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Title: Aladdin of London - or, Lodestar
Author: Pemberton, Max, Sir, 1863-1950
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 "Aladdin of London - or, Lodestar" ***

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ALADDIN OF LONDON

Or

Lodestar

by

MAX PEMBERTON

Author of "The Hundred Days," "A Gentleman's Gentleman," "Doctor
Xavier," "The Lady Evelyn," etc., etc.

Illustrated by Frank Parker



New York Empire Book Company Publishers



[Illustration: A very orgy of blood and slaughter; a carnival of
whips.--Page 198]



Copyright, 1907, by Max Pemberton.
Entered at Stationers' Hall.
All rights reserved.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                       PAGE

     I. THE HALL BY UNION STREET                 5

    II. ALBAN KENNEDY MAKES A PROMISE           14

   III. WITHOUT THE GATE                        23

    IV. THE CAVES                               33

     V. DISMISSAL                               45

    VI. THE STRANGER                            56

   VII. THE HOUSE OF THE FIVE GABLES            62

  VIII. ALBAN KENNEDY DINES                     71

    IX. ANNA GESSNER                            79

     X. RICHARD GESSNER DEBATES AN ISSUE        90

    XI. WHIRLWIND                              109

   XII. ALBAN SEES LIFE                        121

  XIII. ALBAN REVISITS UNION STREET            132

   XIV. THERE ARE STRANGERS IN THE CAVES       145

    XV. A STUDY IN INDIFFERENCE                152

   XVI. THE INTRUDER                           160

  XVII. FATHER AND DAUGHTER                    167

 XVIII. FATE IRONICAL                          182

   XIX. THE PLOT HAS FAILED                    192

    XX. ALBAN GOES TO WARSAW                   198

   XXI. THE BOY IN THE BLUE BLOUSE             209

  XXII. A FIGURE IN THE STRAW                  224

 XXIII. AN INSTRUCTION TO THE POLICE           231

  XXIV. THE DAWN OF THE DAY                    240

   XXV. COUNT ZAMOYSKI SLEEPS                  247

  XXVI. AN INTERLUDE IN PICCADILLY             259

 XXVII. THE PRISON YARD                        268

XXVIII. THE MEETING                            276

  XXIX. ALBAN RETURNS TO LONDON                285

   XXX. WE MEET OLD FRIENDS                    294

  XXXI. THE MAN UPON THE PAVEMENT              303

 XXXII. IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY                307



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"You love another woman, Alban Kennedy, and
you have wished to forget my daughter."        132

A very orgy of blood and slaughter; a
carnival of whips.                             198

"Why do you come here?" she asked him wildly.  267



ALADDIN OF LONDON

OR

LODESTAR



CHAPTER I

THE HALL BY UNION STREET


The orator was not eloquent; but he had told a human story and all
listened with respect. When he paused and looked upward it seemed to
many that a light of justice shone upon his haggard face while the tears
rolled unwiped down his ragged jerkin. His lank, unkempt hair, caught by
the draught from the open doors at the far end of the hall, streamed
behind him in grotesque profusion. His hands were clenched and his lips
compressed. That which he had told to the sea of questioning faces below
him was the story of his life. The name which he had uttered with an
oath upon his lips was the name of the man who had deprived him of
riches and of liberty. When he essayed to add a woman's name and to
speak of the wrongs which had been done her, the power of utterance left
him in an instant and he stood there gasping, his eyes toward the light
which none but he could see; a prayer of gratitude upon his lips because
he had found the man and would repay.

Look down upon this audience and you shall see a heterogeneous assembly
such as London alone of the cities can show you. The hall is a crazy
building enough, not a hundred yards from the Commercial Road at
Whitechapel. The time is the spring of the year 1903--the hour is eight
o'clock at night. Ostensibly a meeting to discuss the news which had
come that day from the chiefs of the Revolutionaries in Warsaw, the
discussion had been diverted, as such discussions invariably are, to a
recital of personal wrongs and of individual resolutions--even to mad
talk of the conquest of the world and the crowning of King Anarchy. And
to this the wild Asiatics and the sad-faced Poles listened alike with
rare murmurs and odd contortions of limbs and body. Let Paul Boriskoff
of Minsk be the orator and they knew that the red flag would fly. But
never before has Boriskoff been seen in tears and the spectacle
enchained their attention as no mere rhetoric could have done.

A man's confession, if it be honest, must ever be a profoundly
interesting document. Boriskoff, the Pole, did not hold these people
spellbound by the vigor of his denunciation or the rhythmic chant of his
anger. He had begun in a quiet voice, welcoming the news from Warsaw and
the account of the assassination of the Deputy Governor Lebinsky. From
that he passed to the old question, why does authority remain in any
city at all? This London that sleeps so securely, does it ever awake to
remember the unnumbered hosts which pitch their tents in the courts and
alleys of Whitechapel? "Put rifles into the hands of a hundred thousand
men who can be found to-night," he had said, "and where is your British
Government to-morrow? The police--they would be but as dead leaves under
the feet of a mighty multitude. The soldiers! Friends," he put it to
them, "do you ever ask yourselves how many soldiers there are in the
barracks of London to-night and what would happen to them if the people
were armed? I say to you that the house would fall as a house of cards;
the rich would flee; the poor would reign. And you who know this for a
truth, what do you answer to me? That London harbors you, that London
feeds you--aye, with the food of swine in the kennels of the dogs."

Men nodded their heads to this and some of the women tittered behind
their ragged shawls. They had heard it all so often--the grand assault
by numbers; the rifle shots ringing out in the sleeping streets by
Piccadilly; the sack of Park Lane; the flight of the Government; the
downfall of what is and the establishment of what might be. If they
believed it possible, they had sense enough to remember that a sacked
city of amnesty would be the poorest tribute to their own sagacity. At
least London did not flog them. Their wives and sisters were not here
dragged to the police stations to be brutally lashed at the command of
any underling they had offended. Applause for Boriskoff and his sound
and fury might be interpreted as a concession to their vanity. "We could
do all this," they seemed to say; "if we forbear, let London be
grateful." As for Boriskoff, he had talked so many times in such a
strain that a sudden change in voice and matter surprised them beyond
words. What had happened to him, then? Was the fellow mad when he began
to speak of the copper mines and the days of slavery he had spent
therein?

A hush fell upon the hall when the demagogue struck this unaccustomed
note; rude gas flares shed an ugly yellow glow upon faces which
everywhere asked an unspoken question. What had copper mines to do with
the news from Warsaw, and what had they to do with this assembly?
Presently, however, it came to the people that they were listening to
the story of a wrong, that the pages of a human drama were being
unfolded before them. In glowing words the speaker painted the miner's
life and that of the stokers who kept the furnaces. What a living hell
that labor had been. There were six operations in refining the copper,
he said, and he had served years of apprenticeship to each of them.
Hungry and faint and weary he had kept watch half the night at the
furnace's door and returned to his home at dawn to see white faces half
buried in the ragged beds of his house or to hear the child he loved
crying for the food he could not bring. And in those night watches the
great idea had come to him.

"Friends," he said, "the first conception of the Meltka furnace was
mine. The white heat of the night gave it to me; a child's cry, 'thou
art my father and thou wilt save me,' was my inspiration. Some of you
will have heard that there are smelting works to-day where the
sulphurous acid, which copper pyrites supplies when it is roasted, is
used for the manufacture of sulphuric acid. That was my discovery. Many
have claimed it since, but the Meltka furnace was mine--as God is in
heaven it was mine. Why, then, do I stand among you wanting bread, I who
should own the riches of kings? My friends, I will tell you. A devil
stole my secret from me and has traded it in the markets of the world.
I trusted him. I was poor and he was rich. 'Sell for me and share my
gains,' I said. His honor would be my protection, I thought, his
knowledge my security. Ah, God, what reward had I? He named me to the
police and their lashes cut the flesh from my body. I lay three years in
the prison at Irkutsk and five at Saghalin. The white faces were turned
to the earth they sprang from, my son was heard at the foot of God's
throne when they bade me go and set my foot in Poland no more. This I
knew even in that island of blood and death. Letters had come to me from
my dear wife; the Committee had kept me informed even there at the end
of the earth. I knew that my home had perished; that of all my family,
my daughter Lois alone remained to me; I knew that the days of the
tyranny were numbered and that I, even I, might yet have my work to do.
Did they keep me from Poland? I tell you that I lived there three years
in spite of them, searching for the man who should answer me. Maxim
Gogol, where had he hidden himself? The tale at the mines was that he
had gone to America, sold his interest and embarked in new ventures. I
wrote to our friends in New York and they knew nothing of such a man. I
had search made for him in Berlin, in Vienna and Paris. The years were
not too swift for my patience, but the harvest went ungathered. I came
to London and bent my neck to this yoke of starvation and eternal night.
I have worked sixteen hours a day in the foul holds of ships that I
might husband my desire and repay. Friends, ten days ago in London I
passed the man I am seeking and knew him for my own. Maxim Gogol may
hide from me no more. With these eyes have I seen him--ah, God give me
strength to speak of it--with these eyes have I seen him, with these
hands have I touched him, with this voice have I accused him. He lives
and he is mine--to suffer as I have suffered, to repay as I have
paid--until the eternal justice of God shall decide between us both."

There would have been loud applause in any other assembly upon the
conclusion of such an impassioned if verbally conventional an harangue;
but these Asiatics who heard Paul Boriskoff, who watched the tears
stream down his hollowed cheeks and beheld the face uplifted as in
ecstasy, had no applause to give him. Had not they also suffered as he
had suffered? What wrong of his had not been, in some phase or other, a
wrong of theirs? How many of them had lost children well beloved, had
known starvation and the sweater's block? Such sympathy as they had to
give was rather the cold systematical pity of their order which ever
made the individual's cause its own. This unknown Maxim Gogol, if he
were indeed in London so much the worse for him. The chosen hand would
strike him down when his hour had come--even if it were not the hand of
the man he had wronged. In so far as Boriskoff betrayed intense emotion
before them, it may be that they despised him. What nation had been made
free by tears? How would weeping put bread into the children's mouths?
This was the sentiment immediately expressed by a lank-haired Pole who
followed the speaker. Let Paul Boriskoff write out his case and the
Committee would consider it, he said. If Maxim Gogol were adjudged
guilty, let him be punished. For himself he would spare neither man,
woman, or child sheltered in the house of the oppressor. A story had
been told to them of an unusual order. He did not wholly regret that
Paul Boriskoff had not made a fortune, for, had he done so, he would not
be a brother among them to-night. Let him be assured of their sympathy.
The Committee would hear him when and where he wished.

There were other speakers in a similar mood, but the immediate interest
in the dramatic recital quickly evaporated. A little desultory talk was
followed by the serving of vodki and of cups of steaming coffee to the
women. The younger people at the far end of the hall, who had been
admitted to hear the music which should justify the gathering, grew
weary of waiting and pushed their way into the street. There they formed
little companies to speak, not of the strange entertainment which had
been provided for them, but of commonplace affairs--the elder women of
infantile sufferings, the girls of the songs they had heard on Saturday
at the Aldgate Empire or of the shocking taste in feathers of more
favored rivals. But here and there a black-eyed daughter of Poland or a
fair-haired Circassian edged away discreetly from the company and was as
warily followed by the necessary male. The dirty street caught snatches
of music-hall melodies. Windows were opened above and wit exchanged. A
voice, that of a young girl evidently, asked what had become of the
Hunter, and to this another voice replied immediately, as though
greatly satisfied, that Alban Kennedy had gone down toward the High
Street with Lois Boriskoff.

"As if you didn't know, Chris. Gawsh, you should 'ave seen her feathers
waggin' at the Union jess now. Fawther's took wiv the jumps, I hear, and
Alb's gone to the Pav to give her hair. Oh, the fine gentleming--I seed
his poor toes through his bloomin' boots this night, s'welp me Gawd I
did."

The admission was received with a shout of laughter from the window
above, where a red-haired girl leaned pensively upon the rail of a
broken balcony. The speaker, in her turn, moved away with a youth who
asked her, with much unnecessary emphasis, "what the 'ell she had to do
with Albey's feet and why she couldn't leave Chris Denham alone."

"If I ain't 'xactly gawn on Russian taller myself, wot's agen Albey
a-doin' of it," he asked authoritatively. "Leave the lidy alone and
don't arst no questions. They say as the old man is took with spasms
round at the Union. S'welp me if Albey ain't in luck--at his time of
life too."

He winked at the girl, who had put her arm boldly round his waist, and
marched on with the proud consciousness that his cleverness had not
failed to make a just impression. The red-haired girl of the pensive
face still gazed dreamily down the court and her head inclined a little
toward the earth as though she were listening for the sound of a
footstep. Not only the dreamer of dreams in that den of squalor, this
Alban Kennedy was her idol to-night as he had been the idol of fifty of
her class since he came to live among them. What cared she for his
ragged shoes or the frayed collar about his neck? Did not the whole
community admit him to be a very aristocrat of aristocrats, a diamond of
class in a quarry of ashes, a figure at once mysterious and heroical?
And this knight of the East, what irony led him away with that
white-faced Pole, Lois Boriskoff? What did he see in her? What was she
to him?

The pensive head was withdrawn sadly from the window at last. Silence
fell in the dismal court. The Russians who had been breathing fire and
vengeance were now eating smoked sturgeon and drinking vodki. A man
played the fiddle to them and some danced. After all, life has something
else than the story of wrong to tell us sometimes.



CHAPTER II

ALBAN KENNEDY MAKES A PROMISE


The boy and the girl halted together by one of the great lights at the
corner of the Commercial Road and there they spoke of the strange
confession which had just fallen from Paul Boriskoff's lips. Little
Lois, white-faced as a mime at the theatre, her black hair tousled and
unkempt, her eyes shining almost with the brightness of fever, declared
all her heart to the gentle Alban and implored him for God's sake to
take her from London and this pitiful home. He, as discreet as she was
rash, pitied her from his heart, but would not admit as much.

"If I could only speak Polish, Lois--but you know I can't," he said.
"Bread and salt, that's about what I should get in your country--and
perhaps be able to count the nails in the soles of my boots. What's the
good of telling me all about it? I saw that your father was angry, but
you people are always angry. And, little girl, he does his best for you.
Never forget that--he would sooner lose anything on earth than you."

"I don't believe it," said the girl, tossing her head angrily, "what's
he care about anything but that ole machine of his which he says they
stole from him? Ten hours have I been sewing to-day, Alb, and ten it
will be to-morrow. Truth, dear, upon my soul. What's father care so long
as the kettle boils and he can read the papers? And you're no
better--you'd take me away if you were--right away from here to the
gardens where he couldn't find me, and no one but you would ever find me
any more. That's what you'd do if you were as I want you to be. But you
ain't, Alb--you'll never care for any girl--now will you, Alb, dear?"

She clutched his arm and pressed closely to him, regardless of
passers-by so accustomed to love-making on the pavements that neither
man nor woman turned a head because of it. Alban Kennedy, however, was
frankly ashamed of the whole circumstance, and he pushed the girl away
from him as though her very touch offended.

"Look here, Lois, that's nonsense--let's go and see something, let's go
into the New Empire for an hour. Your father will be all right when he's
had a glass or two of vodki. You know he's always like this when there's
been news from Warsaw. Let's go and hear a turn and then you can tell me
what you want me to do."

They walked on a little way, she clinging to his arm timidly and looking
up often into his eyes as though for some expression of that affection
she hungered for unceasingly. The "Court" had named them for lovers long
ago, but the women declared that such an aristocrat as Alban Kennedy
would look twice before he put his neck into Paul Boriskoff's
matrimonial halter.

"A lot of good the Empire will do me to-night," Lois exclaimed
presently. "I feel more like dancing on my own grave than seeing other
people do it. What with father's temper and your cold shoulder, Alb--"

"Lois, that's unfair, dear; you know that I am sorry. But what can I do,
what can any one do for men who talk such nonsense as those fellows in
that hall? 'Seize London and the Government'--you said it was that,
didn't you?--well, they're much more likely to get brain fever and wake
up in the hospital. That's what I shall tell your father if he asks me.
And, Lois, how can you and I talk about anything serious when I haven't
a shilling to call my own and your father won't let you out of his sight
lest he should want something. It will all be different soon--bad things
always are. I shall make a fortune myself some day--I'm certain of it as
though I had the money already in the bank. People who make fortunes
always know that they are going to do so. I shall make a lot of money
and then come back for you--just my little Lois sewing at the window,
the same old dirty court, the same ragged fellows talking about sacking
London, the same faces everywhere--but Lois unchanged and waiting for
me--now isn't it that, dear, won't you be unchanged when I come back for
you?"

They stood for an instant in the shadow of a shuttered shop and, leaping
up at his question, she lifted warm red lips to his own--and the girl of
seventeen and the boy of mature twenty kissed as ardently as lovers
newly sworn to eternal devotion.

"I do love you, Alb," she cried, "I shall never love any other
man--straight, my dear, though there ain't much use in a-telling you.
Oh, Alb, if you meant it, you wouldn't leave me in this awful place;
you'd take me away, darling, where I could see the fields and the
gardens. I'd come, Alb, as true as death--I'd go this night if you arst
me, straight away never to come back--if it were to sleep on the hard
road and beg my bread from house to house--I'd go with you, Alb, as
heaven hears me, I'd be an honest wife to you and you should never
regret the day. What's to keep us, Alb, dear? Oh, we're fine rich, ain't
we, both of us, you with your fifteen shillings from the yard and me
with nine and six from the fronts. Gawd's truth, Rothschild ain't
nothink to you and me, Alb, when we've the mind to play the great lidy
and gentleman. Do you know that I lay abed some nights and try to think
as it's a kerridge and pair and you a-sittin' beside of me and nothink
round us but the green fields and the blue sky, and nothink never more
to do but jess ride on with your hand in mine and the sun to shine upon
us. Lord, what a thing it is to wake up then, Alb, and 'ear the caller
cryin' five and see my father like a white ghost at the door. And that's
wot's got to go on to the end--you know it is; you put me off 'cause you
think it'll please me, same as you put Chris Denham off when you danced
with her at the Institoot Ball. You won't never love no girl truly,
Alb--it isn't in you, my dear. You're born above us and we never shall
forget it, not none of us as I'm alive to-night."

She turned away her head to hide the tears gathering in her black eyes,
while Alban's only answer to her was a firm pressure upon the little
white hand he held in his own and a quicker step upon the crowded
pavement. Perhaps he understood that the child spoke the truth, but of
this he could not be a wise judge. His father had been a poor East End
parson, his mother was the daughter of an obstinate and flinty Sheffield
steel factor, who first disowned her for marrying a curate and then went
through the bankruptcy court as a protest against American competition.
So far Alban knew himself to be an aristocrat--and yet how could he
forget that among that very company of Revolutionaries he had so lately
quitted there were sons of men whose nobility was older than Russia
herself. That he understood so much singled him out immediately as a
youth of strange gifts and abnormal insight--but such, indeed, he was,
and as such he knew himself to be.

"I won't quarrel with you, Lois, though I see that you wish it, dear,"
he said presently, "you know I don't care for Chris Denham and what's
the good of talking about her. Let's go and cheer up--I'm sure we can do
with a bit and that's the plain truth, now isn't it, Lois?"

He squeezed her arm and drew her closer to him. At the Empire they found
two gallery seats and watched a Japanese acrobat balance himself upon
five hoops and a ladder. A lady in far from immaculate evening dress,
who sang of a flowing river which possessed eternal and immutable
qualities chiefly concerned with love and locks and unswerving fidelity,
appealed to little Lois' sentiment and she looked up at Alb whenever the
refrain recurred as much as to say, "That is how I should love you." So
many other couples about them were squeezing hands and cuddling waists
that no one took any notice of their affability or thought it odd. A
drunken sailor behind them kept asking the company with maudlin
reiteration what time the last train left for Plymouth, but beyond
crying "hush" nobody rebuked him. In truth, the young people had come
there to make love, and when the lights were turned down and the curtain
of the biograph revealed, the place seemed paradise itself.

Lois crept very close to Alban during this part of the entertainment,
nor did he repulse her. Moments there were undeniably when he had a
great tenderness toward her; moments when she lay in his embrace as some
pure gift from this haven of darkness and of evil, a fragile helpless
figure of a girlhood he idolized. Then, perchance, he loved her as Lois
Boriskoff hungered for love, with the supreme devotion, the abject
surrender of his manhood.

No meaner taint of passion inspired these outbreaks, nor might the most
critical student of character have found them blameworthy. Alban
Kennedy's rule of life defied scrutiny. His ignorance was often that of
a child, his faith that of a trusting woman--and yet he had traits of
strength which would have done no dishonor to those in the highest
places. Lois loved him and there were hours when he responded wholly to
her love and yet had no more thought of evil in his response than of
doing any of those forbidding things against which his dead mother had
schooled him so tenderly. Here were two little outcasts from the
civilized world--why should they not creep close together for that
sympathy and loving kindness which destiny had denied them.

"I darsn't be late to-night, Alb," Lois said when the biograph was over
and they had left the hall, "you know how father was. I must go back and
get his supper."

"Did he really mean all that about the copper mines and his invention?"
Alban asked her in his practical way, and added, "Of course I couldn't
understand much of it, but I think it's pretty awful to see a man
crying, don't you, Lois?"

"Father does that often," she rejoined, "often when he's alone. I might
not be in the world at all, Alb, for all he thinks of me. Some one
robbed him, you know, and just lately he thinks he's found the man in
London. What's the good of it all--who's goin' to help a poor Pole get
his rights back? Oh, yer bloomin' law and order, a lot we sees of you in
Thrawl Street, so help me funny. That's what I tell father when he talks
about his rights. We'll take ours home with us to Kingdom come and
nobody know much about 'em when we get there. A sight of good it is
cryin' out for them in this world, Alb--now ain't it, dear?"

Alban was in the habit of taking questions very seriously, and he took
this one just as though she had put it in the best of good faith.

"I can't make head or tail of things, Lois," he said stoically, "fact
is, I've given up trying. Why does my father die without sixpence after
serving God all his life, and another man, who has served the devil, go
under worth thousands? That's what puzzles me. And they tell us it will
all come right some day, just as we're all going to drive motor-cars
when the Socialists get in. Wouldn't I be selling mine cheap to-night if
anyone came along and offered me five pounds for it--wouldn't I say
'take it' and jolly glad to get the money. Why, Lois, dear, think what
we would do with five pounds."

"Go to Southend for Easter, Alb."

"Buy you a pretty ring and take you to the Crystal Palace."

"Drive a pony to Epping, Alb, and come back in the moonlight."

"Down to Brighton for the Saturday and two in the water together."

"Flash it on 'em in Thrawl Street and make Chris Denham cry."

They laughed together and cuddled joyously at a dream so bewildering.
Their united wealth that night was three shillings, of which Alb had two
and four pence. What untold possibilities in five pounds, what sunshine
and laughter and joy. Ah, that the dark court should be waiting for
them, the squalor, the misery, the woe of it. Who can wonder that the
shadows so soon engulfed them?

"Kiss me, Alb," she said at the corner, "shall I see you to-morrow
night, dear?"

"Outside the Pav at nine. You can tell me how your father took it. Say I
hope he'll get his rights. I think he always liked me rather, Lois."

"A sight more than ever he liked me, Alb, and that's truth. Ah, my dear,
you'll take me away from here some day, won't you, Alb? You'll take me
away where none shall ever know, where I shall see the world and forget
what I have been. Kiss me, Alb--I'm that low to-night, dear, I could cry
my heart out."

He obeyed her instantly. A voice of human suffering never failed to make
an instant appeal to him.

"As true as God's in heaven, if ever I get rich, I'll come first to Lois
with the story," he said--and so he bent and kissed her on the lips as
gently as though she had been his little sister.



CHAPTER III

WITHOUT THE GATE


Alban's garret lay within a stone's throw of the tenement occupied by
the Boriskoffs; but, in truth, it knew very little of him. They called
him "The Hunter," in the courts and alleys round about; and this was as
much as to say that his habits were predatory. He loved to roam afar in
quest, not of material booty, but of mental sensation. An imagination
that was simply wonderful helped him upon his way. He had but to stand
at the gate of a palace to become in an instant one of those who peopled
it. He could create himself king, or prince, or bishop as the mood took
him. If a holiday sent him to the theatre, he was the hero or villain at
his choice. In church he would preach well-imagined sermons to
spellbound listeners. The streets of the West End were his true
world--the gate without the scene of his mental pleasures.

He had no friends among the youths and lads of Thrawl Street and its
environment, nor did he seek them. Those who hung about him were soon
repelled by his secretive manner and a diffidence which was little more
than natural shyness. If he fell now and then into the speech of the
alleys, constant association was responsible for the lapse. Sometimes,
it is true, an acquaintance would defy the snub and thrust himself
stubbornly upon the unwilling wanderer. Alban was never unkind to such
as these. He pitied these folk from his very heart; but before them all,
he pitied himself.

His favorite walk was to the precincts of Westminster School, where he
had spent two short terms before his father died. The influence of this
life had never quite passed away. Alban would steal across London by
night and stand at the gate of Little Dean's Yard as though wondering
still what justice or right of destiny had driven him forth. He would
haunt St. Vincent's Square on Saturday afternoons, and, taking his stand
among all the little ragged boys who watched the cricket or football, he
would, in imagination, become a "pink" delighting the multitude by a
century or kicking goals so many that the very Press was startled. In
the intervals he revisited the Abbey and tried to remember the service
as he had known it when a schoolboy. The sonorous words of Tudor divines
remained within his memory, but the heart of them had gone out. What had
he to be thankful for now? Did he not earn his bitter bread by a task so
laborious that the very poor might shun it. His father would have made
an engineer of him if he had lived--so much had been quite decided. He
could tell you the names of lads who had been at Westminster with him
and were now at Oxford or Cambridge enjoying those young years which no
subsequent fortune can recall. What had he done to the God who ruled the
world that these were denied to him? Was he not born a gentleman, as the
world understands the term? Had he not worn good clothes, adored a
loving mother, been educated in his early days in those vain
accomplishments which society demands from its children? And now he was
an "East-ender," down at heel and half starved; and there were not three
people in all the city who would care a straw whether he lived or died.

This was the lad who went westward that night of the meeting in Union
Street, and such were his frequent thoughts. None would have taken him
for what he was; few who passed him by would have guessed what his
earlier years had been. The old gray check suit, frayed at the edges,
close buttoned and shabby, was just such a suit as any loafer out of
Union Street might have worn. His hollow cheeks betrayed his poverty. He
walked with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his shoulders
slightly bent, his eyes roving from face to face as he numbered the
wayfarers and speculated upon their fortunes and their future. Two or
three friends who hailed him were answered by a quickening of his step
and a curt nod of the handsome head. Alb's "curl," a fair flaxen curl
upon a broad white forehead, had become a jest in Thrawl Street. "'E
throws it at yer," the youths said--and this was no untrue description.

Alban walked swiftly up the Whitechapel Road and was going on by Aldgate
Station when the Reverend "Jimmy" Dale, as all the district called the
cheery curate of St. Wilfred's Church, slapped him heartily on the
shoulder and asked why on earth he wasted the precious hours when he
might be in bed and asleep.

"Now, my dear fellow, do you really think it is wise? I am here because
I have just been to one of those exhibitions of unadorned gluttony they
call a City Banquet. Do you know, Alban, that I don't want to hear of
food and drink again for a month. It's perfectly terrible to think that
men can do such things when I could name five hundred children who will
go wanting bread to-morrow."

Alban rejoined in his own blunt way.

"Then why do you go?" was his disconcerting question.

"To beg of them, that's why I go. They are not uncharitable--I will hold
to it anywhere. And, I suppose, from a worldly point of view, it was a
very good dinner. Now, let us walk back together, Alban. I want to talk
to you very much."

"About what, sir?"

"Oh, about lots of things. Why don't you join the cricket club, Alban?"

"I haven't got the money, sir."

"But surely--five shillings, my dear boy--and only once a year."

"If you haven't got the five shillings, it doesn't make any difference
how many times a year it is."

"Well, well, I think I must write to Sir James Hogg about you. He was
telling me to-night--"

"If he sent me the money, I'd return it to him. I'm not a beggar, Mr.
Dale."

"But are you not very proud, Alban?"

"Would you let anybody give you five shillings--for yourself, Mr. Dale?"

"That would depend how he offered it. In the plate I should certainly
consider it acceptable."

"Yes, but sent to you in a letter because you were hard up, you know.
I'm certain you wouldn't. No decent fellow would. When I can afford to
play cricket, I'll play it. Good night, Mr. Dale. I'm not going back
just now."

The curate shook his head protestingly.

"Do you know it is twelve o'clock, Alban?"

"Just the time the fun begins--in the world--over there, sir."

He looked up at the Western sky aglow with that crimson haze which
stands for the zenith of London's night. The Reverend "Jimmy" Dale had
abandoned long ago the idea of understanding Alban Kennedy. "He will
either die in a lunatic asylum or make his fortune," he said to
himself--and all subsequent happenings did not alter this dogged
opinion. The fellow was either a lunatic or an original. "Jimmy" Dale,
who had rowed in the Trinity second boat, did not wholly appreciate
either species.

"What is the world to you, Alban--is not sleep better?"

"In a garret, sir, where you cannot breathe?"

"Oh, come, we must all be a little patient in adversity. I saw Mr.
Browning at the works yesterday. He tells me that the firm is very
pleased with you--you'll get a rise before long, Alban."

"Half a crown for being good. Enough to sole my boots. When I have shops
of my own, I'll let the men live to begin with, sir. The shareholders
can come afterwards."

"It would never do to preach that at a city dinner."

"Ah, sir, what's preached at a city dinner and what's true in Thrawl
Street, Whitechapel, don't ride a tandem together. Ask a hungry man
whether he'll have his mutton boiled or roast, and he'll tell you he
doesn't care a damn. It's just the same with me--whether I sleep in a
cellar or a garret, what's the odds? I'll be going on now, sir. You must
feel tired after so much eating."

He turned, but not rudely, and pushing his way adroitly through the
throng about the station disappeared in a moment. The curate shook his
head and resumed his way moodily eastward, wondering if his momentary
lapse from the straight and narrow way of self-sacrificing were indeed a
sin. After all, it had been a very good dinner, and a man would be
unwise to be influenced by a boy's argument. The Reverend "Jimmy" was a
thousand miles from being a hypocrite, as his life's work showed, and
this matter of the dinner really troubled him exceedingly. How many of
his parishioners could have been fed for such an expenditure? On the
other hand, city companies did a very great deal of good, and it would
be churlish to object to their members dining together two or three
times a year. In the end, he blamed the lad, Alban, for putting such
thoughts into his head.

"The fellow's off to sleep in Hyde Park, I suppose," he said to himself,
"or in one of his pirate's caves. What a story he could write if he had
the talent. What a freak of chance which set him down here amongst
us--well born and educated and yet as much a prisoner as the poorest.
Some day we shall hear of him--I am convinced of it. We shall hear of
Alban Kennedy and claim his acquaintance as wise people do when a man
has made a success."

He carried the thought home with him, but laid it aside when he entered
the clergy house, dark and stony and cheerless at such an hour. Alban
was just halfway down the Strand by that time and debating whether he
should sleep in the "caves," as he called those wonderful subterranean
passages under Pall Mall and the Haymarket, or chance the climate upon a
bench in Hyde Park. A chilly night of April drove him to the former
resolution and he passed on quickly; by the theatres now empty of their
audiences; through Trafalgar Square, where the clubs and the hotels were
still brilliantly lighted; up dark Cockspur Street; through St. James'
Square; and so to an abrupt halt at the door of a great house, open to
the night and dismissing its guests.

Alban despised himself for doing it, but he could never resist the
temptation of staring through the windows of any mansion where a party
happened to be held. The light and life of it all made a sure appeal to
him. He could criticise the figures of beautiful women and remain
ignorant of the impassable abyss between their sphere and his own.
Sometimes, he would try to study the faces thus revealed to him, as in
the focus of a vision, and to say, "That woman is utterly vain," or
again, "There is a doll who has not the sense of an East End flower
girl." In a way he despised their ignorance of life and its terrible
comedies and tragedies. Little Lois Boriskoff, he thought, must know
more of human nature than any woman in those assemblies where, as the
half-penny papers told him, cards and horses and motor-cars were the
subjects chiefly talked about. It delighted him to imagine the abduction
of one of these society beauties and her forcible detention for a month
in Thrawl Street. How she would shudder and fear it all--and yet what
human lessons might not she carry back with her. Let them show him a
woman who could face such an ordeal unflinchingly and he would fall in
love with her himself. The impertinence of his idea never once dawned
upon him. He knew that his father's people had been formerly well-to-do
and that his mother had often talked of birth and family. "I may be
better than some of them after all," he reflected; and this was his
armor against humiliation. What did money matter? The fine idealist of
twenty, with a few coppers in his pocket, declared stoically that money
was really of no consequence at all.

He lingered some five minutes outside the great house in St. James'
Square, watching the couples in the rooms above, and particularly
interested in one face which appeared in, and disappeared from, a
brilliantly lighted alcove twice while he was standing there. A certain
grace of girlhood attended this apparition; the dress was rich and
costly and exquisitely made; but that which held Alban's closer
attention was the fact that the wearer of it unquestionably was a Pole,
and not unlike little Lois Boriskoff herself. He would not say, indeed,
that the resemblance was striking--it might have been merely that of
nationality. When the girl appeared for the second time, he admitted
that the comparison was rather wild. None the less, he liked to think
that she resembled Lois and might also have heard the news from Warsaw
to-day. Evidently she was the daughter of some rich foreigner in London,
for she talked and moved with Continental animation and grace. The type
of face had always made a sure appeal to Alban. He liked those broad
contrasts of color; the clear, almost white, skin; the bright red lips;
the open expressive eyes fringed by deep and eloquent lashes. This
unknown was taller than little Lois certainly--she had a maturer figure
and altogether a better carriage; but the characteristics of her
nationality were as sure--and the boy fell to wondering whether she was
also capable of that winsome sentiment and jealous frenzy which dictated
many of the seemingly inconsequent acts of the little heroine of Thrawl
Street. This he imagined to be quite possible. "They are great as a
nation," he thought, "but most of them are mad. I will tell Lois
to-morrow that I have seen her sister in St. James' Square. I shouldn't
wonder if she knew all about this house and the party--and Boriskoff
will, if she doesn't."

He contented himself with this; and the girl having disappeared from the
alcove and a footman announced, in a terrible voice, that Lady Smigg's
carriage barred the way, he turned from the house and continued upon his
way to the "caves." It was then nearly one o'clock, and save for an
occasional hansom making a dash to a club door, St. James' Street was
deserted. Alban took one swift look up and down, crossed the street at a
run and disappeared down the court which led to those amazing "tombs"
of which few in London save the night-birds and the builders so much as
suspect the existence.

He did not go alone; he was not, as he thought, unwatched. A detective,
commissioned by an unknown patron to follow him, crossed the road
directly he had disappeared, and saying, "So that's the game," began to
wonder if he also might dare the venture.

He, at least, knew well what he was doing and the class of person he
would be likely to meet down there in the depths of which even the
police were afraid.



CHAPTER IV

THE CAVES


The "labyrinth" beneath the West End of London was rediscovered in our
own time when the foundations for the Carlton Hotel and his Majesty's
Theatre were laid. It is a network of old cellars, subterranean passages
and, it may even be, of disused conduits, extended from the corner of
Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, away to the confines of St. James' Park--and,
as more daring explorers aver, to the river Thames itself. Here is a
very town of tunnels and arches, of odd angled rooms, of veritable caves
and depths as dark as Styx. If, in a common way, it be shut by the
circumstance of the buildings above to the riff-raff and night-hawks who
would frequent it, there are seasons, nevertheless, when the laying of
new foundations, the building of hotels and the demolition of ancient
streets in the name of "improvement" fling its gates open to the more
cunning of the "destitutes," and they flock there as rooks to a field
newly sown.

Of these welcome opportunities, the building of the Carlton Hotel is the
best remembered within recent times; but the erection of new houses off
St. James' Street in the year 1903 brought the ladies and the gentlemen
of the road again to its harborage; and they basked there for many weeks
in undisputed possession. Molesting none and by none molested, it was
an affair neither for the watchmen (whose glances askance earned them
many a handsome supper) or for the police who had sufficient to do in
the light of the street lamps that they should busy themselves with
supposed irregularities where that light was not. The orgies thus became
a nightly feature of the vagrant's life. There was no more popular hotel
in London than the "Coal Hole," as the wits of the company delighted to
style their habitation.

A city below a city! Indeed imagination might call it that. A replica of
famous catacombs with horrid faces for your spectres, ghoulish women and
unspeakable men groping in the darkness as though, vampire-like, afraid
of the light. Why Alban Kennedy visited this place, he himself could not
have said. Possibly a certain morbid horror of it attracted him. He had,
admittedly, such a passport to the caves as may be the reward of a
shabby appearance and a resolute air. The criminal company he met with
believed that he also was a criminal. Enjoying their confidence because
he had never excited their suspicion, they permitted him to lie his
length before reddened embers and hear tales which fire the blood with
every passion of anger and of hate. Here, in these caverns, he had seen
men fight as dogs--with teeth and claws and resounding yells; he had
heard the screams of a woman and the cries of helpless children. A
sufficient sense of prudence compelled him to be but an apathetic
spectator of these infamies. The one battle he had fought had been
impotent to save the object of his chivalry.

When first he came here, heroic resolutions followed him. He had
thrashed a ruffian who struck a woman, and narrowly escaped with his
life for doing so. Henceforth he could but assent to a truce which
implied mutual toleration; and yet he understood that his presence was
not without its influence even on these irredeemables. Men called him
"The Hunter," or in mockery "The Dook." He had done small services for
one or two of them--even written a begging letter for a rogue who could
not write at all, but posed as an "old public school man," fallen upon
evil days. Alban was perfectly well aware that this was a shameless
imposition, but his ideas of morality as it affected the relations of
rich and poor were ever primitive and unstable. "If this old thief gets
half a sovereign, what's it matter?" he would argue; "the other man
stole his money, I suppose, and can well afford to pay up." Here was a
gospel preached every day in Thrawl Street. He had never stopped to ask
its truth.

Alban crossed St. James' Street furtively, and climbed, as an athlete
should climb, the boarding which defended the entrance to this amazing
habitation. A contented watchman, dozing by a comfortable fire, cared
little who came or went and rarely bestirred himself to ask the
question. There were two entrances to the caves: one cramped and
difficult, the other broad and open; and you took your choice of them
according to the position of the policeman on the beat. This night, or
rather this morning, of the day following upon the meeting in Union
Street, discovered Alban driven to the more hazardous way. His quick eye
had detected, on the far side of the enclosure, an amiable flirtation
between a man of law and a lady of the dusters; and avoiding both
discreetly, he slipped into a trench of the newly made foundations and
crawled as swiftly through an aperture which this descent revealed.

Here, laid bare by the picks and shovels of twentieth-century Trade
Unionism, was a veritable Gothic arch, bricked up to the height of a
tall man's waist, but open at the tympanum. Alban hoisted himself to the
aperture and, slipping through, his feet discovered the reeking floor of
a dank and dripping subway; and guiding himself now by hands
outstretched and fingers touching the fungi of the walls, he went on
with confidence until the roof lifted above him and the watch-fires of
the confraternity were disclosed. He had come by now into a vast cellar
not very far from the Carlton Hotel itself. There were offshoots
everywhere, passages more remote, the arches as of crypts, smaller
apartments, odd corners which had guarded the casks five hundred years
ago. Each of these could show you its little company safe harbored for
the night; each had some face from which Master Timidity might well
avert his eyes. But Alban went in amongst them as though he had been
their friend. They knew his very footstep, the older "lags" would
declare.

"All well, Jack?"

"All well, old cove."

"The Panorama come along?"

"Straight art of the coffee shawp, s'help me blind."

"Ship come in?"

"Two tharsand next Toosday--same as usual."

A lanky hawker, lying full length upon a sack, his pipe glowing in the
darkness, exchanged these pleasantries with Alban at the entrance. There
were fires by here and there in these depths and the smoke was often
suffocating. The huddled groups declared all grades of ill-fortune and
of crime; from that of the "pauper parson" to the hoariest house-breaker
"resting" for a season. Alban's little set, so far as he had a "set" at
all, consisted of the sometime curate of a fashionable West End Church,
known to the company as the Archbishop of Bloomsbury; the Lady Sarah, a
blooming, red-cheeked girl who sold flowers in Regent Street, "the
Panorama," an old showman's son who had not a sixpenny piece in his
pocket, but whose schemes were invariably about to bring him in "two
thousand next Tuesday morning"; and "Betty," a pretty, fair-haired lad,
thrown on the streets God knows how or by what callous act of
indifferent parentage. Regularly as the clock struck, this quartette
would gather in a tiny "chapel" of the cellars and sleep about a fire
kindled in a grate which might have baked meats for the Tudors. They
spoke of the events of the day with moderation and wise philosophy. It
would be different to-morrow. Such was ever their text.

"My lord the Duke is late. Does aught of fortune keep your nobility?"

The ex-parson made way for Alban, grandiloquently offering a niche upon
the bare floor and a view of the reddening embers. The boy "Betty" was
already asleep, while the Lady Sarah and "the Panorama" divided a
fourpenny pie most faithfully between them. A reeking atmosphere of
spirit (but not of water) testified to the general conviviality. A hum
of conversation was borne in upon them from the greater cellar--at odd
times a rough oath of protest or the mad complainings of a drunkard. For
the most part, however, the night promised to be uneventful. Alban had
never seen the Lady Sarah more gracious, and as for "the Panorama" he
had no doubt whatever that his fortune was made.

"My contract for America's going through and I shall be out there with a
show in a month," this wild youth said--and added patronizingly, "When I
come back, it will be dinner upstairs, old chaps--and some of the best.
Do you suppose that I could forget you? I would as soon forget my
father's grave."

