preserve them in oneness
of mind and in steadfastness of faith. . . .  That he will bless them
with a blameless life. . . .  That he will deliver us from all
tribulation, wrath, peril and necessity. . . .  Lord have mercy!

"Lord have mercy!"


He listened in bewilderment; was it himself, or his ghost, his shadow.
He tried to think, but everything melted before him in a mist.  The
girl by his side was a wraith; they were dead, and this was some
strange unaccountable happening in another world.  The marble felt cold
to his knees.  Velasco tried to move, to rise, but the hand of the
priest held him down.  The voice chanted on:


"Hast thou, Velasco, a good, free and unconstrained will and a firm
intention to take unto thyself to wife this woman, Kaya, whom thou
seest here before thee?"


And in the pause, he heard himself answering, strangely, dreamily, in a
voice that was not his own:

"I have, reverend Father."

"Thou hast not promised thyself to any other bride?"

"I have not promised myself, reverend Father."

Then he felt the hand of the priest, pressing the crown down on his
forehead; it weighed on his brow, and when he tried to shake it off he
could not.


"The servant of God, Velasco, is crowned unto the hand-maid of God,
Kaya.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit.  Amen."

"The servant of God, Kaya, is crowned unto the servant of God, Velasco.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen."

"O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour.

"O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour.

"O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour!"


Velasco passed his hand over his face; he was breathing heavily.  The
crown glittered in the darkness.


"And so may the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the all-holy,
consubstantial and life-giving Trinity, one God-head, and one Kingdom,
bless you, and grant you length of days, . . . prosperity of life and
faith: and fill you with all abundance of earthly good things, and make
you worthy to obtain the blessings of the promise: through the prayers
of the holy Birth-giver of God, and of all the saints.  Amen."

"Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now, and
ever, and unto ages and ages."

"Amen."


The chanting ceased suddenly, and there was silence.  Then he felt
something falling against him, and he staggered to his feet, dragging
the girl up with him.  She trembled and shook, pushing him back with
her hands; her eyes were full of terror, staring up into his, the eyes
of her husband.  Again everything grew misty and swayed.

He was signing a paper; how his fingers quivered; he could scarcely
hold the pen!  The priest drew nearer, and the two cloaked figures.
They all signed; and then he felt the paper crackling in the bosom of
his coat, where he had thrust it.  They were hurrying back through the
dark, ghostly nave.

They were running, and the sound of their footsteps seemed louder and
noisier than before; they ran side by side, through the door in the
wall, the cloisters, the arch, bowing their heads; and there was the
carriage, a great blot of whiteness, the horses like spectres.  The
snow came whirling through the air in sharp, icy flakes, cutting the
skin.  The wind grew fiercer, more violent.

With a last desperate effort Velasco dashed forward, pursuing the veil,
the fluttering cloak--and the door of the carriage closed behind them.
In that moment, as it closed, the horses leaped together, as twin
bullets from the mouth of a cannon; galloping, lashed and terrified
through the night.  It was still inside the karéta.

Suddenly Velasco was conscious of a voice at his elbow, whispering to
him out of the silence: "Thank you, Monsieur, ah, I thank you!  We
shall be at the station directly; then a few hours more and it will
be--over!  You will never see--me--again!  I thank you--I thank you
with all my heart."

The voice was soft and low, like a violin when the mute is on the
strings.  He could scarcely hear it for the lurching of the carriage.
The horses gave a final plunge forward, and then fell back suddenly,
reined in by an iron hand, and the karéta came to a standstill.

The station was all light and confusion; porters were rushing about,
truckmen and officials, workmen carrying coloured lanterns.  "Not a
second to spare!" cried Velasco, "Send the trunks after me,
Bobo--Here--my valise!"

He snatched up his violin-case, and the slim, dark-veiled figure darted
beside him.  "If we miss it!" he heard her crying in his ear, "I shall
never forgive myself!  I shall--never--forgive myself!"

"We shan't miss it!" cried Velasco, "I have the tickets, the passports
for you and for me!  Here--to the left!  The doors are still open!"

An official rushed forward and took the valise from Velasco's hand:
"Here, sir--here!  First class compartment!"

Velasco nodded breathlessly, and the two sank down on the crimson
cushions; the door slammed.  "Ye gods!"  They were alone in the
compartment; they were saved!  Velasco gave a little laugh of triumph.
He was hugging his violin close in his arms, and opposite him sat the
slim veiled figure.  She was looking at him from behind the veil--and
she was his wife.  "Ye gods!" he laughed again.

"Why are you trembling?" he said, "We are safe now.  I told you I had
the passports.  Are you cold, or afraid?--You shake like a leaf!"

The girl put out her hand, touching his.  "Did you see?" she breathed,
"There--on the platform--Boris, the Chief of the Third Section!--He was
watching!"

Velasco laughed again aloud, happily, like a boy: "What of it?  Let him
watch!  Put up your veil, Kaya.  Great heavens, what a night it has
been!  My heart is going still like a hammer--is yours?  Lean back on
the cushions--put up your veil.  Let me see you once,--let me see you!
Look at me as you did in the Theatre--Kaya!  Don't tremble."

"He is there," breathed the girl, "I see him behind the curtain!  He is
talking to the official--The train is late and it doesn't start.  Why
doesn't it start?"

She gave a little moan and peered out through the veil: "Something has
happened, Monsieur!  The officials are clustered together,
talking--there is some excitement!  They are gesticulating and several
are pointing to the train!  What is it--what is it?"

Velasco laughed again; but the laugh died in his throat.  The two
turned and gazed at one another with wide, frightened eyes.

"The Chief of the Third Section--see!  He is going from compartment to
compartment--He is looking at the passports!  He is coming here--here!"



CHAPTER VI

"Your passports, Monsieur--Madame?"

Velasco thrust his hand slowly into the breast pocket of his coat and
drew out the precious papers.  His manner was cold and indifferent, and
his eyes had narrowed into sleepy slits again beneath the heaviness of
his brows.

Kaya was leaning back on the cushions with the veil drawn closely over
her face.  She was tapping the panels of the door with a dainty,
nervous foot.  Neither glanced at the official.

The Chief of the Third Section was in evening dress with a fur cloak
thrown hastily over his shoulders.  He would have passed for an
ordinary citizen on his way to a ball if it had not been for the
strangeness of such an attire in a railway station, and the cluster of
anxious, humble officials bowing and gesticulating about him.  The
Chief examined the passports closely and at some length; then he tossed
an order over his shoulder in a quick, sharp tone to the group of
officials, and one hurried away.

"This lady, Monsieur, she is your wife?"

The voice of the Chief, as he turned to Velasco, was like the passing
of a brush over wool.  The Violinist shuddered.

"Certainly sir, she is my wife," he returned curtly.  "It is so stated
on the paper, I believe."

"It is," said the Chief, "The writing is plain, quite clear.  Will you
be good enough to raise your veil, Madame?"

Kaya shrank back.  "My veil!" she stammered.  She half rose from her
seat, supporting herself, with her hands pressed down on the cushions,
gazing up at the waiting official.  "No--my veil!--What do you mean?"

"I am sorry to trouble you," said the Chief sharply, "but I said: 'your
veil.'  Kindly raise it at once.  Ha!--Why shouldn't you show your
face, Madame?"

His burly form filled the doorway and the white of his shirt front,
half screened by the fur, gleamed under the electric light.  He seemed
enormous.

Velasco's brows lifted suddenly until his eyes were wide open and
blazing: "Stand back, you impudent scoundrel!" he cried, "Stand away
from my wife!  How dare you?"

"Come!" said the Chief.  His voice was still sharper.  "No nonsense,
Monsieur.  The veil must be raised and immediately; you are keeping the
whole train back.  What do you suppose I am here for?"  There was
menace in his tone as he took a step forward.  "Now, Madame, will you
raise it, or shall I?"

Kaya retreated slowly to the farther side of the compartment.  "Stop,"
she whispered to Velasco.  "Don't get angry; don't do anything, it is
useless.  Come back in the shadow."

Then she turned and faced the official defiantly, throwing up the veil.
Her face was very pale, her eyes were blue and dark, like two pools
without a bottom, and her lips pressed together, quivering slightly.
Velasco stared at her for a moment and drew a step nearer, laying his
hand on her shoulder.  He was trembling with rage.

"Are you satisfied now, you cur?" he cried, "Look at her then.  You
will never see another face as beautiful, not in the whole length and
breadth of your cursed country.  Look--while you have the chance!  By
heaven, whoever you are, chief of the devil himself, I'll report you
for this--I'll--"

A shrill whistle cut through the torrent of words, and in another
moment the Chief had stepped back, and the under officials came
crowding through the door of the compartment.

"Arrest them both," cried the Chief shortly, "Get them away at once and
don't let them out of your hands.  'Peter and Paul,' quick!  The woman
is--"  He whispered something hoarsely.

In a second the two were surrounded, their hands were chained; they
were bound like sheep and dragged, first one, then the other, to a
covered sleigh at the rear of the station.

"Put them in--hurry!" cried the Chief, "Gag the fellow; don't let him
speak!  Is the woman secure, so she can't scream, or moan?  Take them
off!"

The sleigh started, and the two lay side by side on the floor, jostled
by the lurching of the runners, their flesh cut and bruised by the
ropes, their mouths parched and panting behind the gags.  They could
not stir, or moan, or make a sign.  They were helpless.

When the sleigh stopped in the grim inner court of the fortress, they
were carried out into the darkness, and borne like animals through
long, damp passages, down innumerable steps and dim windings until
finally a door clicked and opened.  They were thrust inside, their
bindings were cut, and the door clicked again, slamming in its socket
with the sickening crash of steel against steel; the sound
reverberating hard and metallic like a blow against the eardrum,
finally dying away in the distance, echo upon echo until all was silent.

The girl lay still on the floor where they had left her.  She had
swooned, and as she returned to consciousness slowly, gradually, her
breath came in little gasps through her parted lips and she moaned as
she lay.  Velasco had dragged himself to his knees and was peering
about him, feeling with his hands in the dim waning light.  He was
muttering to himself in little outbursts of anger and rebellion,
rocking his arms to and fro.

"What a hole!  What a beastly place!  The floor is wet; ugh!--The walls
are dank and shiny--things are crawling!  Good heavens, something ran
over my foot!--It must be a rat, scurrying--scampering!  Sapristi!
There's another!  What a scrape to be in--what a scrape!"

The girl lifted her head and looked at him, straining her eyes for the
outline of his shoulders, the mass of his dark curls.  He had turned
half away and was wringing his hands, feeling them and exclaiming to
himself.  She crept towards him and stretched out her hand, touching
his shoulder.

"Monsieur--Ah, Monsieur Velasco!"

He shuddered away from her: "You, is it you!  Are you alive?  I thought
you were dead!  Mon Dieu, I thought I was shut in with a corpse!  It is
frightful, horrible!  I have suffered!  God, how I have suffered--the
torture of the damned!"

"Monsieur!"

"My hands are cut; I know they are cut!  Look, can you see,--are they
covered with blood?  I am sure I feel it trickling!--Look!"

"No--no, Monsieur, there is no blood."

"I tell you I feel it--and my shoulder, my arm--I shall never be able
to play again!  I am ruined--ruined--and for what?  Why did you come to
me?  Why didn't you go to someone else--anybody?"

"Ah forgive me, forgive me."  The girl crept closer and laid her hand
on his shoulder, pathetically as if half afraid.  "I shouldn't have
gone to you, but--listen, Monsieur--let me tell you--let me explain!  I
thought there was no danger, not for you, otherwise--Oh, do believe me,
not for the world would I have done it!  I knew you were an artist;
Bobo told us you were going to Germany--I thought--Can you ever forgive
me?"

Her voice broke a little and she was silent.

Velasco went on rocking himself, feeling his arms, his hands, his
fingers at intervals.  "Don't talk," he said, "You make me nervous.
You did very wrong; you ought never to have come to me.  I hate
anarchists; I never could bear them; and now they take me for one!  I
shall live here all my days--and my Stradivarius, my treasure--Heaven
knows where they have put it--lying on the platform of the station, or
perhaps broken, or stolen!  I shall never see it again, never!  Ah, it
is cruel--it is not to be borne!  Don't speak, I tell you, I can't bear
it!  You shouldn't have coaxed me!--Ugh! these rats--brr--did you feel
it?"

The girl gave a muffled cry.  She had shrunk away in the corner, but
now she crouched forward, her eyes dilated, staring into the darkness.

"A rat, Monsieur?  Ah, it is so dark--I feel things,
crawling--crawling; and the damp oozes down from the walls.  I am
frightened--frightened!"

The last words were a whisper; her throat swelled and she was choked,
trembling with terror.  She put out her hand and touched something
soft--it slid from her and ran.  She cried out faintly.

"Come here," said Velasco, "Come nearer!  The rats won't hurt you.
Rest on my cloak, poor child, are you cold?  Where are you?--Let me
touch you!"

"Here," said the girl, "I can feel the edge of your cloak; don't put it
around me--no!  I deserve to suffer, but you--no wonder you hate me!
Don't put it around me."

"Come nearer," said Velasco, "I can't see you in this devilish
darkness.  Are you crying?"

"No, Monsieur, no, let me tell you--it was your playing, your playing
that night.  I saw you, and then the thought came to me--I will go to
him, he will help me; and then--I came."

"Your teeth click together like a castanet rattling," said Velasco,
"You tremble like a string under the bow.  Come closer.  There--one ran
over my sleeve, curse the creature!  Did you feel him, the vermin?  Put
my cloak close around you."

"No--no--not your cloak!  You are shivering yourself, you need it.
Don't--I pray you!"

There was a moment of silent struggle between them.

"Keep still," said Velasco, "My hands are cut, but they are strong
still, and yours are like wax, soft as rose leaves.  Hold it around
you; don't push it away.  Now, lean against me; they won't touch you."

The struggle continued for a moment; then the form of the girl relaxed,
her head drooped and he felt the light rings of her hair brushing his
cheek.  She started and then sank back again.

"Can you hear me?" said Velasco, "Perhaps there are spies, people
listening; no one can tell.  Put your lips to my ear.  Why were we
arrested, do you know?  What have you done?--Ah, these rats!  Make a
noise with your feet; scuffle as I do, that will drive them away.--"

"I--I can't tell you," whispered the girl, "No--it was nothing, don't
ask me.  You will know in the morning."

"Tell me now," said Velasco, "When we talk, the darkness seems less,
not so terrible.  I like to feel you breathing against me; your form is
so little and light.  Don't move!  Put your fingers in mine now and
tell me.--Why won't you tell me?--Speak louder."

The girl trembled and he put his arm closer about her.

"Are you afraid of me?" he said, "My tempers are nothing; they are like
a gust and it is over.  I didn't mean what I said.  When I think of my
violin, that it is lost, gone forever perhaps, that my hands are so
numb and so stiff, it makes me frantic.  I feel as if I should go mad
for a moment, locked in here; and I never could bear the dark, never;
not when I was a child.  I see things; sounds ring in my ears.  I want
to cry out, and storm, and fling myself against the walls; do you?  It
is my nature, my temperament, I was always like that.  My nerves are on
fire.  Stay by me.  When I feel your hand--Kaya, your hair is like
silk.  Don't move.  What was it you did?"

"Only what was just," breathed the girl, "and right.  I could not help
myself, I could not.  I had taken the oath.  I was only the instrument."

"The what--?" said Velasco.  "If you were an instrument I should take
you in my arms and play on you.  The strings would be the strands of
your hair and my bow would caress them.  The tones would be thrilling
and soft like your voice; your cheek would be the arch on which my
cheek rests.  I would shut my eyes and play on you, and you would
answer me, and we would sway together, your heart on my breast.--Ah!
Where am I?  Forgive me, I thought for a moment--Don't be frightened, I
thought you were my Stradivarius.  I was dreaming.--What were you
saying?  An instrument--I don't understand."

"Let me go," cried the girl, "don't hold me!  Take your cloak from my
shoulders.  You wouldn't understand if I did tell you.  You are an
artist and understand nothing but your art.  What do you know of the
conditions we are struggling against, the suffering, the horrible
suffering of our country?"

"Don't be angry," said Velasco, "I talk to my violin sometimes like
that.  There was nothing to flare up about; I was dreaming, I tell you!
What do you know of such things yourself?  Ugh!  Leave them alone,
child; leave all ugly things alone!  Come back, or the rats will run
over you."

"It is terrible the things that happen," whispered the girl.  She was
on her knees and she was pushing him away with her hands.  "I never
knew until lately, but now--now I have met the Revolutionists; they
have talked to me, they have told me.  They are splendid men.  Some of
them are extreme, so am I.  I hate the Tsar.  I loathe him; I loathe
them all!  I would kill them all if I could."

She was trembling violently: "It is true that I have--"  And then she
began sobbing, struggling with Velasco as he drew her to him.

"Be still," he said, "Hush!  Your voice was like a trumpet then.  You
are not like a girl at all; you are like a soldier fighting for his
flag.  What are you talking about?  Hush!  Let me wrap you again.  The
rats are getting worse!  Creep closer and rest on my arm.  The Tsar is
the little Father; we must respect him and speak low about him always."

The girl caught her breath, sinking back on his shoulder, wrapped in
his fur.  She tried to resist him, but his arm was strong and encircled
her, his hand clasped her own; it was supple and the wrist was like a
hinge.  There was a power, an electric force in his touch, a
magnetism--she shut her eyes, yielding to it.  She was like a violin
after all; if he chose to play on her with his bow!  Ah--she quivered.

"Monsieur," she said low, "You don't understand.  You are a Pole and
you care nothing for Poland; how could you understand?  And yet you
play--my God, how you play, as if you had cared and suffered more than
any one in the whole wide world.  Have you ever suffered?"

"No," said Velasco, "What should there be to make me suffer?  Not until
to-night!--Ugh, this is torture, horrible!"

"Have you ever twisted and writhed in an agony of mind that was like
madness because--"

"Of course," said Velasco, "After my concerts I am always like that.
It is--"  He shuddered.  "A black depression creeps over one.  Bózhe
moi!  It is awful!  Is that what you mean?"

"No," she said, "that is not what I meant.  Tell me, Monsieur, have you
ever cared for any one?"

Velasco stretched his cramped limbs and yawned.  "Never, any one
particularly," he said, "that I can think of.  I used to like my old
master in Warsaw; and I have friends; good gracious!  All over Russia
and Germany I have friends.  You don't mean that?"

The girl stirred uneasily against his arm.

"Was that another rat?" she said, "I felt something run over my dress."

"Draw the cloak to your chin," whispered Velasco, "Huddle yourself in
it.  There, are you warm?  Put your head down again.  One moment you
are like a boy ready to fight the universe, the next you shake at the
sound of a rat.--Kaya!"

"Yes, Monsieur?"

She shivered, clinging to him.

"What did you say?  Say it again; don't tremble like that."

"I would die," she whispered, "A thousand times I would die rather than
have brought this on you.  If I had known--if I had guessed!"

"Your hair is like down," said Velasco, "a soft, golden fluff.  I can't
see it, or you; are you there?  I shouldn't know if I didn't feel you
breathing, and the touch of your head and your hand.  Go to sleep; I
will watch."

She murmured and stirred in his arms.

"Yes, yes, I forgive you.  I never was angry.  If only they haven't
hurt my violin, my Stradivarius!  If they do, I shall drown
myself!--But don't think of it; don't speak of it.  Be still and sleep."

She murmured again.  He laid his cheek to her hair and they sat silent,
the girl half unconscious, Velasco staring out into the darkness, his
face white and set.

There was a stirring of something within him impossible to fathom;
something apart from himself, strange and different, like the birth of
a soul; a second personality, unknown, unrevealed.  His heavy eyes
gleamed through the slits.  The round of his chin stiffened; his mouth
took new lines.  The luxurious artist personality of the musician was
dormant for the first time in his life; his virile and masculine side
had begun to awaken.  The muscles of his arm swelled suddenly and he
felt a strange beating in his heart.

This girl, this stranger!  She was helpless, dependent on him and his
strength.  He would guard her and protect her with his life.  His arms
were around her and no one should take her from him--no one!  Not the
Tsar himself!  She was breathing, she was there; she was a woman and he
was a man, and his strength was as the strength of a lion.  What harm
could befall her?

He bent his head on his breast and his lips touched her hair.  Across
the sodden floor of the prison, suddenly, came the first rays of dawn
falling aslant, touching the shadows, the two figures crouching, the
rats as they fled.

Velasco drew the cloak closer about the sleeping form of the girl, with
a tender, protecting gesture.  His eyes were alert.  He had forgotten
himself; he had forgotten his violin; he had forgotten his art.  He was
facing the sunlight grim and determined.



CHAPTER VII

The office of the Polkovnik was small and narrow, low, with ceiling and
walls hewn out of the rock.  At one end was a window barred, looking
out upon a court; at the opposite end the door.  On either side of the
door stood a soldier in Cossack uniform, huge fellows, sabred, with
their helmets belted under their chins, and their fierce, black eyes
staring straight ahead, scarcely blinking.

In the centre of the room was a table, and before the table an officer
seated, also in uniform, but his head was bare and his helmet lay on
the litter of papers at his elbow.  He had a long, ugly face with a
swarthy complexion, and eyes that were sharp and cold like steel,
piercing as the point of a rapier and cruel.  He was tossing the litter
of papers impatiently, examining one after another at intervals, then
pushing them back.  He was evidently waiting, and as he waited he swore
to himself under his breath, glancing from time to time at the
Cossacks; but they stood stiff and immovable like marble, looking
neither to right nor to left.  Presently the officer leaned forward and
touched a bell on the table.

"There is no use waiting any longer," he said curtly, "Bring them in."

The hammer of the bell was still tinkling when the door swung back
suddenly on its hinges and two people, a man and a woman, were half
led, half dragged into the room; the Cossacks prodding them on with the
blunt edge of their sabres.

"Brr--" said the officer sharply.

In a flash the Cossacks had leaped to their niches, their forms rigid
and motionless, only the tassels on their helmets quivering slightly to
show that they had stirred.  The man and the woman were left beside the
table.

"Your names?" demanded the officer, "The woman first."

The girl drew herself up wearily; her face was wan in the morning
light, and her hair fell about her shoulders, dishevelled, a bright
golden mass, curling about her forehead and ears in little rings and
spirals like the tendrils of a vine.  Her eyes were proud and she
looked the officer full in the face, her hands clenched.  Her voice
rang full and scornful.

"My name is the Countess Kaya and I am the daughter of General
Mezkarpin.  What have you to say to me?"

"We have a good deal to say to you, Madame," retorted the Cossack, "if
it is true that you are the Countess.  I never saw her myself, but the
Chief will be here presently.  He knows her very eye-lashes, and if you
have lied--"

"I have not lied," cried the girl, "How dare you speak to me like that!
Send for my father, do you hear me?  At once!  The General Mezkarpin."
She repeated the name distinctly and her shoulders stiffened, her blue
eyes flashed.  "A friend of the Tsar as you are aware.  Be careful!
What you do, what you say, every act, every word shall be reported to
him."

"If you have not lied," continued the Cossack smoothly, "it will be
still worse for you, far worse!"  He began smiling to himself and
twirling his mustache.  "If it is true, this report, I doubt if you
leave here alive, Madame, unless it is for the Mines.  You have an ugly
crime at your door.  How you ever escaped is a wonder!  The Chief has
been on your track for some time, but he was late as usual; he is
always slow about arresting the women, especially if they are--"

The Cossack showed his teeth suddenly in a loud laugh, leering at the
slim, young figure before him.  The girl blanched to the lips.

"A crime!" she said, "What crime?"

Then she put out her hand slowly, shrinkingly, and touched the figure
beside her as if to make sure that he was there.

The man was standing dazed, staring from the girl to the Cossack and
back again.  Mezkarpin's daughter, the great Mezkarpin, the friend of
Nicholas!  And accused of--what?  It was a mistake--nothing!  He passed
his hand over his eyes.

"Is this woman your wife?" said the officer shortly, "Answer."

"She is my wife."

"Where are the papers?"

The man unbuttoned his coat and felt in his breast pocket, the left,
the right; then the pockets of his vest.

"I have them here, somewhere," he stammered, "Where in the devil!  They
were here last night!"

He felt again desperately.  "They seem to be gone!  What can have
become of them?  I put them here--here!"  He searched again.

"Curious!" said the official, "Ha ha!"

The prisoner stared at him for a moment blinking.  "You impudent
scoundrel!" he cried, "She is my wife, papers or no papers.  Ask
her!--Kaya!"

The girl held herself straight and aloof.  She was gazing down at the
litter of papers on the table; her face was white and her lips were
clenched in her teeth.

"Kaya--tell him!  The papers are lost!  God, they are gone somehow!
Tell him--"

The girl released her lip and her voice came out suddenly, ringing,
clear as if the room had been large and the Cossack deaf; it seemed to
burst from her throat.

"I am not his wife," she said, "He is mistaken.  He is telling you that
out of kindness.  Monsieur is a stranger to me, until last night a
perfect stranger.  I don't know him at all.  Don't believe what he
says.  You see for yourself there are no papers.  Is it likely?"

The tones of her voice seemed to die away suddenly and a drop of blood
oozed from her lip.  She wiped it away and clinched her teeth again,
fiercely, as if hedging her words.

"Kaya!" cried the man.  "She is my wife, I tell you, she is my wife!
The priest married us.  I can prove it."

"Silence," cried the Cossack.  "What do we care if you are married or
not.  You will be imprisoned anyway for meddling in a matter that does
not concern you.  Silence, I tell you.  Answer my questions.  What is
your name?"

"My name is Velasco."

"Ha--the musician?"

"Yes."

"Very good!  Try again.  There is only one Velasco in Russia, as every
one knows, and he isn't here.  Your name?  Tell the truth if you can."

"My name is Velasco."

"The devil it is!" cried the Cossack, "Ha ha!--You two make a pair
between you.  Velasco!  The Wizard of the bow!  The one all Russia is
mad over!  Ye saints!  I would give my old cavalry boots to have heard
him.  Bah--you anarchist dog!  Now, damn you, answer me straight or
I'll make you.  Your name?"

The Cossack leaned over the desk, his eyes blazing fiercely, shaking
his fist.  "No nonsense now; do you think we can't prove it?
Quick--your name?"

The prisoner folded his arms and stared up at the cross-barred window,
half closing his eyes.  The brows seemed to swell, to weigh down the
lids.

"Will you answer or not?"

Velasco swayed a little and a dark gleam shot out between the slits:
"If I had been brought up a soldier," he said, "instead of a musician,
I should take pleasure in knocking you down; as it is, my muscles were
trained to much better purpose.  This interview, sir, is becoming
unpleasant.  I will trouble you to send for my Stradivarius at once.
Some of your men stole it, I fancy, last night.  It is worth its weight
twice over in gold.  There is not another like it in the country,
perhaps in the world.  The next time his majesty, the Tsar, requests my
presence, I shall inform him that the violin is here in his fortress,
stolen by a slovenly, insolent official, who doesn't know a violin from
a block of wood, or a note from a pin head."  His eyes drooped again.
The Cossack examined him narrowly.

"If you are Velasco," he said after a little, "Khoroshó[1]! then prove
it.  There was a case brought in last night, it might have been a
fiddle.  Brr--Ivanovitch, go for it.  No. 17,369, in the third
compartment, by the wall.  That isn't a bad idea!"  He rubbed his hands
together and laughed, showing his teeth like a wolf: "There is only the
one Velasco and I know a thing or two about music in spite of your
impudence.  You can't cheat me."  He laughed loud and long.

Velasco stood imperturbable, his arms folded; he seemed to be dreaming,
his mind far away.  The words fell on his ear like drops of water on a
roof, rolling off, leaving no sign.

The girl looked up at him and her lips quivered slightly.  She pressed
them with her handkerchief and again a drop of blood blotted the white;
then she drew them in with her teeth and drooped her head wearily, the
confusion of her hair encircling it like a framing of gold, veiling her
brow and her cheeks.

"Ah, here is Ivanovitch," cried the Cossack, "and here is the fiddle.
Now, for a lark!  Brr--Milikai, go for the Colonel, he is musical--ha
ha!  No, stop!  I will keep the fun to myself.  Shut the door.  Is the
Chief here yet?"

"No, Gospodin."

"Sapristi!  Never mind, shut the door--shut the door!"

Velasco roused suddenly.  He looked about him, dazed for a moment; then
he sprang forward, attacking the Cossack and tearing the case from his
hands.  His eyes were bright and eager; his voice coming in little
leaps from his throat, full of joy and relief.

"My violin, my treasure!  My beloved, give it to me!  You brute, you
great hulking savage, if it is damaged or broken, I'll kill you!  Out
of my way!  Let it go--or I'll strike you!--Let go!"

He snatched the case to his breast and carried it over to the table,
opening it, unfolding the wrappings.  They were silken and heavy.  The
violin lay swathed in them, the glossy arch of its body glistening
yellow, golden and resinous.  He touched it tenderly, lifting it,
examining it, absorbed, engrossed, like a mother a child that has been
bruised.

The official stared at him in amazement; the Cossacks gaped under their
helmets.  The girl watched him with wistful eyes.  She understood.  It
was the artist-temperament in full command.  The man had vanished, the
musician was in possession.  He was rocked by it, swayed, overpowered,
a slave.  His eyes saw nothing; his ears heard nothing; his mind was a
whirl, a wonderful chaos of sound, of colour, of notes dancing, leaping.

The bow was in his hand, the violin was on his breast.  He closed his
eyes, swaying, pressing it to his cheek.  The eyes of the girl filled
with tears.  It was just as he had said.  He was talking to it and it
was answering him, softly at first, faint and low, his fingers scarcely
touching the strings; then the tones burst out, full, radiant, like a
bud into bloom, rushing, soaring, echoing up to the walls of the room,
striking the stone, bounding back, dying away.  He was drunk, he was
mad; he was clasping the thing, forcing it, pressing it, swaying it,
and the strings leaped after his will.

She fell back against the wall, steadying herself, and her eyes drank
in the sight of him as her ears the sound--the slight, swaying figure,
the dark head bowed with his hair like a mane, the arm with the bow,
the abandon of the wrist, the white, flashing fingers.  She drew a
quick breath.

The official sat open-mouthed.  The cruelty had gone from his face, the
sharp, steely look from his eyes.  He was grasping the desk with both
hands, leaning forward, staring as one who is benumbed, hypnotized.

Velasco played as he had never played before.  He was playing for his
life, his identity, his freedom; and suddenly into the tones crept
another consciousness, subtle at first, scarcely heard, something
fragile and weak, new born as if struggling for breath.  He stopped and
passed his hand over his eyes, dropping the bow.  Where was he!  What
had happened!  Was it his life, or hers, he was playing to save?--Oh
God!

He gazed at her across the room, into the two deep wells of her eyes,
and again his muscles swelled, his chin stiffened.  He stood there
gazing, struggling with himself; his one personality against the other;
the hair falling over his brows, the violin clasped in his arms.

Suddenly there came a knock at the door.

The Cossack gave a long sigh.  He went up to Velasco slowly and took
his hand, the hand with the bow.