They heard him with respect--no one differing from him.

"I shall certainly be pleased to accept your kind invitation," said the
Archbishop, "that is, should circumstance--and Providence--enable me to
redeem the waistcoat, without which--eh--hem--I understand no visitor
would be admitted to those noble precincts."

The Lady Sarah expressed her opinion even more decidedly.

"Don't 'e talk," she said pleasantly, "can't you 'ear the thick 'uns a
rattlin' in his mouse-trap. Poor little man and 'im a horphin. Stun me
mother if I ain't a goin' ter Jay's termerrer ter buy mournin' in honor
of him."

"I presume," continued the Archbishop, "that we shall all be admitted to
this entertainment as it were--that is--as the colloquial expression
goes--on the nod. It will be enough to mention that we are the
proprietor's friends."

"You shall have a season-ticket for life, Archbishop. Just you tell me
where you want a church built and I'll see that it's done. Of course I
don't mind your chaff--I'm dead in earnest and the money will be there."

"A real contract this time?" Alban suggested kindly.

"A real contract. I saw Philips about it to-day, and he knows a man who
is Pierpont Morgan's cousin. We are to open in New York in September and
be in San Francisco the following week."

"Rather a long journey, isn't it, old chap?"

"Oh, they do those things out there. I'm told you play Hamlet one night
and Othello six hours afterwards, which is really the next night because
of the long distances and the differences in the latitudes. Ask the
Archbishop. I expect he hasn't forgotten all his geography."

"A Cambridge man," said the Archbishop, loftily, "despises geography.
Heat, light, electricity, the pure and the impure mathematics--these are
his proper study. I rise superior to the occasion and tell you that San
Francisco is a long way from New York. The paper in which I wrapped a
ham sandwich yesterday--the advertisement of a shipping company, I may
inform you--brings that back to my recollection. San Francisco is the
thickness of two slices of stale bread from the seaport you mention. And
I believe there are Red Indians in between."

The Lady Sarah murmured lightly the refrain of the old song concerning
houses which stood in that annoying position; but Alban had already
lighted a cigarette and was watching the girl's face critically.

"You've had some luck to-day, Sarah?"

"A bloomin' prophet and that I won't deny. Gar'n, Dowie."

"But you did have some luck?"

"Sure and certain. What d'ye fink? A bit of a boy, same as 'Betty' 'ere,
'e comes up and says, 'What'll ye take fer the whole bloomin' caravan?'
he says, 'for ter send ter a lidy?' 'Gentleman,' I says, 'I'm only a
poor girl and a widered muver ter keep, and, gentleman, I can't tike
less than two pound fer 'em sure and certain as there's a God in 'eaven,
I can't.' 'Well,' says he, 'it's a blarsted swindle but I'll take
'em--and mind you deliver 'em ter the lidy yerself.' 'They shall go this
very minute,' says I, 'and, oh, sir, God bless you both and may yer have
long life and 'appiness ter-gether.' Strike me dead, wot d'yer think he
said next? Why he arst me fer my bloomin' name, same as if I wus a
Countess a steepin' art of a moter-kar at the door of Buckingem Peliss.
'What's yer name, girl?' says 'e. 'Sarah Geddes, an it please yer
capting,' says I. 'Then send the bally flowers to Sarah Geddes,' says
'e, 'and take precious good care as she gets 'em.' Gawd's truth, yer
could 'ave knocked me darn with a 'at pin. I never was took so suddin in
all me life."

"I wonder you didn't have your dinner in the Carlton Hotel, Sarah."

"So I would 'a' done if I'd hev bed time ter chinge me dress. You orter
know, Dook, as no lidy ever goes inter them plices in wot she's bin a
wearin' afore she cleaned herself. I'ad ter go ter Marlborough 'Ouse ter
tell the Prince of Wales, and that's wot kept me."

"Better luck next time, Sarah. So it only ran to a 'fourpenny' between
you and 'the Panorama.'"

"You shall all dine with me next week," said the young man in question.
"On my honor, I'll give you the best dinner you ever had in your life.
As for Sarah here, I'm going to put her in a flower shop in Bond
Street."

"Gar'n, silly, what 'ud I do in Bond Street? Much better buy the
Archbishop a church."

The erstwhile clergyman did not take the suggestion, in good part.

"I have always doubted my ability to conduct the affairs of a parish
methodically," he said, "that is--a little habit--a slight partiality to
the drug called morphia is not in my favor. This, I am aware, is a
drawback. The world judges my profession very harshly. A man in the city
who counts the collection indifferently will certainly become Lord
Mayor. The Establishment has no use for him--he is _de trop_, or as we
might say, a drop too much. This I recognize in frankly declining our
young friend's offer--with grateful thanks."

Sarah, the flower girl, seemed particularly amused by this frank
admission. Feeling in the depth of her shawl she produced a capacious
flask and a bundle of cigars.

"'Ere, boys," she said, "let's talk 'am and heggs. 'Ere's a drop of the
best and five bob's worth of chimney afire, stun me mother if there
ain't. I'm sick of talkin' and so's 'the Panerawma.' Light up yer
sherbooks and think as you're in Buckingem Peliss. There ain't no 'arm
thinkin' anyways."

"I dreamed last night," said the Archbishop very sadly, "that this
cellar had become a cottage and that the sun was shining in it."

"I never dream," said "the Panorama," stoically; "put my head on the
floor and I won't lift it until the clock strikes ten."

"Then begin now, my dear," exclaimed the Lady Sarah with a sudden
tenderness, "put it there now and forget what London is ter you and me."

The words were uttered almost with a womanly tenderness, not without its
influence upon the company. Some phrase spoken of Frivolity's mouth had
touched this group of outcasts and spoken straight to their hearts. They
bandied, pleasantries no more, but lighting the cigars--the Lady Sarah
boldly charging a small clay pipe--they fell to an expressive silence,
of introspection, it may be, or even of unutterable despair. The woman
alone amongst them had not been cast down from a comparative altitude to
this very abyss of destitution. For the others life was a vista far
behind them; a vista, perchance, of a cottage and the sunshine, as the
parson had said; an echo of voices from a forgotten world; the memory of
a hand that was cold and of dead faces reproaching them. Such pauses are
not infrequent in the conversation of the very poor. Men bend their
heads to destiny less willingly than we think. The lowest remembers the
rungs of the ladder he has descended.

Alban had lighted one of the cigars and he smoked it stoically,
wondering again why the caves attracted him and what there was in this
company which should not have made him ashamed of such associations.
That he was not ashamed admitted of no question. In very truth, the
humanities were conquering him in spite of inherited prejudice. Had the
full account of it been written down by a philosopher, such a sage would
have said that the girl Sarah stood for a type of womanly pity, of
sympathy, and, in its way, of motherhood; qualities which demand no gift
of birth for their appeal. The unhappy parson, too, was there not much
of good in him, and might he not yet prove a human field worthy to be
tilled by a husbandman of souls? His humor was kindly; his disposition
gentle; his faults punished none but himself. And for what did "the
Panorama" stand if not for the whole gospel of human hope without which
no life may be lived at all? Alban had some glimmering of this, but he
could not have set down his reasons in so many words. As for the little
lad "Betty"--was not the affection they lavished upon him that which
manhood ever owes to the weak and helpless. Search London over and you
will not find elemental goodness in a shape more worthy than it was to
be found in the caves--nor can we forego a moment's reflection upon the
cant which ever preaches the vice of the poor and so rarely stops to
preach their virtues.

This was the human argument of Alban's association, but the romantic
must not be forgotten. More imaginative than most youths of his age, his
boyish delight in these grim surroundings was less to him than a real
and inspiring sense of the power of contrast they typified. Was he not
this very night sleeping beneath some famous London house, it might be
below that very temple of the great God Mammon, the Carlton Hotel? Far
above him were the splendid rooms, fair sleepers in robes of lace, tired
men who had earned enough that very day perhaps to feed all the hungry
children in Thrawl Street for a lifetime and to remain rich men
afterwards. Of what were the dreams of such as those--not of sunshine
and a cottage as the old parson had dreamed, surely? Not of these nor of
the devoted sacrifice of motherhood or of that gentle sympathy which the
unfortunate so readily give their fellows. Not this certainly--and yet
who should blame them? Alban, at least, had the candor to admit that he
would be much as they were if his conditions of life were the same. He
never deceived himself, young as he was, with the false platitudes of
boastful altruists. "I should enjoy myself if I were rich," he would
say--and sigh upon it; for what assumption could be more grotesque?

No, indeed, there could be no sunshine for him to-morrow. Nothing but
the shadows of toil; and, in the background, that grim figure of
uncertainty which never fails to haunt the lives of the very poor.



CHAPTER V

DISMISSAL


Alban had been a disappointment to his employers, the great engineer of
the Isle of Dogs, to whom Charity had apprenticed him in his fourteenth
year. Faithful attempts to improve his position in the works were met,
as it would seem, by indifference and ingratitude. He did his work
mechanically but without enthusiasm. Had he confessed the truth, he
would have said, "I was not born to labor with my hands." A sense of
inherited superiority, a sure conviction, common to youth, that he would
become a leader, of men, conduced to a restlessness and a want of
interest which he could not master. He had the desire but not the will
to please his employers.

To such a lad these excursions to the West End, these pilgrimages to the
shrine of the outcast and the homeless were by way of being a mental
debauch. He arose from them in the morning as a man may arise to the
remembrance of unjustified excess, which leaves the mind inert and the
body weary. His daily task presented itself in a revolting attitude. Why
had he been destined to this slavery? Why must he set out to his work at
an hour of the chilly morning when the West End was still shuttered and
asleep and the very footmen still yawned in their beds? If he had any
consolation, it was that the others were often before him in that
cunning debauch from the caves which the dawn compelled. The Lady Sarah
would be at Covent Garden by four o'clock. The Archbishop, who rarely
seemed to sleep at all, went off to the Serpentine for his morning
ablutions when the clock struck five. "Betty," the pale-faced infant,
disappeared as soon as the sun was up--and often, when Alban awoke in
the cellar, he found himself the only tenant of that grim abode.
Sometimes, indeed, and this morning following upon the promise to little
Lois Boriskoff was such an occasion, he overslept himself altogether and
was shut out from the works for the day. This had happened before and
had brought frequent reprimands. He feared them and yet had not the will
to remember them.

Big Ben was striking seven when he quitted the cellar and London was
awake in earnest. Alban usually spent twopence in the luxury of a "wash
and brush up" before he went down to the river; but he hastened on this
morning conscious of his tardiness and troubled at the possible
consequences. The bright spring day did little to reassure him. Weather
does not mean very much to those who labor in heated atmospheres, who
have no profit of the sunshine nor gift of the seasons. Alban thought
rather of the fateful clock and of the excuses which might pacify the
timekeeper. He had never stooped to the common lies; he would not stoop
to them this day. When, at the gate of the works, a heavy jowled man
with a red beard asked him what he meant by coming there at such an
hour, he answered as frankly that he did not know.

"Been out to supper with the Earl of Barkin, perhaps," the burly man
suggested. "Well, young fellow, you go up and see Mr. Tucker. He's
particularly desirous of making your acquaintance--that he is. Tell him
how his lordship's doin' and don't you forget the ladies."

Alban made no reply, but crossing the open yard he mounted a little
flight of stairs and knocked indifferently at the door of the dreaded
office thus indicated. An angry voice, bidding him "come in," did not
reassure him. He found the deputy manager frank but determined. There
could be no doubt whatever of the issue.

"Kennedy," he said quietly, "I hope you understand why I have sent for
you."

"For being late, sir. I am very sorry--I overslept myself."

"My boy, if your work was as honest as your tongue, your fortune would
be made. I am afraid I must remember what passed at our last meeting.
You promised me then--"

"I am quite aware of it, sir. The real truth is that I can't get up. The
work here is distasteful to me--but I do my best."

The manager shook his head in a deprecating manner.

"We have given you many chances, Kennedy," he rejoined. "If it rested
with me, I would give you another. But it doesn't rest with me--it rests
with that necessary person. Example. What would the men say if I treated
you as a privileged person? You know that the work could not go on. For
the present, at any rate, you are suspended. I must see my directors
and take instructions from them. Now, really, Kennedy, don't you think
that you have been very foolish?"

"I suppose so, sir. That's what foolish people generally think. It must
make a lot of difference to you whether a man comes at six or seven,
even if he does a good deal more work than the early ones. I could do
what you ask me to do in three hours a day. That's what puzzles me."

The amiable Mr. Tucker was up in arms in a moment.

"Now, come, I cannot discuss abstract propositions with you. Our hours
are from six to six. You do not choose to keep them and, therefore, you
must go. When you are a little more practically inclined, I will speak
to the directors for you. You may come and tell me so when that is the
case."

"I shall never come and tell you so, sir. I wish that I could--but it
will never be the truth. The work that I could do for you is now what
you want me to do. I am sure it is better for me to go, sir."

"Then you have something in your mind, Kennedy?"

"So many things, sir, that I could fill a book with them. That is why I
am foolish. Good-by, Mr. Tucker. I suppose you have all been very kind
to me--I don't rightly understand, but I think that you have. So good-by
and thank you."

The discreet manager took the outstretched hand and shook it quite
limply. There had been a momentary contraction of the brows while he
asked himself if astute rivals might not have been tampering with this
young fellow and trying to buy the firm's secrets. An instant's
reflection, however, reassured him. Alban had no secrets worth the name
to sell, and did he possess them, money would not buy them. "Half mad
but entirely honest," was Mr. Tucker's comment, "he will either make a
fortune or throw himself over London Bridge."

Alban had been quite truthful when he said that he had many things in
his mind, but this confession did not mean to signify a possibility of
new employment. In honest truth, he had hardly left the gates of the
great yard when he realized how hopeless his position was. Of last
week's wages but a few shillings remained in his pocket. He knew no one
to whom he might offer such services as he had to give. The works had
taught him the elements of mechanical engineering, and common sense told
him that skilled labor rarely went begging if the laborer were worthy
his hire. None the less, the prospect of touting for such employment
affrighted him beyond words. He felt that he could not again abase
himself for a few paltry shillings a week. The ambition to make of this
misfortune a stepping-stone to better things rested on no greater
security than his pride and yet it would not be wholly conquered. He
spent a long morning by the riverside planning schemes so futile that
even the boy's mind rejected them. The old copybook maxims recurred to
him and were treated with derision. He knew that he would never become
Lord Mayor of London--after a prosperous career in a dingy office which
he had formerly swept out with a housemaid's broom.

The lower reaches of the Thames are a world of themselves; peopled by a
nation of aliens; endless in the variety of their life; abounding in
weird and beautiful pictures which even the landsman can appreciate.
Alban rarely tired of that panorama of swirling waters and drifting
hulks and the majestic shapes of resting ships. And upon such a day as
this which had made an idler of him, their interest increased tenfold;
and to this there was added a wonder which had never come into his life
before. For surely, he argued, this great river was the high road to an
El Dorado of which he had often dreamed; to that shadowy land of valley
and of mountain which his imagination so ardently desired. Let a man
find employment upon the deck of one of those splendid ships and
henceforth the whole world would be open to him. Alban debated this as a
possible career, and as he thought of it the spell of the craving for
new sights and scenes afar mastered him to the exclusion of all other
thoughts. Who was to forbid him; who had the right to stand between him
and his world hunger so irresistibly? When a voice within whispered a
girl's name in his ear, he could have laughed aloud for very derision. A
fine thing that he should talk of the love of woman or let his plans be
influenced for the sake of a pretty face! Why, he would be a beggar
himself in a week, it might be without a single copper in his pocket or
a roof to shelter him! And he was just the sort of man to live on a
woman's earnings--just the one to cast the glove to fortune and of his
desperation achieve the final madness. No, no, he must leave London. The
city had done with him--he had never been so sure of anything in all
his life.

It was an heroic resolution, and shame that hunger should so maltreat
it. When twelve o'clock struck and Alban remembered how poor a breakfast
he had made, he did not think it necessary to abandon any of his old
habits, at least not immediately; and he went, as he usually had done,
to the shabby dining-room in Union Street where he and Lois had taken
their dinners together for many a month past. Boriskoff's daughter was
already at table and waiting for him when he entered; he thought that
she was unusually pale and that her expectancy was not that of a common
occasion. Was it possible that she also had news to tell him--news as
momentous as his own? Alban feared to ask her, and hanging his cap on a
peg above their table without a word, he sat down and began to study the
greasy menu.

"What's the luck, Alb, dear--why do you look like that?"

Little Lois asked the question, struck by his odd manner and appearance.

He answered her with surprising candor--for the sudden determination
came to him that he must tell Lois.

"No luck at all, Lois."

"Why, you don't mean--?"

"I do, and that's straight. There is no further need of my services--"

"You've got the sack?"

"The whole of it, Lois--and now I'm selling it cheap."

The girl laughed aloud, but there were tears in her eyes while she did
so. What a day for them both. She was angry almost with him for telling
her.

"Why, if father ain't a-gettin' on the prophet line--he said you would,
Alb. So help me rummy, I was that angry with him I couldn't hear myself
speak. And now it's all come true. Why, Alb, dear--and I wanted to tell
you--"

She could not finish the sentence for a sob that almost choked her. The
regular customers of the room had turned to stare at the sound of such
unwonted hilarity. Dinner was far too serious a business for most of
them that laughter should serve it.

"What was your father saying, Lois?"

"That you were going away, dear, and that the sooner I gave up thinking
about you the fatter I should be."

"How did he know what was going to happen?"

"Ask me another and don't pay the bill. He's been as queer as white
rabbits since yesterday--didn't go to work this morning, but sat all day
over a letter he's received. I shall be frightened of father just now. I
do really believe he's getting a bit balmy on the crumpet."

"Still talking about the man who stole the furnace?"

"Why, there you've got it. We're going to Buckingham Palace in a donkey
cart and pretty quick about it. You'll be ashamed of such fine people,
Alb--father says so. So I'm not to speak to you to begin with--not till
the dresses come home from Covent Garden and the horses are pawing the
ground for her lidyship. That's the chorus all day--lots of fun when the
bricks come home and father with a watch-chain as big as Moses. He knew
you were going to get the sack and he warned me against it. 'We can't
afford to associate with those people nowadays'--don't yer know--'so
mind what you're a-doing, my child.' And I'm minding it all day--I was
just minding it when you came in, Alb. Don't you see her lidyship is
taking mutton chops? Couldn't descend to nothink less, my dear--not on
such a day as this--blimme."

Lois' patter, acquired in the streets, invariably approached the purely
vulgar when she was either angry or annoyed--for at other times her
nationality saved her from many of its penalties. Alban quite understood
that something beyond ordinary must have passed between father and
daughter to-day; but this was neither the time nor the place to discuss
it.

"We'll meet outside the Pav to-night and have a good talk, Lois," he
said; "everybody's listening here. Be there at nine sharp. Who knows, it
may be the last time we shall ever meet in London--"

"You're not going away, Alb?"

A look of terror had come into the pretty eyes; the frail figure of the
girl trembled as she asked the question.

"Can't say, Lois--how do I know? Suppose I went as a sailor--"

Lois laughed louder than before.

"You--a blueboy! Lord, how you make me laugh. Fancy the aristocrat being
ordered about. Oh, my poor funny-bone! Wouldn't you knock the man down
that did it--oh, can't I see him."

The idea amused her immensely and she dwelt upon it even in the street
outside. Her Alb as Captain Jack--or should it be the cabin-boy. And, of
course, he would bring her a parrot from the Brazils and perhaps a
monkey.

"An' I'll keep a light in the winder for fear you should be shipwrecked
in High Street, Alb, and won't we go hornpiping together. Oh, you silly
boy; oh, you dear old Captain Jack--whatever put a sailorman into your
mind?"

"The water," said Alban, as stolidly--"it leads to somewhere, Lois. This
is the road to nowhere--good God, how tired I am of it."

"And of those who go with you, Alb."

"I am ashamed of myself because of them, Lois."

"You silly boy, Alb--are they ashamed, Alb? Oh, no, no--people who love
are never ashamed."

He did not contest the point with her, nor might she linger. Bells were
ringing everywhere, syrens were calling the people to work. It was a new
thing for Alban Kennedy to be strolling the streets with his hands in
his pockets when the clock struck one. And yet there he was become a
loafer in an instant, just one of the many thousand who stare up idly at
the sky or gaze upon the windows of the shops they may not patronize, or
drift on helpless as though a dark stream of life had caught them and
nevermore would set them on dry land again. Alban realized all this, and
yet the full measure of his disaster was not wholly understood. It was
so recent, the consequences yet unfelt, the future, after all, pregnant
with the possibilities of change. He knew not at all what he should do,
and yet determined that the shame of which he had spoken should never
overtake him.

And so determining, he strolled as far as Aldgate Station--and there he
met the stranger.



CHAPTER VI

THE STRANGER


There is a great deal of fine philanthropic work done east of Aldgate
Station by numbers of self-sacrificing young men just down from the
Universities. So, when a slim parson touched Alban upon the arm and
begged for a word with him, he concluded immediately that he had
attracted the notice of one of these and become the objective of his
charity.

"I beg your pardon," he said a little stiffly. The idea of stooping to
such assistance had long been revolting to him. He was within an ace of
breaking away from the fellow altogether.

"Your name is Alban Kennedy, I think? Will you permit me to have a few
words with you?"

Alban looked the parson up and down, and the survey did something to
satisfy him. He found himself face to face with a man, it might be of
thirty years of age, whose complexion was dark but not unpleasant, whose
eyes were frank and open, the possessor, too, of fair brown hair and of
a manner not altogether free from a suspicion of that which scoffers
call the "wash-hand" basin cult.

"I do not know you, sir."

"Indeed you do not--we are total strangers. My name is Sidney Geary; I
am the senior curate of St. Philip's Church at Hampstead. If we could go
somewhere and have a few words, I would be very much obliged to you."

Alban hardly knew what to say to him. The manner was not that of a
philanthropist desiring him to come to a "pleasant afternoon for the
people"; he detected no air of patronage, no vulgar curiosity--indeed,
the curate of St. Philip's was almost deferential.

"Well, sir--if you don't mind a coffee shop--"

"The very place. I have always thought that a coffee shop, properly
conducted and entirely opposed to the alcoholic principle, is one of the
most useful works in the civic economy. Let us go to a coffee shop by
all means."

Alban crossed the road and, leading the stranger a little way eastward,
turned into a respectable establishment upon the Lockhart plan--almost
deserted at such an hour and the very place for a confidential chat.

"Will you have anything, sir?"

The curate looked at the thick cups upon the counter, turned his gaze
for an instant upon a splendid pile of sausages, and shuddered a little
ominously.

"I suppose the people here have excellent appetites," he reflected
sagely. "I myself, unfortunately, have just lunched in Mount Street--but
a little coffee--shall we not drink a little coffee?"

"Suppose I order you two doorsteps and a thick 'un?"

"My dear young fellow, what in heaven's name are 'two doorsteps and a
thick 'un?'"

Alban smiled a little scornfully.

"Evidently you come from the West. I was only trying you. Shall we have
two coffees--large? It isn't so bad as it looks by a long way."

The coffee was brought and set steaming before them. In an interval of
silence Alban studied the curate's face as he would have studied a book
in which he might read some account of his own fortunes. Why had this
man stopped him in the street?

"Your first visit to Aldgate, sir?"

"Not exactly, Mr. Kennedy--many years ago I have recollections of a
school treat at a watering-place near the river's mouth--an exceedingly
muddy place since become famous, I understand. But I take the children
to Eastbourne now."

"They find that a bit slow, don't they? Kids love mud, you know."

"They do--upon my word. A child's love of mud is one of the most
incurable things in nature."

"Then why try to cure it?"

"But what are you to do?"

"Wash them, sir,--you can always do that. My father was a parson, you
know--"

"Good heavens, a clergyman--and you are come to--that is, you choose to
live amidst these dreadful surroundings?"

"I do not choose--death chose for me."

"My poor boy--"

"Not at all, sir. Give a man a good appetite and enough to gratify it,
and I don't know that other circumstances count much."

"Trial has made of you an epicurean, I see. Well, well, so much the
better. That which I have to offer you will be the more acceptable."

"Employment, sir?"

"Employment--for a considerable term. Good employment, Mr. Kennedy.
Employment which will take you into the highest society, educate you,
perhaps, open a great career to you--that is what I came to speak of."

The good man had meant to break the news more dramatically; but it
flowed on now as a freshet released, while his eyes sparkled and his
head wagged as though his whole soul were bursting with it. Alban
thought for a moment that he had met one of those pleasant eccentrics
who are not less rare in the East End than the West. "This good fellow
has escaped out of an asylum," he thought.

"What kind of a job would that be, sir?"

"Your own. Name it and it shall be chosen for you. That is what I am
commissioned to say."

"By whom, sir?"

"By my patron and by yours."

"Does he wish to keep his name back?"

"So little that he is waiting for you at his own house now."

"Then why shouldn't we go and see him, sir?"

He put the question fully believing that it would bring the whole
ridiculous castle down with a crash, as it were, upon the table before
him. Its effect, however, was entirely otherwise. The parson stood up
immediately.

"My carriage is waiting," he said; "nothing could possibly suit me
better."

Alban, however, remained seated.

"Mr. Geary," he exclaimed, "you have forgotten to tell me something."

"I can think of nothing."

"The conditions of this slap-up job--the high society and all the rest
of it! What are the conditions?"

He spoke almost with contempt, and deliberately selected a vulgar
expression. It had come to him by this time that some unknown friend had
become interested in his career and that this amiable curate desired to
make either a schoolmaster or an organist of him. "Old Boriskoff knew I
was going to get the sack and little Lois has been chattering," he
argued--nor did this line of reasoning at all console him. Sidney Geary,
meanwhile, felt as though some one had suddenly applied a slab of
melting ice to those grammatical nerves which Cambridge had tended so
carefully.

"My dear Mr. Kennedy--not 'slap-up,' I beg of you. If there are any
conditions attached to the employment my patron has to offer you, is not
he the best person to state them? Come and hear him for yourself. I
assure you it will not be waste of time."

"Does he live far from here?"

"At Hampstead Heath--it will take us an hour to drive there."

"And did he send the char à bancs especially for my benefit?"

"Not really--but naturally he did."

"Then I will go with you, sir."

He put on his cap slowly and followed the curate into the street--one of
the girls racing after them to say that they had forgotten to pay the
bill. "And a pretty sort of clergyman you must be, to be sure," was her
reflection--to the curate's blushing annoyance and his quite substantial
indignation.

"I find much impertinence in this part of the world," he remarked as
they retraced their steps toward the West; "as if the girl did not know
that it was an accident."

"We pay for what we eat down here," Alban rejoined dryly; "it's a good
plan as you would discover if you tried it, sir."

Mr. Geary looked at the boy for an instant as though in doubt whether he
had heard a sophism or a mere impertinence. This important question was
not, however, to be decided; for a neat single brougham edged toward the
pavement at the moment and a little crowd collected instantly to remark
so signal a phenomenon.

"Your carriage, sir?" Alban asked.

"Yes," said the curate, quietly, "my carriage. And now, if you please,
we will go and see Mr. Gessner. He is a Pole, Mr. Kennedy, and one of
the richest men in London to-day."



CHAPTER VII

THE HOUSE OF THE FIVE GABLES


It was six o'clock as the carriage passed Swiss Cottage station and ten
minutes later when they had climbed the stiff hill to the Heath. Alban
had not often ridden in a carriage, but he would have found his
sensations very difficult to set down. The glossy cushions, the fine
ivory and silver fittings, were ornaments to be touched with caressing
fingers as one touches the coat of a beautiful animal or the ripe bloom
upon fruit. Just to loll back in such a vehicle, to watch the houses and
the people and the streets, was an experience he had not hitherto
imagined. The smooth motion was a delight to him. He felt that he could
continue such a journey to the ends of the earth, resting at his ease,
untroubled by those never ended questions upon which poverty insisted.

"Is it far yet, sir--is Mr. Gessner's house a long way off?"

He asked the question as one who desired an affirmative reply. The
parson, however, believed that his charge was already wearied; and he
said eagerly:

"It is just over there between the trees, my lad. We shall be with our
good friend in five minutes now. Perhaps you know that you are on
Hampstead Heath?"

"I came here once with little Lois Boriskoff--on a Bank Holiday. It was
not like this then. If Mr. Gessner is rich, why does he live in a place
where people come to keep Bank Holiday? I should have thought he would
have got away from them."

"He is not able to get away. His business takes him into town every
day--he goes by motor-car and comes back at night to breathe pure air.
Bank Holidays do not occur every day, Mr. Kennedy. Fortunately for some
of us they are but four a year."

"Of course you don't like going amongst all those poor people, Mr.
Geary. That's natural. I didn't until I had to, and then I found them
much the same as the rest. You haven't any poor in Hampstead, I am
told."

Mr. Geary fell into the trap all unsuspectingly.

"Thank heaven"--he began, and then checking himself clumsily, he added,
"that is to say we are comparatively well off as neighborhoods go. Our
people are not idlers, however. Some of the foremost manufacturers in
the country live in Hampstead."

"While their work-people starve in Whitechapel. It's an odd world, isn't
it, Mr. Geary--and I don't suppose we shall ever know much about it. If
I had made a fortune by other people's work, I think I should like some
of them to live in Hampstead too. But you see, I'm prejudiced."

Sidney Geary looked at the boy as though he had heard a heresy. To him
the gospel of life meant a yearly dole of coals at Christmas and a bout
of pleasant "charity organizations" during the winter months. He would
as soon have questioned the social position of the Archbishop of
Canterbury as have criticised the conduct and the acts of the
manufacturers who supported his church so generously.

"I am afraid you have received some pernicious teaching down yonder," he
said, with a shake of his abundant locks. "Mr. Gessner, I may tell you,
has an abhorrence of socialism. If you wish to please him, avoid the
topic."

"But I do not wish to please him--I do not even know him. And I'm not a
socialist, sir. If Mr. Gessner had ever lived in Whitechapel; if he had
starved in a garret, he would understand me. I don't suppose it matters,
though, whether he does or not, for we are hardly likely to discuss such
things together."

"My dear lad, he has not sent for you for that, believe me. His
conversation will be altogether of a different nature. Let me implore
you to remember that he desires to be your benefactor--not your judge.
There is no kinder heart, no more worthy gentleman in all London to-day
than Richard Gessner. That much I know and my opportunities are unique."

Alban could make no reply to this; nor did he desire one. They had
passed the Jack Straw's Castle by this time, and now the carriage
entered a small circular drive upon the right-hand side of the road and
drew up before a modern red-bricked mansion, by no means ostentatious or
externally characteristic of the luxury for which its interior was
famed. Just a trim garden surrounded the house and boasted trees
sufficient to hide the picturesque gables from the eyes of the curious.
There were stables in the northern wing and a great conservatory built
out toward the south. Alban had but an instant to glance at the
beautiful façade when a young butler opened the door to them and ushered
them into a vast hall, panelled to the ceiling in oak and dimly lighted
by Gothic windows of excellent stained glass. Here a silence, amazing in
its profundity, permitted the very ticking of the clocks to be heard.
All sounds from without, the hoot of the motors, the laughter of
children, the grating voices of loafers on the Heath, were instantly
shut out. An odor of flowers and fine shrubs permeated the apartment.
The air was cool and clear as though it had passed through a lattice of
ice.

"Please to wait one moment, Kennedy, and I will go to Mr. Gessner. He
expects us and we shall not have long to wait. Is he not in the library,
Fellows--ah, I thought he would be there."

The young butler said "Yes, sir;" but Alban perceived that it was in a
tone which implied some slight note of contempt. "That fellow," he
thought, "would have kicked me into the street if I had called here
yesterday--and his father, I suppose, kept a public-house or a fish
shop." The reflection flattered his sense of irony; and sitting
negligently upon a broad settee, he studied the hall closely, its
wonderful panelling, the magnificently carved balustrades, the great
organ up there in the gallery--and lastly the portraits. Alban liked
subject pictures, and these masterpieces of Sargent and Luke Fildes did
not make an instantaneous appeal to him. Indeed, he had cast but a brief
glance upon the best of them before his eye fell upon a picture which
brought the blood to his cheeks as though a hand had slapped them. It
was the portrait of the supposed Polish girl whom he had seen upon the
balcony of the house in St. James' Square--last night as he visited the
caves.

Alban stared at the picture open-mouthed and so lost in amazement that
all other interests of his visit were instantly lost to his memory. A
hard dogmatic common-sense could make little of a coincidence so
amazing. If he had wished to think that the unknown resembled little
Lois Boriskoff--if he had wished so much last night, the portrait, seen
in this dim light, flattered his desire amazingly. He knew, however,
that the resemblance was chiefly one of nationality; and in the same
instant he remembered that he had been brought to the house of a Pole.
Was it possible, might he dare to imagine that Paul Boriskoff's
friendship had contrived this strange adventure. Some excitement
possessed him at the thought, for his spirit had ever been adventurous.
He could not but ask himself to whose house had he come then and for
what ends? And why did he find a portrait of the Polish girl therein?

Alban's eyes were still fixed upon the picture when the young butler
returned to summon him to the library. He was not a little ashamed to be
found intent upon such an occupation, and he rose immediately and
followed the man through a small conservatory, aglow with blooms, and so
at once into the sanctum where the master of the house awaited him.
Perfect in its way as the library was, Alban had no eyes for it in the
presence of Richard Gessner whom thus he met for the first time. Here,
truly, he might forget even the accident of the portrait. For he stood
face to face with a leader among men and he was clever enough to
recognize as much immediately.

Richard Gessner was at that time fifty-three years of age. A man of
medium height, squarely built and of fine physique, he had the face
rather of a substantial German than of the usually somewhat cadaverous
Pole. A tousled black beard hid the jowl almost completely; the eyes
were very clear and light blue in color; the head massive above the neck
but a little low at the forehead. Alban noticed how thin and fragile the
white hand seemed as it rested upon a strip of blotting-paper upon the
writing-table; the clothes, he thought, were little better than those
worn by any foreman in Yarrow's works; the tie was absolutely shabby and
the watch-chain nothing better than two lengths of black silk with a
seal to keep them together. And yet the mental power, the personal
magnetism of Richard Gessner made itself felt almost before he had
uttered a single word.

"Will you take a seat, Mr. Kennedy--I am dining in the city to-night and
my time is brief. Mr. Geary, I think, has spoken to you of my
intentions."

Alban looked the speaker frankly in the face and answered without
hesitation:

"He has told me that you wish to employ me, sir."

"That I wish to employ you--yes, it is not good for us to be idle. But
he has told you something more than that?"

"Indeed," the curate interrupted, "very much more, Mr. Gessner. I have
told Kennedy that you are ready and willing to take an interest, the
greatest possible interest, in his future."

The banker--for as such Richard Gessner was commonly known--received the
interjection a little impatiently and, turning his back slightly, he
fixed an earnest look upon Alban's face and watched him critically while
he spoke.

"Mr. Kennedy," he said, "I never give my reasons. You enter this house
to confer a personal obligation upon me. You will remain in that spirit.
I cannot tell you to-night, I may be unable to tell you for many years
why you have been chosen or what are the exact circumstances of our
meeting. This, however, I may say--that you are fully entitled to the
position I offer you and that it is just and right I should receive you
here. You will for the present remain at Hampstead as one of my family.
There will be many opportunities of talking over your future--but I wish
you first to become accustomed to my ways and to this house, and to
trouble your head with no speculations of the kind which I could not
assist. I am much in the city, but Mr. Geary will take my place and you
can speak to him as you would to me. He is my Major Domo, and needless
to say I in him repose the most considerable confidence."

He turned again toward Mr. Geary and seemed anxious to atone for his
momentary impatience. The voice in which he spoke was not unpleasant,
and he used the English language with an accent which did not offend.
Rare lapses into odd and unusual sentences betrayed him occasionally to
the keen hearer, but Alban, in his desire to know the man and to
understand him, made light of these.

"I am to remain in this house, sir--but why should I remain, what right
have I to be here?" he asked very earnestly.

The banker waved the objection away a little petulantly.

"The right of every man who has a career offered to him. Be content with
that since I am unable to tell you more."

"But, sir, I cannot be content. Why should I stay here as your guest
when I do not know you at all?"

"My lad, have I not said that the obligation is entirely on my side. I
am offering you that to which you have every just claim. Children do not
usually refuse the asylum which their father's door opens to them. I am
willing to take you into this house as a son--would it not be a little
ungrateful to argue with me? From what I know of him, Alban Kennedy is
not so foolish. Let Mr. Geary show you the house while I am dressing. We
shall meet at breakfast and resume this pleasant conversation."

He stood up as he spoke and began to gather his papers together. To
Alban the scene was amazingly false and perplexing. He was perfectly
aware that this stranger had no real interest in him at all; he felt,
indeed, that his presence was almost resented and that he was being
received into the house as upon compulsion. All the talk of obligation
and favor and justice remained powerless to deceive. The key to the
enigma did not lie therein; nor was it to be found in the churchman's
suavity and the fairy tale which he had recited. Had the meeting
terminated less abruptly, Alban believed that his own logic would have
carried the day and that he would have left the house as he had come to
it. But the clever suggestion of haste on the banker's part, his hurried
manner and his domineering gestures, left a young lad quite without
idea. Such an old strategist as Richard Gessner should have known how to
deal with that honest original, Alban Kennedy.

"We will meet at breakfast," the banker repeated; "meanwhile, consider
Mr. Geary as your friend and counsellor. He shall by me so be appointed.
I have a great work for you to do, Mr. Kennedy, but the education, the
books, the knowledge--they must come first. Go now and think about
dinner--or perhaps you would like to walk about the grounds a little
while. Mr. Geary will show you the way--I leave you in his hands."

He folded the papers up and thrust them quickly in a drawer as he spoke.
The interview was plainly at an end. He had welcomed a son as he would
have welcomed any stranger who had brought a letter of introduction
which decency compelled him to read.



CHAPTER VIII

ALBAN KENNEDY DINES


Silas Geary led the way through the hall and thence to the winter
garden. Here the display of plants was quite remarkable and the building
one that had cost many thousands of pounds. Designed, as all that
Richard Gessner touched, to attract the wonder of the common people and
to defy the derision of the connoisseur, this immense garden had been
the subject of articles innumberable and of pictures abundant. Vast in
size, classic in form, it served many purposes, but chiefly as a gallery
for the safe custody of a collection of Oriental china which had no
rival in Europe.

"It is our patron's hobby," said the curate, mincingly, as he indicated
the treasures of cloisonné and of porcelain; "he does not frivol away
his money as so many do, on idle dissipations and ephemeral pleasures.
On the contrary, he devotes it to the beautiful objects--"

"Do you call them beautiful, sir?" Alban asked ingenuously. "They seem
to me quite ugly. I don't think that if I had money I should spend it on
plates and jars which nobody uses. I would much sooner buy a battle ship
and give it to the nation." And then he asked, "Did Mr. Gessner put up
all this glass to keep out the fresh air? Does he like being in a
hot-house? I should have thought a garden would have been better."

Silas Geary could make nothing of such criticism as this.

"My dear lad," he protested, "you are very young and probably don't know
what sciatica means. When I was your age, I could have slept upon a
board and risen therefrom refreshed. At fifty it is otherwise. We study
the barometer then and dust before we sit. This great glass house is Mr.
Gessner's winter temple. It is here that he plans and conceives so many
of those vast schemes by which the world is astonished."

Alban looked at him curiously.

"Is the world really astonished by rich men?" he asked.

Mr. Geary stood still in amazement at the question.

"Rank and birth rule the nation," he declared vehemently; "it is fit and
proper that it should be so. Our aristocracy is rightly recruited from
those who have accumulated the wealth necessary to such a position.
Riches, Kennedy, mean power. You will know that some day when you are
the master of riches."

Alban walked on a little way without saying anything. Then almost as one
compelled to reply he exclaimed:

"In the East End, they don't speak of money like that. I suppose it is
their ignorance--and after all it is a very great thing to be able to
compel other people to starve for you. Some day, I'll take you down to
the sweating-shops, Mr. Geary. You'll see a lot of old china there, but
I don't think it would be worth much. And all our flowers are for
sale--poor devils, we get little enough for supper if we don't sell
them."

The curate expressed no profound desire to accept this promising
invitation, and desiring to change so thorny a subject entered a
delightful old-world garden and invited Alban's attention to a superb
view of Harrow and the Welsh Harp. In the hall, to which at last they
returned, he spoke of that more substantial reality, dinner.

"I am sorry to say that I have a Dorcas meeting to-night and cannot
possibly dine with you," he explained to the astonished lad. "I shall
return at nine o'clock, however, to see that all is as Mr. Gessner
wishes. The servants have told you, perhaps, that Miss Anna is in the
country and does not return until to-morrow. This old house is very dull
without her, Kennedy. It is astonishing how much difference a pretty
face makes to any house."

"Is that Miss Anna's portrait over the fireplace, sir?"

"You know her, Kennedy?"

"I have seen her once, on the balcony of a house in St. James' Square.
That was last night when I was on my way to sleep in a cellar."

"My poor, poor boy, and to-night you will sleep in one of the most
beautiful rooms in England. How wonderful is fortune, how
amazing--er--how very--is not that seven o'clock by the way? I think
that it is, and here is Fellows come to show you your room. You will
find that we have done our best for you in the matter of
clothes--guesswork, I fear, Kennedy, but still our best. To-morrow
Westman the tailor is to come--I think and hope you will put up with
borrowed plumes until he can fit you up. In the meantime, Fellows has
charge of your needs. I am sure that he will do his very best for you."

The young butler said that he would--his voice was still raised to a
little just dignity, and he, in company with Silas Geary, the
housekeeper and the servants' hall had already put the worst
construction possible upon Alban's reception into the house. His
determination to patronize the "young man" however received an abrupt
check when Alban suddenly ordered him to show the way upstairs. "He
spoke like a Duke," Fellows said in the kitchen afterwards. "There I was
running up the stairs just as though the Guv'ner were behind me. Don't
you think that you can come it easy with him--he ain't the sort by a
long way. I tell you, I never was so astonished since the Guv'ner raised
my wages."

Alban, of course, was sublimely unconscious of this. He had been
conducted to an enormous bedroom on the first floor, superbly furnished
with old Chippendale and excellent modern Sèvres--and there he had been
left to realize for the first time that he was alone and that all which
had happened since yesterday was not a dream but a hard invincible truth
so full of meaning, so wonderful, so sure that the eyes of his brain did
not dare to look at it unflinchingly. Boyishly and with a boy's gesture
he had thrown himself upon the bed and hidden his face from the light as
though the very atmosphere of this wonder world were insupportable. Good
God, that it should have happened to him, Alban Kennedy; that it should
have been spoken of as his just right; that he should have been told
that he had a claim which none might refute! A hundred guesses afforded
no clue to the solution of the mystery. He could not tell himself that
he was in some way related to Richard Gessner, the banker; he could not
believe that his dead parents had any claim upon this foreigner who
received him coldly and yet would hear nothing of his departure. Pride
had little share in this, for the issues were momentous. It was
sufficient to know that a hand had suddenly drawn him from the abyss,
had put him on this pinnacle--beyond all, had placed him in Anna
Gessner's home as the first-born, there to embark upon a career whose
goal lay beyond the City Beautiful of his dreams.

He rose from the bed at length, and trying to put every thought but that
of the moment from his head, he remembered that he was expected to dine
alone in the great room below, and to dress himself for such an ordeal
in the clothes which the reverend gentleman's wit had provided for him.
Courageous in all things, he found himself not a little afraid of all
the beautiful objects which he touched, afraid to lift the Sèvres
pitcher, afraid to open the long doors of the inlaid wardrobe, timid
before the dazzling mirror--a reluctant guest who, for the time being,
would have been thankful to escape to a carpetless floor and glad to
wash in a basin of the commonest kind. When this passed, and it was but
momentary, the delusion that a trick was being played upon him succeeded
to it and he stood to ask himself if he had not been a fool to believe
their story at all, a fool thus to be made sport of by one who would
relate the circumstance with relish to-morrow. This piece of nonsense,
however, was as quick to give way to the somewhat cynical common sense
with which, Alban Kennedy had rightly been credited as the other. He
turned from it impatiently and began to dress himself. He had last
dressed in black clothes and a white waistcoat for a school concert at
Westminster when he was quite a little lad--but his youth had taught him
the conventions, and he had never forgotten those traditions of what his
dead father used to call the "decent life." In his case the experience
was but a reversion to the primitive, and he dressed with every
satisfaction, delighted to put off the shabby old clothes and no less
content with his new appearance as a mirror revealed it to him.

The dining room at "Five Gables" was normally a little dark in the
daytime, for it looked upon the drive where ancient trees shaded its
lofty latticed windows. At night, however, Richard Gessner's fine silver
set off the veritable black oak to perfection, and the room had an air
of dignity and richness neither artificial nor offensive. When Alban
came down to dinner he perceived that a cover had been set for him at
the end of a vast table, and that he was expected to take the absent
master's place; nor could he forbear to smile at the solemn exercises
performed by Fellows the young butler, and two footmen who were to wait
upon him. These rascals, whatever they might say in the kitchen
afterwards, served him at the table as though he had been an eldest son
of the house. If they had expected that the ragged, shabby fellow, who
entered the house so stealthily an hour ago, would provide food for
their exquisitely delicate sense of humor, they were wofully
disappointed. Alban ate his dinner without uttering a single remark.

And last night it had been supper in the caves! There must be no charge
of inconsistency brought against him if a momentary shudder marked this
recollection of an experience. A man may bridge a great gulf in a single
instant of time. Alban had no less affection for, no less interest
to-night in those pitiful lives than yesterday, but he understood that a
flood of fortune had carried him for the time being away from them, and
that his desire must be to help but not to regret them. Indeed, he could
not resist, nor did he wish to resist a great content in this
well-being, which overtook him in so subtle a manner. The sermons of the
old days, preached by many a mad fanatic of Union Street, declared that
any alliance between the rich and the poor must be false and impossible.
Alban believed it to be so. A mere recollection of the shame of poverty
could already bring the blood to his cheeks, and yet he would have
defended poverty with all the logic of which his clever brain was
capable.

So in a depressing silence the long dinner was eaten. Methodically and
with velvet steps the footmen put dish after dish before him, the butler
filled his rarely lifted glass, the whole ceremony of dining performed.
For his own part he would have given much to have escaped after the fish
had been served, and to have gone out and explored the garden which had
excited Mr. Geary to such poetic thoughts. Not a large eater (for the
East End does not dare to cultivate an appetite), he was easily
satisfied; and he found the mere length of the menu to be an ordeal
which he would gladly have been spared. Why did people want all these
dishes, he asked himself. Why, in well-to-do circles, is it considered
necessary to serve precisely similar portions of fish and flesh and fowl
every night at eight o'clock? Men who work eat when they are disposed.
Alban wondered what would happen if such a custom were introduced into
the House of the Five Gables. A cynical reverie altogether--from which
the butler's purring voice awakened him.

"Will you have your coffee in the Winter Garden, sir? Mr. Gessner always
does."

"Cannot I have it in the garden?"

"Oh, yes, if you like, sir. We'll carry out a chair--the seats are very
damp at night, sir."

Alban smiled. Was he not sleeping on the reeking floor of the caves but
twenty hours ago.



CHAPTER IX

ANNA GESSNER


They set a table in the vestibule overlooking the trim lawn, and thither
they carried cigars and coffee. Alban had learned to smoke fiercely--one
of the few lessons the East End had taught him thoroughly--and Richard
Gessner's cigars had a just reputation among all who frequented the
House of the Five Gables--some of these, it must be confessed, coming
here for no other particular reason than to smoke them. Alban did not
quite understand what it was that differentiated this particular cigar
from any he had ever smoked, but he enjoyed it thoroughly and inhaled
every whiff of its fragrant bouquet as though it had been a perfume of
morning-roses.

A profound stillness, broken at rare intervals by the rustling of young
leaves, prevailed in the garden. Night had come down, but it was a night
of spring, clear and still and wonderful of stars. Distantly across a
black waste of heath and meadow, the spire of Harrow Church stood up as
a black point against an azure sky. The waters of the Welsh Harp were as
a shimmering lake of silver in the foreground; the lights of Hendon and
of Cricklewood spoke of suburban life, but might just as well have
conjured up an Italian scene to one who had the wit to imagine it. Alban
knew nothing of Italy, he had never set foot out of England in his
life, but the peace and the beauty of the picture impressed him
strangely, and he wondered that he had so often visited the Caves when
such a fairyland stood open to his pleasure. Let it not be hidden that
he would have been easily pleased this night. Youth responds quickly to
excitements of whatever nature they may be. He was as far from realizing
the truth of his position as ever, but the complete change of
environment, the penetrating luxury of the great house, the mystery
which had carried him there and the promise of the morrow, conspired to
elate him and to leave him, in the common phrase, as one who is walking
upon air. Even an habitual cynicism stood silent now. What mattered it
if he awoke to-morrow to a reality of misunderstanding or of jest? Had
not this night opened a vista which nothing hereafter might shut out?
And the truth might be as Richard Gessner had promised--a truth of
permanence, of the continued possession of this wonderland. Who shall
blame him if his heart leaped at the mere contemplation of this
possibility?

It would have been about nine o'clock when they carried his coffee to
the garden--it was just half-past nine when Anna Gessner returned
unexpectedly to the house. Alban heard the bell in the courtyard ring
loudly, and upon that the throttled purr of a motor's heavy engine. He
had expected Silas Geary, but such a man, he rightly argued, would not
come with so much pomp and circumstance, and he stood at once, anxious
and not a little abashed. Perhaps some suspicion of the truth had
flashed upon him unwittingly. He heard the voice of Fellows the butler
raised in some voluble explanation, there were a few words spoken in a
pleasing girlish tone, and then, the boudoir behind him flashed its
colors suddenly upon his vision, and he beheld Anna Gessner herself--a
face he would have recognized in ten thousand, a figure of yesternight
that would never be forgotten.

She had cast aside her motor veil, and held it in her hand while she
spoke to the butler. A heavy coat bordered and lined with fur stood open
to reveal a gray cloth dress; her hair had been blown about by the fresh
breezes of the night and covered her forehead in a disorder far from
unbecoming. Alban thought that the cold light in the room and the heavy
bright panelling against which she stood gave an added pallor to her
usually pale face, exaggerating the crimson of her lips and the dark
beauty of her eyes. The hand which held the veil appeared to him to be
ridiculously small; her attitudes were so entirely graceful that he
could not imagine a picture more pleasing. If he remembered that he had
likened her to little Lois Boriskoff, he could now admit the
preposterous nature of the comparison. True it was that nationality
spoke in the contour of the face, in its coloring and its expression,
but these elementals were forgotten in the amazing grace of the girl's
movements, the dignity of her gestures and the vitality which animated
her. Returning to the house unexpectedly, even a lad was shrewd enough
to see that she returned also under the stress of an agitation she could
conceal from none. Her very questions to the servants were so quick and
incoherent that they could not be answered. The letters which the
butler put into her hands were torn from the envelopes but were not
read. When she opened the boudoir window and so permitted Alban to
overhear her hurried words, it was as one who found the atmosphere of a
house insupportable and must breathe fresh air at any cost.

"Has my father returned, Fellows?"

"No, miss, he is not expected until late."

"Why did you not send the carriage to the station?"

"Mr. Gessner said that you were coming to-morrow, miss."

She flushed slightly at the retort and made as though to step out into
the garden--but hesitating an instant, she said:

"I have had nothing to eat since one o'clock, Fellows. I must have some
supper."

"Yes, miss."

"Anything will do--tell cook it does not matter. Has Lord Portcullis
called?"

"No, miss--not since yesterday."

"Or Mrs. Melville?"

"This afternoon. She asked for your address, miss--but I did not give
it."

"Quite right--I suppose that Captain Forrest did not come?" She turned
away as though not wishing to look the man in the face--a gesture which
Alban's quick eyes instantly perceived.

Fellows, on the other hand, permitted a smile to lurk for an instant
about the corners of his mouth before he said--

"I understood that Captain Forrest was at Brighton, miss."

The girl's face clouded perceptibly, and she loosened her cloak and
threw it from her shoulders as though it had become an insupportable
burden.

"If he calls to-morrow, I do not wish to see him. Please tell them
all--I will not see him."

The butler smiled again, but answered, "Yes, miss."

Anna Gessner herself, still hesitating upon the threshold suddenly
remembered another interest and referred to it with no less ardor.

"Oh, that reminds me, Fellows. Has my father spoken again of that
dreadful silly business?"

"Concerning the young gentleman, miss?"

She heard him with unutterable contempt.

"The beggar-boy that he wishes to bring to this house. Did he speak of
him to-night?"

Fellows came a step nearer and, hushing his voice, he said, with a
servant's love of a dramatic reply:

"Mr. Kennedy is in the garden now, miss--indeed, I think he's sitting
near the vestibule."

She looked at him astonished. Ugly passions of disappointment and
thwarted desire betrayed themselves in the swift turn and the angry
pursing of her lips. Of her father's intentions in bringing this
beggar-boy to the house, she knew nothing at all. It seemed to her one
of those mad acts for which no sane apology could be offered.

"He is here now, Fellows! Who brought him then?"

"Mr. Geary--at six o'clock."

"Mr. Geary is a hateful busybody--I suppose I must speak to the boy."

"I think that Mr. Gessner would wish it, miss."

She hesitated a brief instant, her annoyance giving battle to her
father's well-known desire. Curiosity in the end helped her decision.
She must see the object of a charity so eccentric.

"You say that he is in the garden?" she continued, taking two steps
across the vestibule.

But this time Alban answered her himself.

"The beggar-boy is here," he said.

He had risen from his chair and the two confronted each other in the
aureole of light cast out from the open window. Just twenty-four hours
ago, Alban had been sitting by little Lois Boriskoff's side in the
second gallery at the Aldgate Empire. To-night he wore a suit of good
dress clothes, had dined at a millionaire's table and already recovered
much of that polish and confident manner which an English public school
rarely fails to bestow. Anna Gessner, in her turn, regarded him as
though he were the agent of a trick which had been played upon her. To
her amazement a hot flush of anger succeeded. She knew not how to meet
him or what excuses to make.

"My father has not told me the truth," she exclaimed presently. "I am
sorry that you overheard me--but I said what I meant. If he had told me
that you were coming--"

Alban stood before her quite unabashed. He understood the circumstances
and delighted in them.

"I am glad that you meant it," he rejoined, "of course, it is in some
way true. Those who have no money are always beggars to those who have.
Let me say that I don't know at all why I am here, and that I shall go
unless I find out. We need not quarrel about it at all."

Anna, however, had recovered her composure. Mistress of herself to a
remarkable degree when her passions were not aroused, she suddenly held
out her hand to Alban as though she would apologize--but not by the
spoken word.

"They have played a trick upon me," she cried. "I shall have it out with
Mr. Geary when he comes. Of course I am very sorry. My father said that
you were a distant relative, but he tried to frighten me by telling me
that you lived in Whitechapel and were working in a factory. I was silly
enough to believe it--you would have done so yourself."

"Most certainly--for it is quite true. I have been living in Whitechapel
since my mother died, and I worked in a factory until yesterday. If you
had come here a few hours back, you would have run away from the
beggar-boy or offered him sixpence. I wonder which it would have been."

She would not admit the truth of it, and a little peevishly contested
her point.

"I shall never believe it. This is just the kind of thing Mr. Geary
would do. He is the most foolish man I have ever known. To leave you all
alone here when he brought you as a stranger to our house. I wonder what
my father would say to that."

She had drawn her cloak about her white throat again and seated herself
near Alban's chair. Imitating her, he sat again and began to talk to her
as naturally as though he had known her all her life. Not a trace of
vexation at the manner of her reception remained to qualify that rare
content he found in her company. Alban had long acquired the sense which
judges every word and act by the particular circumstances under which it
is spoken. He found it natural that Anna Gessner should resent his
presence in the house. He liked her for telling him that it was so.

"My father says that he is going to make an engineer of you--is that
just what you wish, Mr. Kennedy?"

"That's what I don't know," he replied as frankly. "You see, I have
always wanted to get on, but how to do so is what beats me. Engineering
is a big profession and I'm not sure that I have the gifts. There you
have a candid confession. I'm one of those fellows who can do everything
up to a certain point, but a certain point isn't good enough nowadays.
And a man wants money to get on. I'm sure it's easy enough to make a
fortune if you have a decent share of brains and a bigger one capital. I
want to make money and yet the East End has taught me to hate money. If
Mr. Gessner can convince me that I have any claim upon his patronage, I
shall go right into something and see if I cannot come out on top. You,
I suppose, don't think much of the dirty professions. You'd like your
brother to be a soldier, wouldn't you--or if not that, in the navy. Half
the fellows at Westminster wanted to go into the army, just as though
killing other people were the chief business in life. Of course, I
wouldn't run it down--but what I mean to say is, that I never cared at
all about it myself and so I'm not quite the best judge."

His little confession ended somewhat abruptly, for he observed that his
words appeared to distress Anna Gessner beyond all reason. For many
minutes she remained quite silent. When she spoke her eyes were turned
away and her confusion not altogether to be concealed.

"I'm afraid you take your ideas of us from the cheap story-books," she
said in a low voice; "women, nowadays, have their own ambitions and
think less of men's. My dearest friend is a soldier, but I'm sure he
would be a very foolish one if war broke out. They say he worked
terribly hard in South Africa, but I don't think he ever killed any one.
So you see--I shouldn't ask you to go into the army, and I'm sure my
father would not wish it either."

"It would do no good if he did," said Alban as bluntly. "I should only
make a fool of myself. Your friend must have told you that you want a
pretty good allowance to do upon--and fancy begging from your people
when you were twenty-one. Why, in the East End many a lad of nineteen
keeps a whole family and doesn't think himself ill-used. Isn't it rot
that there should be so much inequality in life, Miss Gessner? I don't
suppose, though, that one would think so if one had money."

She smiled at his question, but diverted the subject cleverly.

"Are you very self-willed, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Do you mean that I get what I want--or try to?"

"I mean that you have your own way in everything. If you were in love
you would carry the poor thing off by force."

"If I were in love and guessed that she was, I should certainly be
outside to time. That's East End, you know, for punctuality."

"You would marry in haste and repent at leisure?"

"It would be yes or no, and that would be the end of it. Girls like a
man who compels them--they like to obey, at least when they are young. I
don't believe any girl ever loved a coward yet. Do you think so
yourself?"

She astonished him by rising suddenly and breaking off the conversation
as abruptly.

"God help me, I don't know what I think," she said; and then, with half
a laugh to cover it, "Here is Mr. Geary come to take care of you. I will
say good-night. We shall meet at breakfast and talk of all this
again--if you get up in time."

He made no answer and she disappeared with just a flash of her ample
skirts into the boudoir and so to the hall beyond. The curate appeared a
minute later, full of apologies and of the Dorcas meeting he had so
lately illuminated with his intellectual presence. A mild cigarette and
a glass of mineral water found him quite ready for bed.

"There will be so much to speak of to-morrow, my dear boy," he said in
that lofty tone which attended his patronage, "there is so much for you
to be thankful for to-day. Let us go and dream of it all. The reality
must be greater than anything we can imagine."

"I'll tell you in a week's time," said Alban, dryly.

A change had come upon him already. For Anna Gessner had betrayed her
secret, and he knew that she had a lover.



CHAPTER X

RICHARD GESSNER DEBATES AN ISSUE


Richard Gessner returned to "Five Gables" as the clock of Hampstead
Parish Church was striking one. A yawning footman met him in the hall
and asked him if he wished for anything. To the man's astonishment, he
was ordered to carry brandy and Vichy water to the bedroom immediately.

"To your room, sir?"

"To my room--are you deaf?"

"I beg your pardon, sir. Miss Gessner has returned."

"My daughter--when?"

"After dinner, sir."

"Was there any one with her?"

"I didn't rightly see, sir. Fellows opened the door--he could tell you,
sir."

Gessner cast a searching glance upon the man's face And then mounted the
great staircase with laborious steps. Passing the door of the room in
which Alban slept, he listened intently for a moment as though half of a
mind to enter; but abandoning the intention, went on to his apartment
and there, when the footman had attended to his requirements, he locked
the door and helped himself liberally to the brandy. An observer would
have remarked that drops of sweat stood upon his brow and that his hand
was shaking.

He had dined with a city company; but had dined as a man who knew
little of the dinner or of those who ate it. Ten days ago his energy,
his buoyant spirits, and his amazing vitality had astonished even his
best friends. To-night these qualities were at their lowest ebb--and he
had been so silent, so self-concentrated, so obviously distressed, that
even a casual acquaintance had remarked the change. To say that a just
Nemesis had overtaken him would be less than the truth. He knew that he
stood accused, not by a man, but by a nation. And to a nation he must
answer.

He locked the door of his room and, drawing a chair to a little Buhl
writing-table, set in the window, he opened a drawer and took therefrom
a little bundle of papers, upon which he had spent nine sleepless nights
and, apparently, would spend still another. They were odd scraps--now of
letters, now of legal documents--the _précis_ of a past which could be
recited in no court of justice, but might well be told aloud to an
unsympathetic world. Had an historian been called upon to deal with such
documents, he would have made nothing whatever of them--but Richard
Gessner could rewrite the story in every line, could garnish it with
passions awakened, fears unnamable, regrets that could not save, despair
that would suffer no consolations.

He had stolen Paul Boriskoff's secret from him and thereby had made a
fortune. Let it be admitted that the first conception of the new furnace
for the refining of copper had come from that white-faced whimpering
miner, who could talk of nothing but his nation's wrongs and had no
finer ambition in life than to feed his children. He, Richard Gessner,
had done what such a fellow never could have done. He had made the
furnace commercially possible and had exploited it through the copper
mines of the world. Such had been the first rung of that magnificent
pecuniary ladder he had afterwards climbed so adroitly. Money he had
amassed beneath his grasping hand as at a magician's touch. He
regretted, he had always regretted, that misfortune overtook Paul
Boriskoff's family--he would have helped them had he been in Poland at
the time; but their offences were adjudged to be political; and if the
wretched woman suffered harm at the hands of the police, what share had
he in it? To this point he charged himself lightly--as men will in
justifying themselves before the finger of an hoary accusation. Gessner
cared neither for God nor man. His only daughter had been at once his
divinity and his religion. Let men call him a rogue, despot, or thief,
and he would shrug his shoulders and glance aside at his profit and loss
account. But let them call him "fool" and the end of his days surely was
at hand.

And so this self-examination to-night troubled itself with no thought of
wrongs committed, with no desire to repay, but only with that supreme
act of folly, to which the sleeping lad in the room near by was the
surest witness. What would the threats of such a pauper as Paul
Boriskoff have mattered if the man had stood alone against him? A word
to the police, a hundred pounds to a score of ruffians, and he would
have been troubled no more. But his quarrel was not with a man but a
nation. Perceiving that the friendship of the Russian Government was
necessary to many of his mining schemes in the East, he had changed his
name as lightly as another would have changed his coat, had cast the
garments of a sham patriotism and emerged an enemy to all that he had
hitherto befriended, a foe to Poland, a servant to Russia.

Acting secretly and with a strong man's discretion, no bruit of this odd
conversion had been made public, no whisper of it heard in the camp of
the Revolutionaries. Many knew Maxim Gogol--none had heard of Richard
Gessner. His desire for secrecy was in good accord with the plans of a
police he assisted and the bureaucracy he bribed. He lived for a while
in Vienna, then at Tiflis--he came at length to England where his
daughter had been educated; and there he established himself, ostensibly
as a wealthy banker, in reality as the secret director of one of the
greatest conspiracies against the liberty of a little nation that the
world had ever seen.

Upon such a man, the blow of discovery fell with, stunning force.
Gessner had grown so accustomed to the security of this suburban life
that he could imagine no circumstance which might disturb it. All that
he did for the satisfaction of the Russian Government had been cleverly
done by agents and deputies. Entitled by his years to leisure, he had
latterly almost abandoned politics for a culture of the arts and the
sciences, in some branches of which he was a master. His leisure he gave
almost entirely to his daughter. To contrive for her an alliance worthy
of his own fortune and of her beauty had become the absorbing passion of
his life. He studied the Peerage as other men study a balance-sheet.
All sorts and conditions of possible husbands appeared at "Five Gables;"
were dined, discussed, and dismissed. The older families despised him
and would not be appeased. To crown his vexation, his daughter named a
lover for herself. He had twice shown Captain Willy Forrest from the
door and twice had the man returned. Anna seemed fascinated by this
showy adventurer as by none other who visited them. Gessner, for his
part, would sooner have lost the half of his fortune than that she
should have married him.

These vexations had been real enough ten days ago; but, to-night, a
greater made light of them and now they were almost forgotten. Detection
had stalked out of the slums to humble this man in an instant and bring
him to his knees. Gessner could have recited to you the most trivial
detail attending the reception of Paul Boriskoff's letter and the claim
it made upon him--how a secretary had passed it to him with a suggestion
that Scotland Yard should know of it; how he had taken up the scrawl
idly enough to flush before them all an instant later and to feel his
heart sink as in an abyss of unutterable dismay. He had crumpled the
dirty paper in his hand, he remembered, and thrown it to the ground--to
pick it up immediately and smooth it out as though it were a precious
document. To his secretary he tried to explain that the writer was an
odd fanatic who must be humored. Determined at the first blush to face
the matter out, to answer and to defy this pauper Pole who had dared to
threaten him, he came ultimately to see that discretion would best serve
him. Paul Boriskoff had named Kensington Gardens as a rendezvous where
matters might be discussed. Gessner was there to the minute--without
idea, without hope, seeking only that pity which he himself had never
bestowed upon any human being.

Paul Boriskoff did not hurry to the Gardens, so sure was he of the
success of his undertaking. The frowsy black coat, in which he made his
bow to the millionaire, had not seen the light for many years--his hat
was a wide-brimmed eccentricity in soft felt which greatly delighted the
nursemaids who passed him by. Gessner would never have recognized, in
the hollow-cheeked, pale-faced, humble creature the sturdy young Pole
who had come to him nearly a generation ago and had said, "Our fortunes
are made; this is my discovery." Believing at the moment that money
would buy such a derelict, body and soul, he opened the negotiations
firmly and in that lofty tone which suited Throgmorton Street so well.
But five minutes had not passed before he understood his mistake and
realized that Boriskoff, the lad who had trusted him, and Boriskoff, the
Pole who now threatened him, were one and the same after all.

"I remember you perfectly," he said; "it would be idle to say that I do
not. You had some claim in the matter of a certain furnace. Yes, I
remember that and would willingly admit it. But, my friend, you fell
into trouble with the Government, and what could I do then? Was not I
also compelled to leave Poland? Did not I change my name for that very
reason? How could I repay the debt? Here in England it is different.
You make your existence known to me and I respond at once. Speak
freely, then, for I shall hear you patiently."

They were seated on a bench beneath a chestnut in full bloom. Distantly,
through a vista of giant trunks, the waters of the Round Pond glimmered
in the evening light. Children, worn out by the day, sat idle in groups
on the benches of the Long Walk or lagged through a fitful game on the
open spaces between the trees. Few observed these two men who thus
earnestly recalled the drama of their lives; none remarked their odd
association, for were not both obviously foreigners, and who shall
dictate a fashion to such as they? Indeed, they conversed without any
animation of gesture; the one convulsed by fears he did not dare to
express, the other by hopes on the threshold of realization.

"I speak freely," said Boriskoff with unaffected candor, "for to do that
I have come here. And first I must set your memory right in a matter
that concerns us both. You did not leave Poland to serve your country;
you left it to betray us. Spare your words, for the story has been told
many times in Warsaw and in London. Shall I give you the list of those
who are tortured to-day at Saghalien because of what you did? It would
be vain, for if you have any feeling, even that of a dog, they are
remembered by you. You betrayed the man who trusted you; you betrayed
your country--for what? Shall I say that it was for this asylum in a
strange land; for power, for the temptations which all must suffer? No,
no. You have had but one desire in all your life, and that is money. So
much even I understand. You are ready now to part with a little of that
money--so little that it would be as a few grains from the sands of the
sea--to save your neck from the rope, to escape the just punishment
which is about to fall upon you. Do not believe that you can do so. I
hold your secret, but at any hour, at any minute, others may share it
with me. Maxim Gogol--for I shall call you by your true name--if one
word of this were spoken to the Committee at Warsaw, how long would you
have to live? You know the answer to that question. Do not compel me to
dwell upon it."

He spoke in a soft purring tone, an echo of a voice, as it were, beneath
the rustling leaves; but, none the less, Richard Gessner caught every
word as though it had been the voice of an oracle. A very shrewd man, he
had feared this knowledge, and fear had brought him to this covert
interview. The Pole could betray him and betrayal must mean death--and
what a death, reluctant, procrastinating, the hour of it unknown, the
manner of it beyond any words terrible. Such had been the end of many
who had left Poland as he had done. He had read their story and
shuddered even in his imagined security. And now this accusation was
spoken, not as a whisper of a voice in the hours of the night, but as
the truth of an inevitable day.

And what should he answer? Would it profit him to speak of law; to
retort with a threat; to utter the commonplaces concerning Scotland Yard
and a vigilant police? He was far too wise even to contemplate such
folly. Let him have this man arrested, and what then? Would any country
thereafter shelter the informer from the vengeance of the thousands
whom no law could arrest? Would any house harbor him against the dagger
of the assassin, the swift blow, it might even be the lingering justice
of such fanatics as sought to rule Poland. He knew that there was none.
Abject assent could be the only reply. He must yield to any humiliation,
suffer any extortion rather than speak the word which would be as
irrevocable as the penalty it invited.

"I shall not dispute with you, Paul Boriskoff," he said, with a last
attempt to save his dignity; "yes, it would be in your power to do me a
great injury even in this country which gives you liberty. It is your
own affair. You did not come here to threaten me, but to seek a favor.
Name it to me and I shall be prepared to answer you. I am not an
ungenerous man as some of our countrymen know. Tell me what you wish and
I shall know how to act."

Boriskoff's answer astonished him by its impetuosity.

"For myself nothing," he exclaimed contemptuously--and these brief words
echoed in Gessner's ears almost as a message of salvation--"for myself
nothing, but for my children much. Yes, your money can make even Paul
Boriskoff despise himself--but it is for the children's sake. I sell my
honor that they may profit by it. I ask for them that which is due to
me, but which I have sworn to forego. Maxim Gogol, it is for the
children that I ask it. You have done me a great wrong, but they shall
profit by it. That is what I am come here to say to-day--that you shall
repay, not to me but to my children."

The words appeared to cost him much, as though he had deliberately
sacrificed a great vengeance that those he loved might profit. Leaping
to the hope of it, and telling himself that this after all was but a
question of pounds, shillings, and pence, Gessner answered with an
eagerness beyond all bounds ridiculous.

"There could be nothing I would do more willingly. Yes, I remember--you
left a daughter in Warsaw and she was not to be discovered by those of
us who would have befriended her. Believe me when I say that I will help
her very gladly. Anything, my friend, anything that is humbly
reasonable--"

Boriskoff did not permit him to finish.

"My daughter will be educated in Germany at your cost," he said curtly.
"I would speak first of one who is as a son to me because of her
affection for him. There is a young Englishman living in Union Street,
the son of a poor clergyman who died in the service of the poor. This
lad you will take into your own house and treat as your own son. It is
my desire and must be gratified. Remember that he is the son of a
gentleman and treat him as such. There will be time enough afterwards to
tell you how you must act in the interests of our people at Warsaw. This
affair is our own and not of politics at all. As God is in heaven, but
for my daughter you, Maxim Gogol, would not be alive this night."

Gessner's heart sank again at the hint of further requests subsequently
to come. The suggestion that he should adopt into his own house a youth
of whom he knew nothing seemed in keeping with the circumstances of this
dread encounter and the penalty that must be paid for it. After all, it
was but a small price to pay for comparative security and the silence of
a tongue which could work such ill. Accustomed to deal with men of all
natures, honest and simple, clever and foolish, secretive and
loquacious, there ran in his mind the desperate idea that he would
temporize with Paul Boriskoff and ultimately destroy him. Let the
Russian Government be informed of the activity of this Pole and of his
intention to visit the Continent of Europe again, and what were
Boriskoff's chances? Such were the treacherous thoughts which stood in
Gessner's mind while he framed an answer which should avert the final
hour of reckoning and give him that opportunity for the counter-stroke
which might yet save all.

"Your youth will profit little in my house," he said with some pretense
of earnestness. "Had you asked an education abroad for him, that would
have been a wiser thing in these days. Frankly, I do not understand your
motive, but I am none the less willing to humor it. Let me know
something more of the lad, let me have his history and then I shall be
able to say what is the best course. I live a very quiet life and my
daughter is much away. There is the possibility also that the boy, if he
be the son of a clergyman, would do much better at Oxford or at
Cambridge than at Hampstead, as you yourself must see. Let us speak of
it afterwards. There will be time enough."

"The time is to-day," rejoined Boriskoff, firmly, "Alban Kennedy will
live under your roof as your own son. I have considered the matter and
am determined upon it. When the time comes for him to marry my
daughter, I will inform you of it. Understand, he knows nothing of your
story or of mine. He will not hear of me in my absence from England. I
leave the burden of this to you. He is a proud lad and will accept no
charity. It must be your task to convince him that he has a title to
your benevolence. Be wise and act discreetly. Our future requisitions
will depend upon your conduct of this affair--and God help you, Maxim
Gogol, if you fail in it."

Something of the fanatic, almost of the madman, spoke in this vehement
utterance. If Gessner had been utterly at a loss as yet to account for a
request so unusual, he now began to perceive in it the instrument of his
own humiliation. Would not this stranger be a perpetual witness to the
hazard of his life, a son who stood also as a hostage, the living voice
of Paul Boriskoff's authority? And what of his own daughter Anna and of
the story he must tell her? These facts he realized clearly but had no
answer to them. The reluctant assent, wrung from his unwilling lips, was
the promise of a man who stood upon the brink of ruin and must answer as
his accusers wished or pay the ultimate penalty. All his common
masterfulness, the habit of autocracy, the anger of the bully and the
tyrant, trembled before the clear cold eyes of this man he had wronged.
He must answer or pay the price, humiliate himself or suffer.

       *       *       *       *       *

And to-night Alban Kennedy slept beneath his roof; the bargain had been
clinched, the word spoken. Twenty thousand pounds had he paid to Paul
Boriskoff that morning for the education of his daughter and in part
satisfaction of the ancient claim. But the witness of his degradation
had come to him and must remain.

Aye, and there the strife of it began. When he put detectives upon the
lad's path, had him followed from Union Street to the caves and from the
caves to his place of employment, the report came to him that he was
interesting himself in a callous ne'er-do-well, the friend of rogues and
vagabonds, the companion of sluts, the despair of the firm which
employed him. He had expected something of the kind, but the seeming
truth dismayed him. In a second interview with Boriskoff he used all his
best powers of argument and entreaty to effect a compromise. He would
send the lad to the University, have him educated abroad, establish him
in chambers--do anything, in fact, but that which the inexorable Pole
demanded of him. This he protested with a humility quite foreign to him
and an earnestness which revealed the depth of the indignity he
suffered; but Boriskoff remained inflexible.

"I am determined upon it," was the harsh retort; "the boy shall be as a
link between us. Keep him from this hell in which he has lived and I
will set so much to your credit. I warn you that you have a difficult
task. Do not fail in it as you value your own safety."

The manner of this reply left Gessner no alternative, and he sent Silas
Geary to Whitechapel as we have seen. A less clever man, perhaps, would
have fenced alike with the proposal and the threat; but he knew his own
countrymen too well for that. Perhaps a hope remained that any kindness
shown to this vagrant lad would win back ultimately his ancient
freedom. Alone in his room this night, a single light rebutting the
darkness, he understood into what an abyss of discovery he had fallen,
the price that must be paid, the debt that he owed to forgotten years.

"This man is a devil," he said, "he will rob me shilling by shilling
until I am a beggar. Good God! that it should have come to this after
twenty years; twenty years which have achieved so much; twenty years of
such slavery as few men have known. And I am helpless; and this beggar
is here to remind me of my enemies, to tell me that I walk in chains and
that their eyes are following me."

He threw himself upon his bed dressed as he was and tried to sleep. The
stillness of the house gave fruitful visions, magnifying all his fears
and bringing him to an unspeakable terror of the days which must come
after. He had many ambitions yet to achieve, great ideas which remained
ideas, masterly projects which must bring him both fame and riches, but
he would have abandoned them all this night if freedom had been offered
him. Years ago, he remembered, Boriskoff, the young miner, had earned
his hatred, he knew not why unless it were a truth that men best hate
those who have served them best. To-night found that old hatred
increased a thousand fold and shaping itself in schemes which he would
not even whisper aloud. He had always been looked upon as a man of good
courage and that courage prompted him to a hundred mad notions--to swift
assassination or to slow intrigue--last of all to self destruction
should his aims miscarry. He would kill himself and cheat them after
all. Many another in Petersburg had sacrificed his life rather than
suffer those years of torture which discovery brought. He knew that he
would not shrink even from the irrevocable if he were driven far enough.

A man may take such a resolution as this and yet a great desire of life
may remain to thwart it. Gessner found himself debating the issues more
calmly as the night wore on, and even asking himself if the presence of
a stranger in his house might be so intolerable as he had believed. He
had seen little of Alban and that little had not been to the young man's
disadvantage. If the youth were not all that report had painted him, if
the amenities of the house should civilize him and kindness win his
favor, then even he might be an advocate for those to whom he owed such
favors. This new phase set Gessner thinking more hopefully than at any
time since the beginning of it. He rose from his bed and turning on the
lamps began to recall all that the Pole had demanded of him. The terms
of the compact were not so very unreasonable, surely, he argued. Let
this young Kennedy consent to remain at "Five Gables" and he, Richard
Gessner, would answer for the rest. But would he consent to
remain--would that wild life of the slums call him back to its freedom
and its friendships? He knew not what to think. A great fear came to
him, not that the lad would remain but that he would go. Had it been at
a reasonable hour, he would have talked to him there and then, for the
hours of that night were beyond all words intolerable. He must see
Kennedy and convince him. In the end, unable to support the doubt, he
quitted his own room, and crossed the landing, irresolute, trembling,
hardly knowing what he did.

       *       *       *       *       *

It would have been about five o'clock of the morning when he entered
Alban's room and discovered him to be still sleeping. A sound of heavy
breathing followed by a restless movement had deceived him and he
knocked upon the door gently, quite expecting to be answered. When no
reply came, he ventured in as one who would not willingly pry upon
another but is compelled thereto by curiosity. The room itself should
have been in darkness, but Alban had deliberately drawn the heavy
curtains back from the windows before he slept, and the wan gray light
of dawn struck down upon his tired face as though seeking out him alone
of all that slept in the house. A lusty figure of shapely youth, a
handsome face which the finger of the World had touched already, these
the light revealed. He slept upon his back, his head turned toward the
light, his arm outstretched and almost touching the floor.

Gessner stood very still, afraid to wake the sleeper and by him to be
thus discovered. No good nationalist at any time, he had always admired
that product of a hard-drinking, hard-fighting ancestry, the British
boy; and in Alban it seemed to him that he discovered an excellent type.
Undoubtedly the lad was both handsome and strong. For his brains, Silas
Geary would answer, and he had given evidence of good wit in their brief
encounter last night. Gessner drew a step nearer and asked himself again
if the detective's reports were true. Was this the friend of vagabonds,
the companion of sluts--this clean-limbed, virile fellow with the fair
face and the flaxen curls and the head of a thinker and a sage? A judge
of men himself, he said that the words were a lie, and then he
remembered Boriskoff's account, the story of a father who had died to
serve an East End Mission, and of a devoted mother worsted in her youth
by those gathering hosts of poverty she had set out so bravely to
combat. Could the son of such as these be all that swift espionage would
have him? Gessner did not believe it. New hopes, as upon a great freshet
of content, came to him to give him comfort. He had no son. Let this lad
be the son whom he had desired so ardently. Let them live together, work
together in a mutual affection of gratitude and knowledge. Who could
prevail against such an alliance? What rancor of Boriskoff's would harm
the lad he desired to be the husband of his daughter. Aye, and this was
the supreme consolation--that if Alban would consent, he, Gessner, would
so earn his devotion and his love that therein he might arm himself
against all the world.

But would he consent? How if this old habit of change asserted itself
and took him back to the depths? Gessner breathed quickly when he
remembered that such might be the end of it. No law could compel the
boy, no guardian claim him. Twice already he had expressed in this house
his contempt for the riches which should have tempted him. Gessner began
to perceive that his fate depended upon a word. It must be "yes" or "no"
to-morrow--and while "yes" would save him, the courage of a hundred men
would not have faced the utmost possibilities of "no."

This simple truth kept the man to the room as though therein lay all his
hopes of salvation. At one time he was upon the point of waking Alban
and putting the question to him. Or again, he tried to creep back to the
landing, determined, in his own room, to suffer as best he could the
hours of uncertainty. Distressed by irresolution he crossed to the
window at last and breathed the cool sweet air of morning as one being a
stranger to such a scene at such an hour. The sun had risen by this time
and all the landscape stood revealed in its morning beams. Not yet had
London stirred to the murmur of the coming day--no smoke rose from her
forest of chimneys, no haze drifted above the labyrinth. Far below she
lay, a maze of empty streets, of shuttered shops, of vast silent
buildings--a city of silence, hiding her cares from the glory of the
dawn, veiling her sorrow and her suffering, hushing her children to
rest, deaf to the morning voices; rich and poor alike turning from the
eyes of the day to Mother Sleep upon whose heart is eternal rest. Such a
city Gessner beheld while he looked from the window, and the golden
beams lighted his pallid face and the sweet air of day called him to
deed and resolution. What victories he had won upon that grimy field;
what triumphs he had known; what hours of pomp and vanity--what bitter
anguish! And now he might rule there no longer. Detection had stalked
out of the unknown and touched him upon the shoulder. Somewhere in that
labyrinth his enemies were sleeping. But one human being could shield
him from them, and he a lad--without home or friends, penniless and a
wanderer.

He drew back from the window, saying that the hours of suspense must be
brief and that his will should prevail with this lad, at whatever
sacrifice. Believing that his old shrewdness would help him, and that in
Alban not only the instrument of his salvation but of his vengeance
should be found, he would have quitted the room immediately, had not his
eye lighted at hazard upon a rough paper, lying upon the floor by the
bed, and a pencil which had tumbled from Alban's tired hand. Perceiving
that the lad had been drawing, and curious beyond ordinary to know the
subject of his picture, he picked the paper up to discover thereon a
rude portrait which he recognized instantly for that of his daughter,
Anna. Such a discovery, thrusting into his schemes as it did an idea
which hitherto had escaped him, held him for an instant spellbound with
wonder. A clever man, accustomed to arrive at conclusions swiftly, the
complexity of his thoughts, the strife of arguments now unnerved him
utterly. For he perceived both a great possibility and a great danger.

He is "to marry Lois Boriskoff" was the silent reflection--"to marry the
daughter. And this--this--good God, the man would never forgive me
this!"

The paper tumbled from his hands. Alban, turning upon his pillow, sighed
in his sleep. A neighboring church clock struck six; there were workmen
going down to the city which must now awake to the labors of the day.