"Great heaven!" he cried, "I am exhausted, I am limp as a rag!  There
is not another soul in Russia, in the world, who can play like that!
You are marvellous, wonderful!  All they said was too little.
Monsieur--there is no further doubt in my mind, I ask your forgiveness.
You are, you can be no other than he--Velasco."

The knock was repeated.

"Come in!" cried the Cossack.  His voice was hoarse and he cleared his
throat: "Come in!"

The door opened and General Mezkarpin strode into the room, followed by
the Chief of the Third Section.  The Cossacks saluted with their hands
stiffly laid to their helmets; the officer stepped forward to meet
them, bowing.  All the assurance was gone from his manner; he was now
the servant, the soldier in the presence of his superior.  The General
waved him aside.  His face was florid and red; he was a large man,
heavy, with prominent features, and his sword clanked against the stone
of the floor as he moved.  The girl was still leaning against the wall.

When she saw him she gave a little cry and sprang forward, stretching
out her hands:  "Father!" she cried, "Father!"  And then she stopped
suddenly and clasped her hands to her breast.

"Is this the woman you meant?" said the General, turning to Boris.  He
spoke as if he were on the parade-ground, every word sharp, caustic,
staccato.

"Right, left, shoulder arms, march!"--"Is this the woman?"

"It is, General."

"She was in the Duke's room?"

"She was."

"You found her in the train?"

"In the train, last night, with this man."

"You say she is an anarchist?"

"We have known it for some time, sir."

The face of the General turned purple suddenly and the rims of his eyes
were red like blood.  He approached the girl and stood over her, his
fists clenched, as if he would have struck her, controlling himself
with a difficult effort.

"You heard?" he said, still more sharply, every word rolling out apart,
detached.  "Is it true?  Are you mixed up with this infernal
Revolutionary business?  My daughter!  An anarchist against the Tsar?
Look me in the eyes and answer.  May all the curses of heaven strike
you if it is true."

The girl looked him in the eyes, her blue ones veiled and dark, gazing
straight into the blood-rimmed ones above her.  "It is true," she said,
"I am an anarchist."

The purple tint spread over the face of the General, turning crimson in
blotches.  His limbs seemed to tremble under his weight; his fist came
nearer.

"You fired the shot?" he cried, "You!  Answer me, on your soul--the
truth.  It was you who murdered the Grand-Duke Stepan?  You?"

The girl's face grew slowly whiter and whiter; the gold of her hair
fell about her, her lips were parted and quivering.  Still she looked
at him and signed an assent.

"You--you shot the Grand-Duke?"

Her lips moved and she bowed her head.

The General stood paralyzed with horror.  He was like one on the verge
of apoplexy; his tongue stammered, his limbs refused to move.  Then he
drew back slowly, inch by inch, and stared at the girl with the anger
and passion growing in his eyes.

"You are no daughter of mine!" he cried stammering, "You are a
murderess, a criminal!  You have killed the Grand-Duke--in his own
house you have killed him!"

"Father!--Father!"

He gasped and put his hand to his throat.  "Be still!  I am not your
father.  You are no child of mine.  I curse you--with my last breath I
curse you.--Do with her as you like."

He turned to the Chief, staggering like a drunken man, panting.  "Take
her away--Take her out of my sight.  Send her to Siberia, to the
Mines--anywhere!  Let her pay the uttermost penalty!  Let her die!  She
is nothing to me!--Curse her!--Curse her!--Curse her!"

The Chief made a sign to the Cossacks and they sprang forward, one on
either side of the girl.  She shrank back.

"Father!" she cried.

"Chórt vozmí, I am not your father!  Take her away, I tell you."  With
a stifled oath the General flung his hands to his head and rushed from
the room.

Velasco still stood dazed, clasping his violin.  He was shivering as
though he had a chill, and the roughness, the brutality of the words,
the slamming of the door, went through him like a knife.  He dropped
his violin on the litter of papers.

"By heaven!" he cried, "What a terrible thing!  What brutes you all
are!  She is my wife--mine!  No matter what she has done, she is my
wife.  Let go of her you savages!--Kaya!  Help her, some of you--don't
let them take her!  They are dragging her away!--Kaya!  Stop them--stop
them!"

He was struggling like a madman in the arms of the official, fighting
with all his strength; but the muscles of the Cossack were like iron,
they held him in a vice.  The Chief sprang forward.  They held him, and
the girl was dragged from the room, brutally, roughly with blows.

She looked back over her shoulder and her eyes, with a strange, tense
look, gazed deep into Velasco's.  They were dark and blue, full of
anguish.  Her whole soul was in them; they were beseeching him, they
were thanking him, they were saying goodbye.  He struggled towards her.
A moment--and she was gone.

The great door swung back on its hinges, the latch clicked.

A faint, low cry came back from the distance.

Velasco's arms dropped to his side and he stared fiercely from one
official to the other.  He tried to speak and could not.  The cry came
back to him, and as he heard it, his throat throbbed, his heart seemed
to stop beating.

"You can go now," said the official.  "We know who you are, and there
is nothing against you."

He whispered something to the Chief.  They handed him his violin and
his case with its wrappings, and led him to the door.  He followed them
out, up the winding steps, through the passages, out into the court,
stumbling blindly.

"You can go--there is nothing against you."

He walked straight on with his head bent forward, his eyes on the
ground.  He clasped the violin in one hand, the case with the other.
He was shivering.

The cry followed him out into the street.  It rang in his ears.  Her
eyes were gazing into his with a strange tenseness.  He could feel
them.  He was dumb, he was helpless.

Oh God--the cry again!  It was low, it was faint, it was broken with
pain.  He stumbled on.



[1] Very well.



CHAPTER VIII

"Is Monsieur Velasco in?"

"He is, sir."

"Tell him his manager, Galitsin, is here and must speak to him at once."

"Very well, Bárin, but--he is composing.  He has been composing for
days--Monsieur knows?"

"I know," said the Manager.

He was a short, thick-set man with crisp, curly hair, a wide mouth, a
blunt nose, and eyes that twinkled perpetually as though at some inward
joke that he did not share with the rest of the world; they twinkled
now and he snapped his fingers.

"Go ahead, Bobo, you coward.  If he insists on hurling a boot at your
head, why dodge it--dodge it!  Or wait, stay where you are.  I will
announce myself."

The old servant retreated with alacrity down the hallway, stepping
lightly as if on eggs with his finger on his lips, while the Manager
opened the Studio door softly, without knocking, and closed it behind
him.

Before the fire-place, with his back to the door, sat Velasco.  His
shoulders were bent, his head was in his hands; he was motionless.  The
Manager cleared his throat slowly with emphasis:

"Eh, Velasco, is that you?"

The young Musician leaped to his feet as if struck by a blow, and faced
the intruder angrily, tossing the hair away from his brows.  His face
was pale, as of one who has watched instead of sleeping, and his eyes
were haggard and bloodshot.

"A hundred devils take you!" he cried, "What are you doing here?  I
told Bobo to keep people out, the treacherous rascal!  For heavens sake
go and leave me in peace; I tell you Galitsin, go!  Don't come near me."

The Manager laughed: "Composing, Velasco?"

"Can't you see it?  Of course I am composing.  Go!"  He waved his hand
towards the door.  "Don't talk."

"You must talk with me," exclaimed the Manager briskly, "Now Velasco,
there's no use, you will have to listen to reason.  The way you are
behaving is outrageous, abominable!  All your German engagements have
gone to the wall.  My desk is piled high with letters; the agents are
furious.  In Leipzig the Gewandhaus was entirely sold out a fortnight
ago.  In Dresden there isn't a seat left.  Why the money loss is
something tremendous!  I had a telegram this morning; they are nearly
crazy.  You must keep your engagements; you will ruin your career
utterly, absolutely.  You will never dare show your face in Germany
again.  And here you sit composing--composing!  Good heavens, you look
like it!  You look as if you had been on a bat for a week!  You look
drunk, Velasco, drunk!  I never saw such a change in a man!  Come--wake
up!  Rouse yourself!  Take the train tonight."

The Manager laid his arm on the young Musician's shoulder and patted it
soothingly.

"Take the night train, Velasco.  You ought to be playing, not
composing!  You know that as well as I do.  If you go tonight, you will
reach Leipzig in time.  It makes a difference of thousands of roubles
to me as well as to you; remember that.  You musicians have no
conscience.  Come, Velasco--are you listening?"

The Musician stood listless, his hands in his pockets, staring down at
the bricks of the chimney piece.

"What is that?" he exclaimed, "Were you speaking?--Oh, damn you,
Galitsin, why don't you go?  I'm not a slave!  I won't stir one step in
Germany if I don't feel like it; I swear I won't!  Cancel everything,
everything.  Heavens!  I couldn't play if I tried!  You managers are
like the old man of the mountain; you want to sit on my neck and lash
me on as if I were Sinbad.  All for the sake of a few dirty roubles to
put in your pocket!  What do I care?  I won't do it, I tell you.  Go
and manage somebody else; get another slave.  Petrokoff over there in
Moscow!  He will be like a little lamb and eat out of your hand.  Now
be off--be off!  Your voice is like a bee buzzing."

Velasco threw himself back in his chair again and blinked defiantly up
at the Manager through his bloodshot eyes.  They were heavy and weary,
he could scarcely keep them open; his fingers strummed against the arm
of the chair and he began to whistle to himself softly, a quaint little
Polish air like a folk-song.  Galitsin shook his head frowning:

"You are a perfect child, Velasco, when this mood gets hold of you.
There is no doing anything with you.  Very well then, I wash my hands
of the whole business.  Answer your own letters and satisfy the agents,
if you can.  Tell them you are ill, dying, dead--anything you please."

"Bah!" said Velasco, "Don't answer them at all."  He shut his eyes.

The Manager gave a hasty glance about the Studio and then he bent his
head to the chair, whispering:

"You have acted badly enough before, heaven knows, but never like this.
It is not the composing.  Where is the score?--Not a note!"  He
breathed a few words in Velasco's ear and the Musician started up.

"How did you know; who told you?  The devil take you, Galitsin!"

The Manager smiled, running his hands through his short, crisp curls.
"Everyone knows; all St. Petersburg is talking about it.  When a man of
your fame, Velasco, insists on befriending a Countess, and one who is
the daughter of Mezkarpin, and an anarchist to boot--"

He spread out his hands: "Ah, she is beautiful, I know.  I saw her at
the Mariínski.  She stared at you as if she were bewitched.  You had
every excuse; but get down on your knees, Velasco, and give thanks.  It
is no fault of yours that you are not tramping through the snow to
Siberia now, just as she is.  A lesser man, one whose career was less
marked!  By heaven, Velasco, what is it?--You are choking me!"

"Say it again!" cried the Musician, "You know where she is?  Tell me!
By God, will you tell me, or not?--I'll force it out of you!"

"Let go of my throat!" gasped the Manager.  "Sit down, Velasco!  Don't
be so excitable, so violent!  No wonder you play with such passion; but
I am not a violin, if you please.  Take your hands off my throat and
sit down."

"Where is she?"

Galitsin straightened his collar and necktie before the mirror of the
mantel-piece.  "What is the matter with you, Velasco?  Any one would
suppose you were in love with her!  Better not; she is doomed--she is
practically dead."

"Dead!"

"Don't fly up like that!--Sit down!  I saw the Chief of Police
yesterday, and he gave me some advice to hand on to you."

"Is she dead, Galitsin?"

"No, but she will be.  She is sent with a gang to the Ékaterinski
Zavad.  They are gone already, chained together, and marching through
the snow and the cold.  It is thousands of miles.  A Countess, who has
undoubtedly never taken a step in her life without a maid--who knows!
She is frail, she won't live to get there."

The room was still for a moment and suddenly a coal fell from the fire
to the hearth with a thud, flaring up.  Then it broke into ashes.
Presently the Manager continued:

"She shot the Grand-Duke Stepan, they say.  I don't know.  The thing
has been hushed up for the sake of Mezkarpin, poor man!  The Chief told
me he had had a stroke in the prison and may not recover.  The girl
must be a tigress!--Velasco!  Are you asleep?--Wake up!--Velasco!"

"What mines did you say, Galitsin?"

"The Ékaterinski Zavad."

"They have started already?"

"Yesterday."

"The Chief told you that?"

"The Chief himself told me."

"Did he mention the route?"

"By the old road through Tobolsk, I dare say, the usual one.  Come,
Velasco, don't brood over it!"

"Were they chained?"

The Musician shuddered and moved his limbs uneasily.  "Chains,
Galitsin?  Fancy, how horrible!  How they must clank!  It must be
maddening--jingling, rattling with every step--Ah!"

The Manager shrugged his shoulders.  "When a woman undertakes to murder
the Grand-Duke Stepan, what else can she expect?  Mezkarpin is a friend
of the Tsar, otherwise she would have been hung, or shot!--Why of
course!  The Chief said she was utterly brazen about it.  She asked
over and over if he were dead, and then said she was glad.  Lucky for
you, Velasco, they recognized you, they didn't take you for an
accomplice; you would never have touched a violin again.  All the
same--"

He glanced around the Studio again and his voice grew lower: "The Chief
gave warning.  You are to leave Russia, he said.  Velasco--listen to
me!  He said you must leave Russia at once, to-night--do you hear?"

The Manager leaned forward and shook the Musician's shoulder angrily.
"Velasco, do you hear?--If you won't go for your Art, you must go for
your safety.--Do you hear me?  You must!"

"I hear you," said Velasco, "You needn't bellow in my ear like a bull!
If I must, I suppose I must.  Go and write your letters and leave me in
peace."

"Shall I tell the agents you are coming?"

"Tell them anything you like.  Pull me about on wires like a little tin
puppet, and set me down anywhere in Europe, just as you please.  I feel
like an automaton!  You will be winding up my Stradivarius next with a
key.  Now go, or I won't stir a step!"

The Manager took up his gloves and cane; he seemed uneasy.  "You swear
you will start to-night, Velasco?"

"Be off!"

"By the night train?  I shall meet you at the station."

"Very well.  Good-bye."

"The Night Express?"

The Musician closed his eyes and nodded.  "You cackle like an old
woman, Galitsin; you would talk a cricket dumb.  Send me up Bobo, if
you see him, will you?--Good-bye."

Galitsin took out his watch.  "In three hours then," he said, "Au
revoir!  You have plenty of time to pack.  Eleven thirty, Velasco."

The door closed behind the short, thick-set figure with the crisp,
curling hair, and the Musician waited in his chair.  Presently the door
opened again.

"Is that you, Bobo,--eh?  Come in.  I sent for you.  Didn't you tell me
your wife was ill?"

"Yes, Bárin."

"You would like to go to her to-night?--Well, go.  I shan't need you.
Don't jabber, you make my head spin.  Go at once and stay until
morning; leave the cigarettes on the tray and the wine on the
table--that is all.  Just take yourself off and quietly."

After a moment or two the door closed, and the sound of footsteps,
scuffling in list slippers, died slowly away in the corridor.  Velasco
leaned forward with his head in his hands, his bloodshot eyes staring
into the coals.

"He may be one of them," he murmured, "or he may not.  You can't trust
people.  He is better out of the way."

The haggard look had deepened on his face; then he rose suddenly from
his chair and went into the next room, dropping the curtain behind him.
There were sounds in the room as of the pulling out of drawers, the
creaking of keys in a rusty lock, steps hurrying from one spot to
another, the fall of a heavy boot.  Then presently the curtain was
drawn aside and he reappeared.

No, it was not Velasco; it was some one else, a gypsey in a rakish
costume.  The mane of black hair was clipped close to his head; he wore
a scarf about his waist, a shabby jacket of velveteen on his back; his
trousers were short to the knees, old and spotted; his boots were worn
at the heel and patched.  It wasn't Velasco--it was a gypsey, a
tattered, beggarly ragamuffin, with dark, brooding eyes and a laugh on
his lips, a laugh that was like a twist of the muscles.

He crossed the room stealthily on his tiptoes, glancing about him, and
stood before the mirror examining himself.  At the first glance he
laughed out loud; then he clapped his hand over his mouth, listening
again.  But he was alone, and the form reflected in the mirror was his
own, no shadow behind.  He snatched up the lamp and held it close to
the glass, peering at himself from the crown of his close-cropped head
to the patch on his boot.  He gazed at the scarf admiringly; it was red
with tassels, and he patted it with his free hand.

"That is how they do it!" he cried softly, laughing.  "It is perfect.
I don't know myself!  Ha ha!--I would cheat my own shadow.  If the door
should open now, and Galitsin should come in--the ox!  How he would
stare!  And Bobo, poor devil, he would take me for a thief in my own
Studio.--God, what is that?--a step on the stairs!  The police!  They
come preying like beasts and seize one at night.  She told me!"

The gypsey's hand trembled and shook, and the wick of the lamp flared
up.  Great heaven!  The step crept nearer--it was at the door--the door
moved!  It was opening!

He dropped the lamp with a crash; the light went out and he staggered
back against the wall, clutching his scarf, straining his ears to hear
in the darkness.

The door opened wider.

Some one slipped through it and closed it again, and the step came
nearer, creaking on the boards.  He heard the soft patter of hands
feeling their way, the faint sound of a breath.  It was worse than in
the carriage, because the room was so large and the matches were on the
table, far off.  There was no way of seeing, or feeling.  The step came
nearer.

If it was a spy, he could grapple with him and throw him.  The gypsey
took a step forward towards the other step, and all of a sudden two
bodies came together, grappling, wrestling.  Two cries went up, the one
loud, the other faint like an echo.

"Hush, it is I, Velasco!  You are soft like a woman!  Your hair--It is
you, Kaya!  It is you!  I know your voice--your touch!  Did you hear
the lamp crash?  Wait!  Let me light a candle."

He stumbled over to the table, feeling his way, clutching the soft
thing by the arm, the shoulder.

"It is you, Kaya, tell me, it is you!  Damn the match, it is damp, how
it sputters!--Put your face close, let me see it.  Kaya!  Is it you,
yourself?"

The two faces stared at one another in the flickering light, almost
touching; then the other sprang back with a cry of dismay.

"You are a gypsey, you are not Velasco!  The voice is his,--Dieu!  And
the eyes--they are his, and the brows!  Let me go!  Don't laugh--let me
go!"

"No--no, Kaya, come back!  It is I.  They told me you were chained with
a gang; and were walking through the snow and the cold to the mines.
How did you escape; how could you escape?"

"Yes--it is you," said the girl, "I see now.  It was the costume, and
your hair is all cut.  I thought you had gone in the train to Germany."
She shuddered and clung to his hand.  "Why do you wear that?  Why
aren't you gone?  The Studio was vacant, I thought--deserted, or I
shouldn't have come!"

Velasco gazed at her, chafing the cold, soft fingers between his own.
"Oh God, how I have suffered!  I tried to reach you, I did everything,
and then I shut myself up here waiting--I was nearly mad.  Kaya--you
escaped from the fortress alone, by yourself?  Did they hurt you?  You
cried out; it rings in my ears--that cry!  It has never left me!  I
shut myself up and paced the floor.  Did they hurt you?"

The girl looked over her shoulder: "It was horrible, alone," she
breathed, "Some of the guards, the sentinels, belong to us.  Hush--no
one knows; it must never be guessed.  To-night, after dark, someone
whistled--one was waiting for me in the corridor with the keys; the
others were drugged.  They handed me on to someone outside; I was
dropped like a pebble over the wall.  Then I ran--straight here I ran."

She put her hand to her breast.  "Why aren't you gone?  Go now,
to-night.  Leave me here.  As soon as it is light I shall be missed,
and then--"  She shuddered and her hand trembled in his, like a bird
that is caught, soft and quivering.

Velasco looked at her again and then he looked away at the candle: "I
won't leave you," he said, "and the railroad is useless.  They would
track us at once.  When I put this on--"  He began smoothing the scarf.
"I meant to follow you through the snow and the cold to the mines, like
a beggar musician."

He laughed: "You didn't know me yourself, you see?  I was safe."

"Monsieur Velasco, you were coming to me?  Ah, but they told you a lie!
I--"  She breathed a few words to him softly.

"They would have--"

She nodded.

"When?"

"To-morrow at daybreak."

"In spite of Mezkarpin?"

She broke down and buried her face in her hands.

Velasco began to pace the room slowly.  "If you had a costume like
mine," he said, "If your hair were cut--"  Then he brightened suddenly
and ran forward to the girl, snatching her hands from her eyes,
dragging her to her feet.

"What a fool I was!" he cried, "What an idiot!  Quick, Kaya!  My chum
is an artist; he is off now in Sicily, painting the rocks, and the sea,
and the peasants; but his things are all there in his room next to
mine, just duds for his models you know.  Go--go!  Put on one like
mine.  You shall be a boy.  We will be boys together, gypsies, and play
for our living.  We will walk to the frontier, Kaya, together."

The two stared at one another for a moment.  He was pushing her gently
towards the curtain.  "Quick!" he whispered, "Be quick!"  They both
listened for a moment.

Then he pushed her inside and dragged down the curtain: "Now, I must
pack," he cried, "Now I must prepare to meet Galitsin, the round-eyed
ox!  Ha ha!--He will wait until he is stiff, and then he will fly back
here in a rage.  Good God, we must hurry!"  He began opening and
shutting the drawers, taking out money and jewels from one, articles of
apparel from another.

"No collars, no neck-ties!" he said to himself, "How simple to be a
gypsey!  A knapsack will hold all for her and for me.--Kaya!--Bózhe
moi!"

The curtain was drawn back and in the doorway stood a boy.



CHAPTER IX

The two gypsies gazed at one another in silence.

The small, picturesque figure in the doorway wore velveteen trousers of
green, old and faded, a black jacket rusty, with the sleeves patched,
and a scarlet sash tied loosely about the waist.  On the back of her
cropped yellow curls was a velveteen cap, rakishly tipped, and she
stood debonair beneath the folds of the curtain with a laugh on her
lips.

"Mon Dieu!" she cried, "How you stare, Monsieur!  Will I do?  What sort
of a boy do I make; all right?  Are you satisfied, sir?"

She made a little rush forward, eluding Velasco, and stopped before the
mirror with her hands boyishly deep in her pockets, glancing back over
her shoulder and pirouetting slowly backwards and forwards.

"The hair looks a little rough!" she exclaimed, "I cut it with a pair
of shears, or perhaps it was a razor, who knows!  Ma foi!  It is not
like a girl's at all, so short!  What my maid would say!  You would
never take me for a Countess now, would you--would you?"  She patted
her curls and pulled down her jacket in front, turning first to one
side, then to the other.  "What a nice pair of gypsies we make, sir,
eh?  Come and look at yourself.  You are taller than I, and bigger, and
you have such shoulders, heavens!  Mine are not half the size.  You
mustn't bully me, you know, not if I am a boy.  You took the best
jacket, the biggest, and look what I have--such a little one, only
patches and rags!  And see what boots!"

She held out one slim, small foot in a peasant's boot and inspected it,
pointing to the sole with little exclamations of horror.  "I took the
only ones I could find, and see--"  Then she looked at him coaxingly
with her eyes half veiled by her lashes, sideways, as if afraid of his
gaze.

"Do I make a nice boy, Monsieur, tell me?  Am I just like a gypsey, the
real ones?  Is it right, do you think?"  She faltered.

Velasco took a step forward and looked down at the reflection in the
mirror, the profile averted, the flush on her cheek, the curls on her
brow, the boyish swagger and the hands in the pockets, the cap on the
back of the tilted head, the laughing eyes, half veiled.  He towered
above her, gazing.  And presently her eyes crept up to his under the
lashes and they met in the mirror.  She drew slowly away.

"How little you are!" he cried, "You never seemed so little before; in
a cloak, in a veil, you were tall.  And now, stand still, let me
measure.  Your cap just reaches my shoulder.  Kaya--"

She gave a gay little laugh and held her back against his.  "How you
cheat!" she cried, "No--your heels on the floor, sir--there, now!  Back
to back, can you see in the mirror?  Where do I come?"

The two stood motionless for a moment, their shoulders touching,
peering eagerly sideways into the glass.

"Kaya, you are standing on tiptoe!"

"No--it is you."

"Kaya!  You rogue!"

She gave a little cry, laughing out like a child caught in mischief,
springing away.  "I must practise being a boy," she exclaimed, "What is
it you do?  It is so different from being a Countess.  One feels so
free.  No heels, no train, no veil!  When one is used to the boots it
must be heaven.  If my cap would only stay on!"

She began to roam over the room, taking boyish strides, puckering her
lips in a whistle; her thumbs in her vest and her head thrown back.
"There, now, that is it; I feel better already, quite like a man.  It
is charming, Monsieur; a little more practice--"

Velasco was following her about with the cap in his hands.  "Step
softly, Kaya, step softly," he said, "Stand still.  Let me put it on
for you."

"No--no, toss it over."

With a little spring the girl swung herself on the table edge,
balancing and swinging her feet; looking up at him from under her
lashes and laughing.

"Shall I make a good comrade, Monsieur Velasco?  What do you think?"

He leaned over the table towards her.  His eyes were bright and eager,
searching her face, the dimples that came and went in her cheeks, her
soft, white throat, bare under the collarless jacket; the lips parted,
and red, and arched; the rings of her hair, shining like gold.

"Kaya," he whispered hoarsely, "I never saw you like this before.  My
little comrade, my friend, my--  We will tramp together, you and I--all
the way to the frontier.  They will never suspect us, never!  The
Stradivarius shall earn our bread, and if you are ill, or weary, I will
carry you in my arms.  In the market-places I will play for the
peasants to dance, and you--you, Kaya--ah, what will you do?"

He laughed softly to himself and began teasing her, half gayly, half
tenderly, with his face close to hers, the sleeve of his jacket
brushing her arm.

"What will you do, Kaya?  Look at me!  Your cheek is red like a rose;
your eyes are like stars.  Don't turn them away.  Lift the fringe of
those lashes and look at me, Kaya.  Will you pass the cap for the
pennies?--You will have to doff it because you are a boy; and you must
do something because you are a gypsey.  Will you pass the cap for the
peasants to pay?"

He held the velveteen cap in his hands, playing with it, caressing it,
watching her.  "Look at me, Kaya!"

She flushed and drew back, her heart beating in little throbs under the
vest.  Suddenly she turned and looked at him squarely.  It was strange,
whenever their eyes met, like a thrill, a shock, an ecstasy; and then a
slow returning to consciousness as after a blow.

All at once, she drooped her lashes and began to trill, softly,
faintly, like a bird, the tones clear, and sweet, and high; and as she
sang, she glanced at him under her lashes, with her head on one side.
The voice pulsed and grew in her throat, swelling out; then she
softened it quickly with a look over her shoulder, half fearfully, and
again it soared to a high note, trilling, lingering and dropping at
last.

Her mouth scarcely opened.  The sound seemed to come through the arch
of her lips, every note pure, and sweet, and soft like a breath.
Velasco bent over entranced.

"How you sing!" he cried, "Like some beautiful bird!  In Italy, on the
shores of the lakes, I have heard the nightingales sing like that; but
never a woman.  The timbre is crystal and pure, like clear, running
water.  When you soar to the heights, it is like a lark flying; and
when you drop into alt, it is a tone that forces the tears to one's
eyes, so pathetic and strange.  Who taught you, Kaya?  Who taught you
to sing like that?  Or were you born so with a voice alive in your
throat; you had only to open it and let it come out?"

She shook her head, swinging her feet, trying to laugh.

"It is so small," she said wistfully.  "You are a musician, Monsieur
Velasco, and I--I know nothing of music.  No--I will pass the cap for
pennies.  Give it to me.  Is it getting late, must we go?"

She took the cap and put it on her head, on the back of her curls,
avoiding his eyes.  "Will that do for a gypsey?  Is it
straight--Velasco?"  She said the name quite low and breathed
hurriedly, with a flush on her cheeks.

He was still staring at her, but he said nothing; he made no motion and
she drew away from him a little frightened.

"You are like a violin," he murmured, "I told you you were like a
violin.  You are all music, as I am music.  We will make music
together--Kaya.  Sing for me again, just open your lips and
breathe--once more!  Let me hear you trill?"

"I can't," said the girl.  "I am faint, Velasco.  When I look at you
now there is a mist before my eyes.  The room sways."  She put out her
hands suddenly, as if to steady herself.

Velasco started back: "Good heavens, Kaya, what is the matter?  The
colour has gone from your cheeks; there are shadows under your eyes,
deep and heavy as though they were painted.  Don't faint, will you?
Don't!  I shouldn't know what under heaven to do!"

The girl slipped down from the table and, staggering a little, threw
herself into the chair by the fire-place.  "Get me some food, Velasco;
some bread, some wine.  In a moment it will pass!"  She began laughing
again immediately.  "Don't be frightened.  It is you who are pale, not
I.  Just a morsel to eat--Velasco.  Since last night I have eaten
nothing.  You forget how hungry a boy can be!  Is there time?"

Velasco had snatched the red wine from the table and was pouring it out
in a glass, holding it to her lips.

"Drink, Kaya, drink--and here are biscuits, shall I break them for you?
Don't speak.  Shut your eyes, and drink, and eat.  I will feed you."

He hovered over her with little exclamations of pity and self-reproach.

"Why didn't I see at once you were starving!  Poor child, poor little
one!  You seemed so gay, dancing about; your cheeks were so red and
now--Ah no, it is better--the colour is coming back slowly.  The wine
brings a flush."

The girl lay back with her eyes closed, sipping the wine from the glass
as he held it.  "Is there plenty of time, Velasco?" she said faintly.

He looked at the hands of the malachite clock on the mantel.  They
pointed to ten and presently it began to strike.

"Yes--yes." he whispered, "Lie still.  Let me feed you.  We will go
presently."

"What was that on the stairway?" she said, "Was it a noise?--I thought
I heard something."

She opened her eyes and started up; and with the sudden movement, the
glass in her hand tipped and spilled over.  "It is nothing," she said,
"It fell on my hand.  I will wipe it away."

Velasco laughed.  "Your hand!" he cried, "Your hand is a rose leaf, so
soft and so white.  The wine has stained it with a blotch.  How
strange!  It is red, it is crimson--a spot like blood."

The girl blanched suddenly and fell back with a cry.

"Not blood, Velasco!  Wipe it off!  Take it away!  Not blood!  Oh, take
it away!"

Her eyes stared down at the blotch on her hand.  They were frightened,
dilated, and her whole body quivered in the chair.  "Velasco--take it
away!"

He put down the glass and took the small, white hand in his own,
brushing it gently with the sleeve of his jacket.  "There now," he
said, "it is gone.  It was only a drop of wine.  Hush--hush!  See,
there is no blood, Kaya, I never meant there was blood.  Don't scream
again!"

"It's the Cross!" she cried, "the curse of the Black Cross!  Ah,
go--leave me!  I am a murderess!  I shot him, Velasco, I shot him!  I
fulfilled the vow, the oath of the order.  But now--oh God!  I am
cursed!  Not blood--not blood!"

She was struggling to her feet.

"_Without weakness, without hesitation, or mercy_.  I did it!
Velasco--I did it!"

She fell back into the chair again, sobbing, murmuring to herself.
"Not blood--no--not blood!"

"That is over and past," said Velasco, "Don't think of it, Kaya.  Be a
boy, a man, not weak like a woman.  Eat the rest of the bread."

The girl took the bread from his hand.

"Finish the wine."