CHAPTER XI

WHIRLWIND


Captain Willy Forrest admitted that he had few virtues, but he never
charged himself with the vice of idleness. In town or out of it, his
trim man-servant, Abel, would wake him at seven o'clock and see that he
had a cup of tea and the morning papers by a quarter-past. Fine physical
condition was one of the ambitions of this lithe shapely person, whose
father had been a jockey and whose mother had not forgotten to the day
of her death the manner in which measurements are taken upon a counter.

Willy Forrest, by dint of perseverance, had really come to believe that
these worthy parents never existed but in his imagination. To the world
he was the second son of the late Sir John Forrest, Bart., whose
first-born, supposed to be in Africa, had remained beyond the pale for
many years. Society, which rarely questions pleasant people, took him at
his word and opened many doors to him. In short, he was a type of
adventurer by no means uncommon, and rarely unsuccessful when there are
brains to back the pretensions.

He was not a particularly evil rascal, and women found him charming.
Possessed of a merry face, a horsey manner and a vocabulary which would
have delighted a maker of slang dictionaries, he pushed his my
everywhere, not hoping for something to turn up, but determined that his
own cleverness should contrive that desirable arrival. When he met Anna
Gessner at Ascot a year ago, the propitious moment seemed at hand. "The
girl is a gambler to her very boots," he told himself, while he
reflected that a seat upon the box of such a family coach would
certainly make his fortune. Willy Forrest resolved to secure such a seat
without a moment's loss of time.

This determination taken, the ardor with which he pursued it was
surprising. A cunning fox-like instinct led him to read Anna Gessner's
character as few others who had known her. Believing greatly in the
gospel of heredity, he perceived that Anna owed much to her father and
more to her nationality. "She is selfish and passionate, a little devil
in single harness who would be worse in double"--this was his reading of
her; to which he added the firm resolution to put the matter to the
proof without loss of time.

"I shall weigh in immediately and the weights will be light," he
thought. "She likes a bit of a flutter and I'll see that she gets it.
There is plenty of corn in the old man's manger, and if it comes to
bursting the bag, I will carry home the pieces. There's where I drive
the car. She shall play and I will be her pet lamb. Great Jupiter, what
a catch!"

The result of this pretty conclusion is next to be seen in a cottage in
Hampshire, not far removed from the racing stables of the great John
Farrier, who, as all the world knows, is one of the most honest and the
most famous trainers in the country. This cottage had Willy Forrest
furnished (indirectly at Anna's expense) in a manner worthy of all the
artistic catalogues. And hither would Anna come, driving over from her
father's country-house near Basingstoke, and caring not a fig what the
grooms might think of her.

"Captain Forrest is my trainer," she told the men, bidding them to be
secret.

For any other explanation they cared not at all. To run a horse in a
great race seemed to them the highest of human achievements, and great
was their wonder that this fragile girl should dare it. "She be a rare
good 'un and a stayer. Derned if I don't put my last button on
Whirlwind." This was the extent of the scandal that she caused.

Anna motored over to "The Nest" some three weeks after Alban had been
received at Hampstead, and found Willy Forrest anxiously waiting for her
at the gate. She had brought with her one of those obliging dependents
who act so cheerfully as unnecessary chaperones, and this "person" she
left in the smart car while she entered the cottage and told the owner
that he was forgiven. Their quarrel had been vehement and tempestuous
while it lasted--and the Captain remembered that she had struck him with
her whip.

"I knew you'd come, Anna," he said good-humoredly while he opened the
gate for her. "Of course, I don't bear you any grudge. Good Lord, how
you went it last time. I might have been a hair-trunk that had let you
down at a gate. Eh, what--do you remember it? And the old chin-pot which
cost me twenty guineas. Why, you smashed it all to bits with your
whip--eh, what? I've laughed till I cried every time I tried to stick it
together again. Come right in and let's shake hands. You've got an
oddish looking lot in the car--bought her in at the sale, I suppose--eh,
what? Well, I'm glad to see you really."

She looked a little downcast, he thought, but prettier than he had ever
seen her before. It was quite early in the morning and his table had
been set out for breakfast, with dainty old-fashioned china and a silver
kettle singing over a lamp. Anna took her favorite arm-chair, and
drawing it close to the table permitted him to give her a cup of tea.

"You wanted to make a cheat of me," she said calmly enough. "Oh, yes, I
have heard all about it. There's nothing whatever the matter with
Whirlwind. He must win the cup--John Farrier says so. You are the person
who does not wish him to win."

Adventurers never blush when they are found out, and Willy Forrest was
no exception to the rule.

"Oh, there you are," he cried boisterously, "just the same old
kettle-drum and the same old sticks. Do you think I don't know as much
about a horse as Farrier? Good Lord, he makes me sick--I'd sooner hear a
Salvation Army Band playing 'Jumping Jerusalem' on the trombone than old
John Farrier talking honest. Are we running nags to pay the brokers out
or to make a bit on our sweet little own--eh, what? Are we
white-chokered philanthropists or wee wee baby mites on the nobbly
nuggets? Don't you listen to him, Anna. You'll have to sell your boots
if you follow old John."

She stirred her tea and sipped it slowly.

"You said Whirlwind was going lame on the near fore-leg, and it isn't
true," she exclaimed upon a pause. "What was your object in telling me
that?"

"I said it before the grooms and you didn't give me a chance of blowing
the smoke away afterwards. You say you are racing to make money and
what's the good of hymns and milk? This horse will start at eleven to
four on unless you're careful--where's my gold-lined shower bath then?
Don't you see that you must put the market back--frighten the backers
off and then step in? That's what I was trying to teach you all the
time. Give out on the loud trumpet that the horse has gone dickey and
leave 'em uncertain for a week whether he's running or sticking. Your
money's on through a third party in the 'tween times and your cheeks are
as red as roses when the flag goes down."

"And if the horse should not win after you have cheated the people?"

"You'll be some five thousand out of pocket--that's all. Now, Anna,
don't let us have any mumble-pie between us. I'm not the dark man of the
story-books who lures the beautiful heroine on to play, and you're not
the wonderful Princess who breaks her old pa and marries because he's
stony. You can't get overmuch out of the old man and you're going to
make the rest at Tattersalls. If you listen to me, you'll make it--but
if you don't, if you play the giddy goat with old John Farrier in the
pulpit; well, then, the sooner you write cheques the better. That's the
plain truth and you may take it or leave it. There are not three honest
men racing and Willy Forrest don't join the trinity. We'll do as all
the crowd does and leave 'em to take care of themselves. You make a book
that they know how to do it. Oh, my stars, don't they--eh, what?"

Anna did not reply immediately to this odd harangue. She knew a good
deal about horses, but nothing whatever about the knavery of betting,
the shoddy tricks of it and the despicable spirit in which this great
game is often played. Something of her father's cunning, inherited and
ineradicable, led her to condone the Captain's sporting creed and not to
seek understanding. The man's high spirits made a sure appeal to her.
She could not comprehend it wholly--but she had to admit that none of
all her father's widening circle had ever appealed to her as this
nimble-tongued adventurer, who could make her heart quicken every time
their hands touched.

"I don't like it," she said anon, "and I don't want anything to do with
it. You make Whirlwind win the race and nobody will be hurt. If they bet
against the horse, what is that to me? How can I help what they
think--and I don't care either if they are so foolish. Didn't you
promise me that I should see him gallop this morning? I wouldn't have
motored over otherwise. You said that there was to be a Trial--"

"Divine angel, we are at your feet always. Of course, there's a Trial.
Am I so foolish as to suppose that you came over to see Willy
Forrest--eh, what? Have I lost the funny-bone up above? Farrier is going
to gallop the nags in half an hour's time. Your smoke-machine can take
us up the hill and there we'll form our own conclusions. You leave the
rest to me. It will be a bright sunny morning when they put any salt on
Willy Forrest's tail--eh, what?"

She admitted the truth with the first smile he had seen since she
entered the cottage. His quick bustling manner, the deference he always
paid to her, despite his odd phrases, won upon her good humor and led
her to open her heart to him.

"My father is going mad," she said quietly--his startled "eh, what" not
preventing her; "we are making our house a home for the destitute, and
the first arrived just three weeks ago. Imagine a flaxen-haired image of
righteousness, who draws my portrait on the covers of books and puts
feathers in my hat. He is in love with me, Willy, and he is to be my big
brother. Yesterday I took him to Ranalegh and heard a discourse upon the
beauties of nature and the wonders of the air and the sky. Oh, my dear
man--what a purgatory and what an event. We are going to sell our jewels
presently and to live in Whitechapel. My father, I must tell you, seems
afraid of this beautiful apparition and implores him every day not to go
away. I know that he stops because he is inclined to make love to me.

"Whew--so it's only 'inclined' at present?"

"Absolutely as you say. There appear to be two of us. I have been
expecting a passionate declaration--but the recollections of a feathered
beauty who once lived in a fairy palace, in a wonderland where you dine
upon red herrings--she is my hated rival. I am more beautiful,
observe--that is conceded, but he cannot understand me. The feathered
hat has become my salvation. My great big brother can't get over
it--and oh, the simplicity of the child, the youthful verdant
confidence, my Willy. Don't you see that the young man thinks I am an
angel and is wondering all the time where the wings have gone to."

"Ha, ha--he'd better ask Paquin. Are you serious, Anna?"

"As serious as the Lord High Executioner himself. My father has adopted
a youth--and I have a big brother. He has consented to dwell in our
house and to spend our savings because he believes that by so doing he
is in some way helping me. I don't in the least want his help, but my
father is determined that I shall have it. I am not to bestow my young
affections upon him--nor, upon the other hand, am I to offend him. Admit
that the situation is delightful. Pity a poor maiden in her distress."

Willy Forrest did not like the sound of it at all.

"The old chap must have gone dotty," he remarked presently; "they're
often taken this way when they get to a certain age. You'll have to sit
tight and see about it, Anna. He isn't too free with the ready as it
is--and if you've a boy hanging about, God help you. Why don't you be
rude to him? You know the way as well as most--eh, what?"

"I'm positively afraid to. Do you know, my dear man, that if this
Perfect Angel left us, strange things would happen. My father says so,
and I believe he speaks the truth. There is a mystery--and I hate
mysteries."

"Get hold of the feathered lady and hear what she has to say."

"Impossible but brilliant. She has gone to Germany."

"Oh, damn--then he'll be making love to you. I say, Anna, there's not
going to be any billing and cooing or anything of that sort. I'm not
very exacting, but the way you look at men is just prussic acid to me.
If this kid should begin--"

She laughed drolly.

"He is my great big brother," she said--and then jumping up--"let us go
and see the horses. You'll be talking nonsense if we don't. And, Willy,
I forbid you to talk nonsense."

She turned and faced him in mock anger, and he, responding instantly,
caught her in his arms and kissed her ardently.

"What a pair of cherubs," he exclaimed, "what a nest of cooing doves--I
say, Anna, I must kill that kid--or shall it be the fatted calf?
There'll be murder done somewhere if he stops at Hampstead."

"If it were done, then when it were done--O let me go, Willy, your arms
are crushing me."

He released her instantly and, snatching up a cap, set out with her to
the downs where the horses were being stripped for the gallop. The
morning of early summer was delightfully fragrant--a cool breeze came up
from the sea and every breath invigorated. Old John Farrier, mounted on
a sturdy cob, met them at the foot of a great grassy slope and
complained that it was over late in the day for horses to gallop, but,
as he added, "they'll have to do it at Ascot and they may as well do it
here." A silent man, old John had once accompanied Willy Forrest to a
dinner at the Carlton which Anna gave to a little sporting circle. Then
he uttered but one remark, seeming to think some observation necessary,
and it fell from his lips in the pause of a social discussion. "I always
eat sparrer-grass with my fingers," he had said, and wondered at the
general hilarity.

Old John was unusually silent upon this morning of the trial, and when
he named the weights at which the horses would gallop, his voice sank to
a sepulchral whisper. "The old 'oss is giving six pounds," he said, "he
should be beat a length. If it's more, go cautious, miss, and save your
money for another day. He hasn't been looking all I should like of him
for a long time--that's plain truth; and when a horse isn't looking all
I should like of him, 'go easy' say I and keep your money under the
bed."

Anna laughed at the kindly advice, and leaving the car she walked to the
summit of the hill and there watched the horses--but three pretty specks
they appeared--far down in the hollow. The exhilaration of the great
open spaces, the wide unbroken grandeur of the downs, the sweetness of
the air, the freshness of the day, brought blood to her pallid cheeks
and a sparkle of life to her eyes. How free it all was, how
unrestrained, how suggestive of liberty and of a boundless kingdom! And
then upon it all the excitements of the gallop, the thunder of hoofs
upon the soft turf, the bent figures of the jockeys, the raking strides
of the beautiful horses--Anna no longer wondered why sport could so
fascinate its devotees. She felt at such a moment that she would have
gladly put her whole fortune upon Whirlwind.

"He wins--he wins--he wins," she cried as the three drew near, and Willy
Forrest, watching her with cunning eyes, said that the trap was closed
indeed and the key in his possession. Whirlwind, a magnificent chestnut
four-year-old, came striding up the hill as though the last furlong of
the mile and a half he had galloped were his chief delight. He was a
winner by a short head as they passed the post, and old John Farrier
could not hide his satisfaction.

"He's the best plucked 'un in England to-day, lady, and you may put your
wardrobe on him after that. Be quick about it though, for there'll be no
odds to speak of when the touts have written to-day's work in the
newspapers. Go and telegraph your commissions now. There isn't a minute
to lose."

Willy Forrest seconded the proposal eagerly.

"I should back him for five thou," he said as they left the course
together, "what's the good of half measures? You might as well play
dominoes in a coffee shop. And I can always break the news to your
father if you lose."

Anna hardly knew what to say. When she consented finally to risk the
money, she did not know that Willy Forrest was the man who laid against
her horse, and that if she lost it would be to him.

"The boss is good enough," he told himself, "but the near-off is dicky
or I never saw one. She'll lose the money and the old boy will pay
up--if I compel her to ask him. That depends on the kid. She couldn't
help making eyes at him if her life depended on it. Well--she's going to
marry me, and that's the long and short of it. Fancy passing a certainty
at my time of life. Do I see it--eh, what?"

And so they went their ways: Anna back to London to the solemn routine
of the big house; Willy Forrest to Epsom to try, as he said, "and pick
up the nimble with a pencil."



CHAPTER XII

ALBAN SEES LIFE


Alban had been five weeks at Hampstead when he met Willy Forrest for the
first time, and was able to gratify his curiosity concerning one whom he
believed to be Anna's lover.

The occasion was Richard Gessner's absence in Paris upon a business of
great urgency and the immediate appearance of the dashing captain at
"Five Gables." True, Anna behaved with great discretion, but, none the
less, Alban understood that this man was more to her than others, and he
did not fail to judge him with that shrewd scrutiny even youth may
command.

Willy Forrest, to give him his due, took an instinctive liking to the
new intruder and was not to be put off, however much his attentions were
displeasing to Anna. A cunning foresight, added to a fecund imagination
and a fine taste for all _chroniques scandaleuses_, led him to determine
that Alban Kennedy might yet inherit the bulk of Gessner's fortune and
become the plumpest of all possible pigeons. Should this be the case,
those who had been the young man's friends in the beginning might well
remain so to the end. He resolved instantly to cultivate an acquaintance
so desirable, and lost not a moment in the pursuit of his aims.

"My dear chap," he said on the third day of their association, "you are
positively growing grass in this place. Do you never go anywhere? Has no
one taught you how to amuse yourself?"

Alban replied that everything was so new to him that he desired no other
amusement than its enjoyment.

"It was almost years since I saw a tree that was not black," he said;
"the water used to drip through the roof of my garret, and there was a
family in the room on the opposite side of the landing. I don't think
you can understand what this house means to me. Perhaps I don't
understand myself. I'm almost afraid to go to sleep at night for fear I
should wake up in Union Street and find it all a fairy story. Mr.
Gessner says I am to stop with them always--but he might change his mind
and then it would be Commercial Road again--if I had the courage to go
back there."

Forrest had known evil times himself, and he could honestly appreciate
the possibility.

"Stick by the old horse while he sticks by you," was his candid advice.
"I expect he's under a pretty stiff obligation to some of your people
who are gone, and this is how he's paying it. You take all the corn you
can get and put it in your nose-bag. Anna herself tells me that the old
man is only happy while you are in the house. Play up to it, old chap,
and grease your wheels while the can's going round."

This very worldy advice fell upon ears strikingly deficient in
understanding subtleties. Alban could not dislike Forrest, though he
tried his best to do so. There was something sympathetic about the
fellow, rogue that he was, and even shrewd men admitted his
fascination. When the Captain proposed that they should go down to the
West End of London and see a little of life together, Alban consented
gladly. New experiences set him hungering after those supposed delights
which were made so much of in the newspapers. He reflected how very
little he really knew of the world and its people.

It was a day of early June when they set off in that very single
brougham which had carried Silas Geary to Whitechapel. The Captain,
having first ascertained the amount of money in his friend's possession,
proposed a light lunch in the restaurant of the Savoy, and there, to do
him justice, he was amusing enough.

"People are all giving up houses and living in restaurants nowadays," he
said as they sat at table. "I don't blame 'em either. Just think of the
number of nags in those big stables, all eating their heads off and
smoking your best cigars--eh, what? Why, I kept myself in weeds a few
years ago--got 'em for twopence halfpenny from a butler in Curzon Street
and never smoked better. You don't want to do that, for you can bottle
old Bluebeard's and try 'em on the dog--eh, what? When you marry, don't
you take a house. A man who lives in a hotel doesn't seem as though he
were married and that's good for the filly. Look at these angels here.
Why, half of them sold the family oak tree a generation ago, and
Attenborough down the street will tell you what their Tiffanies are
worth. They live in hotels because it's cheaper, and they wear French
paste because the other is at uncle's. That's the truth, my boy, and all
the world knows it."

Alban listened with an odd cynical smile upon his face, but he did not
immediately reply. This famous hotel had seemed a cavern of all the
wonders when first he entered it, and he would not willingly abandon his
illusions. The beautifully dressed women, the rustling gowns, the
chiffon, the lace, the feathers, the diamonds--might he not have thought
that they stood for all that pomp and circumstance of life which the
East End denounced so vehemently and the West End as persistently
demanded? Of the inner lives of these people he knew absolutely nothing.
And, after all, he remembered, men and women are much the same whatever
the circumstance.

"I like to be in beautiful places," he confessed in his turn, "and this
place seems to me very beautiful. Does it really matter to us, Forrest,
what the people do or what they are so long as they don't ask us to be
the same? Jimmy Dale, a parson in Whitechapel, used to say that a man
was just what his conscience made him. I don't see how the fact of
living in or out of a hotel would matter anyway--unless you leave your
conscience in a cab. The rest is mostly talk, and untrue at that, they
say. You yourself know that you don't believe half of it."

"My dear man, what would life be if one were incredulous? How would the
newspaper proprietors buy bread and cheese, to say nothing of pâte de
foie gras and ninety-two Pommery if the world desired the truth? This
crowd is mostly on the brink of a precipice, and a man or a woman goes
over every day. Then you have the law report and old Righteousness in a
white wig, who has not been found out, to pronounce a judgment. I'd
like to wager that not one in three of these people ever did an honest
day's work in a lifetime. One half is rank idle--the other half is
trying to live on the remainder. Work it out and pass me the wine--and
mind you don't get setting up any images for time to knock down--eh,
what?"

Alban would not wrangle with him, and for a little while he ate in
silence, watching the sparkling throng and listening to such scraps of
conversation as floated to him from merry tables. Down in Union Street
it had been the fashion to decry idleness and the crimes of the
rich--the orators having it that leisure was criminal and ease a heinous
sin. Alban had never believed in any such fallacy. "We are all born
lazy," he had said, "and few of us would work unless we had to. Vanity
is at the bottom of all that we do. If no one were vain, the world would
stand still." In the Savoy, his arguments seemed to be justified a
hundredfold. A sense of both content and dignity came to him. He began
almost to believe that money could ennoble as well as satisfy.

Willy Forrest, of course, knew nothing whatever of thoughts such as
these. He was a past master in the art of killing time and he boasted
that he rarely knew an "idle hour." His programme for this day seemed
altogether beyond criticism.

"We'll look in at the club afterwards and play a game of bridge--you can
stand by me and see me win--or perhaps you'd like a side bet. Then we
might turn into the park to give the girls a treat--eh, what?--and go
on to the New Bridge Club to dress. After that there's the old sporting
shanty and a bit of a mill between Neddy Tinker and Marsh Hill. You
never saw a fight, I suppose? Man, but your education has been
neglected."

Alban smiled and admitted his deficiencies.

"I've seen many a set-to in Commercial Road and taken a hand sometimes.
Is it really quite necessary to my education?"

"Absolutely indispensable. You must do everything and be seen
everywhere. If I had time, I'd give you the personal history of half the
light-weights in this room. Look at that black crow in the corner there.
He's a Jew parson from Essex--as rich as bottled beer and always stops
here. Last time I rode a welter down his way they told me his favorite
text was "Blessed are the poor." He's a pretty figurehead for a
bean-feast, isn't he? That chirpy barrister next door has a practice of
fifteen thou. The blighter once cross-examined me in a card-sharping
case and made me look the biggest damned fool in Europe. Did I rest on
my laurels--eh, what? Why, sir, he can't cross a race-course now without
having his pocket picked. My doing, my immortal achievement. The little
Countess next door used to do stunts at the _Nouveau Cirque_. Lord
Saxe-Holt married her when he was hazy and is taming her. That old chap,
who eats like a mule, is Lord Whippingham. He hasn't got a sixpence, and
if you ask me how he lives--well, there are ways and means foreign to
your young and virgin mind. The old geezer used to run after little
Betty Sine at the Apollo--but she put an ice down his back at supper
here one night and then there were partings. Some day I'll take you to
the Blenheim and show you England's aristocracy in arm-chairs--we
haven't time to-day and here's the coffee coming. Pay up and be thankful
that your new pa isn't overdrawn, and has still a shekel or two in his
milk jug. My godfather!--but you are a lucky young man, and so you are
beginning to think, I suppose."

Alban did not condescend to answer a question so direct. He was still
quite uncertain as to his future, and he would not discuss it with this
irresponsible, who had undertaken to be his worldly mentor. When they
left the Savoy it was to visit a club in Trafalgar Square and there
discover the recumbent figures of aged gentlemen who had lunched not
wisely but too well. Of all that he had seen in the kingdoms of money,
Alban found this club least to his liking. The darkness of its great
rooms, the insolence of its members toward the servants who waited upon
them, the gross idleness, the trivial excitements of the card-room, the
secret drinking in remote corners--he had never imagined that men of
brains could so abase themselves, and he escaped ultimately to Hyde Park
with a measure of thankfulness he would not conceal.

"Why do people go to places like that, Forrest?" he asked as they went.
"What enjoyment do they get out of them?"

Willy Forrest, who had taken a "mahogany one" in the club and was
getting mighty confidential, answered him as candidly.

"Half of 'em go to get away from their wives, the other half to win
money--eh, what?"

"But why do they never speak to each other?"

"Put two game-cocks in a pen and then ask again. It's a club, my boy,
and so they think every other man a rogue or a fool."

"And do they pay much for the privilege?"

"That depends on the airs they give themselves. I've been pilled for
half the clubs in town and so, I suppose, I'm rather a decent sort of
chap. It used to be a kind of hall-mark to get in a good club, but we
live at hotels nowadays and don't care a dump for them. That's why half
of 'em are on the verge of bankruptcy. Don't you trouble about them,
unless you get a filly that bolts. I shall have to give up clubs
altogether, I suppose, when I marry Anna--eh, what?"

He laughed at the idea, and Alban remaining silent, he whistled a hansom
in a way that would have done credit to a railway porter, and continued
affably.

"You knew that I was going to marry Anna, didn't you? She told you on
the strict q.t., didn't she? Oh, my stars, how she can talk! I shall buy
an ear-trumpet when we're in double harness. But Anna told you, now
didn't she?"

"I have only once heard her mention your name--she certainly did not
speak of being engaged."

"They never do when the old man bucks--eh, what? Gessner don't like me,
and I'd poison him for a shilling. Why shouldn't I marry her? I can ride
a horse and point a gun and throw a fly better than most. Can Old
Bluebeard go better--eh, what? The old pot-hook, I'd play him any game
you like to name for a pony aside and back myself to the Day of
Judgment. And he's the man who talks about bagging a Duke for his girl!
Pshaw, Anna would kick the coronet downstairs in three days and the
owner after it. You must know that for yourself--she's a little devil to
rear and you can't touch her on the curb--eh, what, you've noticed it
yourself?"

Alban declared quite frankly that he had noticed nothing whatever. Not
for a fortune would he have declared his heart to this man, the hopes,
the perplexities, and the self-reproach which had attended ever these
early weeks in wonderland. Just as Anna's shrewdness had perceived, so
was it the truth that an image of perfect womanhood dazzled his
imagination and left him without any clear perception whatever. For
little Lois of the slums he had a sterling affection, begotten of long
association and of mutual sympathy--but the vision of Anna had been the
beatification of his love dream, so to speak, deceiving him by its
immense promise and leading him to credit Gessner's daughter with all
those qualities of womanhood which stood nearest to his heart's desire.
Here was a Lois become instantly more beautiful, more refined, more
winning. If he remained true to the little friend of his boyish years,
his faith had been obscured for a moment by this superb apparition of a
young girl's beauty, enshrined upon the altar of riches and endowed with
those qualities which wealth alone could purchase. Anna, indeed, held
him for a little while spellbound, and now he listened to Forrest as
though a heresy against all women were spoken.

"I did not know you were engaged," he said quite frankly. "Anna
certainly has never told me. Of course, I congratulate you. She is a
very beautiful girl, Forrest."

"That's true, old chap. You might see her in the paddock and pick her at
a glance--eh, what? But it's mum at present--not a whistle to the old
man until the south wind blows. And don't you tell Anna either. She'd
marry somebody else if she thought I was really in love with her--eh,
what?"

Alban shrugged his shoulders but had nothing to say. They had now come
to the famous Achilles Statue in Hyde Park, and there they walked for
half an hour amidst the showily dressed women on the lawn. Willy Forrest
was known to many of these and everywhere appeared sure of a familiar
welcome. The very men, who would tell you aside that he was a "wrong
'un," nodded affably to him and sometimes stopped to ask him what was
going to win the Oaks. He patronized a few pretty girls with
condescending recognition and immediately afterwards would relate to
Alban the more intimate and often scandalous stories of their families.
At a later moment they espied Anna herself in a superb victoria drawn by
two strawberry roans. And to their intense astonishment they perceived
that she had the Reverend Silas Geary in the carriage by her side.

"A clever little devil, upon my soul," said the Captain, ecstatically,
"to cart that fire-escape round and show him to the crowd. She must
have done it to annoy me--eh, what? She thinks I'm not so much an angel
as I look and is going to make me good. Oh, my stars--let's get. I shall
be saying the catechism if I stop here any longer."



CHAPTER XIII

ALBAN REVISITS UNION STREET


Alban escaped from the Sporting Club at a quarter to eleven, sick of its
fetid atmosphere and wearied by its mock brutalities. He made no
apologies for quitting Willy Forrest--for, truth to tell, that merry
worthy was no longer capable of understanding them. Frequent calls for
whisky-and-soda, added to a nice taste for champagne at dinner, left the
Captain in that maudlin condition in which a man is first cousin to all
the world--at once garrulous and effusive and generally undesirable.
Alban had, above all things, a contempt for a drunken man; and leaving
Forrest to the care of others of his kind, he went out into the street
and made his way slowly eastward.

It was an odd thing to recall; but he had hardly set foot east of the
Temple, he remembered, since the day when the bronze gates of Richard
Gessner's house first closed upon him and the vision of wonderland burst
upon his astonished eyes. The weeks had been those of unending kindness,
of gifts showered abundantly, of promises for the future which might
well overwhelm him by their generosity. Let him but consent to claim his
rights, Gessner had said, and every ambition should be gratified. No
other explanation than that of a lagging justice could he obtain--and no
other had he come to desire. If he remained at Hampstead, the image of
Anna Gessner, of a perfect womanhood as he imagined it, kept him to the
house. He did not desire his patron's money; he began to discover how
few were his wants and how small the satisfaction of their gratification
could be. But the image he worshipped ever--and at its feet all other
desires were forgotten.

And now reality had come with its sacrilegious hand, warring upon the
vision and bidding him open his eyes and see. It was easy enough to
estimate this adventurer Willy Forrest at his true worth, less easy to
bind the wounds imagination had received and to set the image once more
upon its ancient pedestal. Could he longer credit Anna with those
qualities with which his veneration had endowed her? Must there not be
heart searchings and rude questionings, the abandonment of the dream and
the stern corrections of truth? He knew not what to think. A voice of
reproach asked him if he also had not forgotten. The figure of little
Lois Boriskoff stood by him in the shadows, and he feared to speak with
her lest she should accuse him.

Let it be said in justice that he had written to Lois twice, and heard
but lately that she had left Union Street and gone, none knew whither.
His determination to do his utmost for her and her father, to bid them
share his prosperity and command him as they would, had been strong with
him from the first and delayed only by the amazing circumstances of his
inheritance. He did not understand even yet that he had the right to
remain at "Five Gables," but this right had so often been insisted upon
that he began at last to believe in its reality and to accept the
situation as a _chose jugée_. And with the conviction, there came an
intense longing to revisit the old scenes--who knows, it may have been
but the promptings of a vanity after all.

It was a great thing, indeed, to be walking there in the glare of the
lamps and telling himself that fortune and a future awaited him, that
the instrument of mighty deeds would be his inheritance, and that the
years of his poverty were no more. How cringingly he had walked
sometimes in the old days when want had shamed him and wealth looked
down upon him with contempt. To-night he might stare the boldest in the
face, nurse fabulous desires and know that they would be gratified, peer
through the barred windows of the shops and say all he saw was at his
command. A sense of might and victory attended his steps. He understood
what men mean when they say that money is power and that it rules the
world.

He turned eastward, and walking with rapid strides made his way down the
Strand and thence by Ludgate Circus to Aldgate and the mean streets he
knew so well. It was nearly midnight when he arrived there, and yet he
fell in with certain whom he knew and passed them by with a genial nod.
His altered appearance, the black overcoat and the scarf which hid his
dress clothes, called for many a "Gor blime" or "Strike me dead." Women
caught his arm and wrestled with him, roughs tried to push him from the
pavement and were amazed at his good humor. In Union Street he first met
little red-haired Chris Denham and asked of her the news. She shrank
back from him as though afraid, and answered almost in a whisper.

"Lois gone--she went three weeks ago. I thought you'd have know'd it--I
thought you was sweet on her, Alban. And now you come here like
that--what's happened to you, whatever have you been doing of?"

He told her gaily that he had found new friends.

"But I haven't forgotten the old ones, Chris, and I'm coming down to see
you all some day soon. How's your mother--what's she doing now?"

The girl shrugged her shoulders and the glance she turned upon him
seemed to say that she would sooner speak on any other subject.

"What should she be doin'--what's any of us doin' but slave our bones
off and break our hearts. You've come to see Lois' father, haven't you?
Oh, yes, I know how much you want to talk about my mother. The old man's
up there in the shop--I saw him as I came by."

Alban stood an instant irresolute. How much he would have liked to offer
some assistance to this poor girl, to speak of real pecuniary help and
friendship. But he knew the people too well. The utmost delicacy would
be necessary.

"Well," he said, "I'm sorry things are not better, Chris. I've had a
good Saturday night, you see, and if I can do anything, don't you mind
letting me know. We'll talk of it when we have more time. I'm going on
to see Boriskoff now, and I doubt that I'll find him out of bed."

She laughed a little wildly, still turning almost pathetic eyes upon
him.

"Is it true that it's all off between you and Lois--all the Court says
it is. That's why she went away, they say--is it true, Alb, or are they
telling lies? I can't believe it myself. You're not the sort to give a
girl over--not one that's stood by you as well as Lois. Tell me it ain't
true or I shall think the worse of you."

The question staggered him and he could not instantly answer it. Was it
true or false? Did he really love little Lois and had he still an
intention to marry her? Alban had never looked the situation straight in
the face until this moment.

"I never tell secrets," he exclaimed a little lamely, and turning upon
his heel, he shut his ears to the hard laugh which greeted him and went
on, as a man in a dream, to old Boriskoff's garret. A lamp stood in the
window there and the tap of a light hammer informed him that the
indefatigable Pole was still at work. In truth, old Paul was bending
copper tubing--for a firm which said that he had no equal at the task
and paid him a wage which would have been despised by a
crossing-sweeper.

Alban entered the garret quietly and was a little startled by the sharp
exclamation which greeted him. He knew nothing, of course, of the part
this crafty Pole had played or what his own change of circumstance owed
to him. To Alban, Paul Boriskoff was just the same mad revolutionary as
before--at once fanatic and dreamer and, before then, the father of Lois
who had loved him. If the old fellow had no great welcome for the young
Englishman to-night, let that be set down to his sense of neglect and,
in some measure, to his daughter's absence.

"Good evening, Mr. Boriskoff, you are working very late to-night."

Alban stood irresolute at the door, watching the quick movements of the
shaggy brows and wondered what had happened to old Paul that he should
be received so coolly. Had he known what was in the Pole's mind he would
have as soon have jumped off London Bridge as have braved the anger of
one who judged him so mercilessly in that hour. For Boriskoff had heard
the stories which Hampstead had to tell, and he had said, "He will ruin
Lois' life and I have put the power to do so in his hands."

"The poor do not choose their hours, Alban Kennedy. Sit down, if you
please, and talk to me. I have much to say to you."

He did not rise from his chair, but indicated a rude seat in the corner
by the chimney and waited until his unwilling guest had taken it. Alban
judged that his own altered appearance and his absence from Union Street
must be the cause of his displeasure. He could guess no other reason.

"Do you love my daughter, Alban Kennedy?"

"You know that I do, Paul. Have we not always been good friends? I came
to tell you about a piece of great good fortune which has happened to me
and to find out why Lois had not written to me. You see for yourself
that there is a great change in me. One of the richest men in London
considers that I have a claim, to some of his money--through some
distant relative, it appears--and I am living at his house almost as
his own son."

"Is that why you forget your old friends so quickly?"

"I have never forgotten them. I wrote to Lois twice."

"Did you speak of marriage in your letters?"

The lad's face flushed crimson. He knew that he could not tell Paul
Boriskoff the truth.

"I did not speak of marriage--why should I?" he exclaimed; "it was never
your wish that we should speak of it until Lois is twenty-one. She will
not be that for more than three years--why do you ask me the question
to-night?"

"Because you have learned to love another woman."

A dead silence fell in the room. The old man continued to tap gently
upon the coil of tube, rapidly assuming a fantastic shape under the
masterly touch of a trained hand. A candle flickered by him upon a crazy
table where stood a crust of bread and a lump of coarse cheese. Not
boastfully had he told Richard Gessner that he would accept nothing for
himself. He was even poorer than he had been six weeks ago when he
discovered that his old enemy was alive.

[Illustration: "You love another woman, Alban Kennedy, and you have
wished to forget my daughter."]

"You love another woman, Alban Kennedy, and you have wished to forget my
daughter. Do not say that it is not the truth, for I read it upon your
face. You should be ashamed to come here unless you can deny it. Fortune
has been kind to you, but how have you rewarded those for whom she has
nothing? I say that you have forgotten them--been ashamed of them as
they have now the right to be ashamed of you."

He put his hammer down and looked the lad straight in the face. Upon
Alban's part there was an intense desire to confess everything and to
tell his old friend of all those distressing doubts and perplexities
which had so harassed him since he went to Hampstead. If he could have
done so, much would have been spared him in the time to come. But he
found it impossible to open his heart to an alien,--nor did he believe
Paul Boriskoff capable of appreciating the emotions which now tortured
him.

"I have never been ashamed of any of my friends," he exclaimed hotly;
"you know that it is not true, Paul Boriskoff. Where are the letters
which I wrote to Lois? Why has she not answered them? If I had been
ashamed, would they have been written? Cannot you understand that all
which has happened to me has been very distracting. I have seen a new
life--a new world, and it is not as our world. Perhaps there is no more
happiness in it than in these courts and alleys where we have suffered
so much. I cannot tell you truly. It is all too new to me and naturally
I feel incapable of judging it. When I came to you to-night it was to
speak of our old friendship. Should I have done so if I had forgotten?"

Old Paul heard him with patience, but his anger none the less remained.
The shaggy eyebrows were at rest now, but the eyes were never turned
from Alban's face.

"You are in love with Anna Gessner," he said quietly; "why do you not
tell Lois so?"

"I cannot tell her so--it would not be true. She will always be the
same little Lois to me, and when she is twenty-one I will marry her."

"Ha--when she is twenty-one. That seems a long time off to one who is
your age. You will marry her, you say--a promise to keep her quiet while
you make love to this fine lady who befools you. No, Alban Kennedy, I
shall not let Lois imagine any such thing; I shall tell her the truth.
She will choose another husband--that is my wish and she will obey it."

"You are doing me a great injustice, Paul Boriskoff. I do not love
Anna--perhaps for a moment I thought that I did, but I know now that I
was deceiving myself. She is not one who is worthy of being loved. I
believed her very different when first I went to Hampstead."

"Tell me no such thing. I am an old man and I know men's hearts. What
shall my daughter and her rags be to you now that you have fine clothes
upon your back? You are as the others--you have knelt down at the shrine
of money and there you worship. This woman in her fine clothes--she is
your idol. All your past is forgotten immediately you see her. A great
gulf is set between you and us. Think not that I do not know, for there
are those who bring me the story every day. You worship Anna Gessner,
but you live in a fool's paradise, for the father will forbid you to
marry her. I say it and I know. Be honest and speak to my daughter as I
have spoken to you to-night."

He raised his hammer as though he would resume his work, and Alban began
to perceive how hopeless an argument would be with him while in such a
mood. Not deficient in courage, the lad could not well defend himself
from so direct an attack, and he had the honesty to admit as much.

"I shall tell Lois the truth," he said: "she will then judge me and say
whether you are right or wrong. I came here to-night to see if I could
help you both. You know, Paul Boriskoff, how much I wish to do so. While
I have money, it is yours also. Have not Lois and I always been as your
children? You cannot forbid me to act as a son should, just because I
have come into my inheritance. Let me find you a better home and take
you away from this dismal place. Then I shall be doing right to worship
money. Will you not let me do so? There is nothing in life half so good
as helping those we love--I am sure of it already, and it is only five
weeks since I came into my inheritance. Give me the right and let me
still call you father."

Old Paul was much affected, but he would not let the lad see as much.
Avoiding the question discreetly but not unkindly, he muttered, "No, no,
I need no help. I am an old man and what happens to me does not matter."
And then turning the subject swiftly, he asked, "Your patron, he has
left England, has he not?"

"He has gone to Paris, I believe."

"Did he speak of the business that took him there?"

"He never speaks of business to me. He has asked me once or twice about
the poor people down here and I have tried to tell him. Such a fortune
as his could redeem thousands of lives, Paul. I have told him that when
he spoke to me."

"Such a man will never redeem one life. All the money in the world will
never buy him rest. He has eaten his harvest and the fields are bare.
Did you mention my name to him?"

"I do not think that I have done so yet."

"Naturally, you would have been a little ashamed to speak of us. It is
very rarely that one who becomes rich remembers those who were poor with
him. His money only teaches him to judge them. Those who were formerly
his friends are now spendthrifts, extravagant folk who should not be
injured by assistance. The rich man makes their poverty an excuse for
deserting them, and he cloaks his desertion beneath lofty moral
sentiments. You are too young to do so, but the same spirit is already
leading you. Beware of it, Alban Kennedy, for it will lead you to
destruction."

Alban did not know how to argue with him. He resented the accusation
hotly and yet could make no impression of resentment upon the imagined
grievance which old Paul nursed almost affectionately. It were better,
he thought, to hold his tongue and to let the old man continue.

"Your patron has gone to Paris, you say? Are you sure it is to Paris?"

"How could I be sure. I am telling you what was told to me. He is to be
back in a few days' time. It is not to be expected that he would share
his plans with me."

"Certainly not--he would tell you nothing. Do you know that he is a
Pole, Alban?"

"A Pole? No! Indeed he gives it out that he was born in Germany and is
now a naturalized British subject."

"He would do so, but he is a Pole--and because he is a Pole he tells
you that he has gone to Paris when the truth is that he is at Berlin all
the time."

"But why should he wish to deceive me, Paul--what am I to him?"

"You are one necessary to his salvation--perhaps it is by you alone that
he will live. I could see when I first spoke to you how much you were
astonished that I knew anything about it, but remember, every Pole in
London knows all about his fellow-countrymen, and so it is very natural
that I know something of Richard Gessner. You who live in his house can
tell me more. See what a gossip I am where my own people are concerned.
You have been living in this man's house and you can tell me all about
it--his tastes, his books, his friends. There would be many friends
coming, of course?"

"Not very many, Paul, and those chiefly city men. They eat a great deal
and talk about money. It's all money up there--the rich, the rich, the
rich--I wonder how long I shall be able to stand it."

"Oh, money's a thing most people get used to very quickly. They can
stand a lot of it, my boy. But are there not foreigners at your
house--men of my own country?"

"I have never seen any--once, I think, Mr. Gessner was talking to a
stranger in the garden and he looked like a foreigner. You don't think I
would spy upon him Paul?"

"That would be the work of a very ungrateful fellow. None the less, if
there are foreigners at Hampstead--I should wish to know of it."

"You--and why?"

"That I may save your kind friend from certain perils which I think are
about to menace him. Yes, yes, he has been generous to you and I
wish to reward him. He must not know--he must never hear my name in
the matter, but should there be strangers at Hampstead let me know
immediately--write to me if you cannot come here. Do not delay or you
may rue it to the end of your days. Write to me, Alban, and I shall know
how to help your friend."

He had spoken under a spell of strong excitement, but his message
delivered, he fell again to his old quiet manner; and having exchanged a
few commonplaces with the astonished lad plainly intimated that he would
be alone. Alban, surprised beyond measure, perceived in his turn that no
amount of questioning would help him to a better understanding; and so,
in a state of perplexity which defied expression, he said "Good night"
and went out into the quiet street.



CHAPTER XIV

THERE ARE STRANGERS IN THE CAVES


It was some time after midnight when Alban reached Broad Street Station
and discovered that the last train for Hampstead had left. A certain
uneasiness as to what his new friends would think of him did not deter
him from his sudden determination to turn westward and seek out his old
haunts. He had warned Richard Gessner that no house would ever make a
prisoner of him, and this quick desire for liberty now burned in his
veins as a fever. It would be good, he thought, to sleep under the stars
once more and to imagine himself that same Alban Kennedy who had not
known whither to look for bread--could it be but five short weeks ago!

The city was very still as he passed through it and, save for a
broken-down motor omnibus with a sleepy conductor for its guardian,
Cheapside appeared to be almost destitute of traffic. The great
buildings, wherein men sought the gold all day, were now given over to
watchmen and the rats, as the bodies of the seekers would one day be
given over to the earth whence they sprang. Alban depicted a great army
of the servants of money asleep in distant homes, and he could not but
ask what happiness they carried there, what capacities for rest and true
enjoyment.

Was it true, as he had begun to believe, that the life of pleasure had
cares of its own, hardly less supportable than those which crushed the
poor to the very earth? Was the daily round of abundance, of lights and
music and wine and women--was it but the basest of shams, scarce
deceiving those who practised it? His brief experience seemed to answer
the question in the affirmative. He wondered if he had known such an
hour of true happiness as that which had come to him upon the last night
he had spent in the Caves. Honesty said that he had not--and to the
Caves he now turned as one who would search out forgotten pleasures.

The building in St. James' Street had made great advance since last he
saw it, but he observed to his satisfaction that the entrance to the
subterranean passages were not absolutely closed, and he did not doubt
that many of the old night-hawks were still in possession. His
astonishment, therefore, was considerable when, upon dropping into the
first of the passages, a figure sprang up and clutched him by the
throat, while a hand thrust a lantern into his face and a pair of black
eyes regarded him with amazed curiosity.

"A slap-up toff, so help me Jimmy! And what may your Royal Highness be
doing this way--what brings you to this pretty parlor? Now, speak up, my
lad, or it will go queer with you."

Alban knew in an instant--his long experience taught him--that he had
fallen into the hands of the police, and his first alarms were very
real.

"What right have you to question me?"

"Oh, we'll show our right sharp enough. Now, you be brisk--what's your
name and what are you doing here?"

"I am the son of Mr. Richard Gessner of Hampstead and I used to know
this place. I came down to have a look at it before the building is
finished. If you doubt me, let us go to Mr. Gessner's house together and
he will tell you who I am."

It was a proud thing to say and he said it with pride. That thrill of
satisfaction which attends a fine declaration of identity came to Alban
then as it has done to many a great man in the hour of his vanity. The
son of Richard Gessner--yes, his patron would acknowledge him for that!
The police themselves admitted the title by almost instant capitulation.

"Well, sir, it's a queer place to come to, I must say, and not very safe
either for a gentleman in your position. Why didn't you ask one of us to
bring you down? We'd have done it right enough, though not to-night
perhaps."

"Then you're out on business?"

"You couldn't have guessed better, sir. We're here with the nets and
there will be herrings to salt in the morning. If you care to wait five
minutes, you may look into the bundle. Here's two or three of them
coming along now and fine music they're making, I must say. Just step
aside a minute, sir, while we give a hand. That's a woman's voice and
she's not been to the Tabernacle. I shouldn't wonder if it was the
flower girl that hobnobs with the parson--oh, by no means, oh dear, no."

He raised his lantern and turned the light of it full on the passage,
disclosing a spectacle which brought a flush of warm blood to Alban's
cheeks and filled him with a certain sense of shame he could not defend.
For there were three of his old friends, no others than Sarah and the
Archbishop of Bloomsbury with the boy "Betty," the latter close in the
custody of the police who dragged him headlong, regardless of the girl's
shrieks and the ex-clergyman's protests upon their cruelty. For an
instant Alban was tempted to flee the place, to deny his old friends and
to surrender to a base impulse of his pride; but a better instinct
saving him, he intervened boldly and immediately declared himself to the
astonished company.

"These people are friends of mine," he said, to the complete
bewilderment of the constables, "please to tell me why you are charging
them?"

"Gawd Almighty--if it ain't Mr. Kennedy!"--this from the woman.

"Indeed," said the clergyman, with a humility foreign to him, "I am very
glad to see you, Alban. Our friend 'Betty' here is accused of theft. I
am convinced--I feel assured that the charge is misplaced and that you
will be able to help us. Will you not tell these men that you know us
and can answer for our honesty?"

The lad "Betty" said nothing at all. His eyes were very wide open, a
heavy hand clutched his ragged collar, and the police stood about him as
though in possession of a convicted criminal.

"A young lad, sir, that stole a gold match-box from a gentleman and has
got it somewhere about him now. Stand up, you young devil--none of your
blarney. Where's the box now and what have you done with it?"

"I picked it up and give it to Captain Forrest--so help me Gawd, it's
true. Arst him if I didn't."

The sergeant laughed openly at the story.

"He run two of our men from the National Sporting right round Covent
Garden and back, sir," he said to Alban. "The gentleman dropped the box
and couldn't wait. But we'll see about all that in the morning."

"If you mean Captain Forrest of the Trafalgar Club, I have just left
him," interposed Alban, quickly; "this lad has been known to me for some
years and I am positively sure he is not a thief. Indeed, I will answer
for him anywhere--and if he did pick up the box, I can promise you that
Captain Forrest will not prosecute."

He turned to "Betty" and asked him an anxious question.

"Is it true, Betty--did you pick up the box?"

"I picked it up and put it into the gentleman's hand. He couldn't stand
straight and he dropped it again. Then a cab runner found it and some
one cried 'stop thief.' I was frightened and ran away. That's the truth,
Mr. Alban, if I die for it--"

"We must search you, Betty, to satisfy the officers."

"Oh, yes, sir--I'm quite willing to be searched."

He turned out all his pockets there and then, was pinched and pushed and
cuffed to no avail. The indignant Sarah shaking her clothes in the
sergeant's face dared him to do the same for her and to take the
consequences of his curiosity. The Archbishop obligingly offered his
pockets, which, as he said, were open at all times to the inspection of
his Majesty's authorized servants. A few words aside between Alban and
the assembled police, the crisp rustle of a bank-note in the darkness,
helped conviction to a final victory. There were other ferrets in that
dark warren and bigger game to be had.

"Well, sir," said the sergeant, "if you'll answer for Captain
Forrest--and he'll want a lot of answering for to-night--I'll leave the
lad in your hands. But don't let me find any of 'em down here again, or
it will go hard with them. Now, be off all of you, for we have work to
do. And mind you remember what I say."

It was a blessed release and all quitted the place without an instant's
delay. Out in the open street, the Archbishop of Bloomsbury took Alban
aside and congratulated him upon his good fortune.

"So your old friend Boriskoff has found you a job?" he said, laying a
patronizing hand on the lad's stout shoulder. "Well, well, I knew
Richard Gessner when I was--er--hem--on duty in Kensington, and in all
matters of public charity I certainly found him to be an example. You
know, of course, that he is a Pole and that his real name is Maxim
Gogol. General Kaulbars told me as much when he was visiting England
some years ago. Your friend is a Pole who would find himself singularly
inconvenienced if he were called upon to return to Poland. Believe me,
how very much astonished I was to hear that you had taken up your
residence in his house."

"Then you heard about it--from whom?" Alban asked.

"Oh, 'Betty' followed you, on the day the person who calls himself
Willy Forrest, but is really the son of a jockey named Weston, returned
from Winchester. We were anxious about you, Alban--we questioned the
company into which you had fallen. I may say, indeed, that our hearths
were desolate and crape adorned our spears. We thought that you had
forgotten us--and what is life when those who should remember prefer to
forget."

Alban answered at hazard, for he knew perfectly well what was coming.
The boy "Betty," still frightened out of his wits, clung close to the
skirts of the homeless Sarah and walked with her, he knew not whither. A
drizzle of rain had begun to fall; the streets were shining as desolate
rivers of the night--the Caves behind them stood for a house of the
enemy which none might enter again. But Alban alone was silent--for his
generosity had loosened the pilgrims' tongues, and they spoke as they
went of a morrow which should give them bread.



CHAPTER XV

A STUDY IN INDIFFERENCE


There are many spurs to a woman's vanity, but declared indifference is
surely the sharpest of them all. When Anna Gessner discovered that Alban
was not willing to enroll himself in the great band of worshippers who
knelt humbly at her golden shrine, she set about converting him with a
haste which would have been dangerous but for its transparent
dishonesty. In love herself, so far as such a woman could ever be in
love at all, with the dashing and brainless jockey who managed her
race-horses, she was quite accustomed, none the less, to add the
passionate confessions and gold-sick protestations of others to her
volume of amatory recollections, and it was not a little amazing that a
mere youth should be discovered, so obstinate, so chilly and so
indifferent as to remain insensible both to her charms and their value,
in what her father had called "pounds sterling."

When Alban first came to "Five Gables," his honesty amused her greatly.
She liked to hear him speak of the good which her father's money could
do in the slums and alleys he had left. It was a rare entertainment for
her to be told of those "dreadful people" who sewed shirts all day and
were frequently engaged in the same occupation when midnight came. "I
shall call you the Missionary," she had said, and would sit at his feet
while he confessed some of the wild hopes which animated him, or
justified his desire for that great humanity of the East whose supreme
human need was sympathy. Anna herself did not understand a word of
it--but she liked to have those clear blue eyes fixed upon her, to hear
the soft musical voice and to wonder when this pretty boy would speak of
his love for her.

But the weeks passed and no word of love was spoken, and the woman in
her began to ask why this should be. She was certain as she could be
that her beauty had dazzled the lad when first he came to "Five Gables."
She remembered what fervid glances he had turned upon her when first
they met, how his eyes had expressed unbounded admiration, nay worship
such as was unknown in the circles in which she moved. If this silent
adoration flattered her for the moment, honesty played no little part in
its success--for though there had been lovers who looked deep into her
heart before, the majority carried but liabilities to her feet and,
laying them there, would gladly have exchanged them for her father's
cheques to salve their financial wounds. In Alban she had met for the
first time a natural English lad who had no secrets to hide from her.
"He will worship the ground upon which I walk," she had said in the mood
of sundry novelettes borrowed from her maid. And this, in truth, the lad
might very well have come to do.

But the weeks passed and Alban remained silent, and the declaration she
had desired at first as an amusement now became a vital necessity to her
fasting vanity. Believing that their surroundings at Hampstead, the
formality, the servants, the splendor of "Five Gables," forbade that
little comedy of love for which she hungered, she went off, in her
father's absence, to their cottage at Henley, and compelling Alban to
follow her, she played Phyllis to his Corydon with an ardor which could
not have been surpassed. Aping the schoolgirl, she would wear her hair
upon her shoulders, carry her gown shortened, and bare her sleeves to
the suns of June. The rose garden became the arbor of her delights. "You
shall love me," she said to herself--and in the determination a passion
wholly vain and not a little hazardous found its birth and prospered.

For hours together now, she would compel this unconscious slave to row
her in the silent reaches or to hide with her in backwaters to which the
mob rarely came. Deluding him by the promise that her father was
returning shortly from Paris and would come to Henley immediately upon
his arrival, she led Alban to forget the days of waiting, petted him as
though he had been her lover through the years, invited him a hundred
times a day to say, "I love you--you shall be my wife."

In his turn, he remained silent and amazed, tempted sorely by her
beauty, not understanding and yet desiring to understand why he could
not love her. True, indeed, that the image of another would intervene
sometimes--a little figure in rags, wan and pitiful and alone; but the
environment in which the vision of the past had moved, the slums, the
alleys, the mean streets, these would hedge the picture about and then
leave the dreamer averse and shuddering. Not there could liberty be
found again. The world must show its fields to the wanderer when again
he dared it alone.

Alban remembered one night above all others of this strange seclusion,
and that was a night of a woman's humiliation. There had been great
bustle all day, the coming of oarsmen and of coaches to Henley, and all
the aquatic renaissance which prefaces the great regatta. Their own
cottage, lying just above the bridge with a shady garden extending to
the water's edge, was no longer the place apart that it had been.
Strangers now anchored a little way from their boat-house and consumed
monstrous packets of sandwiches and the contents of abundant bottles.
There were house-boats being tugged up and down the river, little groups
of rowing men upon the bridge all day, the music of banjos by night, and
lanterns glowing in the darkness. Anna watched this pretty scene as one
who would really take a young girl's part in it. She simulated an
interest in the rowing about which she knew nothing at all--visited the
house-boats of such of her friends as had come down for the regatta, and
was, in Willy Forrest's words, as "skittish as a two-year-old that had
slipped its halter." Forrest had been to and fro from the stable near
Winchester on several occasions. "He comes to tell me that I am about to
lose a fortune, and I am beginning to hate him," Anna said; and on this
occasion she enjoyed that diverting and unaccustomed recreation known as
speaking the truth.

There had been such a visit as this upon the morning of the day when
Anna spoke intimately to Alban of his future and her own. Her mood now
abandoned itself utterly to her purpose. The close intimacy of these
quiet days had brought her to the point where a real if momentary
passion compelled her to desire this boy's love as she had never desired
anything in all her life. To bring him to that declaration she sought so
ardently, to feel his kisses upon her lips, to play the young lover's
part if it were but for a day, to this folly her vanity had driven her.
And now the opportunities for words were not denied. She had spent the
afternoon in the backwaters up by Shiplake; there had been a little
dinner afterwards with the old crone who served them so usefully as
chaperone--a dependent who had eyes but did not see, ears which, as she
herself declared, "would think scorn to listen." Amiable dame, she was
in bed by nine o'clock, while Alban and Anna were lying in a punt at the
water's edge, listening to the music of a distant guitar and watching
the twinkling lights far away below the bridge where the boat-houses
stand.

A Chinese lantern suspended upon a short boat-hook cast a deep crimson
glow upon the faces of those who might well have been young lovers. The
river rippled musically against the square bows of their ugly but
comfortable craft. But few passed them by and those were also seekers
after solitude, with no eyes for their co-religionists in the amatory
gospel. Alban, wholly fascinated by the silence and the beauty of the
scene, lay at Anna's feet, so full of content that he did not dare to
utter his thoughts aloud. The girl caught the tiny wavelets in her
outstretched hand and said that Corydon had become blind.

"Do you like Willy Forrest?" she asked, "do you think he is clever,
Alban?"--a question, the answer to which would not interest her at all
if it did not lead to others. Alban, in his turn, husbanding the
secrets, replied evasively:

"Why should I think about him? He is not a friend of mine. You are the
one to answer that, Anna. You like him--I have heard you say so."

"Never believe what a girl says. I adore Willy Forrest because he makes
me laugh. I am like the poor little white rabbit which is fascinated by
the great black wriggly snake. Some day it will swallow me up--perhaps
on Thursday--after Ascot. I wish I could tell you. Pandora seems to have
dropped everything out of her basket except the winner of the Gold Cup.
If Willy Forrest is right, I shall win a fortune. But, of course, he
doesn't tell the truth any more than I do."

Alban was silent a little while and then he asked her:

"Do you know much about him, Anna? Did you ever meet his people or
anything?"

She looked at him sharply.

"He is the son of Sir John Forrest, who died in India. His brother was
lost at sea. What made you ask me?"

He laughed as though it had not been meant.

"You say that he doesn't tell the truth. Suppose it were so about
himself. He might be somebody else--not altogether the person he
pretends to be. Would it matter if he were? I don't think so, Anna--I
would much rather know something about a man himself than about his
name."

She sat up in the punt and rested her chin upon the knuckles of her
shapely hands. This kind of talk was little to her liking. She had often
doubted Willy Forrest, but had never questioned his title to the name he
bore.

"Have they ever told you anything about us, Alban?" she continued, "did
you ever hear any stories which I should not hear?"

"Only from Captain Forrest himself; he told me that he was engaged to
you. That was when I went to the Savoy Hotel."

"All those weeks ago. And you never mentioned it?"

"Was it any business of mine? What right had I to speak to you about
it?"

She flushed deeply.

"A secret for a secret," she said. "When you first came to Hampstead, I
thought that you liked me a little Alban. Now, I know that you do not.
Suppose there were a reason why I let Willy Forrest say that he was
engaged to me. Suppose some one else had been unkind when I wished him
to be very kind to me. Would you understand then?"

This was in the best spirit of the coquette and yet a great earnestness
lay behind it. Posing in that romantic light, the thick red lips
pouting, the black eyes shining as with the clear flame of a soul
awakened, the head erect as that of a deer which has heard a sound afar,
this passionate little actress, half Pole, half Jewess, might well have
set a man's heart beating and brought him, suppliant, to her feet. To
Alban there returned for a brief instant all that spirit of homage and
of awe with which he had first beheld her on the balcony of the house
in St. James' Square. The cynic in him laid down his robe and stood
before her in the garb of youth spellbound and fascinated. He dared to
say to himself, she loves me--it is to me that these words are spoken.

"I cannot understand you, Anna," he exclaimed, tortured by some plague
of a sudden memory, held back from a swift embrace he knew not by what
instinct. "You say that you only let Willy Forrest call himself engaged
to you. Don't you love him then--is it all false that you have told
him?"

"It is quite false, Alban--I do not love him as you would understand the
meaning of the word. If he says that I am engaged to him, is it true
because he says it? There are some men who marry women simply because
they are persevering. Willy Forrest would be one of them if I were weak
enough. But I do not love him--I shall never love him, Alban."

She bent low and almost whispered the words in his ear. Her hand covered
his fingers caressingly. His forehead touched the lace upon her robe and
he could hear her heart beating. An impulse almost irresistible came
upon him to take her in his arms and hold her there, and find in her
embrace that knowledge of the perfect womanhood which had been his dream
through the years. He knew not what held him back.

Anna watched him with a hope that was almost as an intoxication of doubt
and curiosity. She loved him in that moment with all a young girl's
ardor. She believed that the whole happiness of her life lay in the
words he was about to speak.



CHAPTER XVI

THE INTRUDER


A man's voice, calling to them from the lawn, sent them instantly apart
as though caught in some guilty confidence. Anna knew that something
unwonted had happened and that Willy Forrest had returned.

"What has brought him back?" she exclaimed a little wildly; and then,
"Don't go away, Alban, I shall want you. My father would never forgive
me if he heard of it. Of course he cannot stop here."

Alban made no reply, but he helped her to the bank and they crossed the
lawn together. In the light of the veranda, they recognized Forrest,
carrying a motor cap in his hand and wearing a dust coat which almost
touched his heels. He had evidently dined and was full of the story of
his mishap.

"Hello, Anna, here's a game," he began, "my old fumigator's broke down
and I'm on the cold, cold world. Never had such a time in my life.
Shoved the thing from Taplow and nothing but petrol to drink--eh, what,
can't you see me? I say, Anna, you'll have to put me up to-night. There
isn't a billiard table to let in the town, and I can't sleep on the
grass--eh, what--you wouldn't put me out to graze, now would you?"

He entered the dining-room with them, and they stood about the table
while the argument was continued.

"Billy says the nag--what-d'yer-call-it's gone lame in the off
fore-leg. She went down at the distance like a filly that's been
hocussed. There were the two of us in the bally dust--and look at my
fingers where I burned 'em with matches. After that a parson came along
in a gig. I asked him if he had a whisky-and-soda aboard and he didn't
quote the Scriptures. We couldn't get the blighter to move, and I ground
the handle like Signor Gonedotti of Saffron Hill in the parish of High
Holborn. You'd have laughed fit to split if you'd have been there,
Anna--and, oh my Sammy, what a thing it is to have a thirst and to bring
it home with you. Do I see myself before a mahogany one or do I not--eh,
what? Do I dream, do I sleep, or is visions about? You'll put us up, of
course, Anna? I've told Billy as much and he's shoving the car into the
coach-house now."

He stalked across the room and without waiting to be asked helped
himself to a whisky-and-soda. Anna looked quickly at Alban as though to
say, "You must help me in this." Twenty-four hours ago she would not
have protested at this man's intrusion, but to-night the glamor of the
love-dream was still upon her, the idyll of her romance echoed in her
ears and would admit no other voice.

"Willy," she said firmly, "you know that you cannot stop. My father
would never forgive me. He has absolutely forbidden you the house."

He turned round, the glass still in his hand and the soda from the
siphon running in a fountain over the table-cloth.

"Your father! He's in Paris, ain't he? Are we going to telegraph about
it? What nonsense you are talking, Anna!"

"I am telling you what I mean. You cannot stop here and you must go to
the hotel immediately."

He looked at her quite gravely, cast an ugly glance upon Alban and
instantly understood.

"Oh, so that's the game. I've tumbled into the nest and the young birds
are at home. Say it again, Anna. You show me the door because this young
gentleman doesn't like my company. Is it that or something else? Perhaps
I'll take it that the old girl upstairs is going to ask me my
intentions. The sweet little Anna Gessner of my youth has got the
megrims and is off to Miss Bolt-up-Right to have a good cry
together--eh, what, are you going to cry, Anna? Hang me if you wouldn't
give the crocodiles six pounds and a beating--eh, what, six pounds and a
beating and odds on any day."

He approached her step by step as he spoke, while the girl's face
blanched and her fear of him was to be read in every look and gesture.
Alban had been but a spectator until this moment, but Anna's distress
and the bullying tone in which she had been addressed awakened every
combative instinct he possessed, and he thrust himself into the fray
with a resolute determination to make an end of it.

"Look here, Forrest," he exclaimed, "we've had about enough of this. You
know that you can't stop here--why do you make a fuss about it? Go over
to the hotel. There's plenty of room there--they told me so this
afternoon."

Forrest laughed at the invitation, but there was more than laughter in
his voice when he replied:

"Thank you for your good intentions, my boy. I am very much obliged to
your worship. A top-floor attic and a marble bath. Eh, what--you want to
put me in a garret? I'll see you the other side of Jordan first. Oh,
come, it's a nice game, isn't it? Papa away and little Anna canoodling
with the Whitechapel boy. Are we downhearted? No. But I ain't going, old
pal, and that's a fact."

He almost fell into an arm-chair and looked upon them with that bland
air of patronage which intoxication inspires. Anna, very pale and
frightened, was upon the point of summoning the servants; but Alban,
wiser in his turn, forbade her to do so.

"You go to bed, Anna," he said quietly, "Captain Forrest and I will have
a talk. I'm sure he doesn't expect you to sit up. Eh, Forrest, don't you
think that Anna had better go?"

"By all means, old chap. Nothing like bed--I'm going myself in a minute
or two. Don't you sit up, Anna. Anywhere's good enough for me. I'll
sleep in the greenhouse--eh, what? Your gardener'll find a new specimen
in the morning and get fits. Mind he don't prune me, though. I can't
afford to lose much at my time of life. You go to bed, Anna, and dream
of little Willy. He's going to make your fortune on Thursday--good old
Lodestar, some of 'em'll feel the draught, you bet. Don't spoil your
complexion on my account, Anna. You go to bed and keep young."

He rambled on, half good-humoredly, wholly determined in his resolution
to stay. Anna had never found him obstinate or in opposition to her will
before, and blazing cheeks and flashing eyes expressed her resentment at
an attitude so changed.

"Alban," she said quietly, "Captain Forrest will not stay. Will you
please see that he does not."

She withdrew upon the words and left the two men alone. They listened
and heard her mounting the stairs with slow steps. While Forrest was
still disposed to treat the matter as a joke, Alban had enough
discretion to avoid a scene if it could be avoided. He was quite calm
and willing to forget the insult that had been offered to him.

"Why not make an end of it, Forrest?" he said presently. "I'll go to the
hotel with you--you know perfectly well that you can get a bed there.
What's the good of playing the fool?"

"I was never more serious in my life, old man. Here I am and here I
stay. There's no place like home--eh, what? Why should you do stunts
about it? What's it to do with you after all? Suppose you think you're
master here. Then give us a whisky-and-soda for luck, my boy."

"I shall not give you a whisky-and-soda and I do not consider myself the
master here. That has nothing to do with it. You know that Anna wishes
you to go, and go you shall. What's to be gained by being obstinate."

Forrest looked at him cunningly.

"Appears that I intrude," he exclaimed with a sudden flash which
declared his real purpose, "little Anna Gessner and the boy out of
Whitechapel making a match of it together--eh, what? Don't let's have
any rotten nonsense, old man. You're gone on the girl and you don't want
me here. Say so and be a man. You've played a low card on me and you
want to see the hand out. Isn't it that? Say so and be honest if you
can."

"It's a lie," retorted Alban, quietly--and then unable to restrain
himself he added quickly, "a groom's lie and you know it."

Forrest, sobered in a moment by the accusation, sprang up from his chair
as though stung by the lash of a whip.

"What's that," he cried, "what do you say?"

"That you are not the son of Sir John Forrest at all. Your real name is
Weston--your father was a jockey and you were born at Royston near
Cambridge. That's what I say. Answer it when you like--but not in this
house, for you won't have the opportunity. There's the door and that's
your road. Now step out before I make you."

He pointed to the open door and drew a little nearer to his slim
antagonist. Forrest, a smile still upon his face, stood for an instant
irresolute--then recovering himself, he threw the glass he held as
though it had been a ball, and the missile, striking Alban upon the
forehead, cut him as a knife would have done.

"You puppy, you gutter-snipe--I'll show you who I am. Wipe that off if
you can;" and then almost shouting, he cried, "Here, Anna, come down and
see what I've done to your little ewe lamb, come down and comfort
him--Anna, do you hear?"

He said no more, for Alban had him by the throat, leaping upon him with
the ferocity of a wild beast and carrying him headlong to the lawn
before the windows. Never in his life had such a paroxysm of anger
overtaken the boy or one which mastered him so utterly. Blindly he
struck; his blows rained upon the cowering face as though he would beat
it out of all recognition. He knew not wholly why he thus acted if not
upon some impulse which would avenge the wrongs good women had suffered
at the hands of such an impostor as this. When he desisted, the man lay
almost insensible upon the grass at his feet--and he, drawing apart,
felt the hot tears running down his face and could not restrain them.

For in a measure he felt that his very chivalry had been faithless to
one who had loved him well--and in the degradation of that violent scene
he recalled the spirit of the melancholy years, the atmosphere of the
mean streets, and the figure of little Lois Boriskoff asking both his
pity and his love.



CHAPTER XVII

FATHER AND DAUGHTER


Richard Gessner returned to Hampstead on the Friday in Ascot week and
upon the following morning Anna and Alban came back from Henley. They
said little of their adventures there, save to tell of quiet days upon
sunny waters; nor did the shrewdest questioning add one iota to the
tale. Indeed, Gessner's habitual curiosity appeared, for the time being,
to have deserted him, and they found him affable and good-humored almost
to the point of wonder.

It had been a very long time, as Anna declared, since anything of this
kind had shed light upon the commonly gloomy atmosphere of "Five
Gables." For weeks past Gessner had lived as a man who carried a secret
which he dared to confess to none. Night or day made no difference to
him. He lived apart, seeing many strangers in his study and rarely
visiting the great bank in Lombard Street where so many fortunes lay. To
Alban he was the same mysterious, occasionally gracious figure which had
first welcomed him to the magnificent hospitality of his house. There
were days when he appeared to throw all restraint aside and really to
desire this lad's affection as though he had been his own son--other
days when he shrank from him, afraid to speak lest he should name him
the author of his vast misfortunes. And now, as it were in an instant,
he had cast both restraint and fear aside, put on his ancient bonhomie
and given full rein to that natural affection of which he was very
capable. Even the servants remarked a change so welcome and so manifest.

Let it be written down as foreordained in the story of this unhappy
house, that in like measure as the father recovered his self-possession,
so, as swiftly, had the daughter journeyed to the confines of tragedy
and learned there some of those deeper lessons which the world is ever
ready to teach. Anna returned from Henley so greatly changed that her
altered appearance rarely escaped remark. Defiant, reckless, almost
hysterical, her unnatural gaiety could not cloak her anxiety nor all her
artifice disguise it. If she had told the truth, it would have been to
admit a position, not only of humiliation but of danger. A whim, by
which she would have amused herself, had created a situation from which
she could not escape. She loved Alban and had not won his love. The
subtle antagonist against whom she played had turned her weapons
adroitly and caught her in the deadly meshes of his fatal net. Not for
an instant since she stood upon the lawn at Ascot and witnessed the
defeat of her great horse Lodestar had she ceased to tell herself that
the world pointed the finger at her and held up her name to scorn. "They
say that I cheated them," she would tell herself and that estimate of
the common judgment was entirely true.

It had been a great race upon a brilliant day of summer. Alban had
accompanied her to the enclosure and feasted his eyes upon that rainbow
scene, so amazing in its beauty, so bewildering in its glow of color
that it stood, to his untrained imagination, for the whole glory of the
world. Of the horses or their meaning he knew nothing at all. This
picture of radiant women, laughing, feasting, flirting at the heart of a
natural forest; the vast concourse of spectators--the thousand hues of
color flashing in the sunshine, the stands, the music, the royal
procession, the superbly caparisoned horses, the State carriages--what a
spectacle it was, how far surpassing all that he had been led to expect
of Money and its kingdom. Let Anna move excitedly amid the throng,
laughing with this man, changing wit with another--he was content just
to watch the people, to reflect upon their happy lives, it may be to ask
himself what justification they had when the children were wanting bread
and the great hosts of the destitute lay encamped beyond the pale. Such
philosophy, to be sure, had but a short shrift on such a day. The
intoxication of the scene quickly ran hot in his veins and he
surrendered to it willingly. These were hours to live, precious every
one of them--and who would not worship the gold which brought them, who
would not turn to it as to the lodestar of desire?

And then the race! Anna had talked of nothing else since they set out in
the motor to drive over to the course. Her anger against Willy Forrest
appeared to be forgotten for the time being--he, on his part, eying
Alban askance, but making no open complaint against him, met her in the
paddock and repeated his assurances that Lodestar could not lose.

"They run him down to evens, Anna," he said, "and precious lucky we
were to get the price we did. There'll be some howls to-night, but
what's that to us? Are we a philanthropic society, do we live to endow
the multitude? Not much, by no means, oh dear, no. We live to make an
honest bit--and we'll make it to-day if ever we did. You go easy and
don't butt in. I've laid all that can be got at the price and the rest's
best in your pocket. You'll want a bit for the other races--eh, what?
You didn't come here to knit stockings, now did you, Anna?"

She laughed with him and returned to see the race. Her excitement gave
her a superb color, heightened her natural beauty and turned many
admiring eyes upon her. To Alban she whispered that she was going to
make a fortune, and he watched her curiously, almost afraid for himself
and for her. When the great thrill passed over the stands and "they're
off" echoed almost as a sound of distant thunder, he crept closer to her
as though to share the excitement of which she was mistress. The specks
upon the green were nothing to him--those dots of color moving swiftly
across the scene, how odd to think that they might bring riches or
beggary in their train! This he knew to be the stern fact, and when men
began to shout hoarsely, to press together and crane their necks, when
that very torrent of sound which named the distance arose, he looked
again at Anna and saw that she was smiling. "She has won," he said, "she
will be happy to-night."

The horses passed the post in a cluster. Alban, unaccustomed to the
objects of a race-course, had not an eye so well trained that he could
readily distinguish the colors or locate with certainty the position of
the "pink--green sleeves--white cap"--the racing jacket of "Count
Donato," as Anna was known to the Jockey Club. He could make out nothing
more than a kaleidoscope of color changing swiftly upon a verdant arena,
this and an unbroken line of people stretching away to the very confines
of the woodlands and a rampart wall of stands and boxes and tents. For
him there were no niceties of effort and of counter-effort. The jockeys
appeared to be so many little monkeys clinging to the necks of wild
chargers who rolled in their distress as though to shake off the imps
tormenting them. The roar of voices affrighted him--he could not
understand that lust of gain which provoked the mad outcry, the sudden
forgetfulness of self and dignity and environment, the absolute
surrender to the desire of victory. Nor was the succeeding silence less
mysterious. It came as the hush in an interval of tempests. The crowd
drew back from the railings and moved about as quietly as though nothing
of any consequence had happened. Anna herself, smiling still, stood just
where she was; but her back was now toward the winning-post and she
seemed to have forgotten its existence.

"Do you know," she said very slowly, "my horse has lost."

"What does that mean?" Alban asked with real earnestness.

She laughed again, looking about her a little wildly as though to read
something of the story upon other faces.

"What does it mean--oh, lots of things. I wonder if we could get a cup
of tea, Alban--I think I should like one."

He said that he would see and led her across the enclosure toward the
marquee. As they went a sybilant sound of hissing arose. The "Alright"
had come from the weighing-in room and the people were hissing the
winner. Presently, from the far side of the course, a louder outcry
could be heard. That which the men in the gray frock-coats were telling
each other in whispers was being told also by the mob in stentorian
tones. "The horse was pulled off his feet," said the knowing ones; "they
ought to warn the whole crowd off."

Anna heard these cries and began dimly to understand them. She knew that
Willy Forrest had done this in return for the slight she had put upon
him at Henley. He had named his own jockey for the race and chosen one
who had little reputation to lose. Between them they would have reason
to remember the Royal Hunt Cup for many a day. Their gains could have
been little short of thirty thousand pounds--and of this sum, Anna owed
them nearly five thousand.

She heard the people's cries and the sounds affrighted her. Not an
Englishwoman, none the less she had a good sense of personal honor, and
her pride was wounded, not only because of this affront but that a
strange people should put it upon her. Had it been any individual
accusation, she would have faced it gladly--but this intangible judgment
of the multitude, the whispering all about her, the sidelong glances of
the men and the open contempt of the women, these she could not meet.

"Let us go back to the bungalow to tea," she exclaimed suddenly, as
though it were but a whim of the moment; "this place makes my head ache.
Let us start now and avoid the crush. Don't you think it would be a
great idea, Alban?"

He said that it would be--but chancing to look at her while she spoke,
he perceived the tears gathering in her eyes and knew that she had
suffered a great misfortune.

       *       *       *       *       *

Richard Gessner knew nothing of Anna's racing escapades, nor had he any
friend who made it his business to betray them. The day was rare when he
made an inquiry concerning her amusements or the manner of them. Women
were in his eyes just so many agreeable decorations for the tables at
which men dined. Of their mental capacity he had no opinion whatever,
and it was a common jest for him to declare their brain power
consistently inferior to that of the male animal.

"There has been no woman financial genius since the world began," he
would observe, and if those who contradicted him named the arts, he
waved them aside. "What is art when finance is before us?" That Anna
should amuse herself was well and proper. He wished her to marry well
that he might have spoken of "my daughter, Lady Anna"--not with pride as
most men would speak, but ironically as one far above such petty titles
and able from his high place to deride them.

Of her daily life, it must be confessed that he knew very little. A
succession of worthy if incompetent dependants acted the chaperones part
for him and satisfied his conscience upon that score. He heard of her
at this social function or at that, and was glad that she should go. Men
would say, "There's a catch for you--old Gessner's daughter; he must be
worth a million if he's worth a penny." Her culpable predisposition
toward that pleasant and smooth-tongued rascal, Willy Forrest, annoyed
him for the time being but was soon forgotten. He believed that the man
would not dare to carry pursuit farther, and if he did, the remedy must
be drastic.

"I will buy up his debts and send him through the Court," Gessner said.
"If that does not do, we must find out his past and see where we can
have him. My daughter may not marry as I wish, but if she marries a
jockey, I have done with her." And this at hazard, though he had not the
remotest idea who Forrest really was and had not taken the trouble to
find out. When the man ceased to visit "Five Gables" he forgot him
immediately. He was the very last person in all London whom he suspected
when Anna, upon the day following his return from Paris, asked that they
might have a little talk together and named the half-hour immediately
before dinner for that purpose. He received her in his study, whither
Fellows had already carried him a glass of sherry and bitters, and being
in the best of good humor, he frankly confessed his pleasure that she
should so appeal to him.

"Come in, Anna, come in, my dear. What's the matter now--been getting
into mischief? Oh, you girls--always the same story, a man or a
milliner, and the poor old father to get you out of it. What is it this
time--Paquin or Worth? Don't mind me, Anna. I can always live in a
cottage on a pound a week. The doctor says I should be the better for
it. Perhaps I should. Half the complaints we suffer from are just 'too
much.' Think that over and add it up. You look very pale, my girl.
You're not ill, are you?"

The sudden change of tone occurred as Anna advanced into the light and
seated herself in the bow-window overlooking the rose garden. She wore a
delicate skirt of pink satin below a superb gown of chiffon and real
lace. A single pink rose decorated her fine black hair which she had
coiled upon her neck to betray a shapely contour of dazzlingly white
skin beneath it. Her jewels were few but remarkable. The pearls about
her neck had been called bronze in tint and were perfect in their shape.
She carried a diamond bracelet upon her right arm, and its glitter
flashed about her as a radiant spirit of the riches whose emblems she
wore. The pallor of her face was in keeping with the picture. The wild
black eyes seemed alight with all the fires of tragedy unconfessed.

"I am not ill, father," she said, "but there is something about which I
must speak to you."

"Yes, yes, Anna--of course. And this is neither Paquin nor Worth, it
appears. Oh, you little rogue. To come to me like this--to come to your
poor old father and bring him a son-in-law for dinner. Ha, ha,--I'll
remember that--a son-in-law to dinner. Well, I sha'n't eat him, Anna, if
he's all right. It wouldn't be Alban Kennedy now?"

He became serious in an instant, putting the question as though his
favor depended upon her answer in the negative. Anna, however, quite
ignored the suggestion when she replied.

"I came to speak to you about Ascot, father--"

"About Ascot--who's Ascot?"

"The races at Ascot. I ran a horse there and lost five thousand pounds."

"What--you lost--come, Anna, my dear child--you lost--think of it
again--you lost fifty pounds? And who the devil took you there, I want
to know--who's been playing the fool? I don't agree with young girls
betting. I'll have none of that sort of thing in this house. Just tell
him so--whoever he is. I'll have none of it, and if it's that--"

He broke off at the words, arrested in his banter by the sudden memory
of a name. As in a flash he perceived the truth. The man Forrest was at
the bottom of this.

"Now be plain with me," he cried, "you've seen Willy Forrest again and
this is his doing. Yes or no, Anna? Don't you tell me a lie. It's
Forrest--he took you to Ascot?"

She smiled at his anger.

"I ran a horse named Lodestar under the name of Count Donato. I believed
that he would win and he lost. That's the story, father. Why drag any
names into it?"

He regarded her, too amazed to speak. His daughter, this bit of a
schoolgirl as he persisted in calling her, she had run a race-horse in
her own name? What a thing to hear! But was it an evil thing. The girl
had plenty of courage certainly. Very few would have had the pluck to
do it at all. Of course it was unlucky that she had not won--but, after
all, that could soon be put straight.

"You ran a race-horse--but who trained it for you? where did you keep
it? Why did I know nothing about it? Look here, Anna, this isn't dealing
very fair with me. I have never denied you any pleasure--you know I
haven't. If you wanted to play this game, why couldn't you have come to
me and told me so? I wouldn't have denied you--but five thousand; you're
not serious about that--you don't mean to say that you lost five
thousand pounds?"

"I lost five thousand pounds, father--and I must pay the money. They
will call me a cheat if I do not. It must be paid on Monday--Willy says
so--"

He turned upon her with a shout that was almost a roar. She knew in an
instant how foolish she had been.

"Willy Forrest--did you lose the money to him? Come, speak out. I shall
get at the truth somehow--did you lose the money to him?"

"I lost it through him--he made the bets for me."

"Then I will not pay a penny of it if it sends you to prison. Not a
penny as I'm a living man."

She heard him calmly and delivered her answer as calmly.

"I shall marry him if you do not," she said.

Gessner stood quite still and watched her face closely. It had grown
hard and cold, the face of a woman who has taken a resolution and will
not be turned from it.

"You will marry Forrest?" he asked quietly.

"I shall marry him and he will pay my debts."

"He--he hasn't got two brass pieces to rub together. He's a needy
out-at-elbow adventurer. Do you want to know who William Forrest
is--well, my detectives shall tell me in the morning. I'll find out all
about him for you. And you'd marry him! Well, my lady, there you'll do
as you please. I've done with a daughter who tells me that to my face.
Go and marry him. Live in a kennel. But don't come to me for a bone,
don't think I'm to be talked over, because that's not my habit. If you
choose such a man as that--"

"I do not choose him. There are few I would not sooner marry. I am
thinking of my good name--of our good name. If I marry Willy Forrest,
they will say that I helped to cheat the public. Do you not know that it
is being said already. The horse was pulled--I believe that I am not to
be allowed to race again. Poor Mr. Farrier is terribly upset. They say
that we were all cheats together. What can I do, father? If I pay the
money and they know that we lost it, that is a good answer to them. If I
do not, Willy is probably the one man who can put matters straight and I
shall marry him."

She rose as though this was the end of the argument. Her words, lightly
spoken, were so transparently honest that the shrewd man of business
summed up the whole situation in an instant. The mere possibility that
his name should be mixed up with a racing scandal staggered him by its
dangers and its absurdity. Anger against his daughter became in some
measure compassion. Of course she was but a woman and a clever charlatan
had entrapped her.