He held the glass to her lips until she had drained it; and then she
began to laugh a little unsteadily.

"You are right," she said, "a boy doesn't--weep.  I must be strong, a
good comrade."  She dashed the tears from her eyes and looked up at him
pathetically, smiling with lips that still quivered.  "It is over," she
said, "I am--I have--you know; but it is over!  I will forget it.
Sometimes I can forget it if I try; then I shut my eyes at night and I
see him before me, on his face with his arms outstretched--still and
strange.  The blood is trickling a stream on the floor!  I hear the
shot--I--"

"Be still, Kaya, hush!  Don't speak of it; forget it!  Hush!"

She began to laugh again: "See, I am your comrade, light-hearted and
gay as a gypsey should be.  Already--I have forgotten!  What a couple
of tramps we are, you and I!  Just look at your boots!"

"And your faded old jacket!"

"And your scarf, Velasco!"

"And your velveteen cap!"

They laughed out together, and then they stopped suddenly and listened.
"Was it anything?"

"No, I think not."

"Are you sure?"

Velasco leaned towards her and their fingers touched for a moment.  She
drew them away.

"Shall we go; is it time?"

"Not yet," said Velasco, "not yet!  Your lips are so sweet, they are
arched like a bow; they quiver like a string when one plays on it.
Kiss me, Kaya."

She pressed him back with her hands outstretched, her palms against his
coat.  "We must go," she whispered, "They will track us, Monsieur.  I
am frightened."

"Kaya, kiss me."

Their eyes met and drew closer, gazing intently, the dark and the blue.

"Don't touch me," she said faintly.  "We are two boys together.  You
must forget that I am a girl.  Can you forget?"

"No," said Velasco.  "You were charming before, but you are
irresistible now, in that velveteen jacket and scarf, with the curls on
your brow.  When you look at me so, with your head on one side, and
your eyes half veiled, and the flush on your cheeks, you are sweet--I
love you!  Kiss me."

He pressed forward closely, his eyes still on hers; but she held him
back with her hands, trembling a little.

"Velasco," she whispered, "Listen!  I trust you.  You are stronger than
I; your wrists are like steel, but--I trust you.  See--I trust you."

She took down her hands from his shoulders and folded them proudly over
her breast, gazing up at him.

"How strange your eyes are," said Velasco, "like two pools in the
twilight; one could drown in their depths.  You are there behind the
blue, Kaya.  Your spirit looks out at me, brave and dauntless.  When
you sob, you are like a child; when you look at me under the veil of
your lashes and your heart beats fast, you are a woman.  And now--you
are--what are you, Kaya?  A young knight watching beside his shield!"

He hesitated, and passed his hand over his brows, and looked at her
again; then he moved away slowly and began to lay the things in his
knapsack.  "They are all boys' things," he said, "but you are a boy;
they will do for you too."

"Yes," she said.

He laughed a little unsteadily.  "There is money in my belt; now the
knapsack is ready, my violin--and that is all.  It is nearly eleven.
Come--Kaya."

He turned his head away without looking at her; he approached the door
slowly.  The girl sat still in the chair.

"Are you coming?"

There was silence; then he turned on his heel, and went back to her,
and laid his hand on her shoulder.  "Kaya," he said, whispering as if
someone could hear, "Are you afraid?  Why are you afraid to come with
me, dear brother musician, dear comrade?"  His voice broke.  "I will
take care of you.  You said you would trust me, Kaya."

The girl clasped his arm with a cry: "I am not afraid for myself," she
said, "but for you--you, Velasco.  Leave me before it is too late.
There is time for the train, just time.  I implore you to go!"

She trembled and raised her eyes to his.  "If anything should happen,
and you suffered for me, I couldn't bear it.  Leave me--Velasco!"

He put out his hand and took hers, crushing it in his own strength.  He
did not speak but he drew her forward, and she followed him dumbly,
quietly, without resistance; her head drooping, the cap on the back of
her yellow curls; the lashes hiding her eyes, fringing her cheek.

He took the Stradivarius under his arm.  The door closed and they
started out, hesitating, looking back over their shoulders; stealing
down the stairs like two frightened children hand in hand.



CHAPTER X

The first pale streaks of dawn were creeping slowly up from the horizon,
piercing the darkness of night with faint, far-away shafts of light, like
arrows silver-tipped, shot from an unseen quiver.  In the distance, the
snow fields stretched limitless and vast, and between them the road wound
in and out, narrow and dark, like a coiled serpent amid the whiteness.

Here and there an occasional black-roofed farm house reared its head;
across the snow came the sudden gleam of an ice covered pond; while afar
off, to the left, the domes of Bélaïa rose dark and mysterious in their
roundness, like a patch of giant toadstools, shadowy and strange.  The
air was damp and a cold wind blew over the snow drifts.  Along the road,
in the full teeth of the blast, trudged two boys, the one a little behind
the other, and the taller of the two shielding the younger with his body.

"Is it far now, Velasco?"

"Not far, if you peep through the folds of your cloak you will see the
domes over yonder.  Are you weary, Kaya?"

"No--Velasco."

The voice came in little gasps, as if blown by the gale, fluttering like
a leaf that is tossed hither and thither.  The older boy bent his head,
struggling forward.

"The wind is like a dagger," he stammered, "it cuts through the cloak
like an edge of fine steel, like a poignard piercing the heart.  Come
closer, Kaya, and let me put my arm around you.  Your body sways like a
frail stem, a flower.  You are stumbling and your breath freezes, even as
it comes through your lips.  Come closer, or you will fall, Kaya.  Let me
put my arm around you."

"It is nothing, Velasco; only the snow that whirls before my eyes and
blinds them.  Is that the dawn, those faint, grey streaks in the
distance?"

"You are stumbling again, Kaya!  It is wonderful the way you have tramped
the whole night through.  We are almost there."

"It is only my feet, Velasco; they are frozen a little by the snow, and
numb.  That is nothing for a boy.  Let us run a race together.  Come!"

"The wind mocks at you, little one.  Run in such a blast--fight rather!
Put your head down and battle with it.  The demon!  Keep behind me a
little; use my cloak and my arm as a shield.  It is not far now."

"Shall we stop at the inn, Velasco; is it safe, do you think?  There is
one on the market-place."

"Yes, why not?"

"I was there once before, Velasco, with my--with my maid!" The girl
laughed.

"You pant, Kaya, and your breath comes in jerks.  Are you frightened?"

"No, Velasco--no!"

"They will look for us in the trains and the boats, but never in the
snow-fields and the market-places.  Kaya, we will tramp as long as you
are able to bear it, and then--"

"Then--Velasco?"

"We will take the train at some smaller station--Dvisk, Vilna--wherever
we can."

"You, Velasco, but not I."

"Both of us.  I will never leave you again.  In my pocket are passports,
blank; I bribed the official.  We will fill them in together: two
gypsies, one dark and one fair.  Ha, Kaya--keep up--a little further!
See, the domes are bigger now and nearer, and the road goes straight
without winding."

"Velasco--I cannot walk!  I cannot see!  Everything whirls before me in a
mist Go!  Leave me--I am falling--"

The older gypsey gave a despairing look over the snow-fields; they were
bare, and white, and glistening.  The golden ball of the sun had begun to
climb slowly and the shafts had grown suddenly yellow.  Across the icy
surface of the pond the wind whistled, lashing him in the face as with a
whip.  The road was narrow and deserted.  They were alone, and the form
of the younger boy lay against him unconscious, inert, half sunk in the
snow.

Velasco bent over his companion, chafing the hands, the cheeks; they were
cold like ice.  He gave another despairing glance around; then he lifted
the form in his stiffening arms and carried it slowly, laboriously
forward, plodding each step; his head bent, his teeth grit together,
fighting his way.


The shafts lengthened across the sky; the domes grew larger and began to
glitter in the rays of the sunlight; by the side of the road houses
appeared, straggling at first, then nearer together.  Suddenly, behind
them, came the tinkle of sleigh-bells, and the crunching of snow beaten
in by the weight of hoofs.

"Oï--Oï!"

Velasco stepped aside with his burden and stared at the sleigh as it
approached.  It was a cart, roughly set on runners, drawn by a pair of
long-haired ponies; while fastened behind was a mare, and two wild-eyed
colts following.

The peasant in the seat was wrapped in sheep-skin and smoking a short,
thick pipe held between his teeth.

"Oï--Oï!  Is that a corpse you hold there, Bradjaga?" he cried.  His
voice was hardly distinguishable above the roaring of the gale.

"For the love of heaven," shouted Velasco, "Moujik, if you have a heart
under your sheep-skin, let me lay my comrade in the cart!  He is faint
with the cold, benumbed.  We have tramped all night in the snow.  Are you
bound for the market at Bélaïa?  Hey, stop!  Moujik--stop!"

"Get in," said the peasant, "The ponies rear and dance as if Satan were
on their backs, and the mare is like one possessed!  It is good to see
the sun.  Get in, Bradjaga, and if the burden in your arms is no corpse
it will soon become one!  The night has been hell.  Bózhe moi!  At the
first crossing to the left is a tea-house--Get along you brutes!--Pour
the vodka into his throat; it will sting him to life!"

The ponies dashed forward, the mare and the foals running behind.
Velasco sat huddled on the floor of the cart, his violin and the knapsack
slung from his shoulders; his arms still clasping the slight, dark form,
protecting it from the jolting of the runners.  He was muttering to it
under his breath:

"Kaya--poor little one!  Your curls are damp against my cheek; your
forehead is ice!  Courage, little comrade.  Now--your heart beats
faster--your eye-lids are flickering!  Another moment and you will be
warm and safe.  The lights of the tea-house are ahead.  Moujik--faster!
We will drink a glass of vodka together, all three!  Faster--faster!"

As the sleigh dashed into the court-yard, the great red ball of the sun
rose above the distant tree-tops; and behind the stables a cock began to
crow, slowly, feebly at first, as if just awake and stretching his wings.


When Kaya came to consciousness again, she was lying on a pile of straw
in a low raftered room.  She had dreamt that she was chained and in
prison, and that something was choking her and weighing on her breast;
but when she tried to move her limbs, she found that it was the blankets,
wrapping her closely; and when she opened her eyes, she saw the face of
Velasco bending over her, and he was trying to force some wine through
her clenched lips.

"Where am I?" said Kaya faintly, "You are choking me, Velasco!"

She struggled to a sitting posture, leaning on one elbow, and peered up
into his face.  "What has happened?" she said again, "Where are we?  I
thought we were tramping through the snow and my feet were frozen!  You
are pale, Velasco, and your eyes are heavy!--Have I slept?"

Velasco glanced over his shoulder, and then brought his lips close to her
face and whispered: "You fainted and I carried you in my arms; the Moujik
brought us here in his cart.  You opened your eyes once, and then when we
laid you on the straw you fell asleep.  You slept so long I was
frightened, Kaya--if it had not been for your jacket moving under the
blankets, rising and falling softly with the beat of your heart, you
might have been dead; you were so still!  Poor little one, you were
exhausted.  Drink a little and eat!"

"What time is it, Velasco?"

"The sun was rising when we drove into the court and now, in another hour
or two, it will be setting."

Kaya put her hand to her cropped yellow curls, and then she looked at him
and a dimple came in her cheek:

"I forgot about being a boy," she murmured, "Is this what you call an
inn, Velasco?  It looks like a stable!"

"It is a stable."

Kaya looked at him again and began to laugh softly: "I forgot about being
a gypsey," she said, "Your clothes are ragged and torn, Velasco; they are
worse than they were that night in your Studio.  And I--tell me--how do I
look?"

"Like a little Bradjaga, sweet, and disreputable, and boyish!"

Kaya drew herself slowly to her knees and then to her feet, brushing the
straw from her velveteen trousers and the sleeves of her jacket.  "They
wouldn't let us in the inn because we were gypsies, was that it?  They
were afraid we would steal?"

The dimples came back in her face and she picked up her cap from the
floor, dusting it with her elbow and cramming it down on the back of her
curls.  "Steal me a little bread, Velasco, I am hungry."

"Come back to your nest in the straw, Kaya; put your fingers in my pocket
and steal for yourself.  I bought a loaf with a couple of copecks, and
some honey-cake.  At sun-down, when the peasants come for their vodka,
there will be a dance.  They have never danced to a Stradivarius before;
but they won't know the difference, Kaya, not they!  We will pay for the
straw with a rollicking waltz--Ha ha!"

The gypsey musician caught his comrade by the arm and pulled her down on
the straw beside him.

"Which pocket, Velasco?  Oh, I feel the honey-cake bulging!  Give it to
me."

"No--take it yourself!"

"Your pocket is so deep; it is like diving into a pool."

"Not so deep as your eyes, Kaya.  You thief!  Ah, take your fingers away
and pay for your bread."

"Are you fooling, Velasco?  You look at me so strangely!  Sometimes your
eyes are slits and disappear under your brows, and now--Velasco, turn
your head away--I am hungry.  You make my heart beat!--Velasco--give me
the bread."

"Pay first and then you shall have it."

She stared at him a moment, drawing back into the straw.  "I am a boy,"
she said softly, panting, "Remember I am a boy!  Don't--tease me!"

"Just once, Kaya."

"No--Velasco."

The older gypsey glanced again about the low raftered loft.  The window
in the rafters was hung with cob-webs; the light came through it dimly, a
shaft of sun-beams dancing on the floor; they fell on her hair beneath
the cap and the curls glistened like gold.  Her eyes were watching him.

"No--no--Velasco!"

He came nearer to her, and the straw crackled as he moved, stretching out
his arms: "When you were weary, Kaya, I carried you.  When you fell
asleep I watched over you.  It is not your heart that is beating so fast;
it is mine!  The colour has come back to your cheeks and the light to
your eyes.  You slept while I guarded you.  My eyes were heavy, but I
dared not shut them; I watched the folds of your jacket rising and
falling, the breath as it came through the arch of your lips; the gold of
your curls against the straw; the oval of your cheek and your lashes.  My
eyes never closed.--I have given up everything for you, Kaya, my life and
my art."

He stretched out his arms to her again, and his dark eyes gazed into her
blue ones, passionate and eager.

"--Kaya!"

She put out her hand and touched his:

"Sleep, Velasco.  Your life is safe and your art.  You have given them to
me, but I will give them back again.  Break off a piece of the bread,
Velasco, and we will talk a little together while we eat.  We have been
such good comrades, you and I, and we care for one another--as comrades
do.  If you should die or--or leave me, it would break my heart--you know
that."

"Ah, kiss me--Kaya!  Let me take you in my arms!  Come to me and let me
kiss you on your lips!"

"You hurt me, Velasco, your hands are so strong!  Not on the
lips--Velasco--not on the--lips!  I beseech you, dear friend,--I--"

The gypsey held her close to him for a moment, his heart beating against
hers, and then he turned away his head.  "I love you, Kaya; I love you!
Kiss me of your own will.  I can't force you--how can I?  Your hands are
struggling in mine, but they are soft like the down on a bird's breast!
Some day you will come to me, Kaya, some day--when you love me too.
When--ah!  The touch of your hands, your hair against my cheek sets my
blood on fire!  Feel my pulse how it throbs!  It is like a storm under
the skin!  I suffer, little Bradjaga--little comrade!"

"Don't suffer!" cried the girl, "Let me go, Velasco, let me go!  We will
sit here together, side by side; be my comrade again, my big brother!
Laugh, Velasco!  Smile at me!  When you look like that and come so close,
I am frightened!  Don't tease me any more!  The bread is hard like a nut;
see, I will crack it between my teeth.  Where is the honey-cake, Velasco?
Give me a piece."

"Do you care for me, Kaya?  Look me in the eyes and tell me."

The girl pushed him away from her slowly and turned away her head with a
flush: "Is that your violin over there in the straw, lying in a little
nest all by itself,--cradled so snug and so warm?  It is charming to be a
gypsey, Velasco.  Are you glad I came to you, or are you sorry?  That
night, do you remember the violets?  I flung them straight at your feet!
I wasn't a boy then, but I threw straight.  Velasco, listen--I--I care
for you--but don't--kiss me!"

"Kaya--Kaya!"

"Hush!  Shut your eyes!  Put your head back in the straw and go to sleep.
When it is time for the dance I will wake you.  I will sit here close
beside you and watch, as you watched over me.  Shut your eyes, Velasco."

"Won't you--Kaya?"

"Go to sleep, Velasco--hush!"

"If I shut my eyes--will you?"

"Hush!"

The sun-beams danced on the dusty floor and the light came dimly through
the cobwebs.  Velasco lay with his arm under his head, his young limbs
stretched in the straw, asleep.  He murmured and tossed uneasily.  There
was a flush on his face; his dark hair fell over his brows and teased
him, and he flung it back, half unconscious.

Kaya covered him with the blanket, kneeling beside him in the straw.  She
moved without rustling, drawing it in softly, and smoothing the straw
with her fingers.

"It is my fault that he is lying here in a loft," she whispered low to
herself, "He does it for me!  His hands have been frozen--for me!  They
were so white, and firm, and supple; and now--they are scratched and
swollen!"

She gave a frightened glance about the loft, and then bent over him,
holding back a fold of the blanket.

"He is asleep!" she breathed, "He will never know!"

She stooped low with her golden head and kissed his hands one after the
other, lightly, swiftly, pressing her lips to the scratches.  He murmured
again, tossing uneasily; and she fell backwards in the straw, gazing at
him, with her arms locked over her breast and her heart throbbing madly.

"No--he is asleep!" she said, "He is fast asleep!  Another hour, and then
in the dusk I will wake him.  He will play for the dancing--Velasco!  The
greatest violinist in all Russia--he will play for the peasants to dance!"

She gave a little sob, half smothered.  "It was wicked," she said,
"unpardonable!  I didn't know then--how could I know?  If I had
known!--God, save him!  Give him back his life and his art that he has
given to me.  Give it all back to him, and let me suffer alone the curse
of the Cross--the curse of the--Cross!  Make me strong to resist him!
Ah, Velasco--!"

She was sobbing through her clenched teeth; staring at him, stretching
out her arms to him.

--"Velasco!"



CHAPTER XI

The room was long, and low, and bare, lighted in the four corners by
lamps, small and ill-smelling.  The ceiling was blackened by the smoke
from them, and the air was heavy, clouding the window-panes.  At one
end of the room was a raised platform, and on the platform sat two
gypseys; the one was dark, in a picturesque, tattered costume, with a
scarf about his waist, and a violin; the other was slight, with golden
curls clipped short, and a ragged jacket of velveteen, worn at the
elbows.

The floor of the room was crowded with dancers; sturdy, square-faced
moujiks in high boots; and their sweethearts in kerchiefs and short
skirts.  The moujiks perspired, stamping the boards with their boots
until the lamps rattled and shook, and the smoke rolled out of the
chimneys; embracing the heavy forms of the women with hands worn and
still grimy with toil.  The tones of the violin filled the room.  "One,
two--one, two--one, two, three--curtsey and turn--one, two, three."

The dark haired gypsey sat limply in his chair, playing, his back half
turned to the room.  There was no music before him.  He improvised as
he played, snatches of themes once forgotten, woven and bound with
notes of his own.  His eyes were closed; he swayed a little in his
chair, holding the violin close to his cheek.

"One, two--one, two--one, two, three."

The younger gypsey sat cross-legged on the floor, gazing down at the
whirling crowd, blurred by the smoke.  In his hands he held a
tambourine, which he shook occasionally in rhythm with the waltz,
glancing over his shoulder at his companion and laughing.  Occasionally
they whispered together.

"You play too well, Velasco!  Hist--scratch with the bow!"

"I can't, Kaya, it is maddening!"

"Just a little, Velasco."

"Is that better?  Týsyacha chertéi, how it rasps one's ears!"

"Yes, but your technique, Velasco!  No gypsey could play like that!
Leave out the double stops and the trills!"

"I forget, little one, I forget!  The Stradivarius plays itself.  Keep
the castanet rattling and then I will remember."

"Velasco, hist--st!  There are strangers standing by the door; they
have just come in!  Scratch a little more, just a little.  Your tone is
so deep and so pure.  When you rubato, and then quicken suddenly, and
the notes come in a rush like that, I can hardly keep still.  My pulses
are leaping, dancing!  One, two--one, two, three!"

"Is that right?  Don't ask me to scratch, Kaya!  I can't bear it so
close to my ear.  The din of their stamping is frightful, the swine!
No one will notice."

The whispering ceased.  The gypsey bent his dark head again and the
violin played on.  "One, two--one, two, three!"

All of a sudden, voices began to call out from the floor, here and
there among the dancers, irritated and angry; then an oath or two:
"Keep time, Bradjaga, keep time!"  Their heels beat against the floor.

The landlord crossed the room hastily, edging in and out among the
dancers; he was frowning and rubbing his hands one over the other.
When he reached the platform, he leaned on it with his elbows and
beckoned to the gypsies.

"You don't play badly," he called, "not badly at all; but Dimitri, the
old man, he suited them better.  He always came strong on the beat.
Play the old tunes, Bradjaga; something they know with a crash on the
first, like this."

He clapped his hands: "_One_, two, three!  _One_, two, three!  And
fast--just so, all the time!"

"Chórt vozmí[1]!" cried Velasco, "They don't like my playing!  Don't
clap your hands again--don't!  The racket is enough to split one's
ear-drums!"

He dropped his violin on his knees and stared blinking at the landlord,
who was still gesticulating and taking little skipping steps by way of
illustration.

"_One_, two, three--_one_, two, three!  So, loud and strong!  Just try
it, Bradjaga!"

Velasco blinked again and a flush came slowly in his cheeks: "My poor
Stradivarius," he said slowly in Polish, "They don't like you; they
prefer a common fiddler with a crash on the beat!  Bózhe moi!  Kaya, do
you hear?"

The younger gypsey made a sound half startled, half laughing, drawing
nearer to him on the platform.  "Hist, Velasco!  They are peasants;
they don't know!  Ah, be careful--the strangers are crossing the floor.
They are looking at you and talking together!  I knew it, I feared it!"

The dancing had stopped, and threading their way through the groups
came several ladies and a gentleman.

"Bradjaga," said the landlord, "This is Ivan Petrokoff, the famous
musician of Moscow, who has deigned to honour my humble house with his
presence.  He wishes to examine your instrument."

The gentleman nodded brusquely and stretched out a fat hand.  He was
short and quite bald, and he stuttered as he spoke.  "Quite a d-decent
fiddle for a gypsey," he said, "Let me s-see it!"

Velasco bowed with his hand on his heart: "It is mine," he said in a
humble voice, "A thousand pardons, Bárin!  Impossible!"

"I will p-pay you for it!" said the gentleman angrily, "How much do you
w-want?"

Velasco smiled and put his hand to his heart again, shrugging his
shoulders.

"Not that it is of any p-particular value," continued Petrokoff, "but I
like the t-tone.  I will give you--hm--s-sixty-five roubles!"

Velasco drew the bow softly over the strings; he was still smiling.

"Seventy!  That is exorbitant for a g-gypsey's fiddle!   You could buy
a d-dozen other instruments for that, just as good!  Come--will you
t-take it?"

Velasco began to trill softly on the G string, and then swept over the
arch with an arpeggio pianissimo.

"You are like a J-Jew!" exclaimed the musician.  "You want to bargain!
One hundred r-roubles then!  There!"  He turned to the landlord,
stretching out his fat hands, palms upwards.  "Absurd isn't it?  The
f-fellow must be mad!"

"Mad indeed," echoed the landlord, "A miserable, tattered bradjaga, who
can't even keep time.  You heard yourself, Professor, how he changed
the beat and threw the dancers out, every moment or so.  They are
nothing but tramps; but if you want a fiddle, Bárin, old Dimitri, who
is sick in bed with the rheumatism in his legs, he will sell you his
for a quarter the price and be thankful.  A nice little instrument,
fine and well polished, not old and yellow with the back worn!"

He twiddled his fingers in contempt.

Velasco ran lightly a scale over the strings.  His hair fell over his
brows and he half closed his eyes, gazing at the musician through the
slits mockingly.

"Are you really the great Petrokoff?" he said, "The Professor of the
Violin known through all Russia!  From Moscow?  Even the gypsies have
heard of you!"

The Professor lifted his fingers to his lips and blew on them as if to
warm the ends, which were flat and stubbed from much playing on the
strings: "Humph!" he said, "You are only a boy!  You are talented, it
is true; but what do you know of violinists?  You ought to be studying."

"That is true, Bárin," said Velasco humbly.  "I am only a poor gypsey;
I know nothing!"

"Let me see your hand and your arm," said Petrokoff, "Yes, the shape is
excellent; the muscles are good.  You need training of course.  If you
come to the Conservatory at Moscow, I may be able to procure for you a
scholarship for one of my classes."

"Ah, Bárin--your Excellence, how kind you are!" murmured the gypsey.
"I should like it above all things!  Would the Bárin teach me himself?"

"Certainly," said Petrokoff loftily, "Certainly; but you would have to
pass an examination.  Your bowing, for instance, is bad!  You should
hold your arm so, and your wrist like this."

"Like this?" murmured Velasco, curving his wrist first in one way, then
in another.  "That is indeed difficult, Bárin."

"Give the bow to me," said Petrokoff, "Now, let me show you!  I am very
particular about that with all my pupils.  There--that is better."

The gypsey brushed a lock from his eyes and took up the bow carefully,
as if he were handling an egg with the shell broken.  "Ah--so?" he
said, "Of course!  And can you play with your wrist like that, Bárin?"

Petrokoff stretched out his hand and took the violin from the gypsey's
arms: "Give it to me," he said, "You notice how limpid, how rich the
tone!  That comes from the method.  You will learn it in time; the
secret lies in the bowing, the way the wrist is held--so!"

Velasco opened his eyes wide: "Oh, how clumsy I am in comparison!" he
said wistfully.  "Your scale, Bárin!  I never heard such a scale."  He
gave a swift glance over his shoulder at his companion with a low
whistle of astonishment.

"Your comrade seems to be choking," said one of the ladies, "I never
heard any one cough so.  Is he consumptive?"

"No--no!" said the gypsey.  "It is probably a crumb of bread gone the
wrong way; or the dust blown about by the dancing.  He will recover.
Bárin--now tell me, do I hold the elbow right?"

"Not at all.  The arm must be--so!"

"Ah--so?"

"That is better."

The gypsey ran his fingers over the strings in exact imitation of
Petrokoff.  The tone was thin, and his fingers moved stiffly as if
weighted.  His face wore an anxious expression.  "Dear me!" he
exclaimed, "It is more difficult than I imagined.  Does every violinist
hold his bow like that?"

Petrokoff cleared his throat and his chest swelled a little under his
coat.  "Bradjaga, I have taught the violin for twenty-five years--there
is no other way."

The gypsey sighed.  "My own way is so much simpler," he said, "Look!"
His fingers flew over the neck of the Stradivarius in harmonics, swift
and sure as the flight of a hawk; his bow seemed to leap in his hand,
and when he reached the top note of all, high, clear and sweet, he
trilled on it softly, swelling out into a tone pure and strange like
the sighing of wind in the tree-tops.  The hair fell over his brows,
and for a moment there was silence in the room.

Kaya had stopped coughing; she had clapped one hand over her mouth to
still the sound, and her blue eyes were fixed on one of the ladies, who
was staring hard at the gypsey.  They were listening intently.
Petrokoff stood with his hands clasped over his waistcoat, his head a
little to one side, nodding gently from time to time, as if listening
to a pupil in his class room.

"Yes," he began, "as I said before, you have talent.  I think I could
make something of you; but your bowing is bad, very bad; your method is
abominable!  It would never be allowed in the Conservatory; and your
harmonics--bah!"

He shrugged his shoulders, spreading his fat fingers in disgust.  "Give
me the violin again; it is too good an instrument for a boy.  If you
come to Moscow, I will give you two hundred roubles, just out of
charity.  The instrument isn't worth the half, as you know.  But I have
a good heart, I am interested in your progress.  With the two hundred
roubles you can pay for your lodging and food.  The harmonics--listen!
They should sound like this."

He played a few notes on the top of the instrument, shrill and sharp.
The gypsey stretched out his arms eagerly.

"Let me try, Bárin!" he cried, "So--so?"

The harmonics seemed to squeak in derision; they flatted, and the sound
was like the wheels of a cart unoiled.

"Stop!" cried Petrokoff, "It is horrible!  For the love of heaven,
Bradjaga, stop!"

The gypsey drew the bow slowly and lingeringly over the flatted notes.
It was like the wail of a soul in inferno; a shriek like a devil
laughing.

"Ha-ha!" cried Velasco.  "Now I understand!  That is what you were
after, Bárin?"

Petrokoff eyed him sharply.

The boy's face was the picture of innocence; the mouth was slightly
puckered as if with concentrated effort; his eyes were open and frank;
he was smiling a little triumphantly like a child that is sure of
pleasing and waiting for praise.

"You play atrociously," said Petrokoff severely.  "I shall keep you six
months on finger exercises alone.  You play false!"

The light died out of the boy's face:

"Bárin," he said humbly, "In Moscow you will teach me to play like
yourself.  I am nothing but an ignorant bradjaga as you see."

Suddenly he put his hand to his mouth and began to cough: "The dust!"
he said, "It has gone to my throat all at once.  Eh--what?  Excuse me a
moment, Bárin."

Kaya's yellow curls were close to his ear and she whispered something.
She was standing behind his chair and, as she stooped to him, her hand
rested on his shoulder and trembled slightly: "Velasco," she said, in a
voice like a breath, "Come, I beseech you!  You are playing with
danger, with death!  They will surely suspect; ah, come!"

The gypsey tossed his head, like a young horse when some one is trying
to force the bit between his teeth; his chin stiffened and an obstinate
look came into his eyes.  He brushed her aside: "No," he murmured, "Go
away, Kaya!  He is a stupid fool, can't you see?  I am not half
through; it is heavenly to hear him!  Go--go!  I want to tease him some
more; I tell you I will."

The younger gypsey sank back on the floor cross-legged, half hidden by
the chair and the form of Velasco.  Her hands were still trembling and
she put them in the pockets of her jacket, trying to force her red lips
to a whistle; but no sound came through the arch.  She heard the voice
of Velasco smooth, and wicked, and humble, just above her.

"There is a musician," he was saying, "Perhaps you have heard of him?
His name is Velasco."

"Bosh!" said Petrokoff in an angry tone, and then he blew his nose
loudly.  "Velasco--bosh!  He is only a trickster!  There is a fad
nowadays among the ladies to run after him."  He bowed to the three
ladies in turn mockingly, "My friends here tried to get tickets last
week in St. Petersburg, but the house was sold out.  Bosh--I tell you!
I wouldn't cross the street to hear a virtuoso like that!"

The gypsey gave a queer sound like a chuckle: "He does not play as you
do, of course, Bárin!"

"I!" cried Petrokoff.  He twirled his mustache fiercely.  "The Russians
are like children, they run after every new plaything.  The Pole is a
new plaything, a toy--bah!  I have been before the public twenty-five
years.  I am an artist; I am one of the old School.  I--"

"Go away, Kaya!" whispered Velasco, "This is grand!  I haven't enjoyed
myself so much for an age.  Go away, little one; don't be frightened.
It is all right, only don't cough too much, or the ladies will see you
are laughing.

"Ah, Velasco, come--come!"

"Go away, child!  He is opening his mouth again, the fat monster!
Watch the 'I' leap out!  If he plays again I shall die in a fit; he
handles the bow like the fin of a shark.  Be still, Kaya--go!"

"Velasco--listen, won't you listen?  The ladies--ah, don't turn your
head away--the one with the grey bonnet is the Countess Galli.  I have
seen her often at my father's house, Velasco; and she stares first at
me, then at you.  She suspects."

"The fright, with the long nose?"

"Yes, and the pince-nez."

"She is staring now.  Make up a face at her, Kaya; that will scare her
away.  She has never seen you in boy's clothes before, I warrant, with
your hands in your pockets, and your curls clipped short, and a cap on
the back of your head--ha ha!"

"Velasco, don't laugh.  Don't you see she is whispering to Petrokoff
now and looking at us through her pince-nez?"

"So she is, the vixen, the miserable gossip!  Slip out towards the door
quietly, Kaya, while they are talking.  I will follow directly.  Wait
at the back of the stable by the hay loft."

The gypsey stood up suddenly and approached the little group of ladies,
bowing to them and to Petrokoff.  He was wrapping the violin in its
cover and laying it away in its case as he moved.  "Pardon, Bárin," he
said softly, "If you will wait for me here, I shall return presently.
My supper is waiting.  Perhaps after an hour you will still like to
purchase the violin.  See, it is really not a bad instrument--if you
are in earnest about the two hundred roubles?"

Petrokoff stepped eagerly forward.  "Now," he said, "Give it to me now.
I will hand you the money at once in notes."

"Presently, Bárin," said Velasco still softly, "I will return directly.
If your Excellency will permit--"

He slipped past the outstretched arm of the musician; bowed again to
the lady in the grey bonnet, staring straight into the gold-rimmed
lorgnette; and the door closed behind him.  Running like a grey-hound,
Velasco darted through the corridor and around by the side of the inn
to the stable.  It was dark there, deserted, and beyond, the snow
glittered on the meadows.

"Kaya--are you there?"

"Here, Velasco."

"Have you the knapsack?"

"Yes--yes, here it is."

"Take my hand then and run--run, Kaya, for the Countess has told
Petrokoff; she has told him by now.  They'll be hot on our tracks!
This way--to the left of the road!  Hold fast to my hand and run,
Kaya--run!"

"I will, Velasco, I will!"

"Don't fall--don't stumble!"

"I won't!  Which way?  I can't see the road."

"Ahead, straight ahead!  Hold me faster!  Leap as I leap--and if you
hear hoofs, sink down in the shadow."

"Yes--yes, Velasco!"

"Ah, run, dearest--run, for the fiends are behind us!  I hear hoofs and
bells.  Run--run!"



[1] The devil take you.



CHAPTER XII

"Who is in the sleigh, Kaya, can you see?  Keep low in the shadow and
don't move your head."

"The Countess, Velasco, and Petrokoff and two other men."

"Gendarmes?"

"I think they are gendarmes, Velasco.  They look from side to side of
the road as they pass and urge the driver forward."

"Bózhe moi, little one!  Keep close to me and hold your breath; in
another moment they will be past."

"Now--Velasco!  Now they are out of sight; the last tinkle of the bells
sounds in the distance.  Shall we lie here, or follow?"

The gypsey took a long breath and rose to his feet, brushing the snow
from his trousers and coat.  The girl still sat crouching behind the
drift, peering ahead into the dark windings of the road and listening.

"Come, little one!" said Velasco, "The fields are covered deep with the
snow; there are no paths and we cannot go back.  Give me your hand.
You will freeze if you linger."

The girl put her hand in his, springing up, and they darted into the
dark windings together, making little rushes forward, hand in hand;
then poising on one foot and listening.

"They might turn back you know, Velasco."

"Do you hear the bells?"

"Not yet."

Then they ran on.

The night grew darker and darker; the sky was heavy and black with
clouds, and between them a faint light flitted occasionally like the
ghost of a moon, but feeble and wan.  It struggled with the clouds,
piercing them for an instant; and then it was gone and the sky grew
blacker, like a great inky; surface, reflecting shadows on the
snowfields, gigantic and strange.  The wind had died down, but the cold
was intense, bitter, and the chill of the ice crept into the bones.

"What is that dark thing ahead on the road, can you see, Velasco?"

"Hist--Kaya, I see!  It is big and black.  It seems to be a house, or
an inn, for look--there are lights like stars just appearing."

"Not that, Velasco, look closer, in front of the house; does it look
like a sleigh?"

Velasco's grip tightened on the woolen glove of the girl and they
halted together, half hesitating.

"A sleigh, Kaya?  Stay here in the shadow--I will steal ahead and look."

"Don't leave me; let me go with you!"

The woolen glove clung to him and they went forward again, a step at a
time, with eyes straining through the snow.

"Is it the sleigh of the Countess, big and black with three horses
abreast?"

"Yes--it looks so."

"Is there some one inside?"

"The driver perhaps!  No, there is no one.  Velasco, they have gone
into the inn to drink something warm and ask questions perhaps--'Have
you seen two gypsies, one dark and one fair?'--Ah, Velasco, what shall
we do?  Shall we creep past on tiptoe?"

The girl drew close to him and looked up in his face.  "What shall we
do, Velasco--speak!  You stand there with your eyes half shut, in a
dream.  Shall we run, Velasco?  Shall we run on ahead?"

The gypsey put his finger to his lips and crept forward.  "This is a
God-forsaken hole, Kaya!" he whispered, "No telegraph--and perhaps no
horses; they could only get oxen or mules.  It will take several
minutes to drink their hot tea--and the brutes are quite fresh!"

He moved cautiously, swiftly, to the hitching post, fumbling with the
straps.  The horses whinnied a little, nosing one another and pawing
the earth.

"What are you doing, Velasco?"

"Jump in, Kaya, jump in--quick, or the driver will hear!  Take the
fiddle!  Ah, the deuce with this knot!"

With a last tug the knot yielded.  Velasco dashed to the step and
sprang on it; then his knees gave beneath him, and he fell in the snow
as the horses leaped forward.

"Oï--oï!  Týsyacha chertéi!  A pest!"

With oaths and shrieks of rage the driver rushed from the kitchen of
the inn, wiping the vodka from his beard with his sleeve.  From the
tea-room three other men rushed forward, also shouting, and behind them
the Countess.

"What is it?" she screamed, "Have the horses run away?  Where is the
sleigh and my buffalo robe?  Are they stolen?  Catch the thieves--catch
them!"

Velasco still lay in the snow, stunned by his fall, a dark patch like a
shadow.  The sleigh had turned suddenly and veered around, not half a
rod distant.  Kaya stood with the reins uplifted, dragging back on the
bits; and the horses were rearing, plunging, back on their haunches,
slipping on the ice.

"Velasco!" she cried, "Velasco!"

Her voice rang out like a trumpet, echoing over the snow; and as she
cried, she swept the horses about and lashed them with the whip, until
they came leaping and trembling close to the patch on the snow, which
had begun to stir slowly, awaking from the swoon.

"Ah, if I were a man!" she cried, "If I were only a man and could lift
you!"  She clinched her teeth, swinging the whip, reining back the
struggling animals with her slim, white hands from which she had torn
the gloves.

As the figure moved again uneasily, half sitting up in the snow, the
men rushed forward.

"Here they are--the gypsies!  We have them!  They were stealing the
sleigh, the rascals!"

As they sprang at Velasco, surrounding him, there came suddenly a swift
whizz through the air, a singing as of a hornet, and the heavy lash
struck them, across the face, the eyes, the shoulders, stinging and
sharp, leaving cruel welts as it struck.  The driver screamed out, half
blinded.  The gendarmes started back.  Petrokoff fell on his knees and
cowered behind a bush, his fat body trembling and his hands
outstretched as if praying:

"For the love of the saints!" he cried, "Don't strike!"

The lash flashed through the air, blinding and terrible in its
rapidity.  The gypsey leaned over the dash-board, her face white, her
eyes dark with rage, her cap on the back of her yellow curls; and the
whip seemed to leap between her fingers like something alive.

"Velasco!" she screamed, "Get up!  Come--ah, come, while I beat them,
the fiends!"

The cry seemed to pierce the benumbed brain of her companion, as the
lash the skin.  The dark patch moved again and Velasco struggled to his
feet; he ran towards the sleigh.  The girl leaned forward once more and
as the gendarmes sprang towards them again, swearing at her and
shouting, she lashed them fiercely across the face and the eyes,
mercilessly, with little cries of rage.  Velasco tumbled in beside her
on the seat.

"Are you there?" she cried, "Are you safe?"

Then she turned, and loosening the reins the lash fell on the horses,
cutting them sharply; and they dashed forward, the foam dripping from
their bits and their hoofs striking sparks from the ice as they fled,
galloping madly, swiftly, through the snow.

In a moment the inn was left behind, the shouting and swearing died
away in the distance, and there was silence, broken only by the panting
of the horses and the sound of their hoofs galloping.  Kaya still urged
them forward, shaking the reins in her left hand and lashing with the
whip.

"You are safe!" she cried, "You are there, Velasco?"

And then as the silence continued, a great fear came over her; her
heart seemed to leap in her throat and her pulses stopped beating.  She
stooped over him, unheeding the horses.  They were in the midst of the
forest now, and the next town was several versts distant.  It was dark
and she put her face close to his, crying out: "Velasco!  Velasco!"

Then she saw that he had fainted again; from his forehead a dark stream
was gushing slowly; and when she touched it, it was warm and wet.  She
gave a little cry.

The horses galloped on, but the sleigh moved more smoothly and slid
over the icy surface of the snow.  Kaya wound the reins about the
dash-board.  They were quiet now, let them gallop!  She bent again over
her companion and, taking the snow that lay on the side of the sleigh,
she bathed the wound with it, staunching the flow with her
handkerchief, holding his head against her breast.

"Velasco!" she whispered low, as if afraid he might waken and hear: "It
is better now.  The wound has stopped bleeding--only a drop or two
comes on my handkerchief!  You struck it on the runners as you fell; I
will bind it now with my scarf.  Velasco--dear Velasco!  Open your eyes
and look at me--smile at me!  We are safe.  We are alone in the forest
and the horses are galloping.  Soon we shall be at the station--in the
train!  A few hours from the frontier--only a few hours--Velasco!"

He stirred in her arms and moaned, and his eye-lids quivered as if
trying to open.  Kaya took the scarf from her waist and began to wind
it slowly about the wound on his forehead.  Her breath came in little
gasps through her parted lips.

"Have I your blood too on my hands, Velasco?  Ah, waken and look at me!
We have only a few hours more together--a few hours!  Then you will
never see me again.  Never--never!"

She clasped him closer to her breast and bent over him in terror.
"Don't die, Velasco!  The wound has stopped bleeding.  Why don't you
open your eyes?  Don't die!  If you die I shall die too.  I love you,
Velasco!  I love you--I love you!"

She laid her cheek to his cold one and tried to warm it.  She covered
him with her cloak.  It grew darker and colder, and the horses galloped
on.  Presently he stirred again in her arms and opened his eyes, and
they looked at one another.

"Kaya" he said, "I heard you--I heard you!"

She shrank back away from him: "You heard--me?" she stammered.

Then he fainted again.

The horses galloped on.  The fields of snow stretched in the distance,
the frost on the surface glittering like myriads of tiny dew-drops.
Through the inky blackness of the clouds the moon shone out fitfully,
Streaking the road with flashes of light, pale and shadowy.  Ahead
gleamed the lamps of the station.  The hoofs rang on the frozen snow.

Suddenly Velasco lifted his head from the breast of Kaya.  He steadied
himself and sat upright in the seat.  The wound was bound about by the
red scarf and his face looked white in the faint moon-beams.  There was
blood on his jacket and the folds of his vest, and the scarf was
spotted with crimson blotches.

He stared straight ahead at the tossing manes of the horses, their
galloping bodies, three abreast, plunging and straining in the harness;
the reins knotted to the dash-board; the dark, winding road bordered by
snow-drifts; the lights in the distance looming nearer, and the bulk of
the station.  His eyes were shining under the bandage, wide-open
beneath the brows.

Kaya drew away from him slowly, burying herself in the corner of the
sleigh, drawing the buffalo robe close about her and trembling.  The
cold was bitter.

He drank in the icy air in long breaths, and it seemed to give him
strength, to clear the fumes of the brain.  He was like one who has
been drowning and is coming to life again gradually.  Suddenly he
turned and they faced one another.  The hoofs rang against the ice,
pounding forward; the sleigh was lurching, and the runners slipped and
slid in the snow.

"Kaya!"

"Velasco."

He put his arms out and they closed around her; he drew her nearer and
nearer with all the strength in his body, and she yielded slowly,
resisting and weak.  She yielded until his lips were on hers, and then
she flung out her arms with a little cry and they clung together,
closely, silently.

The horses galloped on and the sleigh lurched faster--and faster.



CHAPTER XIII

The night train steamed swiftly through the darkness, the cars swaying
from side to side of the track, and the couplings clanging and jolting.
It was warm inside the compartments and the air made a thick steam on
the windows, hiding the snowfields and the station as the train rushed
thundering past.  In one of the third-class compartments two gypsies
sat together with their heads close to the window, peering out.

"Half an hour now, Velasco."

"Twenty-two minutes, Kaya."

"Now, only twelve."

"Are the passports ready, Velasco?"

"They are here, little one.  There is Virballen now in the distance;
can you see the roofs and the eagle floating?  In another moment,
another second--!"

The two gypsies sat quiet, straining their eyes through the steam; then
the dark one rose suddenly and adjusted the strap of his knapsack,
taking his violin in his hand.

"The train is slowing up now, Kaya, come!  Follow me close, and look
neither to the right nor the left."

The two sprang from the train, and hurrying into the customs-room of
the station were soon lost in the crowd.  The minutes dragged slowly.

"Do you see that paling, Kaya?  The other side of it is Germany--is
freedom."

"I know, Velasco--I know!"

"Your heart is beating and throbbing, Kaya; your jacket tosses like a
ship in a storm.  Fold your arms over its fluttering, little one, that
the guards may not see.  They are coming now."

"Pray--Velasco!"

"To whom should I pray?  The Tsar perhaps--or the Icon over yonder?"
The gypsey laughed, holding out the passports.  He was swaggering with
his hands in his pockets, and when the official spoke to him, he
shrugged his shoulders and answered in dialect.

"Bohemian!" he said, "Yes--gypsies!  We earn our living on the road, my
comrade and I--eh, Bradjaga?"  With that, he clapped Kaya on the
shoulder, showing his white teeth and laughing: "No baggage, Bárin,
no--no, only this--and that!"

He pointed to the knapsack swung from his shoulder and the violin in
his hand.

"What does this ragamuffin do?" demanded the official, looking narrowly
at Kaya, "He is fair for a gypsey."

The girl started back for a moment, her shoulder brushing the shoulder
of Velasco; then she lifted her blue eyes to the official, and her
heart seemed to leap and bound like a wild thing caged.  She began to
stammer, shrinking back against her companion.  A bell sounded suddenly
in the office behind them and the official started:

"A telegraph despatch!" he said, "Ha--I must go!"

The girl sprang forward and clutched his sleeve: "Don't go!" she said,
"You ask what I can do--I can dance!  We will show you, my comrade and
I.  In a moment the doors will be unlocked; wait until the doors are
unlocked!  We will give you a performance now, a special performance
such as the Tsar himself has heard and seen--Play!"

She waved Her hand to Velasco, and in a moment the violin was out of
its wrappings and held to his cheek.  He was playing a wild, strange
rhythm and Kaya was dancing.  The crowd made a circle about them, and
the official stood in the centre transfixed, open-mouthed.

The violin was like a creature alive, it sobbed and laughed; and when
it sobbed, the little figure of the dancer swayed slowly, languidly,
like a flower blown to and fro by the breeze; and when it laughed, the
rhythm quickened suddenly in a rush like an avalanche falling, and the
figure sprang out into the air, turning, twisting, pirouetting; every
movement graceful, intense, full of feeling and passion.

The crowd about the gypsies stood spell-bound; the official never
stirred.  The bell rang again and again.  Every time it rang, a new
impetus seemed to seize the dancer.  Her feet in the heavy boots seemed
scarcely to touch the ground; the green of the velveteen was like the
colour of a kaleidoscope, and the gold of her curls glittered and
sparkled under the cap.  The crowd swayed with the rhythm; they grew
drunk with it and their bodies quivered as they watched.  The minutes
passed like a flash.

Suddenly there came a creak in the lock; the key turned and the great
doors opened, the doors towards Germany.  Beyond was the long line of
paling; the flag with the eagle floating; the sentinels with their
muskets over their shoulders.  A step and then--

The dancer made a little rush forward, gave a spring in the air and
then bowed, snatching off the cap.

"Messieurs--Mesdames!"

She held the cap in her two hands, eagerly, pleadingly, and the silver
fell into it.  Copecks--ten--twenty--hundreds of them, and roubles,
round and heavy; they clinked as they fell.

"I thank you!" cried the gypsey, "Good-bye, Messieurs--Mesdames!  Au
revoir!"

She bowed again, backing towards the door, the cap still held between
her hands, the Violinist following.

"Adieu!  Au revoir!"

The crowd clapped noisily, cheering until the great, bare station of
the customs rang and re-echoed.

"Au revoir!  Adieu!"

The gypsies backed together, smiling, bowing; they passed through the
door.  They reached the paling--the sentinels; the flag with the eagle
floated over their heads; then a click, and the gate closed behind them.

They were on German soil.  They were free--they were free.


"Kaya!" said Velasco.

The room at the inn was small and very still.  The shades were down,
and over in the corner, beyond the couch, a single candle was burning.

"Are you awake, Kaya?" said Velasco softly, bending over the couch
until his curls brushed hers, and his lips were close to her rosy cheek.

"I have watched so long for your eyes to open, Kaya!  My--wife."

The girl moved uneasily on the pillow.

"My wife--Kaya!"

He put his arms about her and she lay still for a moment, scarcely
breathing.  Then she spoke:

"I am not your wife, Velasco.  Take your arms away."

"Your cheek is so soft, Kaya; the centre is like a red rose blushing.
Let me rest my cheek against it."

"Take your cheek away--Velasco."

"Your lips are arched like a bow, so red, so sweet!  When I press
them--I press--them!"

"Velasco--Velasco!  Take your lips--away!"

The girl half rose on her pillow, pushing him back; striking at him
feebly with her bare hands; "Go--don't touch me!  I have been asleep--I
am mad!  I am not your wife--Velasco!  We must part at once--I tell
you, we must part!"

Velasco laughed: "Part!" he said, "You and I, Kaya?--Part?  Have you
forgotten the church, the priest in his surplice, the dark nave and the
candles?  We knelt side by side.  You are my wife and I am your
husband.  Kaya, we can never part in life or in death."

The girl put her hand to her breast: "It was only a 'Nihilistic
marriage,' Velasco, you know what that means!  A mere form for the sake
of the certificate, the papers--just to show for the passport that we
might go together."  Her voice came through her throat roughly as if it
hurt her.

Velasco laughed again shortly: "What is that to me?" he said, "We were
married; you are my wife.  Put your hands down, Kaya--let me take you
in my arms.  You know--throughout the journey, when we were tramping
through the snow and the cold, I treated you as a comrade, for your
sake.  You asked it.  You know--Kaya?  And now--now we are in Germany;
we are gypsies no longer.  You are the Countess and I am Velasco--your
husband, Kaya, your--husband."

He stretched out his arms to her, and his eyes were like sparks of
light under his brows, gleaming.  His hands trembled: "Look at me,
Kaya, look at me.  Why do you torment me?"

The girl thrust her hand slowly into the breast of her jacket and drew
out a paper.  "You lost it," she said, "in the prison.  I found it on
the floor.  The--the certificate of our marriage.  I swore that
night--if we reached the frontier I would--Velasco, don't touch me!--I
would destroy it!"

She held it away from him and her eyes gazed into his.

"You would never destroy it, Kaya!" He looked at her and then he gave a
cry: "Stop--Kaya!"

She had torn the paper across into strips and was flinging the pieces
from her; she was laughing.  "You, my husband, Velasco?  Are you mad?
The daughter of General Mezkarpin marry a musician!  Our family is one
of the oldest in Russia and yours--!"  She laughed again wildly,
clasping her hands to her throat.  "You are mad--Velasco!"

He looked at her steadily.  "Tell me the truth," he said, "Do you love
me, or do you not love me?  Yes, or no."

"No, Velasco.  You were kind to me--you saved my life; I am grateful.
If it had not been for you--"  Then she laughed again, staggering to
her feet.  "Love you?  No--no!  A thousand times--no!"

"That is a lie," said Velasco.  "You are trembling all over like a
leaf.  Your cheeks are ashy.  The tears are welling up in your eyes
like a veil over the blue.  You are breathless--you are sobbing."

He flung his arms around her and pressed her head to his breast,
kissing the curls.  "Lie still, Kaya, lie still in my arms!  The gods
only know why you said it, but it isn't the truth!  You love me--say
you love me!  You said it in the sleigh when I was stunned, half
conscious!  Say it again--Kaya!  The certificate is nothing.  Does love
need a certificate?"  He laughed aloud.  "Say it, Kaya--let me hear
you, my beloved!"

She was silent, clinging to him; she had stopped struggling.  Her eyes
were closed and he kissed her fiercely on the lips again and again.
Presently he was frightened, and a chill of terror and foreboding stole
over him.

"Look at me, Kaya--open your eyes!  Have I hurt you--was I too rough?
Are you angry?  I love you so!  The whole world is nothing; art is
nothing; fame is nothing.  I would sell my Stradivarius for the touch
of your fingers in mine, Kaya!  I would give my soul for a look in your
eyes!  Ah, open them--dearest!"

His voice shook and was hoarse, and he held her away from him, gazing
down at her face and the panting of her breast.  "Tell me you love
me--Kaya!"

Suddenly she stiffened until her body was straight and unbending as
steel, and the strength came back to her slowly.  She opened her eyes
and the veil was gone; they were flashing and hard.  "You use your
strength like a coward, Velasco," she said.  "Can you force love?  I
told you the truth."

She pointed to the fragments of paper on the floor with her finger,
scornfully: "There lies the bond between us," she said, "See--it is
shattered; it lies at our feet.  You will go on your way from here
alone, to fill your engagements, and I--"  She hesitated and stopped
again, as one who is afraid of stumbling.

Her arms stiffened, and her hands, and her whole body; and she drew
away from him, avoiding his eyes, and looking only at the fragments of
paper on the floor.

"Good-bye now--Velasco," she said.

He looked at her, and he was trembling and shaking from head to foot,
like one in a chill.  His teeth were clenched and his eyes were
bloodshot; the pulses beat in his temples.

"My God!" he cried, "If it is true--if you don't love me!  If--"

Kaya stretched out her hand to him, catching her breath.  "Good-bye,
Velasco--"

He turned on her fiercely, and raised his arm as if he would have
struck her: "You are cruel!" he said, crying out, "You are not a
woman!"  He caught her by the shoulders and held her, looking down into
her eyes, with his face close to hers.

"Swear it!" he cried, "Swear it if you can--if you dare!  Swear you
don't love--me."

She looked at him and her lips trembled.

"Swear it!"

She nodded.

A cry burst from his throat, like that of an animal, wounded, at bay.
His blood-shot eyes stared at her for a moment, and then he flung her
from him with all his strength and turning, dashed from the room.

The door slammed.

The girl reeled backward, putting her hands to her face.  Then, as the
echo of his footsteps died away on the stairs, she fell on her knees,
crouching and sobbing.

"He is gone!" she cried out, the words coming in little moans through
her clenched teeth.  "He is gone!  Velasco is gone!"

Her form shook in a torrent of weeping, and she took her hands from her
face and wrung them together.  "I love him!" she said, "I love him!  If
he had stayed!  No--no, I am mad!  I am cursed--cursed by the Black
Cross.  There is blood on my hands!"

She held them out before her, and they trembled and shook.  "Blood!"
she cried, "I see it--red--dripping!  It fell from his wound on my hand
and nothing will wash it away!  Nothing!"  Her voice died away to a
whisper and she knelt, staring at her hands with eyes wild and dilated:

"Not even his love," she said, "not even his love could wash it away.
It would spread--he too would be cursed.  He--too!"  Then she flung
herself on the floor and buried her head against the side of the couch,
clinging to it, with her body convulsed:

"Come back, Velasco!" she stammered, "I am weak--come back!  Put your
arms around me--kiss me again!  Don't be angry.  Don't look at me like
that!  Velasco--I won't leave you!  I--I love you!  Come back!"

She lay still, shuddering.

Outside, in the street, came the clatter of wheels passing and the
cries of a street vendor; far off came the whistle of a locomotive.
Kaya dragged herself to her feet slowly, stumbling a little.  She
passed her hands over her eyes once or twice, as if blinded; then
feebly, like one who has just recovered from a long illness, she
tottered towards the door and opened it.

Her head was bare and her curls covered it in a tangle of gold; her
jacket and trousers were old and faded, patched at the elbows, torn at
the knees.  The tears had dried on her cheeks.  She gazed ahead
steadily without looking back; and the blue of her eyes was like the
blue of the sky at night-fall, darkened and shadowy.

At the bend of the stairway she stumbled, half falling; then she
steadied herself, clinging to the balustrade with her hands--and went
on.


It was day-light, and the cocks were all crowing when Velasco returned.
When he opened the door the candle burned low in its socket, and the
sun-rays came filtering in through the windows.  The room was deserted.
He was muddy and footsore; his face looked haggard and old, and it was
lined with deep furrows.  His dark eyes were listless and weary, and
his cheeks colourless.

"Kaya," he said, "are you here?  Kaya!"

He looked on the couch, but it was empty; behind the curtains, but
there was nothing; out of the windows, but there was only the street
below.  His eyes had a dazed look.

"Kaya!" he cried.

On the floor lay a boy's cap, torn, rakish, faded with the sun and the
snow of their wanderings--a little, green cap.  Velasco stared at it
for a moment.

Then suddenly he snatched it to his lips with a sob, and buried his
head in his arms.



THE BLACK CROSS

PART II



CHAPTER XIV

Ehrestadt lies in a plain.

The walls of the old city have been leveled into broad promenades,
shaded with nut-trees, encircling the town as with a girdle of green.
Beyond, a new city has sprung up, spreading like a mushroom; but within
the girdle the streets are narrow and crooked, and the houses gabled;
leaning to one another as if seeking support for their ancient
foundations, with only a line of sky in between.

At the corner of the promenade, just where the old city and the new
city meet, is a tumble-down mill.  It is called the Nonnen-Mühle, and
it has been there ever since Ehrestadt first came into existence, as is
evident from the bulging of the walls, and the wood of the casements,
rotten and worm-eaten.  The river winds underneath it, and the great
spoked wheel turns slowly, tossing the water into a cloud of yellow
foam, flinging the spray afar into the dark, flowing stream, catching
it again; playing with it, half sportive, half fierce, like some
monster alive.

As the wheel turns, the sound of its teeth grinding is steady and
rhythmical, like a theme in the bass; and the river splashes the
accompaniment, gurgling and sighing in a minor key, as if in complaint.

It was Johannestag.[1]

The citizens of Ehrestadt were walking on the promenade, dressed in
their best; the men strutting, the women hanging on their arms, the
children toddling behind.  In the square a band was playing; the nut
trees were in full leaf, and the air was warm and sweet with the scent
of the rose buds.  The wheel of the mill had stopped.

Just under the peak of the roof was a small window gabled, with a broad
sill, and casements that opened outwards, overlooking the promenade.
The sill was scarlet with geraniums, and the window itself was grown
partly over and half smothered in a veiling of ivy.  Behind the window
was a garret, small like a cell; the roof sloping to the eaves.

There was nothing in the garret excepting a pallet-bed in the corner,
under the eaves, and in the opposite corner a box on which stood a
pitcher and basin; the basin was cracked; the pitcher was without a
handle.  On the wall hung a few articles of clothing on pegs; and the
slope of the roof was grey and misty with cob-webs.  Otherwise the
garret was bare.

Sitting by the window with her elbows on the sill, framed by the ivy
and the geraniums, was a girl.  Her head was propped in her hands, and
her hair glittered gold in the warm sun-light against the green and the
scarlet.  She was gazing eagerly over the throngs on the promenade, and
her blue eyes were alert as if searching for some one.

She was young and slim, and her gown was shabby, turned back at the
throat as if she suffered from the heat; and her hair was cropped,
lying in little tendrils of gold on her neck, curling thickly about her
ears and her brow.  Her cheeks were quite pale, and there was a pinched
look about the lips, dark shadows under the eyes.  She gazed steadily.

"If I could only see him," she murmured to herself, half aloud, "just
once--if I could see him!"  Her lip trembled a little and she caught it
between her teeth: "It is seventeen weeks--a hundred and nineteen
days--since we parted," she said, "At daybreak on Thursday it will be a
third of a year--a third of a year!"

She moved her head uneasily on her hands, and hid her eyes for a moment
against the leaves of the ivy, as if blinded by the sun-beams; "Sooner
or later he was sure to come here," she murmured, "All musicians come
here; but when I saw his face on the bill-board to-day--and his
name--!"  She crouched closer against the sill, and the leaves of the
ivy fluttered from the hurried breath that came through her lips,
shaking them as with a storm.

"If he were there on the promenade," she said, "and I saw him walking,
with his violin, his head thrown back and his eyes dreaming--Ah!"  She
drew in her breath quickly and a little twist came in her throat, like
a screw turned.  She half closed her eyes.

"Ah--Velasco!  My arms would go out to you in spite of my will; my lips
would cry to you!  I would clinch my teeth--I would pinion my arms to
my side.  I would hide here behind the casement and gaze at you between
the leaves of the geraniums--and you would never know!  You would
never--know!"

She put both hands to her bare throat as if to tear something away that
was suffocating, compelling; then she laughed: "He is an artist," she
said, "a great musician, fêted, adored; he is rich and happy.  He will
forget.  Perhaps he has forgotten already.  It would be better if he
had forgotten--already."  She laughed  again strangely, glancing about
the garret with its low eaves, and the cob-webs hanging; at the pallet,
and the cracked basin, and the pitcher with its handle missing.

The doves came flying about the mill, twittering and chirping as if
seeking for food on the sill; clinging to the ivy with their tiny, pink
claws, looking at her expectantly out of their bright, roving eyes,
pruning their feathers.  The girl shook her head:

"I have nothing for you," she said, "No--not a crumb.  The last went
yesterday.  Poor birds!  It is terrible to be hungry, to have your head
swim, and your limbs tremble, and the world grow blind and dim before
your eyes.  Is it so with you, dear doves?"

She rose slowly and a little unsteadily, crossing the garret to the
pegs where the clothes hung.

"There may be a few Pfennigs left," she said, "without touching that.
No--no, there is nothing!"

She felt in the pockets of the cloak, pressing deep into the corners
with the tips of her fingers, searching.  "No," she repeated
helplessly, "there is--nothing; still I can't touch the other--not
to-day!  I will go out and try again."

She took down the cloak from the peg and wrapped it about her, in spite
of the heat, covering her throat.  There was a hat also on the peg; she
put it on, hiding her yellow curls, and drew the veil over her face.