"Sit down--sit down," he said bluffly, motioning her back to her seat.
"It is perfectly clear that this William Forrest of yours is a rogue,
and as a rogue we must treat him. I am astonished at what you tell me.
It is a piece of nonsense, women's sense as ridiculous as the silly
business which is responsible for it. Of course you must pay them the
money. I will do the rest, Anna. I have friends who will quickly put
that matter straight--and if your rogue finds his way to a race-course
again, he is a very lucky man. Now sit down and let me speak to you in
my turn, Anna. I want you to speak about Alban--I want to hear how you
like him. He has now been with us long enough for us to know something
about him. Let us see if your opinion agrees with mine."

His keen scrutiny detected a flush upon her face while he asked the
question and he understood that all he had suspected had been nothing
but the truth. Anna had come to love this open-minded lad who had been
forced upon them by such an odd train of circumstances; her threats
concerning Willy Forrest were the merest bravado. Gessner would have
trembled at the knowledge a week ago, but to-night it found him
singularly complacent. He listened to Anna's response with the air of a
light-hearted judge who condemned a guilty prisoner out of her own
mouth.

"Alban Kennedy has many good qualities," she said. "I think he is very
worthy of your generosity."

"Ah, you like him, I perceive. Let us suppose, Anna, that my intentions
toward him were to go beyond anything I had imagined--suppose, being no
longer under any compulsion in the matter, the compulsion of an
imaginary obligation which does not exist, I were still to consider him
as my own son. Would you be surprised then at my conduct?"

"It would not surprise me," she said. "You have always wished for a son.
Alban is the most original boy of his age I have ever met. He is clever
and absurdly honest. I don't think you would regret any kindness you may
show to him."

"And you yourself?"

"What have I to do with it, father?"

"It might concern you very closely, Anna."

"In what way, father?"

"In the only way which would concern a woman. Suppose that I thought of
him as your husband?"

She flushed crimson.

"Have you spoken to him on the matter?"

"No, but being about to speak to him--after dinner to-night."

"I should defer my opinion until that has happened."

He laughed as though the idea of it amused him very much.

"Of course, he will have nothing to do with us, Anna. What is a fortune
to such a fine fellow? What is a great house--and I say it--a very
beautiful wife? Of course, he will refuse us. Any boy would do that,
especially one who has been brought up in Union Street. Now go and look
for him in the garden. I must tell Geary to have that cheque drawn
out--and mind you, if I meet that fellow Forrest, I will half kill him
just to show my good opinion of him. This nonsense must end to-night.
Remember, it is a promise to me."

She shrugged her shoulders and left the room with slow steps. Gessner,
still smiling, turned up a lamp by his writing-table and took out his
cheque-book.



CHAPTER XVIII

FATE IRONICAL


They were a merry party at the dinner-table, and the Reverend Silas
Geary amused them greatly by his discussion of that absorbing topic, is
golf worth playing? He himself, good man, deplored the fact that several
worthy persons who, otherwise, would have been working ten or twelve
hours a day as Cabinet ministers, deliberately toiled in the sloughs and
pits of the golf course.

"The whole nation is chasing a little ball," he said; "we deplore the
advance of Germany, but, I would ask you, how does the German spend his
day, what are his needs, where do his amusements lie? There is a country
for you--every man a soldier, every worker an intellect. In England
nowadays our young fellows seem to try and find out how little they can
do. We live for minimums. We are only happy when we have struck a bat
with a ball and it has gone far. We reserve our greatest honors for
those who thus excel."

Alban ventured to say that beer seemed to be the recreation of the
average German and insolence his amusement. He confessed that the
Germans beat his own people by hard work; but he asked, is it really a
good thing that work should be the beginning and the end of all things?
He had been taught at school that the supreme beauty of life lay in
things apart and chiefly in a man's own soul. To which Gessner himself
retorted that a woman's soul was what the writer probably meant.

"We have let civilization make us what we are," the banker said
shrewdly, "and now we complain of her handiwork. Write what you like
about it, money and love are the only two things left in the world
to-day. The story has always been the same, but people did not read it
so often formerly. There have always been ambition, strife, struggle,
suffering--why should the historians trouble to tell of them? You
yourself, Alban, would be a worker if the opportunity came to you. I
have foreseen that from the first moment I met you. If you were
interested, you would outdo the Germans and beat them both with your
head and your hands. But it will be very difficult to interest you. You
would need some great stimulus, and in your case it would be ambition
rather than its rewards."

Alban replied that a love of power was probably the strongest influence
in the world.

"We all hate work," he said, repeating his favorite dictum, "I don't
suppose there is one man in a thousand who would do another day's work
unless he were compelled. The success of Socialism in our time is the
belief that it will glorify idleness and make it real. The agitators
themselves never work. They have learned the rich men's secret--I have
heard them preaching the dignity of labor a hundred times, but I never
yet saw one wheeling a barrow. The poor fellows who listen to them think
that you have only got to pass a few acts of Parliament to be happy
forever after. I pity them, but how are you to teach them that the
present state of things is just--and if it is not just, why should you
wish it to last?"

Gessner could answer that. A rich man himself, all that concerned the
new doctrines was of the profoundest interest to him.

"The present state of things is the only state of things--in the bulk,"
he said; "it is as old as the world and will go on as long as the world.
We grumble at our rich men, but those who have amassed their own
fortunes are properly the nation's bankers. Consider what a sudden gift
of money would mean to the working-men of England to-day--drunkenness,
crime, debauchery. You can legislate to improve the conditions of their
lives, but to give them creative brains is beyond all legislation. And I
will tell you this--that once you have passed any considerable
socialistic legislation for this kingdom of Great Britain, you have
decided her destiny. She will in twenty years be in the position of
Holland--a country that was but never will be again."

No one disputed the proposition, for no one thoroughly understood it.
Alban had not the courage to debate his pet theorems at such a time, and
the parson was too intent upon denouncing the national want of
seriousness to enter upon such abstruse questions as the banker would
willingly have discussed. So they fell back upon athletics again, and
were busy with football and cricket until the time came for Anna to
withdraw and leave them to their cigars. Silas Geary, quickly imitating
her, waited but for a glass of port before he made his excuses and
departed, as he said, upon a "parochial necessity."

"We will go to the Winter Garden," Gessner said to Alban when they were
alone--"I will see that Fellows takes our coffee there. Bring some
cigarettes, Alban--I wish to have a little private talk with you."

Alban assented willingly, for he was glad of this opportunity to say
much that he had desired to say for some days past. The night had turned
very hot and close, but the glass roof of the Winter Garden stood open
and they sat there almost as in the open air, the great palms and shrubs
all about them and many lights glowing cunningly amid the giant leaves.
As earlier in the evening, so now Gessner was in the best of spirits,
laughing at every trivial circumstance and compelling his guest to see
how kindly was his desposition toward him.

"We shall be comfortable here," he said, "and far enough away from the
port wine to save me self-reproach to-morrow. I see that you drink
little, Alban. It is wise--all those who have the gout will speak of
your wisdom. We drink because the wine is there, not because we want it.
And then in the morning, we say, how foolish. Come now, light another
cigarette and listen to me. I have great things to talk about, great
questions to ask you. You must listen patiently, for this concerns your
happiness--as closely perhaps as anything will concern it as long as you
live."

He did not continue immediately, seeing the footman at his elbow with
the coffee. Alban, upon his part, lighted a cigarette as he had been
commanded, and waited patiently. He thought that he knew what was coming
and yet was afraid of the thought. Anna's sudden passion for him had
been too patent to all the world that he should lightly escape its
consequences. Indeed, he had never waited for any one to speak with the
anxiety which attended this interval of service. He thought that the
footman would never leave them alone.

"Now," said Gessner at last, "now that those fellows are gone we can
make ourselves comfortable. I shall be very plain, my lad--I shall not
deceive you again. When you first came to my house, I did not tell you
the truth--I am going to tell it to you to-night, for it is only right
that you should know it."

He stirred his coffee vigorously and puffed at his cigar until it glowed
red again. When he resumed he spoke in brief decisive sentences as
though forbidding question or contradiction until he had finished.

"There is a fellow-countryman of mine--you know him and know his
daughter. He believes that I am under some obligation to him and I do
not contradict him. When we met in London, many years after the business
transaction of which he complains, I asked him in what way I could be of
service to him or to his family, as the case might be. He answered that
he wanted nothing for himself, but that any favor I might be disposed to
show should be toward his daughter and to you. I took it that you were
in love with the girl and would marry her. That was what I was given to
believe. At the same time, this fellow Boriskoff assured me that you
were well educated, of a singularly independent character, and well
worthy of being received into this house. I will not deny that the
fellow made very much of this request, and that it was put to me with
certain alternatives which I considered impertinent. You, however, had
no part in that. You came here because the whole truth was not told to
you--and you remained because my daughter wished it. There I do not fear
contradiction. You know yourself that it is true and will not contradict
me. As the time went on, I perceived that you had established a claim to
my generosity such as did not exist when first you came here--the claim
of my affection and of my daughter's. This, I will confess, has given me
more pleasure than anything which has happened here for a long time. I
have no son and I take it as the beneficent work of Providence that one
should be sent to me as you were sent. My daughter would possibly have
married a scoundrel if the circumstances had been otherwise. So, you
see, that while you are now established here by right of our affection,
I am rewarded twofold for anything I may have done for you. Henceforth
this happy state of things must become still happier. I have spoken to
Anna to-night, and I should be very foolish if I could not construe her
answer rightly. She loves you, my lad, and will take you for her
husband. It remains for you to say that your happiness shall not be
delayed any longer than may be reasonable."

It need scarcely be said with what surprise Alban listened to this
lengthy recital. Some part of the truth had already been made known to
him--but this fuller account could not but flatter his vanity while it
left him silent in his amazement and perplexity. Richard Gessner, he
understood, had always desired a brilliant match for Anna, and had
sought an alliance with some of the foremost English families. If he
abandoned these ambitions, a shrewd belief in the impossibility lay at
the root of his determination. Anna would never marry as he wished. Her
birthright and her Eastern blood forbade it. She would be the child of
whim and of passion always, and it lay upon him to avert the greater
evil by the lesser. Alban in a vague way understood this, but of his own
case he could make little. What a world of ease and luxury and delight
these few simple words opened up to him. He had but to say "yes" to
become the ultimate master of this man's fortune, the possessor of a
heritage which would have been considered fabulous but fifty years ago.
And yet he would not say "yes." It was as though some unknown power
restrained him, almost as though his own brain tricked him. Of Anna's
sudden passion for him he had no doubt whatever. She was ready and
willing to yield her whole self to him and would, it might be, make him
a devoted wife. None the less, the temptation found him vacillating and
incapable even of a clear decision. Some voice of the past called to him
and would not be silenced. Maladroitly, he gave no direct reply, but
answered the question by another.

"Did Paul Boriskoff tell you that I was about to marry his daughter, Mr.
Gessner?"

"My dear lad, what Paul Boriskoff said or did can be of little interest
to you or me to-night. He is no longer in England, let me tell you. He
left for Poland three days ago."

"Then you saw him or heard from him before he left?"

"Not at all. The less one sees or hears from that kind of person the
better. You know the fellow and will understand me. He is a firebrand we
can well do without. I recommended him to go to Poland and he has gone.
His daughter, I understand, is being educated at Warsaw. Let me advise
you to forget such acquaintances--they are no longer of any concern to
either of us."

He waved his hand as though to dismiss the subject finally; but his
words left Alban strangely ill at ease.

"Old Paul is a fanatic," he said presently, "but a very kindly one. I
think he is very selfish where his daughter is concerned, but he loves
his country and is quite honest in his opinions. From what I have heard
in Union Street, he is very unwise to go back to Poland. The Russian
authorities must be perfectly well aware what he has done in London, and
are not likely to forget it. Yes, indeed, I am sorry that he has been so
foolish."

He spoke as one who regretted sincerely the indiscretions of a friend
and would have saved him from them. Gessner, upon his side, desired as
little talk of the Boriskoffs as might be. If he had told the truth, he
knew that Alban Kennedy would walk out of his house never to return. For
it had been his own accomplices who had persuaded old Paul to return to
Poland--and the Russian police were waiting for him across the frontier.
Any hour might bring the news of his arrest. The poor fanatic who
babbled threats would be under lock and key before many hours had
passed, on his way to Saghalin perhaps--and his daughter might starve if
she were obstinate enough. All this was in Gessner's mind, but he said
nothing of it. His quick perception set a finger upon Alban's difficulty
and instantly grappled with it.

"We must do what we can for the old fellow," he said lightly, "I am
already paying for the daughter's education and will see to her future.
You would be wise, Alban, to cut all those connections finally. I want
you to take a good place in the world. You have a fine talent, and when
you come into my business, as I propose that you shall do, you will get
a training you could not better in Europe. Believe me, a financier's
position is more influential in its way than that of kings. Here am I
living in this quiet way, rarely seen by anybody, following my own
simple pleasures just as a country gentleman might do, and yet I have
but to send a telegram over the wires to make thousands rich or to ruin
them. You will inherit my influence as you will inherit my fortune. When
you are Anna's husband, you must be my right hand, acting for me,
speaking for me, learning to think for me. This I foresee and
welcome--this is what I offer you to-night. Now go to Anna and speak to
her for yourself. She is waiting for you in the drawing-room and you
must not tease her. Go to her, my dear boy, and say that which I know
she wishes to hear."

He did not doubt the issue--who would have done? Standing there with his
hand upon Alban's shoulder, he believed that he had found a son and
saved his daughter from the peril of her heritage.

So is Fate ironical. For as they talked, Fellows appeared in the garden
and announced the Russian, who carried to Hampstead tidings of a failure
disastrous beyond any in the eventful story of this man's life.



CHAPTER XIX

THE PLOT HAS FAILED


The Russian appeared to be a young man, some thirty years of age
perhaps. His dress was after the French fashion. He wore a shirt with a
soft embroidered front and a tousled black cravat which added a shade of
pallor to his unusually pale face. When he spoke in the German tongue,
his voice had a pleasant musical ring, even while it narrated the story
of his friend's misfortune.

"We have failed, mein Heir," he said, "I come to you with grievous news.
We have failed and there is not an hour to lose."

Gessner heard him with that self-mastery to which his whole life had
trained him. Betraying no sign of emotion whatever, he pulled a chair
toward the light and invited the stranger to take it.

"This is my young kinsman," he said, introducing Alban who still
lingered in the garden; "you have heard of him, Count." And then to
Alban, "Let me present you to my very old friend, Count Zamoyaki. He is
a cavalry soldier, Alban, and there is no finer rider in Europe."

Alban took the outstretched hand and, having exchanged a word with the
stranger, would have left the place instantly. This, however, Count
Zamoyski himself forbade. Speaking rapidly to Gessner in the German
tongue, he turned to the lad presently and asked him to remain.

"Young heads are wise heads sometimes," he said in excellent English,
"you may be able to help us, Mr. Kennedy. Please wait until we have
discussed the matter a little more fully."

To this the banker assented by a single inclination of his head.

"As you say, Count--we shall know presently. Please tell me the story
from the beginning."

The Count lighted a cigarette, and sinking down into the depths of a
monstrous arm-chair, he began to speak in smooth low tones--a tragedy
told almost in whispers; for thus complacently, as the great Frenchman
has reminded us, do we bear the misfortunes of our neighbors.

"I bring news both of failure and of success," he began, "but the
failure is of greater moment to us. Your instructions to my Government,
that the Boriskoffs, father and daughter, were an embarrassment to you
which must be removed, have been faithfully interpreted and acted upon
immediately. The father was arrested at Alexandrovf Station, as I
promised that he should be--the police have visited the school in Warsaw
where the daughter was supposed to reside--this also as I promised
you--but their mission has been in vain. So you see that while Paul
Boriskoff is now in the old prison at Petersburg, the daughter is heaven
knows where, which I may say is nowhere for our purpose. That we did not
complete the affair is our misfortune. The girl, we are convinced, is
still in Warsaw, but her friends are hiding her. Remember that the
police knew the father, but that the daughter is unknown to them. These
Polish girls--pardon me, I refer to the peasant classes--are as alike as
two roses on a bush. We shall do nothing until we establish
identity--and how that is to be done, I do not pretend to say. If you
can help us--and it is very necessary for your own safety to do so--you
have not a minute to lose. We should act at once, I say, without the
loss of a single hour."

Thus did this man of affairs, one who had been deep in many a brave
intrigue, make known to the man who had employed him the supreme
misfortune of their adventure. Had he said, "Your life is in such peril
that you may not have another hour to live," it would have been no more
than the truth. Their plot had failed and the story of it was abroad.
This had he come from Paris to tell--this was the news that Richard
Gessner heard with less apparent emotion than though one had told him of
the pettiest event of a common day.

"The matter has been very badly bungled," he said. "I shall write to
General Trepoff and complain of it. Do you not see how inconvenient this
is? If the girl has escaped, she will be sheltered by the
Revolutionaries, and if she knows my story, she will tell it to them. I
may be followed here--to this very house. You know that these people
stick at nothing. They would avenge this man's liberty whatever the
price. What remains to discover is the precise amount of her knowledge.
Does she know my name, my story? You must find that out,
Zamoyski--there is not an hour to lose, as you say."

He repeated his fears, pacing the room and smoking incessantly. The
whole danger of a situation is not usually realized upon its first
statement, but every instant added to this man's apprehensions and
brought the drops of sweat anew to his forehead. He had planned to
arrest both Boriskoff and his daughter. The Russian Government, seeking
the financial support of his house, fell in readily with his plans and
commanded the police to assist him. Paul Boriskoff himself had been
arrested at the frontier station upon an endeavor to return to Poland.
His daughter Lois, warned in some mysterious manner, had fled from the
school where she was being educated and put herself beyond the reach of
her father's enemies. This was the simple story of the plot. But God
alone could tell what the price of failure might be.

"It is very easy to say what we must do," the Count observed, "the
difficulties remain. Identify this girl for us among the twenty thousand
who answer to her description in Warsaw, and I will undertake that the
Government shall deal well by her. But who is to identify her? Where is
your agent to be found? Name him to me and the task begins to-night. We
can do nothing more. I say again that my Government has done all in its
power. The rest is with you, Herr Gessner, to direct us where we have
failed."

Gessner made no immediate answer. Perhaps he was about to admit the
difficulties of the Count's position and to agree that identification
was impossible, when suddenly his glance fell upon Alban, waiting, as
he had asked, until the interview should be done. And what an
inspiration was that--what an instantaneous revelation of possibilities.
Let this lad go to Warsaw and he would discover Lois Boriskoff quickly
enough. The girl had been in love with him and would hold her tongue at
his bidding. As in a flash, he perceived this spar which should save
him, and clutched at it. Let the lad go to Warsaw--let him be the agent.
If the police arrested the girl after all--well, that would be an
accident which he might regret, but certainly would not seek to prevent.
A man whose life is imperilled must be one in ten thousand if any common
dictates of faith or conduct guide him. Richard Gessner had a fear of
death so terrible that he would have dared the uttermost treachery to
save himself.

"Count," he exclaimed suddenly, "your agent is here, in this room. He
will go to Warsaw at your bidding. He will find the girl."

The Count, who knew something of Alban's story already, received the
intimation as though he had expected it.

"It was for that I asked him to wait. I have been thinking of it. He
will go to Warsaw and tell the lady that she may obtain her father's
liberty upon a condition. Let her make a direct appeal to the
Government--and we will consider it. Of course you intend an immediate
departure--you are not contemplating a delay, Herr Gessner?"

"Delay--am I the man to delay? He shall go to-morrow by the first
train."

A smile hovered upon the Count's face in spite of himself.

"In a week," he was saying to himself, "Lois Boriskoff shall be flogged
in the Schusselburg."

In truth, the whip was the weapon he liked best--when women were to be
schooled.



CHAPTER XX

ALBAN GOES TO WARSAW


Alban had never been abroad, and it would have been difficult for him to
give any good account of his journey to Warsaw. The swiftly changing
scenes, the new countries, the uproar and strife of cities, the glamour
of the sea, put upon his ripe imagination so heavy a burden that he
lived as one apart, almost as a dreamer who had forgotten how to dream.
If he carried an abiding impression it was that of the miracle of travel
and the wonders that travel could work. In twenty hours he had almost
forgotten the existence of the England he had left. Chains of bondage
fell from his willing shoulders. He felt as one released from a prison
house to all the freedom of a boundless world.

And so at last he came to the beautiful city of Warsaw and his sterner
task began. Here, as in London, that pleasant person Count Sergius
Zamoyski reminded him how considerable was the service he could confer,
not alone upon his patron but upon the friends of his evil days.

"It has all been a mistake," the Count would say with fine protestation
of regret; "my Government arrested that poor old fellow Boriskoff, but
it would gladly let him go. To begin with, however, we must have
pledges. You know perfectly well that the man is a fanatic and will
work a great mischief unless some saner head prevents it. We must find
his daughter and see that she promises to hold her tongue concerning our
friend at Hampstead. When that is done, we shall pack off the pair to
London and they will carry a good round sum in their pockets. Herr
Gessner is not the man to deal ungenerously with them--nor with you to
whom he may owe so much."

He was a shrewd man of the world, this amiable diplomat, and who can
wonder that so simple a youth as Alban Kennedy proved no match for him.
Alban honestly believed that he would be helping both Gessner and his
old friends, the Boriskoffs, should he discover little Lois' whereabouts
and take her back to London. A very natural longing to see her once more
added to the excitements of the journey. He would not have been willing
to confess this interest, but it prompted him secretly so that he was
often reminding himself of the old days when Lois had been his daily
companion and their mutual confidences had been their mutual pleasure.
Just as a knight-errant of the old time might set out to seek his
mistress, so did Alban go to Warsaw determined to succeed. He would find
Lois in this whirling wonderland of delight, and, finding her, would
return triumphant to their home.

Now, they arrived in Warsaw upon the Thursday evening after the
memorable interview at Hampstead; and driving through the crowded
streets of that pleasant city, by its squares, its gardens, and its
famous Palaces, they descended at last at the door of the Hôtel de
France; and there they heard the fateful news which the city itself had
discussed all day and would discuss far into the night.

General Trubenoff, the new Dictator, had been shot dead at the gate of
the Arsenal that very afternoon, men said, and the Revolutionaries were
already armed and abroad. What would happen in the next few hours,
heaven and the Deputy Governor alone could tell. Were this not
sufficiently significant, the aspect of the great Square itself was
menacing enough to awe the imagination even of the least impressionable
of travellers. Excited crowds passed and repassed; Cossacks were riding
by at the gallop--even the reports of distant rifle shots were to be
heard and, from time to time, the screams and curses of those upon whose
faces and shoulders the soldiers' whips fell so pitilessly.

In the great hall of the hotel itself pandemonium reigned. Afraid of the
streets and of their homes, the wives and daughters of many officials
fled hither as to a haven of refuge which would never be suspected. They
crowded the passages, the staircases, the reception-rooms. They besieged
the officers for news of that which befell without. Their terrified
faces remained a striking tribute to the ferocity of their enemies and
the reality of the peril.

Let it be said in justice that this majestic spectacle of tragedy found
Alban Kennedy well prepared to understand its meaning. Had he told the
truth he would have said that the mob orators of Union Street had
prepared him for such a state of things as he now beheld. The Cossacks,
were they not the Cossacks whom old Paul had called "the enemies of the
human race?" The gilt-belarded generals, had he not seen them cast upon
the screen in England and there heard their names with curses? Just as
they had told him would be the case, so now he had stumbled upon
autocracy face to face with its ancient enemy, the people. He saw the
brutal Cossacks with their puny horses and their terrible whips parading
beneath his balcony and treating all the poor folk with that insolence
for which they are famous. He beheld the huddled crowds lifting white
faces to the sky and cowering before the relentless lash. Not a whit had
the patriot exiles in London exaggerated these things or misrepresented
them. Men, and women too, were struck down, their faces ripped by the
thongs, their shoulders lacerated before his very eyes. And all this, as
he vaguely understood, that freedom might be denied to this nation and
justice withheld from her citizens. Truly had he travelled far since he
left England a few short days ago.

Sergius Zamoyski had engaged a handsome suite of rooms upon the first
floor of the magnificent modern hotel which looks down upon the Aleja
Avenue, and to these they went at once upon their arrival. It was
something at least to escape from the excited throngs below and to stand
apart, alike from the rabble and the soldiers. Nor was the advantage of
their situation to be despised; for they had but to step out upon the
veranda before their sitting-rooms to command the whole prospect of the
avenue, and there, at their will, to be observers of the conflict. To
Sergius Zamoyski, familiar with such scenes, Warsaw offered no
surprises whatever. To Alban it remained a city of whirlwind, and of
human strife and suffering beyond all imagination terrible. He would
have been content to remain out there upon that high balcony until the
last trooper had ridden from the street and the last bitter cry been
raised. The Count's invitation to dinner seemed grotesque in its
reversion to commonplace affairs.

"All this is an every-day affair here now," that young man remarked with
amazing nonchalance; "since the workmen began to shoot the patrols, the
city has had no peace. I see that it interests you very much. You will
find it less amusing when you have been in Russia for a month or two.
Now let us dress and dine while we can. Those vultures down below will
not leave a bone of the carcass if we don't take care."

He re-entered the sitting-room and thence the two passed to their
respective dressing-rooms. An obsequious valet offered Alban a cigarette
while he made his bath, and served a glass of an American cocktail. The
superb luxury of these apartments did not surprise the young English boy
as much as they might have done, for he had already stayed one night at
an almost equally luxurious hotel in Berlin and so approached them
somewhat familiarly; but the impression, oddly conceived and incurable,
that he had no right to enjoy such luxuries and was in some way an
intruder, remained. No one would have guessed this, the silent valet
least of all; but in truth, Alban dressed shyly, afraid of the splendor
and the richness; and his feet fell softly upon the thick Persian
carpets as though some one would spy him out presently and cry, "Here is
the guest who has not the wedding garment." In the dining-room, face to
face with the gay Count, some of these odd ideas vanished; so that an
observer might have named them material rather than personal.

They dined with open windows, taking a zakuska in the Russian fashion in
lieu of hors d'oeuvre, and nibbling at smoked fish, caviar and other
pickled mysteries. The Count's ability to drink three or four glasses of
liquor with this prefatory repast astonished Alban not a little--which
the young Russian observed and remarked upon.

"I am glad that I was born in the East," he said lightly, "you English
have no digestions. When you have them, your climate ruins them. Here in
Russia we eat and drink what we please--that is our compensation. We are
Tartars, I admit--but when you remember that a Tartar is a person who
owns no master, rides like a jockey, and drinks as much as he pleases
with impunity, the imputation is not serious. None of you Western people
understand the Russian. None of you understand that we are men in a very
big sense of the word--men with none of your feminine Western
weaknesses--great fighters, splendid lovers, fine drinkers. You preach
civilization instead--and we point to your Whitechapel, your Belleville,
your Bowery. Just think of it, your upper classes, as you yourselves
admit, are utterly decadent, alike in brains and in morals; your middle
classes are smug hypocrites--your lower classes starve in filthy dens.
This is what you desire to bring about in Russia under the name of
freedom and liberty. Do you wonder that those of us who have travelled
will have none of it. Are you surprised that we fight your civilization
with the whip--as we are fighting it outside at this moment. If we fail,
very well, we shall know how to fail. But do not tell me that it would
be a blessing for this country to imitate your institutions, for I could
not believe you if you did."

He laughed upon it as though disbelieving his own words and, giving
Alban no opportunity to reply, fell to talk of that which they must do
and of the task immediately before them.

"We are better in this hotel than at the Palace Zamoyski, my kinsman's
house," he said, "for here no inquisitive servants will trouble us.
Naturally, you think it a strange thing to be brought to a great city
like this and there asked to identify a face. Let me say that I don't
think it will be a difficult matter. The Chief of the Police will call
upon me in the morning and he will be able to tell us in how many houses
it would be possible for the girl Lois Boriskoff to hide. We shall
search them and discover her--and then learn what Herr Gessner desires
to learn. I confess it amazes me that a man with his extraordinary
fortune should have dealt so clumsily with these troublesome people. A
thousand pounds paid to them ten years ago might have purchased his
security for life. But there's your millionaire all over. He will not
pay the money and so he risks not only his fortune but his life. Let me
assure you that he is not mistaken when he declares that there is no
time to lose. These people, should they discover that he has been aiding
my Government, would follow him to the ends of the earth. They may have
already sent an assassin after him--it would be in accord with their
practice to lose no time, and as you see they are not in a temper to
procrastinate. The best thing for us to do is to speak of our business
to no one. When we have discovered the girl, we will promise her
father's liberty in return for her silence. Herr Gessner must now deal
with these people once and for all--generously and finally. I see no
other chance for him whatever."

Alban agreed to this, although he had some reservations to make.

"I know the Boriskoffs very well," he said, "and they are kindly people.
We have always considered old Paul a bit of a madman, but a harmless
one. Even his own countrymen in London laugh when he talks to them. I am
sure he would be incapable of committing such a crime as you suggest;
and as for his daughter, Lois, she is quite a little schoolgirl who may
know nothing about the matter at all. Mr. Gessner undoubtedly owes Paul
a great deal, and I should be pleased to see the poor fellow in better
circumstances. But is it quite fair to keep him in prison just because
you are afraid of what his daughter may say?"

"It is our only weapon. If we give him liberty, will he hold his tongue
then? By your own admissions a louder talker does not exist. And
remember that it may cost Herr Gessner many thousand pounds and many
weeks of hard work to secure his liberty at all. Is he likely to
undertake this while the daughter is at liberty and harbored among the
ruffians of this city? He would be a madman to do so. I, who know the
Poles as few of them know themselves, will tell you that they would
sooner strike at those whom they call 'traitors in exile' than at their
enemies round about us. If the girl has told them what she knows of Herr
Gessner and his past, I would not be in his shoes to-night for a million
of roubles heaped up upon the table. No, no, we have no time to lose--we
owe it to him to act with great dispatch."

Alban did not make any immediate reply. Hopeful as the Count was, the
difficulties of tracking little Lois down in such a city at such a time
seemed to him well-nigh insuperable. He had seen hundreds of faces like
hers as they drove through Warsaw that very afternoon. The monstrous
crowd showed him types both of Anna and of Lois, and he wondered no
longer at the resemblance he had detected between them when he first saw
Richard Gessner's daughter on the balcony of the house in St. James'
Square. None the less, the excitements of the task continued to grow
upon him. How would it all end, he asked impulsively. And what if they
were too late after all and his friend and patron were to be the victim
of old Boriskoff's vengeance? That would be terrible indeed--it would
drive him from Lois' friendship forever.

All this was in his mind as the dinner drew toward a conclusion and the
solemn waiters served them cigars and coffee. There had been some
cessation of the uproar in the streets during the latter moments; but a
new outcry arising presently, the Count suggested that they should
return to the balcony and see what was happening.

"I would have taken you to the theatre," he said laughingly, "but we
shall see something prettier here. They are firing their rifles, it
appears. Do not let us miss the play when we can have good seats for
nothing. And mind you bring that kummel, for it is the best in Europe."

They were just lighting the great arc lamps upon the avenue as the two
emerged from the dining-room and took up their stations by the railing
of the balcony. In the roadway below the spectacle had become superb in
its weird drama and excited ferocity. Great crowds passed incessantly
upon the broad pavements and were as frequently dispersed by the fiery
Cossacks who rode headlong as though mad with the lust of slaughter.
Holding all who were abroad to be their enemies, these fellows slashed
with their brutal whips at every upturned face and had no pity even for
the children. Alban saw little lads of ten and twelve years of age
carried bleeding from the streets--he beheld gentle women cut and lashed
until they fell dying upon the pavement--he heard the death-cry from
many a human throat. Just as the exiles had related it, so the drama
went, with a white-faced, terror-stricken mob for the people of its
scene and these devils upon their little horses for the chief actors.
When the troopers fell (and from time to time a bullet would find its
billet and leave a corpse rolling in a saddle) this was but the signal
for a new outburst, surpassing the old in its diabolical ferocity. A
very orgy of blood and slaughter; a Carnival of whips cutting deep into
soft white flesh and drawing from their victims cries so awful that
they might have risen up from hell itself.

And in this crowd, among this people perhaps, little Lois Boriskoff must
be looked for. Her friends would be the people's friends. Wayward as she
was, a true child of the streets, Alban did not believe that she would
remain at home this night or consent to forego the excitements of a
spectacle so wonderful. Nor in this was he mistaken, for he had been but
a very few minutes upon the balcony when he perceived Lois herself
looking up to him from the press below and plainly intimating that she
had both seen and recognized him.



CHAPTER XXI

THE BOY IN THE BLUE BLOUSE


A sharp exclamation brought the Count to Alban's side.

"Lois is down there," Alban said, "I am sure of it--she waved to me just
now. She was walking with a man in a dark blue blouse. I could not have
been mistaken."

He was quite excited that he should have discovered her thus, and
Sergius Zamoyski did not lag behind him in interest.

"Do you still see her?" he asked--"is she there now?"

"I cannot see her now--the soldiers drove the people back. Perhaps if we
went down--"

The Count laughed.

"Even I could not protect you to-night," he exclaimed dryly,
"no--whatever is to be done must be done to-morrow. But does not that
prove to you what eyes and ears these people have. Here we left London
as secretly as a man on a love affair. With the single exception of our
friend at Hampstead, not a human being should have known of our
departure or our destination. And yet we are not three hours in this
place before this girl is outside our hotel, as well aware that we have
arrived as we are ourselves. That is what baffles our police. They
cannot contend with miracles. They are only human, and I tell you that
these people are more than human."

Alban, still peering down into the press in the hope that he might see
Lois' face again, confessed that he could offer no explanation whatever.

"They told me the same thing in London," he said, "but I did not believe
them. Old Boriskoff used to boast that he knew of things which had
happened in Warsaw before the Russian Government. They seem to have
spies in every street and every house. If Lois' presence is not a
coincidence--"

"My dear fellow, are you also a believer in coincidence--the idle excuse
of men who will not reason. Forgive me, but I think very little of
coincidence. Just figure the chances against such a meeting as this.
Would it not run into millions--your first visit to Warsaw; nobody
expecting you; nobody knowing your name in the city--and here is the
girl waiting under your window before you have changed your clothes. Oh,
no, I will have nothing to do with coincidence. These people certainly
knew that we had left England--they have been expecting us; they will do
their best to baffle us. Yes, and that means that we run some danger. I
must think of it--I must see the Chief of the Police to-night. It would
be foolish to neglect all reasonable precautions."

Alban looked at him with surprise.

"None of those people will do me an injury," he exclaimed, "and you,
Count, why should you fear them?"

The Count lighted a cigarette very deliberately. "There may be
reasons," he said--and that was all.

Had he told the whole truth, revealed the secrets of his work during the
last three years, Alban would have understood very well what those
reasons were. A shrewder agent of the Government, a more discreet
zealous official of the secret service, did not exist. His very bonhomie
and good-fellowship had hitherto been his surest defence against
discovery. Men spoke of him as the great gambler and a fine sportsman.
The Revolutionaries had been persuaded to look upon him as their friend.
Some day they would learn the truth--and then, God help him. Meanwhile,
the work was well enough. He found it even more amusing than making love
and a vast deal more exciting than big-game hunting.

"Yes," he repeated anon, "There may be reasons, but it is a little too
late to remember them. I am sending over to the Bureau now. If the Chief
is there, he will be able to help me. Of course, you will see or hear
from this girl again. These people would deliver a letter if you locked
yourself up in an iron safe. They will communicate with you in the
morning and we must make up our minds what to do. That is why I want
advice."

"If you take mine," said Alban quietly, "you will permit me to see her
at once. I am the last person in all Warsaw whom Lois Boriskoff will
desire to injure."

"Am I to understand, then--but no, it would be impossible. Forgive me
even thinking of it. I had really imagined for a moment that you might
be her lover."

Alban's face flushed crimson.

"She was my little friend in London--she will be the same in Warsaw,
Count."

Count Sergius bowed as though he readily accepted this simple
explanation and apologized for his own thoughts. A shrewd man of the
world, he did not believe a word of it, however. These two, boy and girl
together, had been daily associates in the slums of London. They had
shared their earnings and their pleasures and passed for those who would
be man and wife presently. This Richard Gessner had told him when they
discussed the affair, and he remembered it to his great satisfaction.
For if Alban were Lois Boriskoff's lover, then might he venture even
where the police were afraid to go.

"I will talk it all over with the Chief," the Count exclaimed abruptly;
"you have had a long day and are better in bed. Don't stand on any
ceremony, but please go directly you feel inclined."

Alban did not demur for he was tired out and that was the truth of it.
In his own room he recalled the question the Count had put to him and
wondered that it had so distressed him. Why had his cheeks tingled and
the words stumbled upon his lips because he had been called Lois
Boriskoff's lover? It used not to be so when they walked Union Street
together and all the neighbors regarded the engagement as an
accomplished fact. He had never resented such a charge then--what had
happened that he should resent it now? Was it the long weeks of
temptation he had suffered in Anna Gessner's presence? Had the world of
riches so changed him that any mention of the old time could make him
ashamed? He knew not what to think--the blood rushed to his cheeks again
and his heart beat quickly when he remembered that but for Count
Sergius's visit to Hampstead, he might have been Anna's betrothed
to-day.

In this he was, as ever, entirely candid with himself, neither condoning
his faults nor accusing himself blindly. There had been nothing of the
humbler realities of love in his relations with Richard Gessner's
daughter; none of the superb spirit of self-sacrifice; none of those
fine ideals which his boyhood had desired to set up. He had worshipped
her beauty--so much he readily admitted; her presence had ever been
potent to quicken his blood and claim the homage of his senses; but of
that deeper understanding and mutual sympathy by which love is born she
had taught him nothing. Why this should have been so, he could not
pretend to say. Her father's riches and the glamour of the great house
may have had not a little to do with it. Alban had always seemed to
stand apart from all which the new world showed to him. He felt that he
had no title to a place there, no just claim at all to those very favors
his patron thrust upon him so lavishly.

He was as a man escaped from a prison whose bars were of gold--a prison
whereof the jailer had been a beautiful and capricious woman. Here in
Warsaw he discovered a new world; but one that seemed altogether
familiar. All this clamor of the streets, this going to and fro of
people, the roar of traffic, the shriek of whistles, the ringing of
bells--had he not known them all in London when Lois was his friend and
old Paul his neighbor? There had been many Poles by Thrawl Street and
the harsh music of their tongue came to him as an old friend. It is true
that he was housed luxuriously, in a palace built for millionaires; but
he had the notion that he would not long continue there and that a newer
and a stranger destiny awaited him. This thought, indeed, he carried to
his bedroom and slept upon at last. He would find Lois to-morrow and she
would be his messenger.

There had still been excited crowds in the streets when he found his
bedroom and a high balcony showed him the last phases of a weird
pageant. Though it was then nearly midnight, Cossacks continued to
patrol the avenue and the mob to deride them. By here and there, where
the arc lamps illuminated the pavement, the white faces and slouching
figures of the more obstinate among the Revolutionaries spoke of dogged
defiance and an utter indifference to personal safety. Alban could well
understand why the people had ventured out, but that they should have
taken women and even young children with them astonished him beyond
measure. These, certainly, could vindicate no principle when their flesh
was cut by the brutal whips and the savage horses rode them down to
emphasize the majesty of the Czar. Such sights he had beheld that
afternoon and such were being repeated, if the terrible cries which came
to his ears from time to time were true harbingers. Alban closed his
windows at last for very shame and anger. He tried to shut the city's
terrible voice from his ears. He wished to believe that his eyes had
deceived him.

This would have been about one o'clock in the morning. When he awoke
from a heavy sleep (and youth will sleep whatever the circumstance) the
sun was shining into his rooms and the church-bells called the people to
early Mass. An early riser, long accustomed to be up and out when the
clock struck six, he dressed himself at once and determined to see
something of Warsaw before the Count was about. This good resolution led
him first to the splendid avenue upon which the great hotel was built,
and here he walked awhile, rejoicing in his freedom and wondering why he
had ever parted with it. Let a man have self-reliance and courage enough
and there is no city in all the world which may not become a home to
him, no land among whose people he may not find friends, no government
whose laws shall trouble him. Alban's old nomadic habits brought these
truths to his mind again as he walked briskly down the avenue and filled
his lungs with the fresh breezes of that sunny morning. Why should he
return to the Count at all? What was Gessner's money to him now? He
cared less for it than the stones beneath his feet; he would not have
purchased an hour's command of a princely fortune for one of these
precious moments.

He was not alone in the streets. The electric cars had already commenced
to run and there were many soberly dressed work-people hurrying to the
factories. It was difficult to believe that this place had been the
scene of a civic battle yesterday, or to picture the great avenues, with
their pretty trees, tall and stately houses and fine broad pavements, as
the scene of an encounter bloody beyond all belief. Not a sign now
remained of all this conflict. The dead had already been carried to the
mortuaries; the prisoners were safe at the police-stations where, since
sundown, the whips had been so busy that their lashes were but crimson
shreds. True there were Cossacks at many a street corner and patrols
upon some of the broader thoroughfares--but of Revolutionaries not a
trace. These, after the patient habits of their race, would go to work
to-day as though yesterday had never been. Not a tear would be shed
where any other eye could see it--not a tear for the children whose
voices were forever silent or the mothers who had perished that their
sons might live. Warsaw had become schooled to the necessity of
sacrifice. Freedom stood upon the heights, but the valley was the valley
of the shadow of death.

Alban realized this in a dim way, for he had heard the story from many a
platform in Whitechapel. Perhaps he had enough selfishness in his nature
to be glad that the evil sights were hidden from his eyes. His old
craving for journeying amid narrow streets came upon him here in Warsaw
and held him fascinated. Knowing nothing of the city or its environment,
he visited the castle, the barracks, the Saxon gardens, watched the
winding river Vistula and the Praga suburb beyond, and did not fail to
spy out the old town, lying beneath the guns of the fortress, a maze of
red roofs and tortuous streets and alleys wherein the outcasts were
hiding. To this latter he turned by some good instinct which seemed to
say that he had an errand there. And here little Lois Boriskoff touched
him upon the shoulder and bade him follow her--just as imagination had
told him would be the case. She had come up to him so silently that even
a trained ear might not have detected her footstep. Whence she came or
how he could not say. The street wherein they met was one of the
narrowest he had yet discovered. The crazy eaves almost touched above
his head--the shops were tenanted by Jews already awake and crying their
merchandise. Had Alban been a traveller he would have matched the scene
only in Nuremberg, the old German town. As it was, he could but stare
open-mouthed.