"If I could only get a hearing!" she said to herself, "There must be
someone in Ehrestadt, who would listen to my voice and give me an
opening.  I will try once more, and then--"

She buttoned the cloak with her fingers trembling, and went out.


"Is the Herr Kapellmeister in?"

"Yes, Madame."

The rosy cheeked maid hesitated a little, and her eyes wandered
doubtfully from the veil to the cloak and the shabby skirt.

"Kapellmeister Felix Ritter, I mean."

"He is in, Madame, but he is engaged."

"May I come in and wait?"

The maid hesitated again: "What name shall I say, Madame?"

"My name," said Kaya, "is Mademoiselle de--de Poussin."

The German words came stumbling from her lips.  She crossed the
threshold and entered a large salon, divided by curtains from a room
beyond.  There was a grand piano in the corner of the salon, and about
the walls were shelves piled high with music; propped against the piano
stood a cello.

Kaya looked at the instrument; then she sank down on the divan close to
the piano, and put out her fingers, touching it caressingly.  From the
next room, beyond the curtain, came the sound of cups rattling, and a
sweet, rich aroma as of coffee, mingling with the fragrance of cigars
freshly lighted.

The girl threw back her veil, scenting it as a doe the breeze when it
is thirsty and cannot drink.  She smiled a little, still caressing the
keys with her fingers.  "It is strange to be hungry," she said, "The
Countess Mezkarpin was never hungry!"  Then suddenly she started and
turned white to the lips, swaying forward with her eyes dilated.

From behind the curtain came voices talking together; one was harsh and
rather loud, and the other--  Kaya's eyes were fixed on the curtain;
she rose slowly from the divan and crept forward on tip-toe, a step at
a time.  The other!--She listened.  No, it was the harsh voice talking
rapidly, loudly in German, and what he was saying she could not
understand; then came the clatter of cups again, and silence, and a
fresh whiff of cigar smoke floating, wafted through the curtain.

She crept closer, still listening, her hands clasped together, the
cloak flung back from her shoulders.

"The other--there!"

She put out her hand and touched the curtain, pulling it aside
slightly, timidly, and pressing her face, her eyes to the opening.  She
was faint for a moment and could see nothing; there was a mist before
her eyes and the smoke filled the room; then gradually, out of the
mist, she saw a grey-haired man with his back to the curtain, and he
was bending forward with a coffee cup to his lips.  Beside him, facing
her, leaning far back in his chair, with his cigar poised and his eyes
half closed, his dark head pressing restlessly against the cushion was--

"Oh, my God!" she breathed, "My God, it is Velasco!"

For a moment she thought she had screamed; and she covered her eyes
waiting, sick, frightened, her heart throbbing.  Then she forgot where
she was and thought only of him, and a strange little thrill went over
her; she shivered slightly, and it seemed to her as if already she was
in his arms; and when she heard his voice, it was calling to her,
crying her name.

"Yes--yes, it is Kaya!--I am here!" she was saying, "Come to
me--Velasco!  Velasco!"

Already she was stumbling into his arms; she was clinging to him--and
then she awoke.  Her brain cleared suddenly and she knew that she had
not moved; no sound had come from her lips.  She was standing like a
statue, dumb, with her hands clasped, gazing; and Velasco lay back in
his chair with his eyes half closed, blowing a wreath from his cigar,
watching it idly as it floated away, listening as the harsh voice of
his host talked on--not five feet away!  If she stretched out her hand,
if she sighed--or moved the curtain--Ah!

She struggled with herself.  She was faint; she was weak with hunger;
she was alone and desolate--and he loved her.  She fought madly,
desperately.  It was as if two creatures were within her fighting for
life; and they both loved him.

When the one grew stronger, her eyes brightened and her pulses
quickened; it was as if she would leap through the curtain, and her
heart was sick for the touch of his hand.  Then she beat down the
longing and stifled it, and the other self came to the front and
gripped her scornfully, pointing to her hands with the blood on them,
her soul with its curse.  Was her life to mingle with his and ruin it,
and bring it to shame?

"Never," she breathed, "Never!  So long as I live!"  And the self of
her that loved him the most crushed the other self and smothered
it--strangled it.

She gazed at him through the curtain, and it seemed to her that
something within her was gasping and dying.  And suddenly she turned
and ran from the curtain, clasping her cloak to her bosom and running,
stumbling, out of the room, the house, the street.

The promenades were gay with people and crowded.  The men strutting
along in their Sunday clothes, the women hanging on their arms, the
children toddling behind.  The band was playing on the square.  It was
warm and the sun was shining; the air was sweet with the scent of the
rose buds.

Kaya fled past them all like a wraith.  They turned and stared after
her, but she was gone.  She climbed the stairs of the mill to the roof,
and opened the door, and shut it again, and fell on her knees before
the box.  The pitcher was there without a handle, and the basin
cracked.  She lifted them away and opened the box.

In it lay a velveteen jacket folded, a scarf, scarlet and spotted.
Inside the scarf lay a mass of coins, copecks, ten, twenty--hundreds of
them, and roubles round and heavy.  She fingered them tenderly, one
after the other, then thrust them aside.

"To-morrow--" she said, "I have come to that--to live on a gypsey's
wages!  I can sing no longer; I can only dance and pass the cap--and
give the copecks for bread--for bread!  I thought some day when I was
old,--when we were both old, I would show them to--Velasco, and he
would remember and laugh: 'Ah, that was long ago,' he would say, 'when
I was a boy, and you were a boy, and we tramped together through the
cold and the snow--and I loved you, and you--loved me!  Ah--it was
sweet, Kaya!  I have lived a long life since then, with plenty of fame,
and success, and happiness--and the years have been full; but nothing
quite so sweet as that!  Nothing--quite so sweet--as that!'"

She was sobbing now and staring into the box: "To-morrow," she said, "I
will buy some bread and feed the doves--and soon it will be gone!"  She
began to count the coins rapidly, dropping them through her fingers
into the scarf; and as she counted she smiled through her tears.

"We earned it together--he and I!" she said, "He played and I danced.
He would like me to live on it as long as I can, and then--after
that--he will not--blame me!"

Her body swayed slightly and she fell forward against the box.  The sun
shone on the geraniums; and on the sill, the doves pecked at the
worm-eaten casement, clinging to the ivy with their tiny claws, gazing
about with their bright, roving eyes and cooing.

Below, the water splashed against the wheel; but it was silent.



[1] St. John's day.



CHAPTER XV.

The stage of the Opera House was crowded with the chorus.  It was ten
o'clock in the morning, but the day was rainy and the light that came
from the windows at the back of the proscenium was feeble and dim, and
the House itself was quite dark.  The seats stretched out bare and
ghostly, row after row; and beyond a dark cavern seemed yawning,
mysterious and empty, the sound of the voices echoing and resounding
through spaces of silence.

In the centre of the stage stood the Conductor, mounted on a small
platform with his desk before him; and around him were the chorus,
huddled and watchful as sheep about a shepherd.  He was tapping the
desk with his baton and calling out to them, and the voices had ceased.

"Meine Herren--meine Damen!" he cried, "How you sing!  It is like the
squealing of guinea-pigs--and the tenors are false!  Mein Gott!  Stick
to the notes, gentlemen, and sing in the middle of the tone.  There
now, once more.  Begin on the D."

Kapellmeister Ritter glanced over his chorus with a fierce, compelling
motion of his baton.  He was like a general, compact and trim of figure
with a short, pointed beard, and hair also short that was swiftly
turning to grey.  The only thing that suggested the musician was the
heaviness and swelling of his brows, and the delicacy of his hands and
wrists, which were white, like a woman's, of an extraordinary
suppleness and full of power; hands that were watched instinctively and
obeyed.  The eyes of the entire chorus were fixed on them now, gazing
as if hypnotized, and hanging on every movement of his beat.

"Na--na!" he cried, "Was that F, I ask you?  You bellow like bulls!
Again--again, I tell you!  On the D and approach the note softly.

"Hist-st!--Pianissimo!"

He stamped his foot in vexation and the baton struck the desk sharply:
"Again--the sopranos alone!  Hist!  Piano--piano I say!  Potztausend!"

The chorus glanced at one another sheepishly and a flush crept over the
faces of the sopranos.  The Kapellmeister was in a bad mood to-day;
nothing suited him, and he beat the desk as if he would have liked to
strike them all and fling the baton at their heads.

"Sheep!" he said, "Oxen--cows!  You have no temperament, no
feeling--nothing--nothing!  Where are your souls?  Haven't you any
souls?  Don't you hear what I say?  Piano!  P-i-a-n-o!  When I say
piano, do I mean forte?"

He shrugged his shoulders, and his eyes flashed scornfully over the
stage and the singers.  "Now ladies, attention if you please!  Look at
me--keep your eyes on my baton!  Now--piano!"

The voices of the sopranos rose softly.

"Crescendo!"  They increased.

"Donnerwetter!  May the devil take you!  Crescendo, I say!  Crescendo!
Do you need all day to make crescendo?"  He shrieked at them; and then,
in a tempest of rage, he flung the baton down and leaped from the
platform.

"Enough!" he said, "My teeth are on edge; my ears burn!  Sit down.--Is
Fraulein Neumann here?"

A stout woman in a red blouse stepped timidly forward.

"Oh, you are, are you?  Well, Madame, you haven't distinguished
yourself so far; perhaps you will do better alone.  Have you the score?"

"Yes, Herr Kapellmeister."

"Begin then."

The soprano took a long breath and her cheeks grew red like her blouse.
She watched the eyes of the leader, and there was a light in them that
she mistrusted, a reddish glimmer that boded evil to any who crossed
him.

She began tremulously.

"Stop."

She started again.

"Your voice quavers like a jews'-harp.  What's the matter with you?"

"I don't know, Herr Kapellmeister, it was all right when I tried it
this morning."

"Well, it's all wrong now."

The soprano bit her lips: "I am doing my best, Herr Kapellmeister," she
said, "It is very difficult to take that high A without the orchestra."
Her tone was slightly defiant, but she dropped her eyes when he stared
at her.

"Humph!" he said, "Very difficult!  You expect the orchestra to cover
your shake I suppose.  Go home and study it, Madame.  Siegfried would
listen in vain for a bird if you were in the flies.  He would never
recognize that--pah!"  He waved his hand:

"Where is the Fraulein who wanted her voice tried?" he said curtly, "If
she is present she may come forward."  He took out his watch and
glanced at it.  "The chorus may wait," he said, "Look at your scores
meanwhile, meine Herren, meine Damen--and notice the marks!

"Ah, Madame."

A slim figure with a cloak about her shoulders, bareheaded, approached
from the wings; her curls, cut short like a boy's, sparkled and
gleamed.  The Kapellmeister surveyed her coldly as she drew nearer, and
then he turned and seated himself at the piano.

"Your voice," he said shortly, "Hm--what?"

"Soprano, Monsieur."

"We have enough sopranos--too many now! We don't know what to do with
them all."

The girl shivered a little under the cloak.

"Oh!" she faltered, "Then you won't hear me?"

"I never said I wouldn't hear you, Madame; I simply warned you.  If you
were alto now--but for a soprano there is one chance in a thousand,
unless--"  He struck a chord on the piano.

The chorus sat very still.  The trying of a new voice was always a
diversion; it was more amusing to watch the grilling of a victim than
to be scorched themselves; and the Kapellmeister in that mood--oh Je!
They smiled warily at one another behind their scores, and stared at
the slight, girlish figure beside the pianoforte.

She was stooping a little as if near-sighted, looking over the shoulder
of the Conductor at the music on the piano rack.

"Can you read at sight, Madame?"

"Yes," said Kaya.

"Have you ever seen this before?"

"I studied it--once."

"This?"

"I studied that too."

"So," he said, "Then you either have a voice, or you haven't, one or
the other.  Where did you study?"

The girl hesitated a moment; then she bent lower and whispered to him:
"St. Petersburg, Monsieur, with Helmanoff."

"The great Helmanoff?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"You are not French then, you are Russian?  They told me Mademoiselle
Pou--Pou--"

"That is not my real name."

"No?"

Kaya quivered a moment:  "I am--Russian," she said, "I am an exile.
Don't ask, Monsieur--not here!  I am--I am afraid."

The Kapellmeister went on improvising arpeggios on the piano as if he
had not heard.  He seemed to be pondering.  "That name--" he said,
"Pou--Poussin!  Someone called on me the other day of that name.  I
remember it, because when I came in she was gone.  Was it you?"

The girl stood silent.

He turned suddenly and looked at her: "You are young," he said, "and
too slim to have a voice.  Na--child!  You are trembling as if you had
a chill, and the House is like an oven.  Come--don't be frightened.
The chorus are owls; they can stare and screech, but they know nothing.
Sit down here by me and sing what you choose.  Let your voice out."

"Shall I sing a Russian song, Monsieur?"

"Very well."

The Kapellmeister leaned back in his chair with his arms folded.  He
gave one fierce glance at the chorus over his shoulder.  "Hush!" he
cried, "No noise if you please.  Attend to your scores, or go out.
Now, Fraulein--sing."

Kaya pushed the chair to one side and moved closer to the piano,
leaning on it and gazing out into the darkened House, at the rows of
seats, ghostly and empty, and the black cave beyond.  A Volkslied came
to her mind, one she had heard as a child and been rocked to, a peasant
song, simple and touching.  Her lips parted slightly.

For a moment there was silence; then the tones came like a breath, soft
and pianissimo, clear as the trill of a bird in the forest wooing its
mate.  It rose and fell, swelling out, filling the spaces, echoing
through the vault.

  "On the mountain-top were two little doves;
  Their wings were soft, they shimmered and shone.
  Dear little doves, pray a prayer--a prayer
  For the son of Fedotjen, Michäel--Michäel,
  For he is alone--alone."


With the last word, repeated, half whispered, the voice died away
again; and she stood there, still leaning against the piano and
clasping her hands, looking at the Kapellmeister with her blue eyes
dark and pleading, like two wells.  "Will it do?" she said with her
voice faltering, "Will you take me, Herr Director--in the chorus?"

The Kapellmeister shrugged his shoulders: "You have no voice for a
chorus," he said roughly, "Try this."

"I know," said Kaya, "My voice is not as it was.  Helmanoff--" she
laughed unsteadily, "He would be so angry if he heard me, and tell me
to study, just as you told the Mademoiselle who went out; but I will do
better, Monsieur, believe me.  I will work so hard, and my voice will
come back in time after--"  She gazed at him and a mist came over her
eyes.  "Do take me," she said, "I beg you to take me--I beg you."

The Kapellmeister passed his hand over his face: "Tschut, child!" he
said, "What are you talking about?  Be quiet now and sing this as I
tell you.  You have heard it before?"

"Yes, I have heard it."

"And sung it perhaps with Helmanoff?"

"Yes--Monsieur."

He handed her the score, running his fingers over the bird motive of
'Siegfried,' giving her the key.  Then he leaned back again and folded
his arms.

Kaya gave her head a little backward movement as if to free her throat,
and threw off the cloak, standing straight.

[Illustration: Fragment of "Siegfried"]

The tones came out like the sound of a flute, high and pure; they rose
in her throat, swelling it out as she sang, pouring through the arch of
her lips without effort or strain.

"Bravo!" cried the Director, "Um Himmel's Willen, child, you have a
voice like a lark rising in the meadows, and you sing--Bravo!  Bravo!"

He put out his hands and took the girl's trembling ones into his own.

"You will take me?" she said, "You see, when I am not so nervous it
will go better."

The Kapellmeister laughed and took a card out of his pocket: "Write
your name here," he said, "Your real one.  I won't tell--and your
address."

Kaya drew back suddenly: "I live in the mill," she said, "You know, the
Nonnen-Mühle by the promenade?  You won't let any one know, will you,
Monsieur, because--"

"Are you afraid of spies, child?  Tut, the chorus can't hear.  I won't
tell a soul."

"No one?"

"On my honour--no one.  Now, your name?"

She looked away from him a moment; then she took the pencil and wrote
on the card in small, running letters: "Marya Pulitsin."

"So that's your real name, is it?"

Her eyes were clear and blue like a child's.  "No," she said, "--no."
And she glanced back over her shoulder with her finger to her lips.

"Never mind," said the Kapellmeister.  "You are white, child, what are
you afraid of?  There are no spies here!  Give me the card.  That is a
strange place to live in--the Nonnen-Mühle!  I didn't know anyone lived
there, excepting the old man who takes charge of the mill.  Well, in a
day or so--perhaps towards the end of the week you will hear from me."
He waved to the chorus.

"Stand up, meine Herren, meine Damen!" he said, "Get your scores ready.
Good-bye now, Fraulein.--Donnerwetter!  What ails you?"

"If you want to try my voice again," said Kaya timidly, "Would you
mind, sir, trying it to-day?--This afternoon, or even this evening?"

"Now by all that is holy, why, pray?  I have the solos to-night, and
this afternoon a rehearsal for 'Siegfried.'"  The Kapellmeister
frowned: "Do you think I have nothing on earth to do, child, but run
after voices?"

"Oh!" cried Kaya, "I didn't mean that!  I beg your pardon.  It doesn't
matter--I do beg your pardon, Herr Director."  She flushed suddenly,
and started away from him, as if to put the piano between them and flee
towards the door.

He looked at her narrowly, and the harsh lines came back to his face.
"A pest on these singers!" he muttered under his breath, "They are all
alike--they want coddling.  She thinks perhaps she is a Patti and is
planning for her salary already.  Potztausend!  Bewahre!"  He turned on
his heel curtly and mounted the platform, taking up the baton.

"Now," he cried, "The D again--all together!  Pia--no!"

Kaya stole across the stage swiftly on tiptoe, threading her way
through the scenery that was standing in rows, one behind the other, in
readiness for the performance that night, and disappeared into the
wings.  It was dusty there and deserted.  An occasional stage-hand
hurried by in the distance bent on some errand, and from the back came
the sound of hammering.  The chorus was singing forte now, and the
sound filled the uttermost corner, drowning the noise of the hammer.
Kaya stood still for a moment, clinching her hands:  "My God," she
said, "I have tried the last and it has failed!  The end of the week!"
she laughed to herself bitterly.  "I know what that means.  Helmanoff
used to get rid of new pupils that way: 'You will hear,' he would say;
but they never heard."

She took a coin out of her dress and looked at it.  "The gypsies' wages
are gone," she said, "Only this left to pay for my roof and my bed!"
She laughed again and glanced about her stealthily as if fearful of
being seen, or tracked.  Then she began to breathe quickly:

"_Without weakness_," she said, "_without hesitation, or mercy, by mine
own hands if needs be_.  I have done it to another: I will do it
again--to myself.  Atone, atone--wipe out the stain!  A life for a
life!  That is right."  She swayed and caught one of the scenes for
support.  "That is--just!  God, how my throat burns, and my head, it is
dizzy--and my eyes have gone blind!  Ah, it is passing--passing!  Now I
can see.  I can--walk!"

She clung to the scenery for another second, and then pushed it away
and moved to the door, staggering a little like one who is drugged.


It was evening.  The rain had ceased, and the moon rose full and pale
with a halo about it.  In the distance clouds were gathering, and the
waters under the mill were speckled with light.

Kaya sat by the window, leaning on the sill with her arms and gazing
down at the wheel: "It is deep there," she said, "A moment of falling
through the air--a splash, and it will be over.  I am not--afraid."

She shuddered a little, and her eyes were fixed on the flashes of
silver as if fascinated.  She could not tear them away.  "How black it
is under the wheel!" she murmured, "If I fell on the spokes--"  Then
she shuddered again.

"Perhaps I shall not die," she said, "Perhaps I shall live and be
crippled, with my body broken.  Oh, God--to live like that!  I must--I
must aim for the pool beyond, where the water lies deep and the
moonlight freckles the--surface."

Then she dropped her head on her arms and the words came again: "I have
tried my best, Velasco, but the heart is gone out of me.  Don't be
angry and call me a coward.  I tried--but I am weak now and I am
afraid.  My voice is gone, and there is so little for a woman to do.  I
tried everything, Velasco, but my strength--is--failing.  If I could
walk, I would go to you and say good-bye; but I don't know where you
are.  They say you have gone and I don't know where."

She leaned a little further forward on the sill, still hiding her eyes.
"He won't know," she whispered under her breath, "He will never know.
Velasco!  Velasco--good-bye."

Her body lay across the sill now, and she opened her heavy lids and
gazed downwards, half eagerly, half fearfully.  The water was dark and
the moon-light on the surface glittered.  The wheel was below, huge and
gaunt like a spectre; silent, with its spokes dipping into the pool.



CHAPTER XVI

"Fräulein, Fräulein--open the door!  There is a gentleman here who
would speak with you!--Fräulein!"

The blows redoubled on the stout oak, growing louder and more
persistent.  "Fräulein!  It is very strange, Herr Kapellmeister.  I saw
her go in with my own eyes, some two hours back, and she has not come
out, for I was below in the mill with my pipe and my beer, sitting in
the very doorway itself, and no flutter of petticoats passed me, or I
should have heard."

The old miller rubbed his wizen cheeks and smoothed the wisps of hair
on his chin, nervously as a young man does his mustache.

"Na--!" said the Kapellmeister.  "It is late and she may be asleep.  I
came after rehearsal and it must be nine, or past.  Knock louder!"

The miller struck the oak again with his fist, calling out; and then
they both listened.  "There is no light through the key-hole," said the
miller, peeping, "only the moon-rays which lie on the floor, and when I
hark with my hand to my ear, I hear no sound but the water splashing."

The Kapellmeister paced the narrow corridor impatiently.
"Donnerwetter!" he exclaimed, "The matter is important, or I shouldn't
have come.  I must have an answer to-night.  Try the door, and if it is
unlocked, open it and shout.  You have a voice like a saw; it would
raise the dead."

The miller put his hand to the latch and it yielded: "Fräulein--!"  The
garret was in shadow, and across the floor lay the moonbeams
glittering; the casement was open, and the geraniums were outlined dark
against the sky, their colour dimmed.

"There is something in the window!" said the miller, peering; and the
door opened wider.  "There is something black across the sill; it is
lying over the geraniums and crushing them, and it looks like a woman!
Jesus--Maria!"

He took a step forward, staring: "It is the Fräulein, and she is--"

"Get out of the way, you fool!" cried the Kapellmeister sharply, and he
pushed the man back and strode forward: "The child has fainted!  She
lies here with her head on her arms, and her cheek is white as the moon
itself."

He lifted her gently and put his arm under her shoulders, supporting
her: "Get some Kirsch at once," he cried to the miller, "Stop gaping,
man!  She's not dead I tell you--her heart flutters and the pulse in
her wrist is throbbing!"  He slipped his hand in his pocket, and tossed
the miller a gulden.  "Now run," he said, "run as if the devil were
after you.  The Rathskeller is only a square away!  Brandy and
food--food, do you hear?"

The old man caught the gulden greedily between his fingers, and
examined it for a moment, weighing it.  "I will go," he mumbled,
"certainly I will go.  Kirsch--you say, sir, and bread perhaps?"

"Be off, you fool!"

The Kapellmeister watched the door grimly as it shut behind the miller,
and then he glanced about the garret.  "Poor," he said, "Humph!  A
place for a beggar!"  His eyes roved from the pallet in the corner to
the pitcher and the basin, the clothes on the pegs, the cobwebs
hanging, the geraniums crushed on the sill.

Then he lifted the girl's head and held it between his hands, looking
down at her face, supporting her in his arms.  The lashes lay heavy on
her cheeks and the tendrils of hair, curly and golden, lay on her neck
and her forehead.  Her throat was bare; it was white and full.  The
Kapellmeister held her gently and a film came over his eyes as he gazed:

"How young she is!" he murmured, "like some beautiful boy.  Her chin is
firm--there is will power there.  Her brows are intelligent; her whole
personality is one of feeling and temperament.  It is a face in a
thousand.  What is her name, her history?  How has she suffered?  Why
is she alone?  There are lines of pain about the mouth--the eyes!"

He raised her suddenly in his arms and started to his feet; and as he
did so, she opened her lids slowly and gazed at him.  "Velasco--" she
murmured.

Her voice was low and feeble, and the Kapellmeister bent his head
lower: "What is it, child?" he said, "I can't hear you.  In a moment
you will have some brandy in your throat and that will rouse you.  I
will carry you now to that pallet over yonder, a poor place, no doubt,
and hard as a board."

He strode across the floor and laid the girl gently on the bed,
smoothing the pillow, and covering her lightly with the blanket.  Kaya
opened her eyes again, and put out her hands as if seeking someone.

"I was falling," she said, "Why did you bring me back?"

The Kapellmeister sat down by the edge of the bed and began to whistle
softly; he whistled a theme once, and then he repeated it a semi-tone
higher.  "I suspected as much," he said, "Was it because you had no
money?"

Kaya turned her face away.

"Were you starving?--Tschut!  You needn't answer.  Your eyes show it.
I might have seen for myself this morning, if I had not been in a
temper with the chorus, and my mind absorbed in other matters.  Be
still now, here is the miller--the dotard!"

The Kapellmeister went over to the door, and took from the old man a
small flask and a newspaper wrapping some rolls.  "So," he said grimly,
"Now go, and keep the rest of the gulden for yourself.  No thanks!
Pischt--be off!  Go back to your doorway and finish your beer, do you
hear me?  I will look after the Fräulein; she is conscious now, and I
have business with her."  He motioned the old man back from the door
and closed it behind him; then he returned to the pallet.  "I'm not
much of a nurse," he said, "You will have to put up with some
awkwardness, child; but there--raise your head a little, so--and lean
on my shoulder!  Now drink!"

Kaya swallowed a few drops of the brandy.  "That is enough," she said
faintly.

"No.--Drink!"

He held the glass to her lips, and she obeyed him, for his hands were
strong and his eyes compelled her.  Then he broke the roll, and dipped
it into the brandy, and fed her piece by piece.  When she tried to
resist him, he said "Eat, child--eat!  Do as I tell you--eat!" and held
it to her mouth until she yielded.

She thought of Velasco and how he had fed her in the studio, and the
pulse in her wrist beat quicker.  When she had finished the roll, he
put down the glass and the newspaper, and she felt his eyes searching
hers, keen and sharp, two daggers, as if they would pierce through her
secret.

"Don't speak," he said curtly, "Listen to me and answer my questions:
Why were you discouraged?  I told you this morning you would hear from
me; why didn't you wait?"

The tears rose slowly into Kaya's eyes, and she hid her face in the
pillow.

"You didn't believe me," said the Kapellmeister, "but you see I was
better than my word--I have come myself.  Why do you suppose I have
come?"

She lay silent.

"If I hadn't come," he said grimly, "You would be lying in that pool
yonder, by now, broken to pieces against the wheel; and I should have
sought for my bird in vain."  He saw how the pillow rose and fell with
her breath, and how she listened.

"I wanted a bird for my Siegfried on Saturday," he went on, "Some one
to sit far aloft in the flies and sing, as you sang this morning, high
and pure, in the middle of the tone.  Helmanoff has trained you well,
child, you take the notes as if nature herself had been your teacher.
Neumann is gone; she screeches like an owl!  Elle a son congé!"  He
continued to look at the pillow and the gold curls spread across it.

"Will you come and be my bird, child?  I suppose you can't act as yet;
but up in the flies you will be hidden, and only your prototype will
flutter across the stage on its wires.  When I heard you this morning,
I said to myself: 'Ha--my bird at last!  Siegfried's bird!'"

He laughed softly, and bent over and stroked the curls: "I came
to-night because the Neumann went off in a huff.  She made a scene at
rehearsal, or rather I did.  I told her to go and darn stockings for a
living, and she seemed to resent it!"  He paused for a moment.
"Saturday is only day after to-morrow--and we have no bird!"

The girl lay motionless, and the Kapellmeister went on stroking her
curls.  "If you sing, you will be paid, you know!" he said, "and then
you need not try to kill the poor bird for lack of a crumb.  Why didn't
you tell me this morning, little one?"

Kaya raised her head feebly and gazed at him: "My voice is gone!" she
said, "My voice is--gone!"

"Bah!" said the Kapellmeister, "With a throat like that!  It is only
beginning to come.  The Lehmann's voice was as yours in her youth,
light at first and colorature; and it grew!  Mein Gott, how it grew and
deepened, and swelled, and soared!--Get strong, child, and your voice
will ripen like fruit in the sun."

He stooped over the pillow and looked into her eyes: "Come, child," he
said, "Will you be my bird?  Promise me!  You won't think of that
again--I can trust you?  If I leave you now--"

Kaya put out her hands and clung to him suddenly, clasping his arm with
her fingers.  "I won't," she said, "I will live, and study, and do my
best--and some day you think I shall be a singer?  Oh, tell me truly!
That is just what Helmanoff said, but when I asked them to hear me--I
went to so many, so many!--they were always engaged, or--"  She caught
her breath a little, stumbling over the words: "You think so--truly?"

"I think so truly," said the Kapellmeister, "You must come to see me at
the Opera-House to-morrow and rehearse your part, and I will teach you.
You shall have your honorarium to-night in advance; and you must eat
and grow strong."

"I will," said Kaya.

There was a new resolve in her tone, fresh hope, and she put her hand
to her throat instinctively, as if to imprison the voice inside and
keep it from escaping.

"Has the miller gone?" she asked.

"Yes," said Ritter, "He is gone and the door is closed; we are alone."

"Then put your head lower," whispered the girl, "and I will tell you.
Perhaps, when you--know!"

"Go on," said the Kapellmeister, "I am here, child, close to you, and
no one shall hurt you.  Don't tremble."

"Do you see my hands?" said the girl, "Look at them.  They are stained
with blood--stained with--  Ah, you draw away!"

"Go on," said Ritter, "You drew away yourself, child.  What do you
mean?  What could you do with a hand like that, a rose leaf?  Ha!"  He
laughed and clasped it with his own to give her courage: "Go on."

"You are not Russian," said the girl, "so you can't understand.  When
one is not Russian--to be an anarchist, to kill--that is terrible,
unpardonable!  But with us--My father is Mezkarpin," she whispered,
"You have heard of him--yes?  The great General, the friend of the
Tsar!  And I am the Countess Kaya, his--his daughter!"

Her voice broke, and she was silent for a moment, leaning against the
pillow.  Then she went on:

"There is a society," she whispered, "in St. Petersburg.  It is called
'The Black Cross'; and whosoever is a member of that order must obey
the will of the order; and when they pass judgment, the sentence must
be fulfilled.  They are just and fair.  When a man, an official, has
sinned only once, they pass him by; but when he has committed crime
after crime, they take up his case and deliberate together, and he is
judged and condemned.  Sometimes it is the sentence of death, and
then--" she hesitated, "and then we draw lots.  The lot fell to--me."

She shut her eyes, and as the Kapellmeister watched her face, he saw
that it was convulsed in agony, and the boyish look was gone.

"He was warned," she whispered, "three times he was warned, according
to rule, and I--I killed him."  The lines deepened in her face, and she
half rose, leaning on her elbow, staring straight ahead of her as
though at a vision, her lips moving:

"_In the name of the Black Cross I do now pledge myself an instrument
in the service of Justice and Retribution.  On whomsoever the choice of
Fate shall fall, I vow the sentence of death shall be fulfilled, by
mine own hands if needs be, without weakness, or hesitation, or mercy;
and if by any untoward chance this hand should fall, I swear--I swear,
before the third night shall have passed, to die instead--to
die--instead._"

She struggled up on the bed, kneeling.