Lois--was it Lois? The voice rang familiarly enough in his ears, the
eyes were those pathetic, patient eyes he had known so well in London.
But the black hair cut in short and silky curls about the neck, the blue
engineer's blouse reaching to the knees, the stockings and shoes
below--was this Lois or some young relative sent to warn him of her
hiding-place? For an instant he stared at her amazed. Then he
understood.

"Lois--it is Lois?" he said.

The girl looked swiftly up and down the street before she answered him.
He thought her very pale and careworn. He could see that her hands were
trembling while she spoke.

"Go down to the river and ask for Herr Petermann," she said almost in a
whisper. "I dare not speak to you here, Alb dear. Go down to the river
and find out the timber-yard--I shall be there when you come."

She ran from him without another word and disappeared in one of the
rows which diverged from the narrow street and were so many filthy lanes
in the possession of the scum of Warsaw. To Alban both her coming and
her going were full of mystery. If Count Sergius had told him the truth,
the Russian Government wished well not only to her but also to her
father, the poor old fanatic Paul who was now in the prison at
Petersburg. Why, then, was it necessary for her to appear in the streets
of Warsaw disguised as a boy and afraid to exchange a single word with a
friend from England. The truth astounded him and provoked his curiosity
intolerably. Was Lois in danger then? Had the Count been lying to him?
He could come to no other conclusion.

It was not difficult to find Herr Petermann's timber-yard, for many
Englishmen found their way there and many a ship's captain from Dantzig
had business with the merry old fellow whom Alban now sought out at
Lois' bidding. The yard itself might have covered an acre of ground
perhaps, bordering the river by a handsome quay and showing mighty
stacks of good wood all ready for the barges or seasoning against next
year's shipment. Two gates of considerable size admitted the lorries
that went in from the town, and by them stood the wooden hut at whose
window inquiries must be made. Here Alban presented himself ten minutes
after Lois had left him.

"I wish to see Herr Petermann," he said in English.

A young Jew clerk took up a scrap of paper and thrust it forward.

"To write your name, please, mein Herr."

Alban wrote his name without any hesitation whatever. The clerk called a
boy, who had been playing by a timber stack, and dispatched him in quest
of his chief.

"From Dantzig, mein Herr?" he asked.

"No," said Alban civilly, "from London."

"Ah," said the clerk, "I think it would be Dantzig. Lot of Englishes
from Dantzig--you have not much of the woods in Engerland, mein Herr."

He did not expect a reply and immediately applied himself to the useful
occupation of killing a blue-bottle with the point of his pen. Two or
three lorries rolled in and out while Alban waited. He could see ships
passing upon the river and hear the scream of a steam-saw from a shed
upon his left hand. A soldier passed the gate, but hardly cast a glance
at the yard. Five minutes must have elapsed before Herr Petermann
appeared. He held the paper in a thin cadaverous hand as though quite
unacquainted with his visitor's name and not at all curious to be
enlightened.

"You are Mr. Kennedy," he said in excellent English.

"Yes," said Alban, "a friend of mine told me to come here."

"It would be upon the business of the English ship--ah, I should have
remembered it. Please come to my office. I am sorry to have kept you
waiting."

He was a short man and very fat, clean shaven and a thorough German in
appearance. Dressed in a very dirty white canvas suit, he shuffled
rather than walked across the yard, never once looking to the right
hand or to the left and apparently oblivious of the presence of a
stranger. This manner had befriended him through all the stormy days
Warsaw had lately known. Even the police had no suspicion of him. Old
fat Petermann, who hobnobbed with sailors--what had revolution to do
with him!

"This way, mein Herr--yonder is my office. When I go to Dantzig by water
my books go with me. That is very good for the health to live upon the
water. Now please to cross the plank carefully, for what shall you say
to me if you fall in? This is my _bureau de travail_--you will tell me
how you like him by and by."

There were two barges of considerable size moored to the quay and a
substantial plank bridged the abyss between the stone and the combings
of the great hatchway. Herr Petermann went first, walking briskly in
spite of his fat; Alban, no less adroit, followed with a lad's nimble
foot and was upon the old fellow's heels when they stepped on board. The
barges, he perceived, were fully laden and covered by heavy tarpaulins.
Commodious cabins at the stern accommodated the crew--and into one of
these Herr Petermann now turned, stooping as he went and crying to his
guest to take care.

"It is rather dark, my friend, but you soon shall be accustomed to that.
This is my private room, you see. In England you would not laugh at a
man who works afloat, for you are all sailors. Now, tell me how you like
it?"

The cabin certainly was beautifully furnished. Walls of polished wood
had their adornment of excellent seascapes, many of them bought at the
Paris salon. A bureau with delightful curves and a clock set at the apex
above the writing-shelf pleased Alban immensely--he thought that he had
seen nothing more graceful even at "Five Gables"; while the chair to
match it needed no sham expert to declare its worth. The carpet was of
crimson, without pattern but elegantly bordered. There were many shelves
for books, but no evidence of commercial papers other than a great
staring ledger which was the one eyesore.

"I like your room very much indeed," said Alban upon his swift
survey--"not many people would have thought of this. We are all afraid
of the damp in England, and if we talked of a floating office, people
would think us mad." And then he added--"But you don't come here in
winter, Herr Petermann--this place is no use to you then?"

Herr Petermann smiled as though he were well pleased.

"Every place has its uses sometimes," he rejoined a little vaguely, "we
never know what is going to happen to us. That is why we should help
each other when the occasion arises. You, of course, are visiting Warsaw
merely as a tourist, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Indeed, no--I have come here to find a very old friend, the daughter--"

"No names, if you please, Mr. Kennedy. You have come here, I think you
said, to find the son of a very old friend. What makes you suppose that
I can help you?"

His change of tone had been a marvellous thing to hear--so swift, so
masterful that Alban understood in a moment what strength of will and
purpose lay hidden by this bland smile and benevolent manner. Herr
Petermann was far from being the simple old fellow he pretended to be.
You never could have named him that if you had heard him speak as he
spoke those few stern words. Alban, upon his part, felt as though some
one had slapped him upon the cheek and called him a fool.

"I am very sorry," he blundered--and then recovering himself, he said as
honestly--"Is there any need to ask me for reasons? Are not our aims the
same, Herr Petermann?"

"To sell wood, Mr. Kennedy?"

Alban was almost angry.

"I was walking down from the Castle," he began, but again the stern
voice arrested him.

"Neither names nor history, if your please, Mr. Kennedy. We are here to
do business together as two honest merchants. All that I shall have to
ask you is your word, the word of an English gentleman, that nothing
which transpires upon my premises shall be spoken of outside under any
circumstances whatever."

"That is very readily given, Herr Petermann."

"Your solemn assurance?"

"My solemn assurance."

The old fellow nodded and smiled. He had become altogether benevolent
once more and seemed exceedingly pleased with himself and everybody
else.

"It is fortunate that you should have applied to me," he exclaimed very
cheerily--"since you are thinking of taking a Polish servant--please do
not interrupt me--since you are thinking of taking a Polish servant and
of asking him to accompany you to England, by boat, if you should find
the journey otherwise inconvenient--I merely put the idea to you--there
is a young man in my employment who might very honestly be recommended
to your notice. Is it not lucky that he is here at this moment--on board
this very barge, Mr. Kennedy?"

Alban looked about him astonished. He half expected to see Lois step out
of one of the cupboards or appear from the recess beneath Herr
Petermann's table. The amiable wood merchant enjoyed his perplexity--as
others of his race he was easily amused.

"Ah, I see that I am troubling you," he exclaimed, "and really there is
not much time to be lost. Let me introduce this amiable young man to you
without delay, Mr. Kennedy. I am sure he will be very pleased to see
you."

He stood up and went to the wall of the cabin nearest to the ship's bow.
A panel cut in this gave access to the lower deck; he opened it and
revealed a great empty hold, deftly covered by the tarpaulin and made to
appear fully loaded to any one who looked at the barge from the shore.

"Here is your friend," he cried with huge delight of his own cleverness,
"here is the young servant you are looking for, Mr. Kennedy. And mind,"
he added this in the same stern voice which had exacted the promise,
"and mind, I have your solemn promise."



CHAPTER XXII

A FIGURE IN THE STRAW


A little light filtered down through the crevices and betrayed the
secrets of that strange refuge in all their amazing simplicity. Here was
neither costly furniture nor any adornment whatsoever. A thick carpet of
straw, giving flecks of gold wherever the sunlight struck down upon it,
had been laid to such a depth that a grown man might have concealed
himself therein. A few empty bales stood here and there as though thrown
down at hazard; there were coils of rope and great blocks of timber used
by the stevedores who loaded the barges. But of the common things of
daily life not a trace. No tables, no chairs, neither bed nor blanket
adorn this rude habitation. Let a sergeant of police open his lantern
there and the tousled straw would answer him in mockery. This, for a
truth, had been the case. Little Lois could tell a tale of Cossacks on
the barge, even of rifles fired down into the hold, and of a child's
heart beating so quickly that she thought she must cry out for very pain
of it. But that was before the men were told that the ship belonged to
merry Herr Petermann. They went away at once then--to drink the old
fellow's beer and to laugh with him.

That had been a terrible day and Lois had never forgotten it. Whenever
old Petermann opened the door of his office now, she would start and
tremble as though a Cossack's hand already touched her shoulder.
Sometimes she lay deep down in the straw, afraid to declare herself even
though a friend's voice called her. And so it was upon that morning of
Alban's visit.

Old Petermann had shut the cabin door behind him and discreetly left the
young people together. Seeing little in the deep gloom and his eyes
blinking wherever he turned them, Alban stood almost knee-deep in straw
and cried Lois' name aloud.

"Lois--where are you, Lois--why don't you answer me?"

She crept from the depths at his very feet and shaking the straw from
her pretty hair, she stood upright and put both her hands upon his
shoulders.

"I am here, Alb dear, just waiting for you. Won't you kiss me, Alb
dear?"

He put his arms about her neck and kissed her at her wish--just as a
brother might have kissed a sister in the hour of her peril.

"I came at once, Lois," he said, "of course I did not understand that it
would be like this. Why are you here? Whatever has happened--what does
it all mean? Will you not teach me to understand, Lois?"

"Sit by my side, Alb dear, sit down and listen to me. I want you to know
what your friends have been doing. Oh, I have been so lonely, so
frightened, and I don't deserve that. You know that my father is in
prison, Alb--the Count told you that?"

"I heard it before I left England, Lois. You did not answer my letters?"

"I was ashamed to, dear. That was the first thing they taught me at the
school--to be ashamed to write to you until you would not be ashamed to
read my letters. Can't you understand, Alb? Wasn't I right to be
ashamed?"

She buried her head upon his breast and put a little hot hand into his
own. A great tenderness toward her filled his whole being and brought a
sense of happiness very foreign to him lately. How gentle and kindly
this little waif of fortune had ever been. And how even those few weeks
of a better schooling had improved her. She had shed all the old
vulgarities--she was just a simple schoolgirl as he would have wished
her to be.

"We are never right to be ashamed before those who love us," Alban said
kindly; "you did not write to me and how was I to know what had
happened? Of course, your father told you what I had been doing and why
I went away from Union Street? It was all his kindness. I know it now
and I have come to Russia to thank him--when he is free. That won't be
very long now that I have found you. They were frightened of you,
Lois--they thought you were going to betray their secrets to the
Revolutionary party. I knew that you would not do so--I said so all
along."

She looked up at him with glowing eyes, and putting her lips very close
to his ear she said:

"I loved you, Alb--I never could have told them while I loved you--not
even to save my father, and God knows how much I love him. Did not they
say that you were very happy with Mr. Gessner? There would have been no
more happiness if I had told them."

"And that is what kept you silent, Lois?"

She would not answer him, but hiding her face again, she asked him a
question which surprised him greatly.

"Do you know why the police wished to arrest me, Alb dear?"

"How could I know that, Lois?"

"It was the Count who told them to do so. He is only deceiving you,
dear. He does not want to release my father and will never do so. If I
were in prison too, he thinks that Mr. Gessner would be quite safe. Do
not trust the Count if you would help us. My people understand him and
they will punish him some day. He has done a great wrong to many in
Warsaw, and he deserves to be punished. You must remember this, dear,
when he promises my father's freedom. He is not telling you the
truth--he is only asking you to punish me."

"But, Lois, what have you done, what charge can they bring against a
little schoolgirl?"

"I am my father's daughter," she said proudly, "that is why they would
punish me. Oh, you don't know, dear. Even the little children are
criminals in Warsaw. My father escaped from Saghalen and I have no right
to live in Russia. When he sent me to school here, I did not come under
my own name, they called me Lois Werner and believed I was a German.
Then my people heard that Count Sergius wished to have me arrested, and
they took me away from the school and brought me here. Herr Petermann is
one of my father's oldest friends. He has saved a great many who would
be in prison but for his kindness. We can trust Herr Petermann, dear--he
will never betray us."

Alban understood, but he had no answer ready for her. All that she had
told him filled him with unutterable contempt toward the men he had but
lately considered as his patrons and his friends. The polished, courtly
Sergius, his master Richard Gessner--to what duplicity had they not
stooped, nay, to what treachery? For they had sent him into Russia, not
to befriend this child, but to put the ultimate shame of a Russian
prison upon her--the cell, the lash, the unnamable infamy. As in a flash
he detected the whole conspiracy and laid it bare. He, Alban Kennedy,
had been chosen as their instrument--he had been sent to Poland to
condemn this little friend of the dreadful years to the living death in
a Russian prison. The blood raced in his veins at the thought. Perhaps
for the first time in his life he knew the meaning of the word anger.

"Lois," he exclaimed presently, "if Mr. Gessner does not set your father
free, I myself will tell your people. That is the message I am going to
send to him to-day. Count Sergius will not lie to me again--I shall tell
him so when I return."

She started up in wild alarm.

"You must not do it--I forbid it," she cried, closing her white arms
about his neck as though to protect him already from his enemies. "Oh,
my dear, you do not know the Russian people, you do not know what it
means to stand against the police here and have them for your enemies.
Mr. Gessner is their friend. The Government would do a great deal to
serve him--my father says so. If Count Sergius heard that you had met
me, we should both be in prison this night--ah, dear God, what a prison,
what suffering--and I have seen it myself, the women cowering from the
lash, the men beaten so that they cut the flesh from their faces. That's
what happens to those who go against the Government, dear Alb--but not
to you because you love me."

She clung to him hysterically, for this long vigil had tried her nerves
and the shadow of discovery lay upon her always. It had been no surprise
to her to find Alban in Warsaw, for the Revolutionary Committee in
London had informed her friends by cable on the very day that Count
Sergius had left. She knew exactly how he had come, where he had
stopped, and when to seek him out. But now that his arms were about her,
she dreaded a new separation and was almost afraid to release his hand
from hers.

"You will not leave me, Alban," she said--a new dignity coming to her
suddenly as though some lesson, not of the school, but of life, had
taught it to her--"you will take me to London with you--yes, yes, dear,
as your servant. That is what my friends wish, they have thought it all
out. I am to go as your servant and you must get a passport for me--for
Lois Werner, and then if you call me by my own name no one will know.
There we can see Mr. Gessner together and speak of my father. I will
promise him that his secret shall never be known. He will trust me,
Alban, because I promise him."

Alban stooped and kissed her upon the lips.

"No," he said, "the work must be done here in Russia, Lois. I am called
to do it and I go now. Let me find you at the same time to-morrow, and I
will tell you what I have done. God bless you, Lois. It is happiness to
be with you again."

Their lips met, their arms unclasped reluctantly. A single tap upon the
panel of the cabin brought that merry old fellow, Herr Petermann, to
open to them. Alban told him in a sentence what had happened and
hastened back to the hotel.



CHAPTER XXIII

AN INSTRUCTION TO THE POLICE


Count Sergius was a little more than uneasy when Alban returned--he was
suspicious. A highly trained agent of Government himself, he rarely
permitted any circumstance, however trifling, to escape him; and this
circumstance of tardiness was not trifling.

"He has met the girl," the argument went, "and she is detaining him with
a fine story of her wrongs. He may learn that we have tricked him and
that would be troublesome. Certainly I was a fool not to have had him
watched--but, then, his first night in Warsaw and he a stranger! We
shall make up for lost time at once. I will see the Chief and give
instructions. A dove does not go but once to the nest. We will take
wings ourselves next time."

By which it will be perceived that he blamed himself for having lost a
great opportunity and determined not to do so a second time. His whole
purpose in coming to Warsaw had been to track down Boriskoff's daughter
and to hand her over to the police. This he owed to his employers, the
Government, and to his friend, Richard Gessner--than whom none would pay
a better price for the service. And when it were done, then he imagined
that nothing in the world would be easier than to excuse himself to this
amiable lad and to take him back to England without any loss of time
whatever. In all a pretty plan, lacking only the finer judgment to
discern the strength of the enemy's force and not to despise them.

Alban entered the sitting-room just as the Count had determined to have
his breakfast. It was nearly twelve o'clock then and the fierce heat of
the day made the streets intolerable. Few people were abroad in the
great avenue--there was no repetition of the disturbance of yesterday,
nor any Cossack going at a gallop. Down below in the restaurant a bevy
of smartly dressed women ate and gossiped to the music of a good
Hungarian band. From distant streets there came an echo of gongs and the
muffled hum of wheels; the sirens of the steam-tugs screamed incessantly
upon the sleepy river.

Whatever the Count's curiosity may have been, he had the wit to hide it
when Alban appeared. Adopting a well-feigned tone of raillery, he spoke
as men speak when another has been absent and has no good excuse to
make.

"I will ask no questions," he said with mock solemnity--"A man who
forgets how to breakfast is in a bad way. That is to suppose that you
have not breakfasted--ah, forgive me, she makes coffee like a chef,
perhaps, and there is no Rhine wine to match the gold of her hair. Let
us talk politics, history, the arts--anything you like. I am absolutely
discreet, Mr. Kennedy, I have forgotten already that you were late."

Alban drew a chair to the table and began to eat with good appetite. His
sense of humor was strong enough to lead him to despise such talk at any
time, but to-day it exasperated him. Understanding perfectly well what
was in the Count's mind, he was not to be trapped by any such artifice.
Honesty is a card which a diplomatist rarely expects an opponent to
hold. Alban held such a card and determined to play it without loss of
time.

"I have seen Lois Boriskoff," he said.

"Again--that is quick work."

The Count looked up, still smiling.

"I told you that we should have no difficulties," he exclaimed.

Alban helped himself to some superb bisque soup and permitted the waiter
to fill his glass from a flask of Chablis.

"It was quite an accident upon my part. I went up to the Castle as you
advised me and then down into the old town. Lois is with her friends
there. I have had a long talk to her and now I understand everything."

The Count nodded his head and sipped his wine. The frankness of all this
deceived him but not wholly. The boy had discovered something--it
remained to be seen how much.

"You are successful beyond hope," he exclaimed presently, "this will be
great news for Mr. Gessner. Of course, you asked her plainly what had
happened?"

"She told me without my asking, Count. Now I understand everything--for
the first time."

The tone of the reply arrested Sergius' attention and brought a frown to
his face. He kept his eyes upon Alban when next he spoke.

"Those people are splendid liars," he remarked as though he had been
expecting just such a story--"of course she spoke about me. I can almost
imagine what she said."

"It was a very great surprise to me," Alban rejoined, and with so simple
an air that any immediate reply seemed impossible. For five minutes they
ate and drank in silence. Then Count Sergius, excusing himself, stood up
and went to the window.

"Is she to come to this hotel?" he asked anon.

"She would be very foolish to do so, Count."

"Foolish, my dear fellow, whatever do you mean?"

"I mean what I say--that she would be mad to put herself into your
power."

The Count bit his lip. It had been many years since so direct an insult
had been offered to him, and yet he did not know how to answer it.

"I see that these people have been lying to you as I thought," he
rejoined sharply, "is it not indiscreet to accept the word of such a
person?"

"You know perfectly well that it is not, Count. You brought me to Warsaw
to help you to arrest Lois Boriskoff. Well, I am not going to do so and
that is all."

"Are you prepared to say the same to your friend in London--will you
cable that news to Mr. Gessner?"

"I was going to do so without any loss of time. You can send the message
for me if you like."

"Nothing will be easier. Let me take it down at your dictation. Really I
am not offended. You have been deceived and are right to say what you
think. Our friend at Hampstead shall judge between us."

He lighted a cigarette with apparent unconcern and sat down before the
writing-table near the window.

"Now," he asked, "how shall we put it to him?"

Alban came over and stood by his side.

"Say that Paul Boriskoff must be released by his intervention without
any condition whatever."

"He will never consent to that."

"He will have to consent, Count Sergius. His personal safety depends
upon it."

"But, my dear boy, what of the girl? Are you going to leave her here to
shout our friend's secret all over Warsaw?"

"She has not spoken and she will not speak, Count."

"Ah, you are among the credulous. Your confidence flatters her, I fear."

"It is just--she has never lied to me."

The Count shrugged his shoulders.

"I will send your message," he said.

He wrote the cable in a fine pointed hand and duly delivered it to the
waiter. His own would follow it ten minutes later--when he had made up
his mind how to act. A dangerous thought had come to him and begun to
obsess his mind. This English boy, he was saying, might yet be a more
dangerous enemy than the girl they had set out to trap. It might yet be
necessary to clap them both in the same prison until the whole truth
were known. He resolved to debate it at his leisure. There was plenty of
time, for the police were watching all the exits from the city, and if
Lois Boriskoff attempted to pass out, God help her.

"We must not expect an answer to this before dinner," he said, holding
out the message for the waiter to take it. "If you think it all right,
we can proceed to amuse ourselves until the reply comes. Warsaw is
somewhat a remarkable city as you will already have seen. Some of its
finest monuments have been erected to celebrate the execution of its
best patriots. Every public square stands for an insurrection. The
castle is fortified not against the stranger but the citizen--those guns
you tell me about were put there by Nicolas to remind us that he would
stand no nonsense. We are the sons of a nation which, officially, does
not exist--but we honor our dead kings everywhere and can show you some
of Thorwaldsen's finest monuments to them. Let us go out and see these
wonders if you are willing."

The apparent digression served him admirably, for it permitted him to
think. As many another in the service of the autocracy, he had a
sterling love for Poland in its historical aspect, and was as proud as
any man when he uttered the name of a Sobieski, a Sigismund or a
Ladislaus. Revolution as a modern phase he despised. To him there were
but people and nobles, and the former had become vulgar disturbers of
the Czar's peace who must be chastened with rods. His own career
depended altogether upon his callous indifference to mere human
sympathies.

Alban could offer no objection to visit Warsaw under such a pleasant
guide and he also welcomed the hours of truce. It came to him that the
Count might honestly doubt Lois' word and that, knowing nothing of her,
he would have had little reason to trust her. The morning passed in a
pleasant stroll down the Senatorska where are the chief shops of Moscow.
Here the Count insisted upon buying his English friend a very beautiful
amber and gold cigarette-case, to remind him, as he said, of their
quarrel.

"It was very natural," he admitted, "I know these people so well. They
talk like angels and act like devils. You will know more about them in
good time. If I have interfered, it was at my friend Gessner's wish. I
shall leave the matter in his hands now. If he accepts the girl's word,
he is perfectly at liberty to do so. To me it is a matter of absolute
indifference."

Alban took the cigarette-case but accepted it reluctantly. He could not
resist the charm of this man's manner nor had he any abiding desire to
do so. As far as that went, there was so much to see in these bright
streets, so many odd equipages, fine horses, prettily dressed women,
magnificent soldiers, that his interest was perpetually enchained and he
uttered many exclamations of surprised delight very foreign to his usual
manner.

"I cannot believe that this is the city we saw yesterday," he declared
as the Count called a drosky and bade the driver make a tour of the
avenues and the gardens--"you would think the people were the happiest
in the world. I have never seen so many smiling faces before."

The Count understood the situation better.

"Life is sweet to them because of its uncertainty. They live while they
can. When I used to fish in your English waters, they sent me to a river
where the Mayfly was out--ah, that beautiful, fluttering creature which
may live one minute or may live five. He struggles up from the bottom of
the river, you remember, and then, just as he has extended his splendid
wings, up comes a great trout and swallows him--the poor thing of ten or
twenty or a hundred seconds. Here we struggle up through the social
ranks, and just when the waters of intrigue fascinate us and we go to
play Narcissus to them, up comes the official trout and down his throat
we go. Some day there will be so many of us that the trout will be
gorged and unable to move. Then he will go to the cooking-pot--but not
in our time, I think."

Alban remained silent. That "not in our time" seemed so strange a saying
when he recalled the threats and the promises of the fanatics of Union
Street. Was this fine fellow deceiving himself, or was he like the
Russian bureaucracy, simply ignorant? The lad of twenty could not say,
but he made a shrewder guess at the truth than the diplomatist by his
side.

They visited the Lazienki Park, passing many of Warsaw's famous people
as they went, and so affording the Count many opportunities for
delightful little histories in which such men excel. No pretty woman
escaped his observation, few the rigors of his tongue. He could tell you
precisely when Madame Latienski began to receive young Prince Nicolas at
her house and the exact terms in which old Latienski objected to the
visits. Priests, jockeys, politicians, actors--for these he had a
distinguishing gesture of contempt or pity or gracious admiration. The
actresses invariably recognized him with alluring smiles, which he
received condescendingly as who should say--well, you were fortunate.
When they arrived at the Moktowski barracks, a group of officers quickly
surrounded them and conducted them to a place where champagne corks
might pop and cigarettes be lighted. This was but the beginning of a
round of visits which Alban found tiresome to the last degree. How many
glasses of wine he sipped, how many cigarettes he lighted, he could not
have told you for a fortune. It was nearly five o'clock when they
returned to the hotel and the Count proposed an hour's repose "de
travail."

"There is no message from your friend," he said candidly, "no doubt your
telegram has troubled him. Perhaps we shall get it by dinner-time. You
must be very tired and perhaps you would like to lie down."

Alban did not demur and he went to his own room, and taking off his
boots he lay upon his bed and quickly fell fast asleep. Count Sergius,
however, had no intention of doing any such thing. He was closeted with
the Chief of the Police ten minutes after they had returned, and in
twenty he had come to a resolution.

"This young Englishman will meet the girl Lois Boriskoff to-morrow
morning," he said. "Arrest the pair of them and let me know when it is
done. But mind you--treat him as though he were your own son. I have my
reasons."

The Chief merely bowed. He quite understood that such a man as Sergius
Zamoyski would have very good reasons indeed.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE DAWN OF THE DAY


Count Sergius believed that he had settled the affaire Gessner when he
gave his instructions to the Chief of the Police, and the subsequent
hours found him exceedingly pleased with himself. An artist in his
profession, he flattered himself that it had all come about in the
manner of his own anticipations and that he would be able to carry back
to London a story which would not only win upon a rich man's gratitude,
but advance him considerably in the favor of those who could well reward
his labors.

This was an amiable reflection and one that ministered greatly to his
self-content. No cloud stood upon the horizon of his self-esteem nor did
shadows darken his glowing hopes. He had promised Richard Gessner to
arrest the girl Lois Boriskoff, and arrested she would be before twelve
o'clock to-morrow. As for this amiable English lad, so full of fine
resolutions, so defiant, so self-willed, it would be a good jest enough
to clap him in a police-station for four-and-twenty hours and to bow him
out again, with profuse apologies, when the girl was on her way to
Petersburg to join her amiable father in the Schlusselburg.

For Alban personally he had a warm regard. The very honesty of his
character, his habit of saying just what he meant (so foreign to the
Count's own practice), his ingenuous delight in all that he saw, his
modern knight-errantry based upon an absurdly old-fashioned notion of
right and wrong and justice and all such stuff as that, these were the
very qualities to win the admiration of a man of the world who possessed
none of them. Count Sergius said that the lad must suffer nothing. His
intrigues with the daughter of a Polish anarchist were both dangerous
and foolish. And was he not already the acknowledged lover of Anna
Gessner, whom he must marry upon his return to London. Certainly, it
would be very wrong not to lock him up, and he, Sergius, was not going
to take the responsibility of any other course upon his already
over-burdened shoulders.

These being his ideas, he found it amusing enough to meet Alban at the
dinner-table and to speak of to-morrow and its programme. The reply to
the cable they had dispatched to London lay already warm in his pocket,
sent straight to him from the post-office as the police had directed. It
was fitting that he should open the ball with a lie about this, and add
thereto any other pleasant fancy which a fertile imagination dictated.

"Gessner does not cable us," he said at that moment of the repast when
the glasses are first filled and the tongue is loosed. "I suppose he has
gone over to Paris again as he hinted might be the case. If there is no
news to-morrow, we must reconsider the arguments and see how we stand.
You know that I am perfectly willing to be guided by him and will do
nothing of my own initiative. If he can procure the old man's freedom,
I will be the first to congratulate you. Meanwhile, I am not to forget
that we have a box at the opera and that _Huguenots_ is on the bill.
When I am not in musical circles, I confess my enjoyment of _Huguenots_.
Meyerbeer always seemed to me a grand old charlatan who should have run
a modern show in New York. He wrote one masterpiece and some five miles
of rubbish--but why decry a great work because there are also those
which are not great. Besides, I am not musician enough really to enjoy
the Ring. If it were not for the pretty women who come to my box to
escape ennui, I would find Wagner intolerable."

Alban, very quiet and not a little excited to-night, differed from this
opinion altogether.

"My father was a musician," he said. "I believe that if he had not been
a parson, he would have been a great musician. I don't know very much
about music myself, but the first time that Mr. Gessner took me to hear
one of Wagner's operas, I seemed to live in a new world. It could not
have been just the desire to like it, for I had made up my mind that it
would be very dry. There is something in such music as that which is
better than all argument. I shall never forget the curious sensation
which came to me when first I heard the overture to Tannhäuser played by
a big orchestra. You will not deny that it is splendid?"

"Undoubtedly it's fine--especially where the clarinets came in and you
seem to have five hundred mice running up your back. I am not going to
be drawn into an argument on the point--these likes and dislikes are
purely individual. To me it seems perfectly ridiculous that one man
should quarrel with another because a third person has said or written
something about which they disagree. In politics, of course, there is
justification. The Have-Nots want to get money out of the Haves and the
pockets supply the adjectives. But in the arts, which exist for our
pleasure,--why, I might as well fall foul of you because you do not like
caviar and are more partial to brunettes than to blondes. My taste is
all the other way--I dote upon caviar; golden-haired women are to me
just a little more attractive than the angels. But, of course, that does
not speak for their tempers."

He laughed at the candor of it, and looking round the brilliant
restaurant where they dined to-night, he began to speak in a low tone of
Russian and Polish women generally.

"The Polish ladies are old-fashioned enough to love one man at a
time--in their own country, at any rate. The Russians, on the contrary,
are less selfish. A Russian woman is often the victim of three
centuries, of suppressed female ambitions. She has large ideas, fierce
passions, an excellent political sense--and all these must be cooled by
the wet blanket of a very ordinary domesticity. In reality, she is not
domesticated at all and would far sooner be following her lover--the one
chosen for the day--down the street with a flag. Here you have the
reason why a Russian woman appeals to us. She is rarely beautiful--some
of them would themselves admit the deficiency--but she is never an
embarrassment. Tell her that you are tired of her and you will discover
that she was about to stagger your vanity by a similar confidence. In
these days of revolution, she is seen at her best. Fear neither of God
nor man will restrain her. We have more of the show of religion and less
of the spirit in Russia than in any other country in the world. Here in
Poland, it is a little different. Some of our women are as the idealists
would have them to be. But there are others--or the city would be
intolerable."

Alban had lived too long in a world of mean cynics that this talk should
either surprise or entertain him. Men in Union Street spoke of women
much as this careless fellow did, rarely generous to them and often
exceedingly unjust. His own ideals he had confessed wholly to none, not
even to Anna Gessner in the moment of their greatest intimacy. That fine
old-world notion of the perfect womanhood, developed to the point of
idolatry by the Celts of the West, but standing none the less as a
witness to the whole world's desire, might remain but as a memory of his
youth--he would neither surrender it nor admit that it was unworthy of
men's homage. When Sergius spoke of his own countrywomen, Alban could
forgive him all other estimates. And this was as much as to say that the
image of Lois was with him even in that splendid place, and that some
sentiment of her humble faith and sacrifice had touched him to the
quick.

They went to the opera as the Count had promised and there heard an
indifferent rendering of the _Huguenots_. A veritable sisterhood of
blondes, willing to show off Count Sergius to some advantage, came from
time to time to his box and was by him visited in turn. Officers in
uniform crowded the foyers and talked in loud tones during the finest
passages. A general sense of unrest made itself felt everywhere as
though all understood the danger which threatened the city and the
precarious existence its defenders must lead. When they quitted the
theatre and turned into one of the military clubs for supper, the common
excitement was even more marked and ubiquitous enough to arrest the
attention even of such a _flâneur_ as Sergius.

"These fellows are sitting down to supper with bombs under their
chairs," he said _sotto voce_. "That is to say, each thinks that a bomb
is there and hopes that it will kill his neighbor. We have no sympathy
in our public life here--the conditions are altogether against it.
Imagine five hundred men upon the deck of a ship which has struck a
rock, and consider what opportunities there would be to deplore the
drowned. In Russia each plays for his own safety and does not care a
rouble what becomes of the man next door. Such a fact is both our
strength and our weakness--our strength because opportunities make men,
and our weakness because we have no unity of plan which will enable us
to fight such a combination as is now being pitted against us. I myself
believe that the old order is at an end. That is why I have a villa in
the south of France and some excellent apartments in Paris."

"You believe that the Revolutionaries will be victorious?" Alban asked
in his quiet way.

"I believe that the power is passing from the hands of all autocratic
governments, and that some phase of socialism will eventually be the
policy of all civilized nations."

"Then what is the good of going to England, Count, if you believe that
it will be the same story there?"

"It is only a step on the road. You will never have a revolution in your
country, you have too much common sense. But you will tax your bourgeois
until you make him bankrupt, and that will be your way of having all
things in common. In America the workingman is too well off and the
country is too young to permit this kind of thing yet. Its day will be
much later--but it will come all the same, and then the deluge. Let us
rejoice that we shall not see these things in our time. It is something
to know that our champagne is assured to us."

He lifted a golden glass and drank a vague toast heartily. Others in the
Club were frankly intoxicated and many a heated scene marked the
progress of unceremonious and impromptu revels. Young officers, who
carried their lives in their hands every hour, showed their contempt of
life in many bottles. Old men, stern and gray at dawn, were so many
babbling imbeciles at midnight. The waiters ran to and fro ceaselessly,
their faces dripping with perspiration and their throats hoarse with
shouting. The musicians fiddled as though the end of all things was at
hand and must not surprise them at a broken bar. In Russia the scene was
familiar enough, but to the stranger incomprehensible and revolting.
Alban felt as one released from a pit of gluttony when at three in the
morning Sergius staggered to his feet and bade a servant call him in a
drosky.

"We have much to do to-morrow," he muttered, "much to do--and then, ah,
my friend, if we only knew what we meant when we say 'and then.'"



CHAPTER XXV

COUNT ZAMOYSKI SLEEPS


A glimmer of wan daylight in the Count's bedroom troubled him while he
undressed and he drew the curtains with angry fingers. Down there in the
dismal streets the Cossacks watched the night-birds going home to bed
and envied them alike their condition and its consequences. If Sergius
rested a moment at the window, it was to mark the presence of these men
and to take heart at it. And this is to say that few who knew him in the
social world had any notion of the life he lived apart or guessed that
authority stood to him for his shield and buckler against the unknown
enemies his labors had created. Perhaps he rarely admitted the truth
himself. Light and laughter and music were his friends in so far as they
permitted him to forget the inevitable or to deride it.

Here in this room of eloquent shadows he was a different man indeed from
the fine fellow of the opera and the barracks--a haunted secret man
looking deep into the mysteries and weary for the sun. The brilliant
scene he had but just quitted could now be regretted chiefly because he
needed the mental anæsthetic with which society alone could supply him.
Pale and gaunt and inept in his movements, few would have recognized the
Sergius Zamoyski of the dressing-room or named him for the diplomatist
whose successes had earned the warmest encomiums of harassed authority.
Herein lay a testimony to his success which his bitterest enemy would
not have denied him. None knew better than he that the day of reckoning
had come for all who opposed revolution in Russia, none had anticipated
that day with a greater personal dread.

He closed the curtains, thankful that the Cossacks stood sentinels
without, and hungering for sleep which had been denied to him so often
lately. If he had any consolation of his thoughts, it lay in the
comparative secrecy of his present mission and the fact that to-day
would accomplish its purpose. The girl Lois had not confessed Richard
Gessner's secret and she would stand presently where confession would
not help her. As for this agreeable youth, who certainly had been her
lover, he must be coerced into silence, threatened, cajoled, bought.
Sergius remembered Alban's fine gospel of life and laughed when he
recalled it. This devotion to humanity, this belief in great causes,
what was it worth when a woman laughed and her rosy lips parted for a
kiss? The world is too busy for the pedants who would stem the social
revolution, was his argument--the rich men have too much to do to hide
their common frailties that they should put on the habits of the friars.
Let this hot gospeller acquire a fortune and he would become as the
others before a month had passed. The women would see to that--for were
not two of them already about the business?

He closed his curtains and undressed with a clumsy hand upon the buttons
and many a curse at the obstinate things. The intense silence of the
morning hour depressed him and he wondered that the hotel should sleep
so soundly. His own door was both locked and bolted--he had a pistol in
his travelling-bag and would finger it with grim satisfaction at such
moments as these. Hitherto he had owed much to his very bravado, to a
habit of going in and out among the people freely, and deriding all
politics as a fool's employment. Latterly he had been wondering how far
this habit would protect him, had made shrewd guesses at the truth and
had come to the stage of question. Yesterday's work helped him to
confirm these vague suspicions. How came it that Lois Boriskoff was able
to warn this young Englishman, why had she come immediately to his hotel
and followed him to the old quarters of the city? This could only mean
that her friends had telegraphed the information from London, that every
step of the journey had been reported and that a promising plan of
action had been decided upon. Sergius dreaded this more than anything
that could have happened to him. They will ask what share I had in it,
he told himself; and he knew what the answer to that must be. Let them
but suspect a hundredth part of the truth and he might not have twenty
hours to live.

It had been a splendid life so far and a sufficient atonement for the
dreaded hours apart. There in his own room he gave battle to the
phantoms by recalling the faces of the pretty women he had cajoled and
defeated, the houses of pride he had destroyed, the triumphs he had
numbered and the recompense he had enjoyed. To be known to none save as
a careless idler, to pass as a figure of vengeance unrecognized across
the continents, to be the idol of the police in three cities, to have
men running to and fro at his command though they knew not by whose
order they were sent, here was wine of life so intoxicating that a man
might sell his very soul to possess it. Sergius did not believe that
there was any need for such a bargain as this--he had been consistently
successful hitherto in eluding even the paltriest consequences of his
employment--but the dark hours came none the less, and coming, they
whispered a word which even the bravest may shudder to hear.

He slept but fitfully, listening for any sounds from the city without
and anxious for the hotel to awaken to its daily routine. The cooler
argument of the passing hour declared it most unlikely that any plan
would be ventured until Lois Boriskoff's fate were known and Alban had
visited her this morning. If there were danger to be apprehended, the
moment of it would arrive when the girl was arrested and the story of
Alban Kennedy's misadventure made known to her friends. Sergius began to
perceive that he must not linger an hour in Warsaw when this were done.
He could direct operations as easily from Paris or London as from this
conspicuous hotel, and with infinitely less risk to himself and his
empire. Sometimes he wondered that he had been so foolish as to enter
Russia at all. Why could he not have telegraphed to the Chief of the
Police to arrest the girl as soon as might be and to flog her into a
confession. The whip would have purchased her secret readily enough,
then the others could have been arrested also and Gessner left reassured
beyond question. Sergius blamed himself very much that he had permitted
a finer chivalry to guide his acts. "I came because this young man
persuaded me to come," he admitted, and added the thought that he had
been a fool for his pains.

This would have been about four o'clock of the morning. He slept a
little while upon it, but woke again at five and sat up in bed to mark a
step on the landing without and to ask himself who had the right to be
there at such an hour. When he had waited a little while, he came to the
conclusion that two people were approaching his door and making little
secret of their coming. Presently a knock informed him that he had
nothing whatever to fear; and upon asking the question "What do you
want?" a voice answered immediately, "From the bureau, your excellency,
with a letter." This he concluded to mean that the Chief of the Police
had some important news to convey to him and had sent his own messenger
to the hotel.

"Wait a moment and I will let you in," he replied, and asked, "I suppose
you can wait a little while?"

"It is very urgent, excellency--you had better open at once."

The Count sprang up from his bed and drew the curtains back from the
window. A warm glow of sunlight instantly suffused the cold room and
warmed it with welcome beams. Down there in the streets the Cossacks
still nodded upon patient horses as though no event of the night had
disturbed them. A drosky passed, driving an old man to the railway
station--there were porters at the doors of some of the houses and a few
wagons going down toward the river. All this Sergius perceived
instantly in one swift vision. Then he opened the door and admitted the
officer.

"There were two of you," he exclaimed, peering down the passage.

"It is true, excellency, myself and the night-porter, but he has gone to
sleep again."

"And you?"

"From the Chief, excellency, with this letter."