"I killed him!" she cried in a whisper, "I killed him!  I see him lying
on the floor there--on his face!  There--there!  Look!  With his arms
outstretched--and the blood in a pool!"

She was leaning forward over the edge of the bed, staring with her eyes
dilated, pointing into the shadows and shuddering:

"Don't you see him--there?"

The Kapellmeister was white and his hands shook.  He took her strongly
by the shoulders.  "Lie down," he said, "You are dreaming.  There is
nothing there.  Look me in the eyes!  I tell you there is nothing
there, and your hands are not stained.  Lie down."

Kaya gazed at him for a moment in bewilderment: "Where am I?" she said,
passing her hand over her eyes.  "Who are you?  I thought you were--
Why no, I must have been dreaming as you say."

"The hunger has made you delirious," said the Kapellmeister: "Look me
in the eyes as I tell you, and I will smooth away those lines from your
forehead.  Sleep now--sleep!"

The girl sank reluctantly back on the pillows and the Kapellmeister sat
beside her, his gaze fixed on hers with a strained attention,
unblinking.  He was passing his hand over her forehead slowly and
lightly, scarcely touching her: "Sleep--" he said, "Sleep."

Her lids wavered and drooped slowly, and she sighed and stirred against
the pillows, turning on her side.

"Sleep--" he said.

The garret was still, and only the moonbeams danced on the floor.  The
doves in the eaves slept with their heads tucked under their wings, and
the spiders were motionless in the midst of the webs; only the water
was splashing below.

The Kapellmeister watched the girl on the pallet.  He sat leaning back
with his arms folded, his head in the shadow, and his face was grim.
"She will sleep now," he said to himself, "sleep until I wake her.  She
is young and strong, and there is no harm done; but she has had some
fearful shock, and it has shaken her like a slender birch struck by a
storm.  I will send my old Marta, and she will look after her--poor
little bird!"

Kaya lay on her side with her face half turned to the pillow; her cheek
was flushed and her breath came gently through the arch of her lips.
Her curls were like a halo about her, and her right hand lay on the
blanket limp, small and white with the fingers relaxed.

"I am getting to be an old man," said the Kapellmeister to himself,
"and my heart is seared; but if I had a daughter, and she looked like
that--I would throw over the Tsar and all his kingdom.  The great
Juggernaut of Autocracy has gone over her, and her wings are bruised.
It is only her voice that can save her now."

He rose to his feet slowly, and in the dim light of the moon his hair
was silvered, and he seemed weary and worn.  He stood by the pallet,
looking down at the slim, still figure for a moment; and his hand stole
out and touched a strand of her hair.  Then he covered her gently.
"Sleep," he said, "Sleep!"  And he turned and went out, closing the
door.



CHAPTER XVII

"Is it only a week that I have been ill, Marta?  It seems like a month."

"A week and a day, Fräulein; but you are better now, and to-morrow, the
Doctor says you shall go out on the promenade and smell of the rose
buds."

Kaya was half lying, half seated on the pallet, with her hands clasped
behind her head; she was dressed in a blue gown, worn and shabby but
spotlessly neat, and her throat and her arms were bare.  "But how soon
can I sing, Marta?  Did he say when?  Did you hear him?"

The old nurse sat by the bed-side, knitting and counting her stitches
aloud to herself from time to time.

"One--two--four--seven!" she mumbled, "Sing, Fräulein?  Ah, who can
tell!  You are weak yet."

"No," said Kaya, "I am strong; see my arms.  I can stand up quite well
and walk about the room with the help of your shoulder; you know I can,
Marta."

The old woman gave her a glance over her spectacles: "Seven--ten!" she
repeated, "If it were your spirit, Fräulein, you would be Samson
himself; but your body--"  She shook her head: "Na, when the master
comes, ask him yourself.  It is he who has talked with the Doctor, not
I."

"He is coming now," said Kaya.  "I hear his step on the stairs, quick
and firm like his beat.  Don't you hear it, Marta?--Now he has stopped
and is talking with the miller."  She leaned back on the pillows and
her eyes watched the door.

"Eh, Fräulein!  Nein, I hear nothing!  What an ear you have--keen as a
doe's when the wind is towards her!  At home, in the forest, where the
deer run wild and they come in the dawn to the Schneide to
graze--whischt!  The crackle of a leaf and they are off flying, with
their muzzles high and their eyes wild.  Na!  I hear nothing but the
wheel below grinding and squeaking, and the splash of the water."

"He is coming up the stairs," cried Kaya, "Open the door for him,
Marta, and let the Kapellmeister in."

The old woman rolled up her knitting slowly: "It was just at the turn
of the chain," she grumbled, "and I have lost a stitch in the counting.
The master can come in by himself."

Kaya gave a gleeful laugh like a child, and slipped her feet to the
floor: "Oh, you cross Marta, you dear humbug!" she cried, "As if you
wouldn't let the master walk over you and never complain!  Go on with
that wonderful muffler of his, and I will let him in myself.  No, don't
touch me!  Let me go alone and surprise him."

She steadied herself with her hand to the bed-post, then caught at the
chair: "Don't touch me--Marta!  I am quite strong--now, and able
to--walk!"

A knock came on the door, and she made a little run forward and opened
it, clinging to the handle.

"Du himmlische Güte!" exclaimed the Kapellmeister, "If the bird isn't
trying its wings!  Behüte, child!"  He put a strong arm about her,
looking down at her sternly and shaking his head: "Do you call this
obedience?" he said grimly, "I thought I told you not to leave that
couch alone--eh?"

"Don't scold me," said Kaya, "I feel so well to-day, and there is
something leaping in my throat.  Herr Kapellmeister--it is begging to
come out; let me try to sing, won't you?" She clung to his arm and her
eyes plead with him: "Don't scold me.  You have put 'Siegfried' off
twice now because you had no bird.  Let me try to-day."

The Kapellmeister frowned.  Her form was like a lily swaying against
the trunk of an oak.

"Tschut--" he said, "Bewahre!  Marta, go down and bring up her soup.
When your cheeks are red, child, and the shadows are gone from under
your eyes, then we will see."

Kaya pushed away his arm gently, and there was a firmness about her
chin as of a purpose new-born.  "You have paid for my lodging and my
food, Herr Kapellmeister," she said proudly, "You have sent me your own
servant, and she has been to me like a foster mother.  You have cared
for me, and the Doctor and the medicines are all at your cost."  She
steadied herself, still rejecting his hand, "And I--" she said, "I have
earned nothing; I have been like a beggar.  If you will not let me
sing, Herr Kapellmeister, then--"

He looked at her for a moment in a wounded way and his brow darkened:
"Well--?" he said.

"Then you must take away your servant and the Doctor, and--and your
kindness," said Kaya bravely, "and let me starve again."

"You are proud--eh?  You remember that you are a Countess?"  The
Kapellmeister laughed harshly.

"I am not a Countess any more," said Kaya, "but I am proud.  Will you
let me sing?"

"When you are strong again and your voice has come back," he returned
dryly, "you can sing, and not before.  As for paying your debts--
There is time enough for that.  Now will you have the goodness to
return to the couch, Fräulein, or do you prefer to faint on the floor?"

Kaya glanced at the stern face above her, and her lip quivered: "You
are angry," she said, "I have hurt you.  I didn't mean to hurt you."

"The Doctor will be in presently," continued Ritter coldly, "I daresay
he can restore you, if you faint, better than I.  Perhaps you will obey
his orders as you reject mine."  There was something brutal in the tone
of his voice that stung the girl like a lash.  She turned and tottered
back to the couch, the Kapellmeister following, his arms half extended
as if to catch her if she fell; but she did not fall.  He was still
frowning, and he seemed moody, distraught.  "Shall I cover you?" he
said.

Kaya put out her hand timidly and touched his: "You have been so kind
to me," she whispered, "Every day you have come, and when I was
delirious I heard your voice; and Marta told me afterwards how you sat
by the bed and quieted me, and put me to sleep.--Don't be angry."  All
of a sudden she stooped and put her lips to his sleeve.

He snatched his hand away roughly.  "You have nothing to be grateful
for," he cried, "Pah!  If a man picks up a bird with a broken wing and
nurses it to life again for the sake of its voice, is that cause for
gratitude?  I do it for my own ends, child.  Tschut!"  He turned his
back on her and went over to the window.  "If you want to know when you
can sing, ask the Doctor.  If he says you may--"

"You are still angry," said Kaya, "Don't be angry.  If you don't want
me to sing, I will lie here as you tell me and--try to get stronger."
She moved her head restlessly on the pillow, "Yes--I will!"

Ritter began to strum on the window-panes with his strong fingers: "The
Doctor is here," he said, "ask him.  I don't want you breaking down and
spoiling the opera, that is all.  The rest is nothing to me.  Come in!"
There was a certain savageness in his tone, and he went on strumming
the motive on the panes.  "Come in, Doctor."

The door opened and a young man came forward.  He was short of stature,
and slight, with spectacles, and he stooped as if from much bending
over folios.

"My patient is up?" he said.

"Walking about the room!" interrupted the Kapellmeister curtly.

The Doctor sat down by the pallet and took the girl's wrist between his
fingers: "Why does it throb like this?" he said, "What is troubling
you?"

"I want to sing," persisted Kaya defiantly, "If I sit in the flies with
cushions behind me, and only a small, small part--couldn't I do it,
Doctor?"

The young man glanced at the Kapellmeister's rugged shoulders, and
shrugged his own: "Why should it hurt you?" he said, "You have a throat
like a tunnel, and a sounding board like the arch of a bridge.  Your
voice should come tumbling through it like a stream, without effort.
Don't tire yourself and let the part be short; it may do you good."

Kaya's eyes began to glisten and sparkle: "It is only the bird's part!"
she cried, "and I am hidden in the flies, so no one can see me.  Ah--I
am happy!  I am well, Doctor--you have made me well!"

Presently the old woman brought in the soup and the Doctor rose: "Will
you come with me, Herr Kapellmeister?" he said, "We can smoke below in
the mill, while the Fräulein eats.  I have still a few minutes."

Then the Kapellmeister left the window, and the two men went out
together.

"Marta!" cried the girl, "I can sing!  Did you hear him say it?  Give
me the soup quickly, while it is hot.  I feel so strong--so well!"

She began taking the soup with one hand, and rubbing her cheek with the
other: "Now, isn't it red, Marta?  Look--tell me!  Nurse, while you
knit, tell me--did you see how angry he was, and how he went out
without a word?  It is he himself who asked me to sing, so why should
he be angry now?"

The old woman clicked her knitting needles: "How do I know!" she said,
"He lives alone so much, and he is crusty and crabbed, they say.  I
nursed him when he was a child, just as I nurse you now.  He has a
temper--Jesus-Maria--the master!  But his heart is of gold.  His
wife--" she hesitated, "She was a singer, and she ran away and left
him.  They say she ran away with the famous tenor, Brondi, who used to
sing Tristan.  Since then the master has been soured-like!"

"That is strange," said Kaya dreamily, "to run away from some one you
love, when you can be with him night and day and never leave him!
Sometimes there is a curse, and you are torn by your love, whether to
go or stay.  But if you love him enough, you go--and that is the best
love--to save him from the curse and suffer yourself alone.  Perhaps
there was a curse."

"What are you saying?" cried the old woman, "When you were delirious,
it was always a curse you raved of, and stains on your hands.  Mein
Gott!  My blood ran cold just to hear you, and the Kapellmeister used
to come--"

Kaya turned white: "He came?" she said, "and he heard me?  What did I
say, Marta, tell me!  Tell me quickly!"  She caught the old woman's
hands and wrung them between her own.

"Jesus-Maria!  My knitting!--What you said, Fräulein?  How do I
remember!  Stuff and nonsense mostly!  You were crazy with fever, and
your eyes used to shine so, it made me afraid.  Then the Kapellmeister
would come and put you to sleep with his eyes.--Let go of my hands,
Fräulein, you are crushing the wool!  Is it the fever come back?--  Oh
Je!"

"No," said Kaya, "No.  You don't remember, Marta, whether I said any
name--any particular name?  I didn't--did I?"

The nurse pondered for a moment, then she went on knitting: "I can't
remember," she said, "There was something you used to repeat, over and
over, a single word--it might have been a name.  Won't you finish your
soup, Fräulein?"

"No," said Kaya, "I am tired.  Will you go down, Marta, and ask the
Kapellmeister if he will come for a moment?  I have something to ask
him."

The nurse rose:  "They are smoking still," she said, "Yes, I smell
their cigars!  If you have finished the soup, I will take the tray.
Jesus-Maria!  You are flushed, Fräulein, and before you were so white!
You are sure it is not the fever come back?"

"Feel my hands," said Kaya, "Is that fever?"  Then she shut her eyes.
She heard clumsy footsteps descending the stairs, and then a pause; and
after a moment or two steps coming back, but they were firm and quick,
and her heart kept time to them.

"What did I say in my ravings?" she cried to herself, "What did he
hear?"

"Nun?" said the Kapellmeister.

"I see now what hurt you," said Kaya, without raising her eyes, "You
thought I wanted to repay your kindness that can never be repaid; that
I was narrow and little, and was too proud to take from your hands what
you gave me.  Forgive me."

The Kapellmeister crossed the room and sat down on the chair that the
nurse had left.  He said nothing, and Kaya felt through her closed lids
that he was looking at her.  "How shall I ask him?" she was saying to
herself, "How shall I put it into words when perhaps he understood
nothing after all?"

"If you think your voice is there," said the Kapellmeister, "fresh, and
not too strained for the high notes, why you can try it now.  If it
goes all right, I daresay we could announce 'Siegfried' for the end of
the week."

"Will you give me the note?" said Kaya, "Is it F#, or G, I forget?"

"I will hum you the preceding bars where Siegfried first hears the
bird."  Ritter began softly, half speaking, half singing the words in
his deep voice, taking the tenor notes falsetto.  "Now--on the F#.  The
bird must be heard far away in the branches, and you must move your
head so--as it flutters from leaf to leaf."

Kaya lifted herself from the pillows until she sat upright, supporting
herself with one hand.  She began to sing, and then she stopped and
gave a cry.  "It is there!" she said pitifully, "I feel it, but it
won't come!--I can't make it come!  It is as if there were a gate in my
throat and it was barred!"

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She opened her lips farther, but the sound
that came was strange and muffled; and she listened to it as if it were
some changeling given to her by a mischievous demon in exchange for her
own.

"That isn't my voice," she said, "You know as well as I--it never
sounded like that before!  What is it?  Tell me--"

The Kapellmeister laughed a little, mockingly: "I told you, child," he
said, "I warned you.  Don't look like that!  When you are stronger, it
will come with a burst, and be bigger and fresher than ever before.
Siegfried must wait for his bird, that is all."

Kaya clasped her throat with both hands as if to tear away the
obstruction: "I will sing--I will!" she cried, "It is there--I feel it!
Why won't it come out?"  She gave a little moan, and threw herself back
on the pillows.

The Kapellmeister stooped suddenly; a look half fierce, half pitying
came in his face.  He bent over her until his eyes were close to hers,
and he forced her to look at him:

"What is that word you say?  When you were raving, you repeated it
again and again: 'Velasco--Velasco.'  There is a violinist by that
name, a musician."

"A--musician!" stammered Kaya.  She was staring at him with eyes
wide-open and frightened.

"His name is Velasco."

"Ve--las--co?"

The syllables came through her lips like a breath.  "No--no!" she cried
suddenly, hoarsely, "I don't know him!  I--I never saw him!"

She struggled with the lie bravely, turning white to the lips and
gazing.  "It was some one I knew in Russia; some one I--I loved."  She
sat up suddenly and wrung her hands together: "You don't believe me?"

"No," said the Kapellmeister, "You can't lie with eyes like that."

Kaya gazed at him desperately: "Don't tell him," she breathed,
"Ah--don't let him know--I implore you!"

Ritter gave a sharp exclamation and caught the little figure in his
arms.  "She has fainted!" he cried, "Potztausend, what a brute I was!"
He laid her back on the pillow and stood staring down at her, breathing
heavily and clenching his hands.

"If I were Velasco!" he muttered, "Ah Gott--I am mad!  Marta--Marta!"



CHAPTER XVIII

The day was very warm and sultry, and the visitors, who flocked to
Ehrestadt for the opera season, fanned themselves resignedly as they
sat in the shaded gardens, drinking beer and liqueurs, and gossiping
about the singers.  The performance of 'Siegfried' was to be given that
night for the second time, and they discussed it together.

"The tenor--ah, what a voice he had, and what acting, but
Brünnhilde--bah!"  They shook their heads.  "The Schultz was growing
old, and her voice was thin in the upper register; it struck against
the roof of her mouth when she forced it, and sounded like tin.  In the
love-scene, when Brünnhilde wakes from her sleep--Tschut!  What a pity
a singer should ever grow old; and a still greater pity--a Jammerschade
that she should go on singing!"

"The Conductor was in despair, and so were the Directors; but the
contract was signed, it was too late.  Ach bewahre, poor Ritter!  He
was in such a pique," they said, "der Arme!  The bird--that was poor
too, shrill and cheap!  Die Neumann, who was she?  Someone out of the
chorus perhaps.  But the Mime was splendid."

And then they went back to the great Siegfried again and praised
him--"Perron!  He was worth the rest of the performance together, he
and the orchestra; but when he had sung it with the Lehmann last year,
ach--that was a different matter.  He had gone through the part like a
Siegfried inspired, and she--ah divine!  There was no Brünnhilde to
compare with her now.  What a night it had been!  Do you recall it?"
they said--"Do you remember it?"  And then the opera-goers closed their
eyes ecstatically.

"The season before was better, far better!--Tschut!"  And then they
went on drinking their beer and liqueurs, and fanning themselves
resignedly.  "If the heat did not break before night-fall there would
be a thunder-storm."  The clouds were gathering far in the West, and
the insects were humming.  The air was heavy with the scent of
blossoms; and the waitresses ran to and fro, dressed in Tyrolese
costume; the prettier they were the more they ran.

"One beer!--Three liqueurs!"  "Sogleich, meine Herren!"  The garden was
shady, and the glasses clinked; the tongues wagged.


"You are not afraid; you are comfortable, child, swung up there in the
tree-tops?"

Kaya's eyes shone like two stars down from the green.  "My heart
beats," she said, "but it is only stage fright; it will pass.  Is the
House full?"

"Packed to the roof!"

"I am only a bird," said Kaya softly, "They won't think of me.  It is
Siegfried they have come to hear, and Brünnhilde.  How glorious to be a
Brünnhilde!"

The Kapellmeister took out his watch: "I must go," he said, "Good-bye,
little one; remember what I told you, and let your voice come out
without effort; not too loud, or too soft!  When your part is over, one
of the stage-hands will let you down again."

Kaya nodded, swinging herself childishly.  "It is sweet to be a bird,"
she said, "I think I shall stay here always, and Siegfried will never
find me."

"No--he shall never find you!" said the Kapellmeister suddenly and
sharply.  Their eyes met for a moment.  "Are you all right?" he
repeated, "You are pale."

Kaya shrank back into the leaves that were painted, and they trembled
slightly as if a breeze had passed; and the great drop-curtain blew
out, bulging.

"Keep the windows shut," called the voice of the stage manager,
"Quick--before the curtain goes up.  A storm is coming, and the
draughts--oh Je!"  He went hurrying past.

Ritter glanced at his watch again mechanically; then he crossed the
stage to the left, and hurried down a small, winding stair-case to the
pit, where the orchestra waited.  A sharp tap of the baton--a glance
over his men--then the second Act began.


Kaya sat very still under the leaves with the painted branches about
her.  She was perched on a swing, high aloft in the flies; and when she
looked up, she saw nothing but ropes, and machinery, and darkness; and
when she looked down, there was Mime below her, crouched by a stone;
the sun was rising, the shadows were breaking, and Siegfried lay
stretched at the foot of the Linden.  He had long, light hair and fur
about his shoulders, and he was big and splendid to look at in his
youth and his wrath.  He was threatening Mime, and the dwarf was
muttering and cursing.  Beyond was the pit with the orchestra, the
footlights, the House.

Kaya listened, and her thoughts went back to St. Petersburg and the
class of Helmanoff.  She was singing to him, and when she had finished,
he had taken her hands.  "If you were not a Countess," he said, "you
could be a Lehmann in time, another Lehmann."  Kaya leaned her curls
against the rope of the swing dreamily.  "How long ago that seems," she
said to herself, "before--before I--"

Then she thought of the weeks since her illness, and how her voice had
come back suddenly, over night as it were, only bigger and fuller; and
how she had worked and studied, day after day, rehearsing with Ritter.

Her brow clouded a little as she remembered.  He had been severe, the
Kapellmeister, caustic, even irritable.  How hard he was to satisfy!
When she sang her best, he shrugged his shoulders; when she sang badly,
he was furious.  Occasionally he was kind as to-day, but not
often. . . .  Siegfried was alone now, carving his reed, trying to
mimic the song of the wood birds. . . .  The Kapellmeister had said
nothing of Lehmann; perhaps she had lost her voice after all.  Her
thoughts rambled on as she waited for her cue. . . .

Siegfried's horn was to his lips and he was blowing it; a splendid
figure, eager, expectant. . . .  Kaya stretched her throat like a bird:
"If it should be barred," she said to herself, "as it was before, and
the orchestra began with the theme, and I couldn't sing!"  She trembled
a little.

So the first scene passed; and the second.


The Dragon was on the stage now, and Siegfried was fighting him.  The
hot breath poured from the great, red nostrils; the sword flashed.  The
battle grew fiercer. . . .  Kaya leaned over, stooping in the swing,
and gazing.  "Siegfried has wounded him," she whispered,--"in a moment
the sword will have reached his heart. . . .  Ah, now--it has struck
him--he is dying!  As soon as he is dead!  As soon as he is--dead."

The orchestra was playing passionately, and she knew every note; the
bird motive came nearer and nearer.  Already her prototype was being
prepared in the flies, and the wires made ready.  She clung to the
rope, swinging. . . .  Ah, how good the Kapellmeister had been to her;
how good!  It was his very interest in her that had made him severe,
she knew that.  She must sing her best, and not wound him by failure.

The motive came nearer.

Siegfried was standing just below her now.  She took a deep breath and
her lips parted.  He was peering up at her, searching through the
leaves, and the bird on its wire fluttered across the stage. . . .  She
was singing.  The notes, high and pure, poured out of her throat.  The
bird fluttered past.

[Illustration: Fragment of "Siegfried"]

She swayed, with her head leaning back against the ropes, and sang--and
sang.  Her throat was like a tunnel and her voice was like a stream
running through it, clear and glorious.  Siegfried looked up and
started.  The orchestra played on.


"Has the Fräulein gone home?"

"No," said Marta, yawning, "She is in one of the dressing-rooms.  I
begged her to come, but she wouldn't."

The Kapellmeister laid his hand on her shoulder carelessly: "If you are
sleepy," he said, "go back to the mill; I will bring her myself
presently.  The House is dark now, and the people are going."  He gave
a curt nod, dismissing the old woman, and strode on through the wings.

One person after another stopped him: "Ha, Kapellmeister, where did
that nightingale hail from?"

"I snared it for you, Siegfried; were you satisfied?"

"Ach, mein Gott!  I thought I was back on the Riviera, and it was
moon-light.--  Snare me another Brünnhilde, can't you?"  The great
tenor laughed and put his finger to his lips: "Singing with the Lehmann
spoils one," he said, "Bah--!  It was frightful to-night!  She grows
always worse.  Would the bird were a goddess instead."  He waved his
hand: "Good-night!"

"Good-night," said the Kapellmeister, hurrying on.

"Ritter--hey!  Stop a moment!  What has come over the Neumann?"

"Nothing, Jacobs--nothing!  She is dead."

Mime straightened his back that was stiff from much crouching:
"Ausgeworfen?"

"Ja wohl."

"Then who is the lark?"

"An improvement you think--eh?"

The singer laughed: "The way Perron jumped!  Did you see him?  With the
first note he gaped open-mouthed into the branches, and came within an
ace of dropping his sword.  I chuckled aloud in the wings.  Who is she,
Kapellmeister?"

"Good-night--good-night!" cried Ritter, "excuse me, but I am late and
in a hurry.  This opera conducting is frightfully wearing; I am limp as
a rag.  Good-night!" he ran on.

The doors of the dressing-rooms stood open, and he peered into them,
one after the other.  In some the electric light was still on, and the
costumes were scattered about on the open trunks.  The principals were
gone already, and most of the chorus; and the men of the orchestra went
hurrying by like shadows, with their instruments under their arms.  In
the House itself, behind the asbestos curtain, which was lowering
slowly, came the sound of seats swinging back, and the voices of the
ushers as they rushed to and fro.

"Kaya!" called the Kapellmeister softly, "Where are you?"  He hurried
from room to room.

The dressing-room of Madame Schultz was on the second floor, up a
short, winding stair-case, and the lights were turned low.  Ritter
paused in the doorway.

The prima-donna was standing before the pier-glass, still in costume;
her soft, white robes trailed over the floor, and her red-blonde hair
hung to her waist.  The helmet glittered on her head, and she held her
spear aloft as if about to utter the Walküre cry.  The figure was
superb, magnificent; a goddess at bay.  And as the Kapellmeister stared
at her in astonishment, he saw that she was tense with emotion.

"Madame," he stammered, "You!  You--still here?"

Her face was to the glass, her back to the door; she wheeled about
quickly and faced him: "Yes, I am here!" she cried, "Brünnhilde is
here!  The House was cold to me to-night--they clapped Perron.  It was
all Siegfried.  They would have hissed me if they had dared."  The
spear shook in her trembling hand.

"When my voice broke in the top notes, you could hear them whispering
in the loggias; didn't you hear them?  'She is old,' they said, 'she
can't sing any more, or act!  She has no business to be here.  Get us
another Brünnhilde!'  And the stage hands looked at me pityingly.  I
saw!  Do you think I am blind and deaf as well as old?  Look at me as I
stand here!  I am Brünnhilde!"

The form of the singer was rigid, drawn to its height; the head thrown
back and the helmet glittering on her red-blonde hair.  Her eyes were
proud and scornful.

"Am I not--Brünnhilde?"

"Yes--yes!" cried Ritter, drawing back in a dazed way: "You are
magnificent, Madame.  If you had acted like that tonight, you would
have had the House at your feet."

The singer took a step forward.  "It is not I," she cried, "It is
Brünnhilde herself!  Come, let her sing to you!  The scene is still
there on the stage, the rocks and the fir-tree--and Brünnhilde's couch.
The fire motive seethes in my brain, and the flames are springing.
Come--and waken me!"

She grasped his sleeve with her fingers, and drew him: "You are not the
Kapellmeister!" she cried, "You are Siegfried, and you must sing the
part in falsetto.  Come!"

Ritter gave a quick glance about.  The stage hands were gone, and the
singers.  The stage was in semi-darkness, half lighted, and the scene
was unchanged.  He could see it from the top of the balustrade.  There
was no one in the House behind, or in front, and the foot-lights were
out; only the porter watched below, half asleep and waiting.  He was
alone with a mad woman; Brünnhilde gone crazy and frantic with grief
because she was old and her voice was gone.  She was dragging at his
hand, and pulling him towards the stair-case.  He followed her dumbly.

"Come--come!" she panted, "You think the Schultz has gone mad!  No--no!
It is only her youth come back, and her voice is leaping in her throat.
She must sing--must sing!  There is the couch.  See, I fling myself on
it!  I am covered with the shield, and the spear lies beside me.  You
have wakened me, Siegfried, with your kiss; and now I raise myself
slowly.  I am dazed--I stare blindly about!  Hark, how the fire is
leaping and crackling!"

The singer was seated upright now on the couch, and Ritter was standing
helpless beside her.  As she acted, the blood ran cold in his veins.
It was true what she had said.  She was no longer the Schultz: she was
Brünnhilde herself, the goddess, and the kiss of Siegfried was on her
lips.

She was singing now; she had sprung to her feet with the spear in her
hand, and the music poured from her throat.  It was not the voice of
Schultz; it was richer and fuller, and the tones were deep and strong,
and pure and high; and it rang out and filled the empty stage like a
clarion trumpet, silver-toned.  She held her hands high above her head,
waving the spear; coming nearer to him and nearer.

  "O Siegfried, Herrliche Hort der Welt!
  Leben der Erde, lachender Held!"


Her red-blonde hair shone in the light and the helmet glittered:
"Siegfried!  Siegfried!"

It was the Lehmann come back!  Ah, no--it was more than the Lehmann!
Ritter gazed and listened, and his heart gave a leap.  It was
Brünnhilde herself, the goddess come to life; and the stage was no
longer there: it was night on the mountain-top; they were surrounded by
fires crackling and leaping; the flash of flames curling, and light and
smoke.  The violins were playing.

Instinctively his fingers clutched the air as if grasping the baton.
"Siegfried!"

The cry came big and passionate as from the throat of a Walküre,
without limit or strain.  The Kapellmeister staggered and covered his
eyes.

"Gott!" he cried, "Am I dreaming?  Where am I?  Madame--stop!  Are you
the Schultz, or are you--?  I thought you were mad, stark mad; but it
is I--I!  When I looked at you now, you were Brünnhilde alive--your
voice is the voice of the goddess herself!"

He sank down on the couch and covered his face with his hands.  The
blood rushed to his ears and seethed there, and the music beat against
his brain.  Then the faintness passed, and he looked up.

Brünnhilde stood a little apart, still grasping the spear.  The light
fell on her helmet, and it shone; her lips were arched as if the tones
were still in her throat, dying away.  She was gazing at him and her
breast was panting.  The light fell full on her face.

"Ach--mein Gott!" he cried, "It is Kaya!"



CHAPTER XIX

"Yes, it is I," said Kaya.

She put up both hands, lifting the helmet from her head, and the
red-blonde hair fell back from her short, gold curls.  The spear
dropped with a clang to the stage and lay extended between them,
glittering.

"My voice was there," she said softly, "in my throat, leaping and
bounding, and the gate was unbarred."  She seemed half afraid, and drew
back in the shadow.

Ritter still sat on the edge of the couch, where Brünnhilde had lain,
and where Siegfried had kissed her.  His face had a dazed look, and he
passed his hand over his eyes several times, as if the dusk were too
dim for his sight.

"I thought you were the Schultz gone mad!" he murmured.  "Gott!  What
an actress you are!"

A laugh came to him out of the darkness.

"You are no bird," said Ritter, "You are a Walküre born.  Take the
helmet again and the spear.  As you stood in the shadow, gazing
downward, you were like a young warrior watching his shield."  He
sprang to his feet and came toward her, placing the spear in her hand,
the helmet again on her head.

"Sing," he said, "Let me hear it again.  Your voice is a marvel!  The
timbre is silver and the tones are of bronze.  Let me look at your
throat!  Gott--but the roof of your mouth is arched like a dome and the
passage is as the nave of a cathedral, wide and deep!"

His hand grasped her shoulder, trembling: "Did Helmanoff know you had a
voice like that?" he cried, "Tell me, child, did he train you?  The
part is most difficult to act and to sing.  Tell me--or am I dreaming
still?"

Kaya fingered the spear dreamily: "My voice is bigger and fuller," she
said; "it came so all of a sudden, but he taught me the part, and he
told me, some day, if I were not a Countess I could become the
Brünnhilde."  Her form stiffened suddenly and she threw off his grasp,
springing forward and crouching:

"You are Wotan and you are angry," she whispered, "The Brünnhilde is
your child and she has sinned.  You have threatened her, and now she is
pleading: 'Wotan--Father!'"  Her voice rose, and her form shook as
though with sobs.  She crept closer, still crouching, and lay at his
feet, and her voice was like something crying and wrestling.

  "Hier bin ich Vater: Gebiete die Strafe . . .
  Du verstösest mich?  Versteh' ich den Sinn?
  Nimmst du mir alles was einst du gabst?"


Her voice sobbed, dying away into a tone pure, soft, heart-breaking,
like a breath; yet it penetrated and filled the stage, the wings, and
came echoing back.

  "Hier bin ich Vater; Gebiete die Strafe . . .
  Du verstösest mich?"


For a moment she lay as if exhausted; then she covered her head with
her hands as if fearing and trembling: "Now curse me," she whispered,
"Curse me!  I hear the flames now beginning to crackle!"

The Kapellmeister put out his hand and took hers, and lifted her: "If
the House were full," he said, "and you acted like that, they would go
stark mad; they would shower bouquets at your feet and carry you on
their shoulders.  The Lehmann was the great Brünnhilde, but you are
greater, Kaya.  Your voice has the gift of tears.  When you let it out,
one is thrilled and shaken, and there is no end to the glory and power;
it encircles one as with a wreath of tones.  But when you lower it
suddenly and breathe out the sound--child--little one, what have you
suffered to sing like that?  You are young.  What must you have
suffered!"

He clasped her hands tenderly between his own, and stared down into her
eyes.

"Don't touch me," she said brokenly, "I told you--there is blood on
them!  I am cursed like Brünnhilde.  The curse is in my voice and you
hear it, and it is that that makes you tremble and shudder--just as I
tremble and shudder--at night--when I dream, and I see the body beside
me on the floor--and the red pool--widening.  Helmanoff used to tell me
my voice was cold and pure like snow; there was no feeling, no warmth,
no abandon.  You see--if I have learned it, it is not Helmanoff who has
taught me--but suffering."

Her eyes were like two fires burning, and she put her hand to her
throat.  "To have the gift of tears you must have shed them," she
whispered, looking at him strangely: "You must have--shed them."

"Is it the curse alone," said the Kapellmeister, "that keeps you and
Velasco apart, little one?  Forgive me!  Don't start like that!
Don't--don't tremble."

Kaya backed away from him, snatching away her hands.  Her lips were
quivering and her eyes half closed.  "Ah--" she breathed, "You are
cruel.  Take the spear and strike me, but don't prod a wound that is
open and will not--heal!  Have you no wound of your own hidden that you
must needs bare mine?"

"It is love that has taught you," said the Kapellmeister, "You love
him--Velasco!"

She gave a low moan and flung her arms up, covering her face.

The Kapellmeister stared at her for a moment.  The stage was dark, and
only a bulb of light, here and there, gleamed in the distance.  Below,
the watchman was pacing the corridor, waiting, and the smell of his
pipe came up through the wings.  The scenery looked grim and ghostly;
the couch of Brünnhilde lay bare.  Above were ropes and machinery
dangling, and darkness.

He clinched his teeth suddenly and a sound escaped him, half a cry,
half a groan; but smothered, as though seized and choked back.  "Come,"
he said.  He went to her roughly and took the helmet from her head, and
the shield, and the spear; she standing there heedless with her arms
across her face.  They fell to the floor with a crash, first one, then
the other, and the sound was like a blow, repeating itself in loud
echoes.

"Go and take off your things," he said hurriedly, "It is
midnight--past, and the watchman is waiting to lock the stage door.
Rouse yourself--go!  I will wait for you here."

He heard the sound of her footsteps crossing the stage, ascending the
stair-case; and he walked backwards and forwards, forwards and
backwards, in and out among the rocks and the trees.  His forehead was
scarred with lines, and his shoulders were bent.  The look of the
victorious General about him had changed into the look of one who has
met the enemy face to face, and has fought with his strength and his
might, and been beaten, with his forces slain and a bullet in his
breast.

His eyes were fierce and his face set, his feet stumbled; he was white
as death and weary.  He heard her coming back and he walked on,
backwards and forwards, without looking or heeding.

"Have you your cloak?"

"Yes."

"An umbrella?"

"No."

"It is raining.  Don't you hear it, and the thunder in the distance?
The storm has broken.  Come, we will take a cab."  He strode across the
stage and down the staircase; she following.  He nodded to the watchman:

"Still rehearsing," he said shortly, "Sorry to keep you up.  Whistle,
will you, for a Droschke?  Gott!  The rain is terrific; hear it!  Come."

There was the sound of wheels, of horses' hoofs.

He went forward and opened the door of the Droschke, and Kaya crept in.

She was no longer the Brünnhilde; she was a little figure, slight and
pale, and wrapped in a cloak; and she sat in the corner against the
cushions, staring out at the rain, quivering at the thunder crashes.

Ritter stepped in behind her and closed the door.  "Nonnen-Mühle!" he
cried, "and drive fast.  We are chilled to the bone!  The storm grows
worse; it is devilish late!"  He flung himself back in the opposite
corner, and the Droschke rolled on.

It was still in the carriage.  From outside came the sound of the rain
falling, and the hoofs of the horses trotting.  Kaya shut her eyes.
The rhythmical sound caught her senses.  She was in St. Petersburg
again, and driving in the darkness through the night and the storm; and
Velasco was beside her--Velasco!  They were driving to the church to
be--married.

"Don't do that again," cried the Kapellmeister fiercely, "I can't bear
it."

"W--what?"

"You moaned."

Kaya crept closer into the corner, and clasped the cloak to her breast
and throat.

"It is like seeing a bird with a shot in its breast--in torture," he
said, "And when you sing, it is like a swan song.  Your soul is on your
lips, crying out, imploring.--Kaya!"

He bent over the shrinking form in the corner: "I was brutal to you; my
heart was sore, seeing you suffer.  The words came out like a lash;
they cut you.  I saw how they hurt you.  Little one--if I bare the
wound to the air again, forgive me--forgive me!  No--don't shrink away.
If you love him like that, my God--I know him!  He comes to my house!
Only a few weeks ago he was there, and he's coming again; soon, I tell
you, soon.  I swear I will bring him to you!  If he won't come, I will
force him; with my hands I will drag him if he refuses."

The girl gave a cry: "Drag him!" she cried, "Force him!  Ah, he'd fly
at a word--he'd fly to me!"  She caught her breath: "Bózhe moi!" she
said suddenly, and laughed: "What are you talking about, dear Master?
Velasco--he's nothing to me!  A musician, you said--a violinist!  You
forget I am Brünnhilde to-night.  We talked of a curse--not love.
Siegfried is still behind the flames and cannot get past."

She laughed again, a sound like a trill: "You forget, don't you?" she
said, "I was acting a part!  It wasn't real; I was only
playing--pretending.  How the Schultz cheated you!  Ah, dear
Master--you thought she had lost her wits and her size all at once.
You never noticed how she had shrunken; and that was because I stood on
tip-toe, and held myself straight with the helmet.  If the light hadn't
fallen full on my face, you would never have guessed!  I laughed to
myself; how I laughed!  I--laughed!"

"Child," said the Kapellmeister suddenly.  "You are sobbing!"

"I am not--I am laughing, dear Master.  Look at me!  There is the mill
across the promenade.  How gaunt the wheel looks, and strange, with its
spokes dripping, and the rain lashing down!  And there is a light in my
window--a candle, see?  Old Marta is waiting, and how she will scold.
Tell me, Master--dear Master, before we get there, tell me--some day
may I act Brünnhilde and sing, when the curtain is up, and the House is
full, and Siegfried is there, and you at the baton--and the orchestra
playing?  Tell me!"

She drew closer to him, and the last words came out in a whisper,
breathless and eager.  "Put those other thoughts out of your mind, dear
Kapellmeister.  Ve--Velasco is only a name--nothing more!

"If I can sing I will be happy; I promise you.  The sting of the curse
will--pass.  You are silent and cold!" she cried, "You won't tell me,
and we are almost there--at the mill!  Master!"

The Kapellmeister started: "The mill?" he stammered, "What were you
saying, Kaya?  How cold your hand is, little one!  Of course you shall
sing.  You shall be our great Brünnhilde and the visitors will flock to
Ehrestadt, and you will be famous and beloved."

He hesitated:  "I can't see you, only your eyes gleaming, Kaya.  How
bright they are, little one, like live coals!  Where did you get that
name--'Master'?  Did Marta teach you?  My pupils say that, the chorus,
the orchestra, and the singers; but you never used it before.  It is
because I am old now and my hair is grey, and you are a child.  I must
seem to you like your father, Kaya."

"No," said the girl quickly, "not my father!  He was hard and cruel; he
was a friend of the Tsar.  I--I never loved him."

"Nor me," cried the Kapellmeister hoarsely, "Nor me!"

The words sprang to his lips in spite of himself; they were low, and he
thought she did not hear; but her ear was keen.  She bent forward
taking his hand, and kissed it swiftly, holding it between her own.

"Dear Kapellmeister!  Dear Master!" she cried, half laughing, half with
a sob: "You know I love you.  When I was ill and alone, and desperate,
and helpless, longing to die, you came to me.  You saved me and helped
me; and I was nothing to you but a stranger.  You were father and
mother to me; and now, you are my master, and teacher, and friend."
She lifted his hand again to her lips and caressed it: "I love you,"
she cried, "dear Master, I love you with all my heart!"

Ritter stirred against the cushions; his hand lay limp in her clasp.
"Yes, little one," he said, "Yes.  Your heart is like your voice,
fathomless and pure.  The carriage has stopped now, and there is the
candle, burning up yonder under the eaves.  Can you find your way
alone, without help?  I am strangely weary."

His voice was low, and the words came slowly, with an effort.  He
passed his hand over his face:

"Good-night--Brünnhild'!"

He held her hands and drew her towards him: "Good-night, little one.
There are shadows under your eyes, and your lip quivers; you are
pale.--Good-night."  He held her for a moment in a strong grasp,
staring down into her face; then she was gone and the door closed
behind her.  His hands were empty, and the horses had turned, and were
galloping back through the rain and the night.



CHAPTER XX

It was dusk, and the lights of the Rathskeller began to twinkle out one
by one.  The Keller was long and rambling, divided into innumerable
small alcoves and corners, partitioned by strange and antique carvings.

The ceiling was low, with octagonal vaults like a cloister.  On the
smoke-grimed walls, here and there, were mural paintings of knights in
armour, and fat peasants drinking, dimmed and half obliterated.
Beneath were legends and proverbs, printed in quaint, old-German
characters; while across one end, like a frieze, ran a ledge carven
with gargoyles, rude and misshapen.  On the ledge were beer mugs of
every size and description, with queer tops and crooked handles.
Above, suspended from the ceiling by chains, hung a huge Fass; and from
the throats of the gargoyles, dragon and devil alike, dripped the beer,
turned on by small taps hidden.

In and out, among the tables, sped the waitresses in their Tyrolese
costume with its picturesque head-dress; and beyond lay the garden,
innumerable bulbs of light gleaming like fire-flies among the trees.

"Bitte um zwei Münchener!"

"Sogleich, meine Herren."

"Ein Chartreuse und ein Pilsener!"

"Jawohl!  Sofort!"

And the waitresses sped, vying with one another, coquetting with their
patrons, smiling gayly with sharp retorts; their eyes bright, their
trays laden with foaming beer mugs.

In one of the alcoves, far back in the shadow, sat two gentlemen.  The
younger had removed his hat, and was pushing the hair impatiently back
from his brows.  His eyes were dark and sleepy, half covered by the
brows, weighed down by the lids.

He was leaning on one elbow and responded languidly to his companion,
half heeding, toying with his hands, and strumming on the table with
his fingers, which were white, and supple, and full of magnetism.

Beside him lay a violin.

"You are nervous to-night, Velasco?"

"I am always nervous."

"What shall we eat and drink?"

"Donnerwetter--what you please!  If I eat, I cannot play.  Bring me
some of that Rhine wine, Fräulein, the white in the slanting bottles,
and a plate of Pretzeln.  No beer--bewahre!"

The Musician raised his hands with a shrug of his shoulders, and then
sank back in his former listless attitude.

"That is your Polish taste, Velasco.  Try a bit of Schinken with me, or
a Stückchen of Cervelat with cheese--eh?  If you eat, you will be less
nervous, and your fingers will become warm.  When you play, you are
abstinent as a priest before the mass."

The older man smoothed his beard, which was fast turning grey, and
lifted the beer mug to his lips.

"Ich danke!" said Velasco with irony: "My dear Kapellmeister, I am not
as those who would serve Art with a bottle of champagne under each arm.
I want no fumes in my brain and no clod between my fingers when I meet
the Muse face to face."

"You are right there," said Ritter thoughtfully, lowering his glass:
"It is like a pearl coming out of the throat of a swine to hear the
tones from Bauermann's fingers, when he can scarce keep himself at the
pianoforte, and his head rocks between his shoulders like a top
falling.  His sense of beauty is all that is left of him, and that
seems over ripe, like a fruit left too long in the sun.  Materialism is
the artist's curse.  Their heads are in the clouds and their feet are
in the slough.--Pah!"

The Kapellmeister tapped his glass sharply with the edge of his knife,
and called without turning: "Hey--a Münchener, Fräulein!"

He scanned the face of his companion curiously.  The Violinist seemed
to be dreaming; he held the Rhine wine in his hand, gazing down into
its liquid gold as if a vision lay at the bottom of the glass.

"Velasco!"

The Musician half raised his lids and then lowered them again.

"Are you asleep, Velasco?"

"Potztausend--no!  I hear what you say!  You speak of musicians and
swine in the same breath.  It is true.  You ought to know, who wave the
baton over them year in and year out.  They rise like a balloon and
then they fall--!"

He dropped his hands on the table with an expressive gesture.  "They
give out through the senses; they take in the same way."  He lifted the
glass, staring into it again: "But it is not through pleasure, not
pleasure, Ritter, never pleasure, that their senses are developed, and
they learn to feel, and give back what they have felt.  They think it
is pleasure, and they fall into the error, and their art dies within
them sooner or later.  It is like some fell thing clutching at their
feet, and when they try to rise, it seizes them and drags them back,
and they sink finally--they sink!"

The Kapellmeister leaned forward on the table, scanning the young face
opposite him: "A year ago, Velasco, your chin was round and full; from
the look of your mouth one could tell that you had lived and enjoyed.
You were like the Faun, happy and careless, and your art was to you
like a plaything.  You cared only for your Stradivarius, and when you
were not playing, you were nothing, not even a man.  All your genius
was concentrated there in your brows where the music lies hidden.  Your
virility was in your tones, and your strength in your fingers.  What
has come over you?"

"Am I changed?" said Velasco.  His throat contracted.  He held the
glass to his lips, but he did not drink.

The  Kapellmeister  gazed  at him strangely:  "Yes, you are changed.
In one year you have grown ten.  What it is I cannot tell, but the look
of your face is different.  The mouth has grown rugged and harsh; there
are lines under your eyes, and your lips are firm, not full.  It is as
if a storm had burst on a young birch, and torn it from its bank amid
the grass and the heather, and an oak had grown up in its place,
brought into life by the wind and the gale."

Velasco tossed off the Moselle and laughed bitterly: "I have done with
pleasure," he said, "I have lived and I know life; that is all.  There
is nothing in it but work and music."

"Tell me, Velasco," said the Kapellmeister slowly, "Don't be offended
if I ask, or think that I am trying to pry into your affairs.  When you
were rehearsing this morning it occurred to me.--There was something
new in the quality of your tone.  Before, you were a virtuoso; your
technique was something to gaze at and harken to, and there was no
technique like it in Europe; now--"

"Well--now?" cried Velasco, "Was I clumsy this morning?  Was anything
the matter?  Potztausend!--why didn't you tell me?"

His eyes gleamed suddenly under his brows and he twirled his fingers,
toying with them nervously.  "Gott--Kapellmeister!  Why didn't you tell
me at once?"

"Now--" said the Kapellmeister: He looked up at the Bierfass, hanging
by its chains, and his gaze wandered slowly over the legends on the
wall, the gargoyles dripping; the mugs with their quaint tops and their
handles twisted, the roof in its octagonal vaults, smoky, begrimed; and
then back again to the table, and the flask before Velasco, yellow and
slanting.

"Now--" he said, "you are no longer a virtuoso, you are an artist, and
that, as you know, is something infinitely greater and higher and more
difficult of attainment.  All the great violins of my time I have
heard; most of them I have conducted."

Ritter's voice lowered suddenly to a whisper, and he leaned forward,
touching the other's hand with his own: "I tell you, Velasco, and I
know what I say--you played to-day at rehearsal as none of them played,
not even Sarasati, king of virtuosi; or Joachim, prince of artists.
You played as if the violin were yourself, and your bow were tearing
your own heart strings. . . .  Don't move!  Don't get up!  What is it,
Velasco?  You are white as death and your eyes are staring!  Listen to
my question and answer it, or not, as you please.  This is not an age
of miracles.  The birch was not torn from the bank without reason, or
the oak transplanted.  Tell me--have you ever loved a woman?"

There was a sudden silence in the Rathskeller.  It was almost deserted,
and the waitresses were all in the garden, running forward and backward
under the trees.  From outside came the sound of voices and glasses
clinking; and close by, from the ledge, the slow trickle of the beer
through the throats of the gargoyles.

"Look at them!" said Velasco dreamily: "It is the Pilsener that runs
through the dragons' mouths, and the Münchener through the devils'; a
bizarre fancy that!"

He stooped and struck a match against the table edge, lighting his
cigarette.  "These are Russian, Kapellmeister, extra brand!  Try one!
I prefer them to Turkish myself."  He leaned his head against the
carvings of the partition, and drew the smoke in through his nostrils
slowly, his eyes half closed.

"It is a quarter to eight now," said Ritter, "but there is plenty of
time.--I shouldn't have asked that question perhaps, Velasco.  Forgive
me.  My own affairs have turned my thoughts too much on that subject."

"Was it several years ago?" said Velasco, "I don't remember."  He
passed his hand over his forehead several times as if chafing his
memory.

Ritter pushed away his plate, and leaned forward with his head on his
hands, staring down at the table, and tracing out the pattern of the
wood with his fingers.

"Fourteen years to-night, Velasco.  I have never spoken of it to any
one; but somehow to-night it would be a relief to talk.  Brondi was
staying at my house; he was the Tristan.  One night he gave out he was
ill, and some one else took the part.  When I returned from the opera,
he was gone and she was gone, and the house was dark and deserted."

Ritter was silent for a moment.

"Fourteen years to-night, Velasco, and I feel as if it were yesterday."

The Violinist shaded his eyes from the light as if it hurt him: "When
you came back," he said, "When you found out--what was it you felt,
love or hate?"

The Kapellmeister made a swift, repelling gesture as if some reptile
had touched him: "Love!" he cried, "Hate!  Velasco--man, there is many
a sin at my door; I am far from a saint heaven knows; but to deceive
one who has trusted--to desert one who has loved and been loyal!  God!
There is no worse crime than that, or more despicable!  Can one love,
or hate, where there is only contempt?"

He clenched his fist, and his eyes were like two sword points boring
into the face opposite.

"Contempt--" he said, "It has eaten into my heart like a poisonous drug
and killed all else.  There is nothing left."

The Kapellmeister took a long breath, then he continued hoarsely: "But
I am a man; with a woman it is different.  Her heart is young and she
knows nothing of the world.  It is like a stab in the dark from a hand
she loves, and her heart is torn.  If she is brave, facing the world
with a smile on her lips, she bleeds inwardly.  She is like a swan,
swooping in circles lower and lower, with a song in her throat, until
the great wings droop, and the eyes grow dim, and she falls finally,
and the song is stilled.  But the last beat of her heart and the last
echo of her voice is for him--for him who fired the shot in her breast!"

He half rose in his seat with his hands trembling, and then sank back
again.

"Have you ever loved a woman and left her, Velasco?  Tell me--have you
a deed like that on your conscience?"

"I--?"  The Musician laughed aloud and took his hand from his face:
"You are talking in riddles, Kapellmeister!  The beer has gone to your
head, and you are drunk!  Look at the clock over yonder!--  What is
love?  A will-o'-the-wisp!  You chase it and it eludes you; you clasp
it and it melts into air!  There is nothing in life, I tell you, but
music and work."

He poured out another glass of the wine: "Here's to your health,
Kapellmeister!  Prosit--my friend!  Put those grim thoughts from your
mind, and women from your heart.  We must be off."

He was quaffing the liquor at a gulp.

"Prosit, Kapellmeister!"

Ritter made no answer.  He sat staring moodily down at the table.  "You
are young, Velasco, to be bitter.  Is it music, or work, that has
carven those lines in your face?"

There was a sting in his voice.

The Violinist threw back his head like a horse at the touch of the
spur.  His eyes blazed defiantly at the Kapellmeister for a moment, and
then the light went out of them as flame from a coal.  The glass fell
from his hand and lay shattered in fragments on the floor.  He stood
looking down at them wearily:

"That is my life," he said, "It is broken like the glass; and the wine
is my love.  There is nothing left of it but a stain.  It has gone from
me and is dead.  Come!"

He lifted his violin, and the two men took their hats and went out,
side by side, silently, without speaking.

The room was empty.  Slowly from the throats of the gargoyles trickled
the beer; and the Fass was like a great shadow hung from the ceiling by
its chains.  From outside came the clamour of voices and laughter, and
the waitresses sped to and fro.  The lights twinkled gayly under the
spreading of the leaves, and the glasses clinked.



CHAPTER XXI.

The Friedrichs-Halle was old and shabby and had originally been a
market.  The entrance was under an arcade, and there was an underground
passage, connecting the green-room with the stage-door of the Opera
House; a passage narrow and ill-smelling, without windows or light; but
dear to the hearts of musicians by reason of its associations.

Mendelssohn had walked there, and Schumann, and Brahms; and the air, as
it could not be changed, was the same.  The very microbes were musical,
and the walls were smudged with snatches of motives, jotted down for
remembrance.

"Is there a seat left in the top gallery--just one?"

"Standing room only, Madame."

The ticket-seller, who sat in a box-like room under the arcade, handed
out a slip of green paste-board, and then shut the window with a slam.
The gesture of his hand expressed the fact that his business was now
over.  Standing room also had ceased, and the long line of people
waiting turned away with muttered exclamations.

The foyer was like an ant-hill in commotion; people running forwards
and backwards, trying vainly to bribe an entrance, until the noise was
like hornets buzzing; while from behind came the sound of the orchestra
tuning, faint raspings of the cellos, and the wails of the wood-winds,
and above them the cry of a trumpet muffled.

Kaya took the green paste-board hastily in her hand, clasping it, as if
afraid it might in some way be snatched from her, and sped up the
narrow stone stairway to the right, running fast until her breath
failed her.  Still another turn, and another flight, and she stood in
the Concert Hall, high up under the roof, where the students go, and
the air is warm and heavy, and the stage looks far away.  The gallery
was crowded.

On the stage the orchestra were assembling, still tuning occasionally
here and there where an instrument was refractory.  The scores lay open
and ready on the desks.  A hum of excitement was over the House, and
one name was on every lip: "Velasco!"--the Polish violinist, the
virtuoso, the artist, whose fame had spread over all Europe.

In Berlin he had had a furore; in Dresden the orchestra had carried him
on their shoulders, shouting and hurrahing; in Leipzig, even Leipzig,
where the critics are cold, and they have been fed music from their
cradles, the glory of him had taken them all by storm.

"Velasco!"

The orchestra stood quietly now, expectant, each behind his desk.  A
hush crept over the House.  The people leaned forward watching.  It was
past the hour.

Kaya stood wrapped in her cloak, leaning against the wall.  Her head
was bare, and her hair was like a boy's, curling in rings and shining
in the light.  Her eyes were fixed on the little door at the end of the
stage.  Every time it opened slightly she started, and her heart gave a
throb.  The air grew heavier.

When it finally opened, it was Ritter who came out.  He strode hastily
across the Stage, nodding shortly as if aware that the ripple of
applause was not for him; then he took his place on the Conductor's
stand with his back to the House, and waited, the baton between his
fingers.  The door opened again.

Kaya covered her eyes for a moment, and a little thrill went through
her veins.  She swayed and leaned heavily against the wall.

God!  It was seven months and a day since that night in the inn.  She
was in his arms again, and he was bending over her, whispering
hoarsely, his voice full of repressed anger and emotion:

"Lie still, Kaya, lie still in my arms!  The gods only know why you
said it, but it isn't the truth!  You love me--say you love me; say it,
Kaya!  Let me hear you, my beloved!"

He was pressing his lips to hers.

"Take away your lips--Velasco!"

Then she recovered herself with a start, and took her hand from her
eyes.

The door was ajar.  Velasco was coming through it carelessly,
gracefully, with his violin under his arm; and as he came, he bowed
with a half smile on his lips, tossing his hair from his brow.

The audience was nothing to him; they were mere puppets, and as they
shouted and clapped, welcoming him with their lips and their hands, he
bowed again, slightly, indifferently, and laid the Stradivarius to his
shoulder, caressing the bow with his fingers.

Ritter struck the desk sharply with his baton and the orchestra began
to play, drowning the applause; and it ceased gradually, dying away
into silence.

Then Velasco raised his bow.

There was a hush, a stillness in the air, and he drew it over the
strings--one tone, deep and pure with a rainbow of colours, shading
from fortissimo, filling the House, to the faintest piano--pianissimo,
delicate, elusive; breathing it out, and pressing on the string with
his finger until it penetrated the air like an echo, and the bow was
still drawing slowly, quiveringly.

He swayed as he played, laying his cheek to the violin; the waves of
dark hair falling over his brows.  His fingers danced over the strings,
and his bow began to leap and sparkle.  The audience listened
spellbound, without a whisper or movement.  The orchestra accompanied,
but the sound of the violins in unison was as nothing to the single cry
of the Stradivarius.

It sang and soared, it was deep and soft; it was like the sighing of
the wind through the forest, and the tones were like a voice.  From his
instrument, his bow, his fingers, himself, went out a strange, mesmeric
influence that seemed to stretch over the House, the audience, bending
it, forcing it to his will; compelling it to his mood.

As he played on and on, the influence grew stronger, more pervading,
until his personality was as a giant and the audience pigmies at his
feet, sobbing as his Stradivarius sobbed; laughing when it laughed;
crying out with joy, or with pain, with frenzy or delight, as his bow
rent the strings.  He scarcely heeded them.  His eyes were closed and
he rocked the violin in his arms, swaying as in a trance.

Kaya crouched against the wall; and as she listened, she gazed until it
seemed as if her eyes were blinded, and she could no longer make out
the slim lines of his figure, the dark head, and the bow leaping.

The tones struck against her brain with a thrill of concussion like
hail against a roof.  It was as if he were calling to her, pleading
with her, embracing her.

She stretched out her arms to him and the tears ran down her face.
"Velasco!" she murmured, "Velasco--come back!  Put your arms around me!
Don't look at me like that!  I love you--come back!"

But no sound left her throat, and the cloak pinioned her arms.  She was
crouching against the wall, and gazing and trembling: "Velasco--!"

How different he was!  When he had played at the Mariínski, and she had
tossed the violets from her loggia, he was a boy, a virtuoso.  Life and
fame were before him; and he sprang out on the stage like a young
Apollo, eager and daring.  And now--  She searched his face.

There were lines there; shadows under his eyes, and his cheeks were
thin.  The lower part of his face was like a rock, firm and harsh; and
his brows were heavy and swollen.  Before, he had played with his
fingers, and toyed with his art; now he played with his heart and his
soul.  His youth was gone; he was a man.  He had known life and
suffered.

She stared at him, and her hands were convulsed, clasping one another
under the cloak.  An impulse came over her to throw herself from the
gallery at his feet, as she had flung the violets; and she crouched
closer against the wall, clinging to it.

"Velasco!--Velasco!"

A roar went up from the House.

The sound of the clapping was like rain falling; a mighty volume of
sound, deafening, frightening.

Kaya crouched still lower.  He had taken the violin from his cheek and
was bowing; his eyes scanned the House with a nonchalant air.

"Bravo--Velasco!"

The people were standing now and stamping, and screaming his name.
They hid him, and she could not see.  Kaya leaned forward, her gold
hair gleaming in the light, her eyes fixed.

"Velasco--Velasco!"

Suddenly he started.

He looked up at the gallery and his bow slipped from his hand.  He
stared motionless.  The first violin stooped and picked up the bow.

"Monsieur--" he whispered, "Monsieur Velasco, are you ill?"

"No--no!"  The Violinist passed his hand over his eyes.  "No--I am not
ill!  It was a vision--an illusion!  A trick of the senses!  It is gone
now!"

He bowed again mechanically, taking the bow, lifting the violin again
to his cheek.  "An illusion!" he muttered:  "A trick of the senses!
God, how it haunts me!"  He nodded to the Kapellmeister.

They went on.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

"Let me out!" said Kaya, "I am faint--let me out!  Let me--out!"  She
struggled to the door, through the crowd, pressing her way slowly,
painfully.  Her cheeks were white and she was panting.

"Ah--for God's sake!  Let me out!"


"Come this way, Velasco, this way through the passage.  The din in the
House is terrific--you have driven them mad!  Hark to your name, how
they shout it and stamp!  They will be rushing to the stage door
presently, as soon as the ushers have turned out the lights and the
hope of your reappearance is gone.  No wonder, man--you played like a
god!  You were like one inspired!  Shall you risk it; or will you come
through to my room in the Opera House, where we can wait and smoke
quietly until the clamour is past?"

"Anywhere, Ritter, only to get away from that horrible noise!"  The
Musician covered his ears with his hands and shuddered: "That is the
worst of being an artist--there is no peace, no privacy!  The people
consider one a music-box to wind up at their pleasure!  A pest on it
all!"

The two men quickened their footsteps, hurrying down the long corridor,
and presently a door shut behind them.

"There--thank heaven!" cried Ritter, "Around to the left now, Velasco,
and then at the top of the stairs is my den.  Let me go first and open
the door."

The room was a small one, half filled with the bulk of a grand piano.
About the walls ran shelf after shelf of music; opera scores and
presentation copies in manuscript.  A bust of Wagner stood in the
corner, and on the wall behind the pianoforte was a large painting in
sepia, dim, with strong lights and shadows.

The window was open, and below it lay the street, still in the
darkness; above, the heavens were clear and the stars were shining.
Ritter pulled forward an arm-chair and motioned the Musician towards it:

"Sit down, Velasco.  Will you have a pipe, or cigar?  You look
exhausted, man!  This fasting before is too much for you; you are pale
as death.  Shall I send out the watchman for food, or shall we wait and
go to the Keller together?"

Velasco nodded and sank back in the chair, covering his eyes with his
hand:

"Is it usual for musicians to go mad?" he said.

"Heavens!" exclaimed the Kapellmeister, "What are you talking about?
Usual?  Of course not!  Some do.  What is the matter with you, Velasco?
You are overwrought to-night."

"No," he said, "No.  When you hear themes in your head, and rhythms
throbbing in your pulses--is that a sign?"

"Behüte!  We all have that.  After an opera my head goes round like a
buzz-saw, and the motives spring about inside like demons.  If that is
all, Velasco, you are not mad.  Take a cigarette."

"Thank you, Ritter.  Tell me--when you conduct, is it as if force and
power were going from you, oozing away with the music; and you were in
a trance and someone else were wielding the baton, interpreting,
playing on the instruments, not yourself?"

The Kapellmeister shook his head grimly:  "Sometimes, Velasco, but not
often; we are not all like you.  That is Genius speaking through you."

"Afterwards," continued the Violinist, "it is as if one had had an
illness.  To-night I am weary--Bózhe moi!  My body is numb, I can
scarcely lift my feet, or my hands; only my nerves are alive, and they
are like electric wires scintillating, jumping.  The liquid runs
through my veins like fire!  Is that a--?"

"Bewahre--bewahre!  You throw yourself into your playing headlong, body
and soul.  It wrecks one mentally and physically to listen; how much
more then to play!  If you were like others, Velasco, you would drink
yourself to drowsiness and drown those sensations; or else you would
seek pleasure, distraction.  When Genius has been with you, guiding
your brain and your fingers, and you are left suddenly with an empty
void, what else can you expect but reaction, nausea of life and of art?
Bewahre, man!  That is no madness!  It is sanity--normal conditions
returning.  You are mad when the Genius is with you, you are mad when
you play; but now--now you are sane; you are like other men, Velasco,
and you don't recognize yourself!"

The Kapellmeister laughed, drawing whiffs from his cigar.

Velasco uncovered his eyes: "You don't understand," he said slowly: "I
see things--I have illusions!  It is something that comes and dances
before me as I play, the same thing always.  I saw it to-night."

"What sort of thing?"

Velasco stared suddenly at the opposite wall.  "What is that painting
there, Ritter?"

"The one over the piano?  I bought it in St. Petersburg years ago, when
I was touring: a copy of the Rembrandt in the 'Hermitage.'  Don't you
know it?"

"What is it?"

"The Knight with the Golden Helmet' I call it; but it is really a
'Pallas Athene.'"

"The Knight--the Knight with the Golden Helmet!  That is no knight--it
is the head of a woman, a girl; look at the oval of the cheek, the
lips, the eyes!  That is no knight, nor is it a 'Pallas Athene'!--  My
God!  I am going mad, I tell you!  Wherever I look, I see it before
me--an illusion, a trick of the senses!  It is madness!"

Velasco sprang to his feet with a cry.  "I can't bear it," he cried,
"open the door!  Damn you, Ritter, get out of the way!"

Velasco sprang forward, struggling for a moment with the Kapellmeister,
and then Ritter fell back.  The clutch on his shoulder was like iron.
He fell back, and the door slammed.

"Potztausend!" he cried, "What is there in my painting to start him
like that?  These musicians have nerves like live wires!  It is true
what he said--he is mad!"

The Kapellmeister went over to the painting on the wall and looked at
it.  "A girl's head," he murmured, "he is right.  It is more like a
'Pallas Athene' than a knight; but if it were not for the helmet
glittering, and the spear--"

Suddenly a remembrance came to him, and he struck his breast with his
hand, crying out: "It is no knight!  It is Brünnhilde, young and fair,
with her eyes downcast!  The light has fallen full on her face.  She is
standing there, and the stage is dim; her voice is still in her throat,
dying away!"

Memory caught him then and he came nearer, shading his eyes with his
hand, staring.  "She has hung on my wall for years and I never knew it!
It is she--it is her living image--her eyes and her brow--her lips
arched and quivering!  It is herself!"

"Brünnhild'!"  He lifted his arms: "Brünnhild'!"



CHAPTER XXII

The sun came shining in through the garret windows, dancing over the
floor in cones of light, caressing the geraniums until they gleamed a
rich scarlet against the green of the ivy; and the cobwebs glistened
like silk under the eaves.  About the mill the doves flew in circles,
alighting on the sill, clinging to the ivy with their pink claws,
cooing gently, and pecking at the worm-eaten casement.

"Dear doves," said Kaya, "You are hungry, and when you come to me for
bread you find nothing but the stone.  Chrr-rp!"  She whistled softly
and held her hands over the sill, dropping crumbs: "Chrr-rp!  Come,
pretty doves, and eat!"

The birds came nearer, eying her out of their bright eyes with little
runs forward, then circling and cooing again.

"Chrr-rp!" she called,--"Chrr-rp!  Come!"  And she held out her hands
as if coaxing: "Come, my doves!  Chrr-rp!"

One with fawn-coloured wings came flying and lighted on her shoulder;
another followed.

"Come--chrr-rp!"

The soft little bodies huddled against one another on the sill,
pressing closer; some on her arm and some eating out of her hand.  She
stroked their bright plumage, holding a crumb between her teeth.

"Chrr-rp--chrr-rp!"

The dove on her shoulder stretched his wings, pressing against her
cheek with his breast, tipping forward on his pink feet, until his beak
reached the crumb and he took it from her lips.

"Chrr-rp--chrr-rp!"

Kaya laughed softly, rubbing her cheek against the down of the bird;
whistling and coaxing with her hands.  The doves flew about her,
lighting, struggling for footing on her shoulder and curls; and she
shook her head, laughing:

"Chrr-rp--away with you!  Would you pluck my hair and line your nests
with my curls!  Pischt--away with you!" she flung out the crumbs again.
"There--eat, my pretty ones--eat!"

Below, the great wheel turned and splashed in the water with a whirr,
buzzing.  Kaya gazed down at it, and as she gazed she forgot the doves,
and a strange little shudder went over her, so that the one on her
shoulder lifted his wings in affright.

The water was deep in the pool, and there were little ripples under the
spokes where the sun-beams were dancing.  She dropped on her knees
before the window and began to sing, still gazing at the wheel, the
doves all about her, pianissimo--on the lower note of the scale,
singing up, and then in arpeggios; each note distinct and separate like
the link in a chain, pure, soft, hardly above a breath.

As she sang, her voice rose gradually, deepening and increasing in
power.  The doves pecked the crumbs on the sill, huddling against her
and eating from her hands.  She began to trill from one note to
another, and in trilling, her thoughts ran hither and thither even as
her voice, and her eyes wandered from the wheel, resting dreamily on
the promenade, and the people walking under the trees.

The rhythm of a mazurka was in her ears and she sang louder, trying to
drown it.  She was in a great hall vaulted, dome-like with marble
columns; violins were playing and the sound rose and fell, invisible as
from the clouds.  There was the perfume of flowers, heavy and
languorous, and snatches of laughter, and the gleaming of jewels.  The
floor was shining and polished like a mirror, reflecting the forms of
the dancers as they whirled to and fro.  The light was dazzling and the
colour.

She was dancing.  Her feet flew in time to the rhythm. . . .  Now it
was dark and she was lying back on a divan, faint, helpless.  The voice
of the Prince was in her ears and he was bending over her; his eyes
were crossed. . . .  Ah, the clock was striking!  It was midnight and
someone had opened the door!  Someone was crossing the room and bending
over papers on the desk! . . .  There was the sound of a shot!  She was
holding the pistol in her hand . . .  It was smoking and through the
vapoury wreathes she saw on the floor a body lying . . . a man on his
face with his arms outstretched!

She shuddered again and the doves rose uneasily, circling about her,
and lighting with fluttering wings.

"I have tried to atone," she whispered to the birds, "Come back!  God
knows--I have tried to atone!"

Then she went on trilling high up in the scale, her eyes gazing
dreamily and her hands amongst the doves, stroking them, playing with
them.

Suddenly the door opened.

"Is it you, Marta?"

"No, it is I."

The voice was that of a man, deep and harsh, and the steps were firm.
They crossed the room and stopped behind the kneeling figure.

"Hush!" said Kaya, "Not too near, dear Master!  You will frighten the
doves!  See, how they press against me with their breasts and their
wings--and how they flutter!  They were hungry this morning, but they
have eaten now and are happy.  Once they came to me and I had nothing
for them.  If they knew better, poor doves, it is you they would fly
to, and your hands they would eat from; since it is you who have fed
them, not I."

"You were practising," said the Kapellmeister, "That is well, Kaya.  I
heard you from the promenade and I saw you.  Your curls were like a
halo of gold in the sun, and the doves circled, cooing.  One was on
your shoulder.  Ah, it has gone now--I have startled it!  It was close
to your cheek, and you were feeding it from your lips."

"Yes," said Kaya, "Yes.  It is sweet to be able to feed them.  You have
fed us both, dear Master."

She turned her head slightly, smiling up at him.

"Turn your head further, Kaya; let me see your face."

"The dove has come back.  How can I?  There--move a little, my
dove--chrr-rp!  Go away!  No, he clings!  See--I cannot!  The down on
his breast is so soft and his feathers so warm.  He presses so close."

"Tell me, little one, how is your voice today?  The same--full and
strong as it was that night?  Are you Kaya to-day, or Brünnhild'?"

The girl smiled again.

"Look at me, child.  I have come to talk to you.  There is a rehearsal
this morning for 'Siegfried.'"

"Ah--yes!"

"The performance is advertized for tomorrow."

"--Yes?"

"Are you listening, Kaya?  Your voice has a dreamy sound.  What are you
thinking about?"

She started.  "Nothing!"

"What are you thinking about?  Tell me."

"Russia!"

The Kapellmeister gave a sharp exclamation: "That is why you would not
turn your head!  It was not the dove, I knew.  Are you still--"

"Yes," said Kaya, "Yes, it never leaves me.  The curse, the curse of
the--Cross!"

She pressed her cheek against the dove, hiding her eyes.

"It must leave you!" said the Kapellmeister roughly, "There is work for
you to do!  Rouse yourself, Kaya!  Drive away the doves now or I will
do it myself.  If you brood, you will ruin your voice--do you hear me?"

"Pischt!" said Kaya, "Now they are gone--!  I will not think any more
of Russia to-day."

The Kapellmeister went to the window and laid his hand where the dove
had been, pressing the slender shoulder and forcing her to turn.

"I want you," he said, "Now--this morning!  I have come for you!"

Kaya rose to her feet slowly: "To sit aloft in the flies and sing while
Siegfried seeks me?"  She smiled up at him; "You have come for your
bird?"

"No."

Her eyes searched his.  "No," she faltered, "did I sing badly?  I--I
thought--"

"Kaya, the Schultz is ill."

The colour rushed to the girl's face and then fled away again, leaving
her pale.  "Ill!" she stammered, "You look at me so strangely, dear
Master!"

"The Directors have authorized me to wire to Dresden for another
soprano."

"Yes--?"

"I refused."

Kaya raised her blue eyes.

"I told them I had a Brünnhilde here on the spot.  Can you do it?  I
have taken the risk.  Can you do it?  If you sing as you did that
night--!"

"I will," cried Kaya, "I will!"  She pressed against him like the
doves, clasping her hands together.  "It is only the one scene, Master;
I know it so well, every note!  Many times I rehearsed it with
Helmanoff, many times.  Bring me the helmet and the spear--bring me
Siegfried!"  Her eyes were shining.

"Then come with me now," cried the Kapellmeister, "As you are!  Is that
your hat on the nail?  Put it on.  The placards are out--and the
orchestra sits in the pit, waiting.  I have promised them a Walküre
with a voice like a bell!  Come, Kaya--come!  You are not nervous,
little one, or afraid?"

Kaya ran lightly to the peg and took down her hat.  She was laughing,
and her face was alight as if the sun-beams had touched it; her lips
were parted and the dimples came and went in her cheeks:

"Now--my cloak!" she cried, "Quick!  Help me--the right sleeve, dear
master, can you find it?  Yes--yes!  And my gloves--here they are!"

"Kaya, your face is like a rose and your feet are dancing."

She blushed.  "You don't know," she said, "I have dreamed all my life
of being Brünnhilde.  When I feel the helmet and the shield on my
breast, and the touch of the spear--it is like wine!"  She stopped
suddenly and passed her hand over her face.

"What is it, Kaya?"

"I forgot," she said, "I forgot--!  Take my cloak; take my hat!  I
cannot sing.  I forgot!"

Ritter stared at her: "What do you mean, child; what are you talking
about?  Is it fright?  Tschut!  It will pass."  He took the cloak again
and laid it about her shoulders: "Come now, the orchestra will be
growing impatient.  It is ten o'clock past."

"I cannot," said Kaya, and her lip trembled: "Telegraph to Dresden,
dear Master--quickly!"

"Potztausend--and why?"

She backed slowly away from him and the cloak fell to the ground.

"Kaya, you shake as if you had a chill!"

"Can Brünnhilde sit aloft in the flies?" she said, "She is there in
front of the footlights and everyone sees her.  Oh--I forgot!"

"Donnerwetter!  Of course she is seen!  Is it the sight of the audience
that will frighten you?"

"No," she said, "not the audience."

Ritter made an impatient movement forward: "What then?  Sacrement!  You
were full of joy not a moment ago; there was no fear in your eyes, and
now--it is as if someone had struck you!"  He followed her to the
corner where she had retreated step by step; and when she could go no
further, he laid his hands on her shoulders.

"Look at me," he said, "straight in the eyes, Kaya, straight in the
eyes.  You must."

"I--cannot!"

"I tell you you must."

He bent over her, and she felt his hands bearing heavily on her
shoulders; his eyes were flashing, insistent, determined: "You must."

"I cannot."

"Come."

She shook her head.

"Kaya--!  You have been like my child!  I--I love you as my own
daughter!  Your career, your success is dear to me.  I have ventured
more than you know on this chance--that you might have it.  The town is
crowded with strangers.  The House will be full.  They will hear you
and your fame may be made in a night!  What is the matter with you,
little one?"

"I cannot," said Kaya.

His grasp grew heavier.  "If you throw away this chance--listen to
me--it may be years before you have another.  You are young, and
managers are hard to approach; you found that yourself.  It is the
merest accident of fate that the Schultz should be ill just now, while
no other soprano is on hand, and you know the part.  You sang it for
me, Kaya, that night, and your voice was Brünnhilde's own.  Would you
be a coward now?  Come, and let me cover you with the shield and the
helmet; when you feel the spear in your hand the fright will leave you.
It is not like you to be afraid, Kaya.  Your eyes are like a doe's!
Don't be frightened, little one."

She looked at him and tried to speak, but no words came.

"If I yielded to you, Kaya, if I let you be conquered by the
stage-terror once, it would be a rock in your path forever.  Come with
me!  My will is strong, stronger than yours, and I swear you shall
come!  If I have to carry you in my arms to the stage, you shall come;
and you will thank me for it afterwards when the terror has passed."

"No--no!"  The girl pressed closer against the wall, "Don't, dear
Master, take your hands from my shoulders.  I cannot!"

"Come."

"No."

He stared down into the blue eyes: "I tell you you shall come.  You are
throwing away the chance of a lifetime; do you understand?  If you have
no care for your own future, I shall care for it for you.  Kaya!"

"No."

"Come, I tell you!"

His eyes were hard and cold, and her form was slight; it reeled in his
grasp.  She gazed at him and her chin was set like his own.

"If you care for me, Kaya, if you are grateful--" he hesitated, "Ah,
come with me, Kaya!  It is not fear I see in your eyes; it is something
else.  What is it?  Tell me!"  He put his arm about her shoulders
suddenly, and the harsh look left his face: "Confide in me, little one,
I won't try to force you.  You are slight and frail, but your will is
like iron; it is useless.  If I carried you it would be useless."

Kaya took a quick breath.  "Dear Master," she said, "It is not the
audience I fear, not the audience, but it is someone in the audience.
If that someone should see me and--and recognize me!"

"You forget, Kaya; did I recognize you?"

"No, but the foot-lights were not in my face.  When the House is
crowded and the curtain is up, and the glare is full in my eyes, then--"

"You are disguised by the hair red-blonde, and the helmet covering.  No
one could tell!  At a distance you are not Kaya, you are Brünnhilde.
Brünnhilde is always the same.  When your eyes are hidden, Kaya, and
your curls--the House is large--no one could tell!"  He was drawing her
slowly toward the door.

"You did not," said Kaya, "but--if he were there he would know."

"Who?"

She looked at him mutely, and he took his hand from her shoulder.

"Whoever it is," exclaimed Ritter harshly, "from the House, I swear to
you, your own mother would not know you, unless she had seen you before
in the part.  That is nonsense!  From the orchestra perhaps, from the
conductor's stand--but not from the House.  Kaya, you hurt me, child;
you hurt me sorely if you refuse!"

He stood before her with his arms folded.  "My heart is set on your
success," he said, "and if--"

Kaya, looking up suddenly, saw that there were tears in his eyes.
"Master," she cried.  And then her will broke suddenly like iron in a
furnace, red-hot under the stroke of the hammer.  "You are sure?" she
cried, "From the House no one would know me?  You are sure?"

"I am sure."

She hesitated, looking away from him.

"No one?" she repeated, "not even--"

Then she raised her eyes and came closer to the Kapellmeister, looking
up in his face.  "He loves me," she stammered, "And I--I love him!  But
the curse is between us--if he should find me again--!  Ah, it is
myself I am afraid of--myself!"  Her breath came in sobs and her face
quivered.

The Kapellmeister lifted the cloak from the floor and put it around her
shoulders.  There was a strange light in his eyes.  He gazed at her for
a moment; then he caught her by the hand and drew her toward the door.

"Come!" he said, "Trust me, Kaya.  I understand--at last I understand.
Come!"

She yielded without a word.

They were both trembling.



CHAPTER XXIII

The second Act was over.  The curtain had descended slowly, hiding the
singers; the lights had flashed up, revealing the House.  It was
crowded from the pit to the gallery.  The double row of loggias was
ablaze with colour; and from them came a light ripple of talk and of
laughter, broken loose as the curtain fell, a sound like the running of
water over smooth pebbles.

The Schultz was ill.  So it was advertized all over the foyer on huge
yellow placards; and a new Brünnhilde was to take her place.  The name
was unknown; a young singer doubtless, brought forward under the stress
of the dilemma.  The audience whispered together and the ripple grew
louder.  In the next Act, the final scene, she would appear.  The
moments were passing.

Suddenly the door at the back of one of the loggias opened, and an
usher ran hurriedly in.  He gave a hasty glance over the occupants, and
then bent and whispered to a gentleman in the rear.

"Monsieur Velasco?"

The gentleman nodded.

"Sir--the Kapellmeister has been seized with a sudden attack of
giddiness and is unable to continue with the performance.  He begs
earnestly that you will conduct the last Act in his place."

"I--?" said Velasco.

"There is no other musician in the House, sir, who could do it.  The
Kapellmeister is in great distress.  The minutes are passing."

"Tell him I will come," said Velasco, "I will come."  He rose and
followed the usher from the loggia.

When the curtain went up for the third Act, a young, slender figure
appeared in the orchestra pit, mounting the platform; only his head
with the dark hair falling, the arm raised, and the baton, were
visible.  The House was in darkness; a hush had crept over it.

The Act was progressing.

Already the smoke was in wreaths about the couch of Brünnhilde, hiding
it, enveloping the stage in a grey, misty veil.  Flames flashed up here
and there, licking in tongues of fire about the rocks and the trees.
As they rose and fell and the smoke grew denser, the music became more
vivid, intense, full of strange running melodies, until the violins
were to the ear as the flames to the eye.  The stage was a billow of
smoke curling, and the sound of the orchestra was as fire, crackling,
leaping.

The smoke grew denser like a thick, grey fog, rolling in wreaths.  The
music was a riot of tones sparkling, and the hearts of the audience
beat fast to the rhythm.

Suddenly through the veil, dim, indistinct, showed the couch of
Brünnhilde, shrouded in the billows and puffs of the smoke; the goddess
herself stretched lifeless, asleep; and the form of Siegfried, breaking
through the ring of the fire, leaping forward, the sword in his hand.
He sprang to the couch, gazing down at the sleeping Walküre, straight
and still, covered with the shimmering steel of the buckler, the spear
by her side and the helmet on her head, motionless, glittering in the
flare of the flames.  "Brünnhilde--Brünnhilde!"

Siegfried lifted his voice and sang to her--he had taken the shield
from her now and was bending lower, clasping his hands as if in ecstasy.

The House was like a black pit, silent, without movement or rustle,
hanging on the notes, watching the glittering, prostrate form and
Siegfried stooping. . . .  Presently she stirred.  The smoke had grown
lighter, more vapoury, translucent.  Her form stirred slowly, dreamily,
raising itself from the couch.  The magic was broken; the goddess was
aroused at last.

Brünnhilde opened her eyes--and half kneeling, half reclining, she
stared about her, dazed, half conscious.  Siegfried hung over her.  The
flames, the smoke were dying away.  She seemed in a trance; and then,
as she gazed at the sky and the sunlight, the rocks and the trees, her
lips parted suddenly; she raised her arms, half in bewilderment half in
ecstasy, stretching them upwards, and began to sing.

It was like a lark, disturbed by the reapers, rising from its nest in
the meadows.  The notes came softly, dreamily from her throat; and then
as she rose slowly to her feet, clasping the spear, it was as if a
floodgate had been opened and the sounds poured out, full, glorious,
irresistible, ringing through the darkness and the silence of the
House.  Drawn to her height she stood, the helmet tipped back on her
red-blonde hair, the white robes trailing about her, the spear
uplifted.  As she sang her throat swelled, her voice came like a
torrent: above the wood-winds and strings, the brass and the basses,
the single voice soared higher and higher, deeper and richer, full of
passion and pure.

  "Heil dir, Sonne!
  Heil dir, Licht!
  Heil dir, leuchtender Tag!"


The "Heil" was like a clarion note ringing through space; like the
sound of an echo through mountain passes.  The audience listened and
gazed as under a spell; the orchestra played as it had never played
before; the baton waved.  Siegfried sang to her and she responded;
their voices rising and mingling together, every note a glory.

On the stage, still dim with the smoke and the flames, the light grew
stronger, illuminating the helmet of Brünnhilde, the tip of her spear,
falling full on her face and her eyes.  She drew nearer the
foot-lights, still singing, her sight half blinded, gazing
unconsciously into the pit of the House and the darkness.  She was
clasping her spear, and her voice rose high above the violins.

Her eyes sought the baton, the face of her Master; and then as she
stood, she trembled suddenly.  Her voice died away in her throat; her
steps faltered.

The Conductor leaned over the desk, the baton moving mechanically as if
the fingers were stiffened.  The orchestra played on.  A shudder ran
over the House.

What had happened?  Brünnhilde had stopped singing.  Siegfried was
trying in vain to cover her part, singing his own.  The Walküre stood
motionless, transfixed, her eyes riveted on the Conductor.  A slight
murmur ran over the House: "Was she ill--struck with sudden paralysis?
Or was it the stage-terror, pitiless, irresistible, benumbing her
faculties?"

She stood there; and then she stretched out her hands, trembling; her
voice came back.

"Velasco!" she cried.

"Kaya--Kaya!"

But the audience thought she had called out to Siegfried, and to
encourage her they applauded, clapping and stamping with their feet and
their hands.  The sound revived her suddenly like the dash of cold
water on the face of a sleep-walker.

"I must go on!" she said to herself, "Whatever happens I must go on!"
Her eyes were still riveted.

The face of Velasco was white as death; great drops stood out on his
brows, his fingers quivered over the baton.  He moved it mechanically,
gazing, and he swayed in his seat as if faint and oppressed.  The other
hand was stretched trembling toward her as if a vision had come in his
path suddenly and he was blinded.

Her lips moved again, and his.  For a moment it seemed as if he were
about to leap to the stage over the foot-lights.  Brünnhilde fell back.

"For God's sake!" whispered Siegfried, "What is it?  Are you mad?
Sing--sing!  Let out your voice--take up your cue!  Go on!"

Again she cried out; but this time her voice was in the tone, and the
emotion of it, the longing, rent the air as with passion unveiled and
bared.  She shook the spear aloft in her hands, brandishing it, until
the gleam from the flames lit it up like a spark, and fell on her
helmet.

Siegfried besought her and she answered, they sang together; but as she
answered, singing, her eyes were still fixed, and she sang as one out
of herself and inspired.

  "Siegfried!"
  "Brünnhilde!"
  "Siegfried!  Siegfried! seliger Held!
  Pu Wecker des Lebens, siegendes Licht!"


The tempo quickened and the rhythm; and the tones grew higher and
richer, ringing, more passionate.  Such acting--such singing!  It was
as if the Walküre herself had come out of the trance back to life, and
the audience saw Brünnhilde in the flesh.  The House reverberated to
the sound of her voice; it was a glory, a revelation.

She sang on and on, and Siegfried answered; but the eyes of the Singer,
and her hands lifted, were toward the House, the orchestra pit, the
desk, the baton--the head with its dark hair falling and the arm
outstretched.

The curtain fell slowly.

"Brünnhilde!  Brünnhilde!"

With the flaring up of the lights the House was in an uproar.  "Who was
she?  What was she?  Where did she come from?  Ah--h!  Brünnhilde!"

They clapped and stamped, and shouted themselves hoarse, calling her
name: "Brünnhilde!"

      *      *      *      *      *      *

"She is there!" cried the Kapellmeister, "Go to her, Velasco; go to her
quickly!  Gott!  I thought the Opera would have come to a standstill!
My heart was in my mouth!--Go!"

He pushed the Violinist towards the door and closed it behind him; then
he fell back against the wall and listened.  The noise in the House was
like a mob let loose.

"Brünnhilde!  Why doesn't she come?  Bring her before the
curtain! . . .  Brünnhilde!"

"I must go," he said, "I must speak to them--tell them anything--she is
ill--she is exhausted!  Something--it doesn't matter!  I must go and
quiet the tumult!"

The Kapellmeister leaned for a moment against the background of the
scenery; he looked at the door and listened.  The House was going mad:
"Brünnhilde!  Brünnhilde!"

Then, staggering a little, with his hands to his face, he went out on
the stage.



CHAPTER XXIV.

"Kaya!"

"Velasco!  Ah, Velasco!  Don't come--don't touch--me!"

He sprang forward.

She was still in the Brünnhilde dress with the helmet on her head and
the white robes trailing.  The spear lay at her feet.  He trampled on
it as he sprang, snatching her into his arms: "Kaya!"

His grip was like a band of steel and he wound his arms about her,
pressing her to him: "Kaya, my beloved!  Ah, my beloved--speak to me!
Open your eyes!  Look at me!"  He tore the helmet from her head and
flung it to the ground.  The red-blonde hair fell back, and he kissed
her cheek and her curls.

He was like a whirlwind wooing, and she like a lily blown by the gale.
She lay in his arms.  Her lips quivered as he kissed them, but she lay
without motion or sign.

"Are you faint?" he cried, "Have you swooned?  Kaya!  It is as if the
world had gone to pieces suddenly and this were chaos, and only you and
I--only you and I."

He kissed her eyelids.

"Open them, Kaya, they are blue as the sky."

He kissed her throat.

"It swells like a bird's when it trills, and the sound of it is as a
nightingale in the twilight."

He kissed her lips.

"Ah, they are warm; they quiver and tremble!"

His arms were so strong she was pinioned, and she panted as she
breathed.  He kissed her again and again as one who is starving and
thirsty, and she stirred in his arms, lifting her face:

"Velasco--my husband--my--self!  To lie in your arms--it is heaven, and
to leave them is hell!  Let me go--Velasco!  I love you--I love you!
Let me--go!"

"So long as the world lasts and there is strength in my body--never!
Say you love me again."

"I love you."

"You will never leave me?  You will stay with me always while we live?
Say it, Kaya!  Your cheeks are white like a sea-shell; they flush like
a rose when I press them with my lips!  Say it, Kaya!  You are
trembling--you are sobbing!"

"I must leave you, Velasco--I cannot stay.  It is like leaving one's
life and one's soul!"

He laughed: "Leave me then!  Can you stir from my arms?  They are
strong.  I will hold you forever."  He laid his dark, curly head
against the gold of her curls, and she felt his breath against her
throat.

She opened her eyes: "My hands, Velasco--they are stained with blood;
have you forgotten?  How can I stay with you when there is--blood on
my--hands?"

He pressed her closer: "Give them to me; let me kiss the stains!"

"I am cursed, Velasco, I am cursed!  I have taken the life of a man!"

He held his breath suddenly, moving his face until he could see into
her eyes.  "Ah," he said, "Is that why you left me, Kaya, because of
the curse?"

"Yes--Velasco."

"You loved me then!  It was a lie?  Kaya, tell me!"

"I loved you, Velasco, I loved you!"

"And now--?"

She clung to him and his arms tightened.

Suddenly he laughed again.  "Hark!" he cried, "You hear the shouting?
They are shouting for you!  They are stamping and clapping for you;
they are calling your name!"  He threw back his head, laughing madly:

"Come--Kaya! Let us go together and peep through the curtain.  The
first time I saw you, you were there in the House, and I behind on the
stage alone, with your violets.  Now we are together.  You will leave
me, you say?  Come, Kaya, and look at the House through the curtain.
You are trembling, little one; and when I put you down on your feet you
can scarcely stand.  You are sorry to leave me?  It is like tearing
one's heart from one's body while one still lives!  Will you tear it,
beloved?  Come--and look through the hole in the curtain."

He put his arm about her, drawing her forward, looking down at her
curls.  "You are weak, Kaya; your form sways like the stem of a flower.
Lean against me.  Let me lead you.  It is because your heart is so
loyal and true; to kill it will be killing yourself!  Don't sob, Kaya!
Look through the curtain!  Hark at the stamping!  Look--dear
beloved--lean on my shoulder and look!"

"Ah, Velasco, it is like a great mob; the Kapellmeister is there before
the curtain.  He tries to speak, but they will not listen!  They are
calling: 'Brünnhilde--Brünnhilde!'  Is that for me?"

"For you."

"Why should I look, Velasco--why should I listen?  My heart is
breaking.  I cannot bear it--Velasco!"

"Lean on my shoulder; look again, Kaya, put your eyes to the hole.  Do
you see a loggia above to the left, full of people standing, and in
front some one tall and in uniform?"

"No, Velasco--I see nothing!"

"It is the tears in your eyes, Kaya!  Brush them away and look once
again.  Don't you see him--in uniform, tall with a beaked nose, a grey
mustache and his eyes crossed?"

"His eyes crossed--Velasco!  Are you mad?  He is dead!  I tell you,
Velasco, he is--dead!  The Grand-Duke Stepan!--I killed him!"

"He is not dead."

"The Grand-Duke Ste--"

"He is not dead.  He lives and he stands there before you--clapping and
shouting your name."

She gazed up at him with trembling lips: "There is no curse,
Velasco--he lives?  There is--no curse--no stain on my hands?  Am I
mad?  No curse of the Cross--the Black Cross?"

"Kaya--my beloved!"

She fell back slowly against his breast and his arms closed around her.





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