He held out a great square document, grotesquely sealed and carefully
folded. A small man with a pockmarked face, he wore the uniform of an
ordinary gendarme and aped that rôle to perfection. Saluting gravely, he
permitted the letter to pass from his hands. Then he closed the door and
leaned his back against it.

"I am to take an answer to the bureau, excellency."

The Count read a few lines of the document and looked up uneasily.

"You say that you were commanded to wake me up--for this?"

"Those are my orders."

"Zaniloff must have lost his wits--there was nothing else?"

The man took one stride forward.

"Yes," he cried in a low voice, "there was this, excellency."

       *       *       *       *       *

Alban slept no better than his friend; in truth he hardly closed his
eyes until they waked him and told him of the tragedy. He had said
little to Sergius during the evening, but the perplexities of the long
day remained with him and were not to be readily silenced.

That his patron sent no reply to their urgent telegram he thought a
little strange. Mr. Gessner's silence could only mean that he had left
London suddenly, perhaps had set out to join them in Warsaw. Meanwhile
Alban perceived very clearly in what a position of danger Lois stood and
how difficult it would be to help her if others did not come to his
assistance.

Accustomed to regard all the Revolutionaries from the standpoint of the
wild creatures who talked nonsense in the East End of London, he could
not believe in old Herr Petermann's optimism or pay much attention to
the wild plan of escape he had devised. It must be absurd to think that
Lois could leave Poland disguised as a servant. Alban himself would
readily have recognized her in her disguise if he had been seeking her
at the time, and the police would very soon detect it when their minds
were set upon the purpose. In his own opinion, and this was shrewd
enough, their hope of salvation lay in Richard Gessner's frank
acceptance of the position. The banker had influence enough with the
Russian authorities to release both Lois and her father. He must do so
or accept the consequences of his obstinacy.

All this and much more was in Alban's head while he tossed restlessly
upon his strange bed and waited impatiently for the day. The oddest
fancies came to him, the most fantastic ideas. Now he would be living in
London again, a drudge at the works, the nightly companion of little
Lois, the adventurer of the streets and the slums. Then, as readily, he
would recall the most trifling incidents of his life in Richard
Gessner's house, the days of the miracles, the wonderful hours when he
had worshipped Anna Gessner and believed almost in her divinity. This
had been a false faith, surely. He knew now that he would never marry
Anna, and that must mean return to the wilderness, the bitter days of
poverty and all the old-time strife with circumstance. It would have
been easier, he thought, if those weeks of wonderland had never been.
Richard Gessner had done him no service--rich men rarely help those whom
they patronize for their own ends.

Alban thought of all this, and still being unable to sleep, he fell to
numbering the hours which stood between him and his meeting with Lois.
He was sure that she would be ready for him however early his visit
might be--and he said that he would ring for his coffee at seven o'clock
and try to go down to the river at eight. If there were no message from
Mr. Gessner before he left, he thought it would be wise to counsel
patience for this day at least. In plain truth he was less concerned
about the diplomatic side of the affair than the personal. An
overmastering desire for Lois' companionship, the wish to hear her
voice, to speak to her, to talk as they had talked in the dark days of
long ago, prevailed above the calm reckoning of yesterday. His
resolution to defeat Count Sergius at his own game seemed less heroic
than it had done twelve hours ago. Alban had conceit enough not to fear
the Count. That incurable faith in British citizenship still upheld him.

Seven had been the hour named by his intention--it was a little after
six o'clock when he heard a knock upon his bedroom door and started up
wondering who called him at such an hour.

"Who is there, what do you want?" he cried, with the bedclothes still
about his shoulders. No one answered this, but the knock was repeated, a
decisive knock as of one who meant to win admittance.

"All right, I will come in a minute," was now his answer; to which he
added the question--"Is that you, Count? Do you know it's only just six
o'clock?"

He opened the door and found himself face to face with the hotel valet,
an amiable young Frenchman by the name of Malette.

"Monsieur," said the man, "will you please come at once? There has been
an accident--his excellency is very ill."

"An accident to the Count? Is it serious, Malette?"

"It is very serious, monsieur. They say that he will not live. The
doctors are with him--I thought that you would wish to know
immediately."

Alban turned without a word and began to put on his clothes. His hands
were quite cold and he trembled as though stricken by an ague. When he
had found a dressing-gown, he huddled it on anyhow and followed Malette
down the corridor.

"When did this happen, Malette?"

"I do not know, monsieur. One of the servants chanced to pass his
excellency's door and saw something which frightened him. He called the
concierge and they waked the Herr Director. Afterwards they sent for the
police."

"Do they think that the Count was assassinated, then?"

"Ah, that is to find out. The officers will help us to say. Will you go
in at once, monsieur, or shall I tell the Herr Director?"

Alban said that he would go at once. The young fear to look upon the
face of death and he was no braver than others of his age. A terrible
sense of dread overtook him while he stood before the door and heard the
hushed whispers of those about it. Here a giant police officer had
already taken up his post as sentinel and he cast a searching glance
upon all who approached. There were two or three privileged servants
standing apart and discussing the affair; but a stain upon a crimson
carpet was more eloquent of the truth than any word. Alban came near to
swooning as he stepped over it and entered the room without word or
knock.

They had laid the Count upon the bed and dragged it to the window to
husband the light. Two doctors, hastily summoned from a neighboring
hospital, worked like heroes in their shirt sleeves--a nurse in a gray
dress stood behind them holding sponge and bandages. At the first
glance, the untrained onlooker would have said that Sergius Zamoyski was
certainly dead. The intense pallor of his face, the set eyes, the
stiffened limbs, spoke of the rigor mortis and the finality of tragedy.
None the less, the surgeons went to work as though all might yet be
saved. Uttering their orders in the calm and measured tones of those
whom no scene of death could unnerve, they were unconscious of all else
but the task before them and its immediate achievement. When they had
need of anything, they spoke to the Herr Director of the hotel who
passed on his commands in a sharp decisive tone to a porter who stood
at his heels. Near by him stood the Chief of the Police, Zaniloff, a
short burly man who wore a dark green uniform and held his sheathed
sword lightly in his left hand. These latter looked up when the door
opened, but the doctors took no notice whatever. There was an
overpowering odor of anaesthetics in the room although the windows had
been thrown wide open.

"Is the Count dead?" Alban asked them in a low voice. He had taken a few
steps toward the bed and there halted irresolute. "What is it, what has
happened, sir?" he continued, turning to Zaniloff. That worthy merely
shrugged his shoulders.

"The Count has been assassinated--we believe by a woman. The doctors
will tell us by and by."

Alban shuddered at the words and took another step toward the bed.
He felt giddy and faint. The words he had just heard were ringing
in his ears as a sound of rushing waters. "Has Lois done this
thing?"--incredible! And yet the man implied as much.

"I cannot stay here," he exclaimed presently, "I must go to my room, if
you please."

He turned and reeled from the place, ashamed of his weakness, yet unable
to control it. Outside upon the landing, he discovered that Zaniloff was
at his elbow and had something to say to him. Speaking sharply and
autocratically in the Russian tongue, that worthy realized almost
immediately that he had failed to make himself understood and so called
the Herr Director to his aid.

"They will require your attendance at the bureau," the Director said
with an obsequious bow toward Alban--"you must dress at once, sir, and
accompany this gentleman."

Alban said that he would do so. He was miserably cold and ill and
trembling still. Knowing nothing of the truth, he believed that they
were taking him to Lois Boriskoff and that she was already in custody.



CHAPTER XXVI

AN INTERLUDE IN PICCADILLY


Alban had been fifteen days out of England when Anna Gessner met Willy
Forrest one afternoon as she was driving a pair of chestnut ponies down
Piccadilly towards the Circus. He, amiable creature, had just left a
club and a bridge table which had been worth fifteen pounds to him. The
gray frock suit he wore suited him admirably. He certainly looked very
smart and wide-awake.

"Anna, by Jupiter," he cried, as he stepped from the pavement at the
very corner of Dover Street--"well, if my luck don't beat cock-fighting.
Where are you off to, Anna--what have you done with the shoving-machine?
I thought you never aired the gee-gees now. Something new for you, isn't
it? May I get in and have a pawt? We shall be fined forty bob and costs
at Marlborough Street if we hold up the traffic. Say, you look ripping
in this char à bancs, upon my soul you're killing."

She had not meant to stop for him, and half against her wish she now
reined the ponies in and made room for him. There never had been a day
in her life since she had known him when she was able to resist
altogether the blandishments of this pleasant rogue, who made so many
appeals to her interest. To-day sheer curiosity conquered her. She
wished above all things to hear what he had done with the extravagant
cheque her father had sent him.

"I drove the ponies for a change," she said coldly, "we must not be
unkind to dumb creatures. Do you know, it is most improper that you
should be seen with me in this carriage, Willy. Just think what my
father would say if he heard of it."

Willy Forest, to give him his due, rarely devoted much time to
unpleasant thoughts.

"What's the good of dragging your father in, Anna?" he asked her sagely.
"I want to have a talk to you and you want to have a talk to me. Where
shall we go, now? We can't blow the loud trumpet at a tea-shop and a
hotel is inquisitive. Why not come round to my rooms? There's an old
charwoman there who will do very well when rumors arise--and she'll make
us a cup of tea. Why not come, Anna?"

"It's out of the question, Willy. You know that it is. Besides, I am
never going to speak to you again."

"Oh, that's all right--that's what you used to say when you came over to
the cottage. We're getting too old for that kind of nonsense, you and I,
Anna. Suppose I tell your man to wait for us in Berkeley Square. I'll
say that we are going into the Arcade to look at the motor-cars--and
they won't let you keep a carriage waiting in Bond Street now. I can
tell you what I've heard about your friend Alban Kennedy while you're
cutting me the bread and butter."

Her attention was arrested in an instant.

"What can you know about Mr. Kennedy?" she asked quickly, while her face
betrayed her interest.

"Oh, I know a lot more than most. I've struck more than one friend of
his these later days, and a fine time he seems having with the girls out
yonder. Come over to my rooms and I'll tell you about it. I'm just
fitting up a bit of a place in the Albany since your good father began
to encourage virtue. I say, Anna,--he should never have sent me that
cheque, you know he shouldn't."

It was a masterpiece of impudence, but it won upon her favor none the
less. She had made up her mind a week ago that Willy Forrest was a
rogue, a thief, and a charlatan. Yet here she was--for such is
woman--tolerating his conversation and not unwilling to hear his
explanations. Upon it all came his insinuation that he had news of
Alban. Certainly, she did not know how to refuse him.

"You are sure that there is some one in your rooms--I will leave them
instantly if there is not," she exclaimed, surprised at scruples which
never had troubled her hitherto. Forrest protested by all the gods that
the very doubt was an outrage.

"There's a hag about fit to knock down a policeman," he rejoined, with a
feigned indignation fine to see. "Now be sensible, Anna, and let's get
out. Are we babes and sucklings or what? Don't make a scene about it. I
don't want you to come if you'd rather not."

She turned the ponies round almost at the door of the Albany, which they
had just passed while they talked, and drove up to the door of that
somewhat dismal abode. A word to her groom to be in Berkeley Square in
half-an-hour did not astonish that worthy, who was quite accustomed to
"Miss Hanna's" vagaries. In the corridor before the chambers, Willy laid
stress upon the point about the charwoman and made much of her.

"I'll ring the old girl up and you can cross-question her if you like.
She's a regular beauty. Don't you think that I'd deceive you, Anna. Have
I ever done it in all my miserable life--eh, what?" he said at the door.
"Now walk right in and I'll order tea. It seems like old times to have
you about, upon my word it does."

She followed him into the chambers, her anxiety about the charwoman
absolutely at rest. The rooms themselves were in some little confusion,
but promised to be splendidly furnished presently. Fine suites of
furniture were all huddled together like policemen at a scene of public
rejoicing. The rich curtains, unhung, were neatly folded upon chairs and
sofas--a few sporting prints relieved the cold monotony of tinted
walls--the library boasted Ruff and Wisdom for its chief masterpieces.
Nothing, however, disconcerted Willy Forrest. He had produced that
charwoman before you could count five.

"Make us a cup of tea, Mrs. Smiggs, will you?" he asked her
boisterously. "Here's my cousin come to tell me how to plant the
furniture. We shan't trouble you long--just make love to the kettle and
say we're in a hurry, will you now, there's a good soul."

Mrs. Smiggs took a sidelong glance at the lady, and tossing a proud but
tousled head assented to the proposition in far from becoming terms.

"I'm sure, sir, that I'm always willing to oblige," she said
condescendingly, "if as the young lady wouldn't like me to step out and
get no cakes nor nothing--"

"No, no, no cakes, thank you, Mrs. Smiggs--just a cup of tea as you can
make it and that's all. My cousin's carriage is waiting--she won't be
here ten minutes--eh, what?"

The good woman left them, carrying a retroussé nose at an angle of
suspicion. Willy Forrest drew an arm-chair towards the window of that
which would presently be his dining-room, and having persuaded Anna to
take it, he poised himself elegantly upon the arm of a sofa near by and
at once invited her confidence.

"Say, Anna, now, what's the good of nonsense? Why did you let the old
man send me that cheque?"

She began to pull off her gloves, slowly and with contemplative
deliberation.

"I let him send it because I did not wish to marry you."

"That's just what I thought. You got in a huff about a lot of fool's
talk on the course and turned it round upon me. Just like a woman--eh,
what? As if I could prevent your horse going dotty. That was Farrier's
business, not mine."

"But you let me back the horse."

"Of course I did. He might have won. I was just backing my luck against
yours. Of course I didn't mean you to lose anything. We were just two
good pals together, and what I took out of the ring would have been
yours if you'd asked me. Good Lord, what a mess your father's made of
it! Me with his five thou in my pocket and you calling me a blackguard.
You did call me a blackguard--now didn't you, Anna?"

It was very droll to see him sitting there and for a wonder telling her
something very like the truth. This, however, had been the keystone of a
moderately successful life. He had always told people that he was a
scamp--a kind of admission the world is very fond of. In Anna's case he
found the practice quite useful. It rarely failed to win her over.

"What was I to think?" she exclaimed almost as though her perplexity
distressed her. "The people say that I have cheated them and you win my
money. If I don't pay you, you say that I must marry you. Will you deny
that it is the truth? You won this money from me to compel me to marry
you?"

Captain Willy Forrest slapped his thigh as though she had told him an
excellent joke.

"That's the best thing I've heard for a twelvemonth," cried he; "as if
you were the sort to be caught that way, Anna--by an impostor too, as
your Little Boy Blue told you at Henley. He said I was an impostor,
didn't he? Well, he's about right there--I'm not the son of old Sir
James Forrest--never was, my dear. He was my father's employer, and a
devilish good servant he had. But I've some claims on his memory all the
same--and why shouldn't I call myself Forrest if I want to? Now, Anna,
I'll be as plain with you as a parson at a pigeon match. I do want to
marry you--I've wanted to marry you ever since I knew you--but if you
think I'm such a fool as to go about it in the way you say I've done,
well, then, I'll put right in for the Balmy Stakes and win 'em sure and
certain. Don't you see that the boot's just on the other leg right
along? I win your money because I want you to think I'm a decent sort of
chap when I don't take it. As for the bookies who hissed the horse on
the course--who's to pity them? Didn't they see the old gee in the
paddock--eh, what! Hadn't they as good a chance as any of us to spot
that dotty leg. If I'd a been born with a little white choker round my
swan's-down, I'd have shouted the news from the mulberry tree. But I
wasn't, my dear--I'm just one of the ruck on the lookout to make a
bit--and who'll grease my wheels if I leave my can at home? No, don't
you think it--I wanted to marry you right enough, but that wasn't the
road. What your father's paid me, he's going to have back again and
pretty soon about. Let him give it to the kid who's playing Peep-bo with
the Polish Venus--I shan't take it, no, not if I come down to a
porcelain bath in the Poplar Union--and what's more, you know I won't,
Anna."

His keen eyes searched her face earnestly, much more earnestly than
their wont, as he asked her this pointed question. Anna, upon her part,
knew that he had juggled cleverly with the admitted facts of the case
and yet her interest in his confession waxed stronger every moment. What
an odd fascination this man exercised upon her. She felt drawn toward
him as to some destiny she could not possibly escape. And when he spoke
of Alban, then he had her finally enmeshed.

"What do you know of Mr. Kennedy?" she asked, sitting up very straight
and turning flashing eyes upon him. "He certainly wouldn't write to
you. How do you know what he is doing?"

"A little fat bird in a black coat living down Whitechapel way. Oh, I
don't make any secret of it. I know a man who used to be a parson. He
began to stick needles into himself, and the Bishop said--what ho! They
took off his pinafore and he is now teaching Latin outside Aldgate
Station. He's in with the Polish crowd--I beg your pardon, the gentlemen
refugees from Poland--who are sewing the buttons on our shirts not far
from the Commercial Road. Those people knew more about your friend than
he knows about himself. Ask 'em straight and they'll tell you that he is
in Warsaw and the girl Lois Boriskoff with him. Whether they've begun to
keep house, I don't pretend to say. But it's as true as the east wind
and that's gospel. You ask your father to make his own inquiries. I
don't want to take it on myself. If he can tell you that Master Alban
Kennedy is not something like the husband of the Polish lady Lois
Boriskoff, then I'll give a penny to a hospital. Now go and ask him,
Anna--don't you wait a minute, you go and ask him."

"Not until I've had that cup of tea, Willy."

She turned round as the charwoman entered and so hid her face from him.
Light laughter cloaked at once the deep affront her pride had received,
and the personal sense of shame his words had left. Not for a moment did
she question the truth of his story or seek to prove it. As women all
the world over, she accepted instantly the hint at a man's faithlessness
and determined that it must be true. And this was to say that her
passion for Alban Kennedy had never been anything but a phase of
girlish romance acceptable for the moment and to be made permanent only
by persistence. The Eastern blood, flowing warm in her veins, would
never have left her long satisfied with the precise and strenuous
Englishman and the restraint his nationality put upon him. She hungered
for the warm passionate caress which the East had taught her to desire.
She was drawn insensibly toward the man who had awakened this instinct
within her and ministered to it whenever he approached her.

They drank their tea in silence, each perhaps afraid to admit the hazard
of their task. When the moment came, she had recovered her self-control
sufficiently to refer again to the question of the cheque and to do so
adroitly.

"Are you going to return that money to my father, Willy?"

"That's just as you like. When you come here for good, we could send it
back together."

"What makes you think that I will come here for good, Willy?"

"Because when I kiss you--like this--you tremble, Anna."

He caught her instantly in his arms and covered her face with passionate
kisses. Struggling for a moment in his embrace, she lay there presently
acquiescent as he had known even before his hands touched her. An hour
had passed before Anna quitted the flat--and then she knew beyond any
possibility of question that she was about to become Willy Forrest's
wife.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE PRISON YARD


The great gates of the prison yard rolled back to admit the carriage in
which Alban had been driven from the hotel, and a cordon of
straight-backed officials immediately surrounded it. Early as the hour
was, the meanest servant whom Zaniloff commanded had work to do and well
understood the urgency of his task. The night had been one long story of
plot and counterplot; of Revolutionaries fleeing from street to street,
Cossacks galloping upon their heels, houses awakened and doors beaten
down, the screams and cries of women, the savage anger of men. And all
this, not upon the famous avenues which knew little of the new émeute,
but down in the narrow alleys of the old city where bulging gables hid
the sight from a clear heaven of stars and the crazy eaves had husbanded
the cries.

There had been a civil battle fought and many were the prisoners. Not a
cell about that great yard but had not its batch of ragged, shivering
wretches whose backs were still bloody, whose wounds were still unbound.
The quadrangle itself served, as a Cossack jocularly remarked, for the
overflow meeting. Here you might perceive many types of men-students,
still defiant, sage lawyers given to the parley, ragged vermin of the
slums gathering their rags close about their shoulders as though to
protect them from the lash; timid apostles of the gospel of humanity
cowering before human fiends--thus the yard and its environment. For
Alban, however, the place might not have existed. His eyes knew nothing
of this grim spectacle. He followed the Chief to the upper rooms,
remembering only that Lois was here.

They passed down a gloomy corridor and entered a lofty room high up on
the third floor of the station. Two spacious windows gave them a fine
view of the yard below with all its gregarious misery. There was a table
here covered by a green baize cloth, and an officer in uniform writing
at it. He stood and saluted Zaniloff with a gravity fine to see. The
Chief, in turn, nodded to him and drew a chair to the table. When he had
found ink and paper he began the interrogation which should help his
dossier.

"You are an Englishman and your age is"--he waited and turned to Alban.

"My age is just about twenty-one."

"You were born in England?"

"In London; I was born in London."

"And you now live?"

"With Mr. Richard Gessner at Hampstead."

So it went--interminable question and answer, of the most trivial kind.
It seemed an age before they came to the vital issue.

"And what do you know of this crime which has been committed?"

"I know nothing--how could I know anything."

"Pardon me, you were yesterday in company of the girl who is charged
with its commission."

"The charge is absurd--I am sure of it."

"We shall decide that for ourselves. You visited her upon the barge of
the German merchant, Petermann. He is now in custody and has confessed
as much. What did she say to you when you were alone with her?"

"She asked me to help to set her father free."

"An honest admission--we shall do very well, I see. When she spoke of
his excellency the Count, she said--"

"I am not afraid to tell you. She did not like him and asked me to take
her away from Warsaw, disguised as my servant."

"That was not clever, sir. As if we should not have known--but I pass it
by. You left her and then--"

"I spent the day with the Count and returned with him to the hotel at
three o'clock in the morning."

"There was no one with him, then?"

"Yes, his valet was with him."

"Did you leave them together when you went to bed?"

"He always helped the Count to undress. I cannot remember where I left
him."

"You have not a good memory, I perceive."

"Not for that which happened at three o'clock in the morning."

Zaniloff permitted the merest suspicion of a smile to lurk about the
corners of a sensual mouth.

"It is difficult," he said dryly--and then, "your memory will be better
later on. Did the girl tell you that his excellency would be
assassinated?"

"You know very well that she did not."

"I know?"

"Certainly, you have had too much experience not to know."

"Most flattering--please do not mistake me. I am asking you these
questions because I wish that justice shall be done. If you can do
nothing to clear Lois Boriskoff, I am afraid that we shall have to flog
her."

"That would be a cowardly thing to do. It would also be very foolish.
She has many friends both here and in England. I don't think they will
forget her."

"Wild talk, Mr. Kennedy, very wild talk. I see that you will not help
me. We must let the Governor know as much and he will decide. I warn you
at the same time that it will go very hard with you if the Count should
die--and as for this woman, we will try other measures. She must
certainly be flogged."

"If you do that, I myself will see that her friends in England know
about it. The Governor will never be so foolish--that is, if he wishes
to save Mr. Gessner."

"Gessner--Gessner--I hear the name often--pardon me, I have not the
honor of his acquaintance."

"Telegraph to the Minister at St. Petersburg and he will tell you who
Mr. Gessner is. I think you would be wise to do so."

Zaniloff could make nothing of it. The cool effrontery of this mere
stripling was unlike anything he had heard at the bureau in all the
years he had served authority. Why, the bravest men had gone down on
their knees to him before now and almost shrieked for mercy. And here
was this bit of an English boy plucking the venerable beard of Terror as
unconcernedly as though he were a sullen-eyed Cossack with a nagaika in
his hand. Assuredly he could be no ordinary traveller. And why did he
harp upon this name Gessner, Richard Gessner! Reflection brought it to
Zaniloff's mind that he had heard the name before. Yes, it had been
mentioned in a dossier from the Ministry of Justice. He thought again
and recalled other circumstances. The Government had been anxious to do
the man a service--they had commanded the arrest of the Boriskoffs--why,
at this very Gessner's bidding! And had not the Count warned him to
treat the young Englishman as his own son--merely to play a comedian's
part and to frighten him before opening the doors with profuse
apologies. Zaniloff did not like the turn affairs had taken. He
determined to see the Governor-General without a moment's loss of time.
Meanwhile there could be no earthly reason why the girl should not be
flogged. Whatever happened the Minister would approve that.

"It shall be done as you advise," he rejoined presently, the admission
passing for an excellent joke. "The telegram shall be dispatched
immediately. While we are waiting for an answer I will command them to
bring you some breakfast to my own private room. Meanwhile, as I say,
the girl must be flogged."

Alban shrugged his shoulders.

"I did not believe that you could possibly be so foolish," he said.

It puzzled Zaniloff altogether. Searching that open face with eyes
accustomed to read many human stories, he could discern neither emotion
nor anger, but just an honest man's faith in his own cause and a sure
belief that it must triumph. Whatever Alban might really feel, the
sickening apprehension of which he was the victim, the almost
overmastering desire to take this ruffian by the throat and strangle him
as he sat, not a trace of it could be discerned either in his speech or
his attitude. "He stood before me like a dog which has barked and is
waiting to bite," Zaniloff said afterwards. "I might as well have
threatened to flog the statue of Sobiesky in the Castle gardens." This
impression, however, he was careful to conceal from the prisoner.
Official dignity never argues--especially when it is getting the worst
of the deal.

"My wisdom is not for us to discuss," he snapped; "please to remember
that I am in authority here and allow no one to question what I do. You
will remain in my room until I return, sir. Afterwards it must be as the
Governor decides."

He took up his papers and whispering a few words to the stolid secretary
he left the room and went clanking down the corridor. The officer who
remained seemed principally concerned in driving the flies from his bald
head and from the documents he compiled so laboriously. Stopping from
time to time to shape a quill pen to his liking, he would write a few
lines carefully, kill a number of flies, take a peep at Alban from
beneath his shaggy brows and then resume the cycle of his labors. Alban
pitied him cynically. This labor of docketing scarred backs seemed
wretchedly monotonous. He was really glad when the fellow spoke to him,
in as amazing a combination of tongues as man had ever heard:

"Mein Herr--pardon--what shall you say--comment à dire--for the
English--Moskowa?"

"We say Moscow, sir."

"Ah--Mosk--Mosk-nitchevo--je ne m'en souviens jamais."

He continued to write as though laboring under an incurable
disappointment. That Alban knew what Moskowa meant was not surprising,
for he had heard the word so often in Union Street. Here in this very
courtyard, far below his windows, were the sons and the brothers of
those who had preached revolution in England. How miserable they
looked--great hordes of them, all crouching in the shadow of the wall to
save their lacerated skins from the burning sunshine. Verily did they
resemble sheep driven into pens for the slaughter. As for the Cossacks
who moved in and out among them, there was hardly a moment which found
their whips at rest. Standing or sitting, you could not escape the
dreadful thongs--lashes of raw hide upon a core of wires, leaded at the
end and cutting as knives. Sometimes they would strike at a huddled form
as though they resented its mute confession of overwhelming misery. An
upturned face almost invariably invited a cut which laid it open from
forehead to chin. And not only this, but there were ordered floggings,
one of which Alban must witness as he stood at the window above, too
fascinated by the horror of the spectacle to move away and not unwilling
to know the truth.

Many police assisted at this--driving their victims before them to a
rude bench in the centre of the yard. There was neither strap nor
triangle. They threw their man down and held him across the plank,
gripping his wrists and ankles and one forcing his head to the floor.
The whip of a single lash, wired to cut and leaded everywhere, fell
across the naked flesh with a sound of a cane upon a board. Great welts
were left at the very first blow, torn flesh afterwards and sights not
to be recounted. The most stolid were broken to shrieks and screams
despite their resolutions. The laugh upon defiant lips became instantly
a terrible cry seeming to echo the ultimate misery. As they did to these
poor wretches so would they do to Lois, Alban said. He was giddy when a
voice called him from the window and he almost reeled as he turned.

"Well, what do you want with me?"

"I am to take you to the cell of the girl Lois Boriskoff, mein Herr.
Please to follow me."

An official, well dressed in civilian's clothes, spoke to him this time
and with a sufficient knowledge of the English language. The bald-headed
secretary still snapped up the unconsidered insectile trifles which
troubled his paper. Alban, his heart thumping audibly, followed the
newcomer from the room and remembered only that he was going to Lois.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE MEETING


They had imprisoned many of the women in one of the stables behind the
great yard of the station. So numerous were the captives that the common
cells had been full and overflowing long ago. Zaniloff, charged with the
command to restore order in the city at any cost, cared not a straw what
the world without might say of him. The rifle, the bayonet, the
revolver, the whip--here were fine tools and proved. Let but a breath of
suspicion frost the burnish of a reputation and he would have that man
or woman at the bar, though arrest might cost a hundred lives. Thus it
came about that those within the gates were a heterogeneous multitude to
which all classes had contributed. The milliner's assistant crouched
side by side with the Countess, though she still feared to touch her
robe. There were professors' daughters and dockers' wives, ladies from
the avenue and ladies from the hovels. And just as in the great arena
beyond the walls, so here Pride was the staff of the well-born,
Prejudice of the weak.

Amid this trembling company, in the second of the stables, the gloom
shrouding her from suspicious observation, none noticing so humble a
creature, Alban found Lois and made himself known to her. The amiable
civilian with his two or three hundred words of English seemed as
guileless as a child when he announced Master Zaniloff's message and
dwelt upon his honorable master's beneficence.

"You are to see this lady, sir, and to tell her that if she is honest
with us we shall do our best to clear her of the charge. She knows what
that will mean to name the others to us and then for herself the
liberty. That is his excellency my master's decision."

"Much obliged to him," said Alban, dryly, and perhaps it was as well
that Herr Amiability did not catch the tone of it.

"We have much prisoner," the good man went on, "much prisoner and not so
much prison. That is as you say a perplexity. But it will be better;
later in the time after. Here is the girl, this is the place."

He bent his head to enter the stable and Alban followed him, silently
for very fear of his own excitement. There was so little light in the
place that he could scarcely distinguish anything at first, nothing,
indeed, but great beds of straw and black figures huddled upon them. By
and by these took shape and became figures of women of all ages and
types. Many, he perceived, were Jewesses, dark as night and as
mysterious. Their clothes were poor, their attitude courageous and
quiet. A Circassian, whose hair was the very color of the straw with
which it mingled, stood out in contrast with the others. She had lately
been flogged and the clothes, torn from her bleeding shoulders, had not
been replaced. Near by, the wife of a professor at the University, young
and distinguished and but yesterday welcomed everywhere, sat dumb in
misery, her eyes wide open, her thoughts upon the child she had left.
Not among these did Alban find Lois, but in the second of the great
stalls still waiting its complement of prisoners. He wondered that he
found her at all, so dark was this place; but a sure instinct led him to
her and he stopped before he had even seen her face.

"Lois dear, I am sure it is Lois."

She started up from the straw, straining wild eyes in the shadows.
Awakened from her sleep when they arrested her, she wore the dress which
she had carried to her haven from the school, quite plain and pretty,
with linen collars and cuffs in the old-fashioned style. Her hair had
been loosely plaited and was bound about her like a cord. She rested
upon the palms of her hands turned down to the pavement. There was but
one other woman near her, and she appeared to be asleep. When she heard
Alban's voice, she cried out almost as though they had struck her with
the whip.

"Why do you come here?" she asked him wildly. "Alban, dear, whatever
made you come?"

[Illustration: "Why do you come here?" she asked him wildly.]

He stepped forward and kneeling down in the straw he pressed his cold
lips to hers and held them there for many minutes.

"Did you not wish me to come, Lois?"

She shivered, her big eyes were casting quick glances everywhere, they
rested at last upon the woman who seemed to sleep almost at her feet.

"They will hear every word we say, Alb, dear. That woman is listening,
she is a spy."

"I am glad of it, she can go and give her master a message from me.
Tell me, Lois, do not be afraid to speak. You knew nothing of Count
Zamoyski's death. Say that you knew nothing."

She cowered and would not answer him. A dreadful fear came upon Alban.
He began to tremble and could not keep his hands still upon her
shoulders.

"Good God, Lois, why do you not speak to me? I must know the truth, you
didn't kill him."

She shrank back, laughing horribly. The pent-up excitements of the night
had broken her nerve at last. For an instant he feared almost for her
reason.

"Lois, Lois dear, Lois, listen to me; I have come to help you. I can
help you. Lois, will you not hear me patiently?"

He caught her to him as he spoke and pressed her burning forehead to his
lips. So she lay for a little while, rocked in his arms as a child that
would be comforted. A single ray of sunshine filtered through a slit in
the wall above, dwelt for a moment upon her white face and showed him
all the pity of it.

"Lois, why should you speak like this because I come to you? Is it so
difficult to tell the truth?"

"Did they tell you to ask me that, Alban?"

"It was forced from me, Lois. I don't believe it. I would as soon
believe it of myself. But don't you see that we must answer them? They
are saying it, and we must answer them."

She struggled to be free, half resenting the manner of his question, but
in her heart admitting its necessity.

"I knew nothing of it," she said simply, "you may tell them that, Alban.
If they offered me all the riches in the world, I could not say more. I
don't know who did it, dear, and I'd never tell them if I did."

A little cry escaped his lips and he caught her close in his arms again.
It was not to say that he had believed the darker story at which
imagination, in a cowardly mood, might hint, but this plain denial, from
the lips of Lois who had never told him a lie, came as a very message of
their salvation.

"You have made me very happy, Lois," he said, "now I can talk to them as
they deserve. Of course, I shall get you out of here. Mr. Gessner will
help me to do so. We have the whip hand of him all said and done, for
don't you see, that if you don't tell your people, I shall, and that
will be the end of it. Of course, it won't come to that. I know how he
will act, and what they will do when the time arrives. Perhaps they will
bundle us both out of Russia, Lois, thankful to see the back of us."

She shook her head, looking up to him with a wild face.

"I would not go, Alb dear. Not while my father is a prisoner. Who is
there to work for him, if I don't? No, my dear, I must not think of it.
I have my duty to do whatever comes. But you, it is different for you,
Alban, you would be right to go."

He answered her hotly with a boyish phrase, conventional but true.

"You would make a coward of me, Lois," he said, "just a coward like the
others. But I am not going to let you. You left me once before; I have
never forgotten that. You went to Russia, and forgot that we had ever
been friends. Was that very kind, was it your true self that did so?
I'll never believe, unless you say so now."

She sat a little apart from him, regarding him wistfully as though she
wondered greatly at his accusation.

"You went to live in another world, dear, and so did I. My father made
me promise that I would not try to see you for six months, and I kept my
word. That was better for you and better for me. If money had changed
you, and money does change most of us, you would have been happier for
my silence. I have told you about the letters, and that's God's truth.
If I had not been ashamed, I couldn't have kept my word, for I loved
you, dear, and I shall always love you. When my father sent you to Mr.
Gessner's house, I think he wished to find out if his good opinion of
you was right or not. He said that you were going to carry a sword into
Wonderland and kill some of the giants. If you came back to us, you were
to marry me, but if you forgot us, then he would never believe in any
man again. There's the truth for you, my dear, I tell you because it all
means nothing to me now. I could not go to London and leave my father in
prison here, and they will never release him, Alban, they will never do
it as things are, for they are more frightened of him than of any man in
Russia. When I go away from here, it will be to Petersburg to try and
see my father. There's no one else in all the world to help him, and I
shall go there and try to see him. If they will let me stay with him,
that will be something, dear. You can ask them that for me; when Mr.
Gessner writes, you can beg it of the Ministry in Mr. Gessner's name."

"Ask them to send you to prison, Lois?"

"To send me to my father, dear."

Alban sat very silent, almost ashamed for himself and his own desires.
The stupendous sacrifice of which she spoke so lightly revealed to him a
page in the story of human sympathy which he had often read and as often
derided. Here in the prison cell he stood face to face with human love
as Wonderland knew nothing of it. Supreme above all other desires of her
life, this desire to save her father, to share his sorrows, to stand by
him to the end, prevailed. The riches of the world could not purchase a
devotion as precious, or any fine philosophy belittle it. He knew that
she would go to Petersburg because Paul Boriskoff, her father, had need
of her. This was her answer to his selfish complaints during the years
of their exile.

"And what am I to do if they give you the permission, Lois?"

"To go back to London and marry Anna Gessner. Won't you do that, Alban?"

"You know that I shall never do so."

"There was a time when you would not have said that, my dear."

He was greatly troubled, for the accusation was very just. The
impossibility of making the whole truth plain to her had stared him in
the face since the moment of her pathetic confession when he met her on
the barge. Impossible to say to her, "I had an ideal and pursued it,
looking to the right and the left for the figure of the vision and
suffering it to escape me all the time." This he could not tell her or
even hint at. The lie cried for a hearing, and the lie was detestable to
him.

"There was a time, yes, Lois," he said, turning his face from her, "I am
ashamed to remember it now, since you have spoken. If you love me, you
would understand what all the wonders of Mr. Gessner's house meant to a
poor devil, brought up as I had been. It was another world with strange
people everywhere. I thought they were more than human and found them
just like the rest of us. Oh, that's the truth of it, and I know it now.
Our preachers are always calling upon the rich to do fine things for the
poor, but the rich man is deaf as often as not, because some little puny
thing in their own lives is dinning in their ears and will shut out all
other sounds. I know that it must be so. The man who has millions
doesn't think about humanity at all. He wages war upon trifles, his
money-books are his library, he has blinded himself by reading them and
lost his outlook upon the world. I thought it would all be so different,
and then somebody touches me upon the shoulder and I look up and see
that my vision is no vision at all, and that the true heart of it is my
own all the time. Can you understand that, Lois, is it hidden from you
also?"

"It is not hidden, Alban, it is just as I said it would be."

"And you did not love me less because of it?"

"I should never have loved you less, whatever you had done."

"I shall remind you of that when we are in England together."

"That will never be, Alban dear, unless my father is free."

She repeated it again and again. Her manner of speaking had now become
that of one who understood that this was a last farewell.

"You cannot help us," she said, "why should you suffer because we must?
In England there's a great future before you as Mr. Gessner's adopted
son. I shall never hear of it, but I shall be proud because I know the
world will talk about you. That will be something to take with me, dear,
something they can never rob me of, whatever happens. When you remember
who Lois was, say that she is thinking of you in Russia far away. They
cannot separate us, dear Alban, while we love."

He had no word to answer this and could but harp again upon all the
promise of his fine resolution. When the matter-of-fact official came to
find him, Lois was close in his embrace and there were tears of regret
in his eyes.



CHAPTER XXIX

ALBAN RETURNS TO LONDON


They returned to the great courtyard, but not to Zaniloff's room as the
promise had been. Here by the gates there stood a passable private
carriage, and into this Alban perceived that he was to be hustled. The
bestarred transcriber of the upper story, he who waged the battle of the
flies, now stood by the carriage door and appeared to be ill at ease.
Evidently his study of strange tongues still troubled him.

"Pardon, mein Herr--how in English--khorosho?" he asked very
deferentially.

"It means 'that's all right,' sir." Alban answered immediately.

"It means that,--ah, nitchevo--je ne m'en souviens jamais."

He held the door open and Alban entered the carriage without a word.
Apparently they still waited for someone and five minutes passed and
found their attitudes unchanged. Then Zaniloff himself appeared full of
bustle and business but in a temper modified toward concession.

"I am taking you back to your hotel, mein Herr," he said to Alban, "it
is the Governor's order. You will leave Warsaw to-night. Those are our
instructions."

He sank back in the cushions and the great gates were shut behind them
with a sonorous clang. Out in the streets the outbreak of the earlier
hours had been a veritable battle but was now a truce. The whole city
seemed to be swarming with troops. Well might Zaniloff think of other
things.

"Is the Count better, sir?" Alban ventured presently.

"He will live," was the dry response, "at least the doctors say so."

"And you have discovered the truth about the affair?"

"The man who attacked him was shot on the Rymarska half an hour ago."

"Then that is why you are taking me back to my hotel?"

"There is positively no other reason," said the Chief.

The statement was frank to the point of brutality, but it carried also
such a message of hope that Alban hardly dared to repeat the words of it
even to himself; there was no longer any possibility of a capital charge
against the child he had just left in the wretched stable. Let the other
facts be as they might, these people could not detain Lois Boriskoff
upon the Count's affair or add it to the dossier in which her father's
offences were narrated. Of this Zaniloff's tone convinced him. "He would
never have admitted it at all if Lois were compromised," the argument
ran, and was worthy of the wise head which arrived at it.

"I am glad that you have found the man," he explained presently, "it
clears up so much and must be very satisfactory. Would you have any
objection to telling me what you are going to do with the girl I have
just left?"

Zaniloff smiled.

"I have no objection at all. When the Ministry at St. Petersburg
condescends to inform me, you shall share my information. At present I
am going to keep her under lock and key, and if she is obstinate I am
going to flog her."

"Do the people at St. Petersburg wish you to do that?"

"I do not consult their feelings," was the curt reply.

They fell to silence once more and the carriage rolled on through the
busy streets. It had escaped Alban's notice hitherto, that an escort of
Cossacks accompanied them, but as they turned into the great avenue he
caught a glimpse of bright accoutrements and of horsemen going at a
gentle canter. The avenue itself was almost deserted save by the
ever-present infantry who lined its walks as though some great cavalcade
were to pass. When they had gone another hundred paces, the need for the
presence of the soldiers declared itself in a heap of blackened ruins
and a great fire still smouldering. Zaniloff smiled grimly when they
passed the place.

"Half an hour ago that was the palace of my namesake, the Grand Duke
Sergius," he said, almost as though the intelligence were a matter of
personal satisfaction to him.

Alban looked at the smouldering ruins and could not help remembering the
strange threats he had heard in Union Street on the very eve of his
departure from England. Had any of the old mad orators a hand in this?
Those wild figures of the platforms and the slums, had they achieved so
much, if indeed it were achievement at all?

"They are fools to make war upon bricks and mortar," Zaniloff remarked
in his old quiet way.

"I told them so in London, sir."

"You told them; do you enjoy the honor of their acquaintance then?"

"I know as much about them as any of your people, and that is saying a
good deal. They are very ignorant men who are suffering great wrongs. If
your government would make an effort to learn what the world is thinking
about to-day, you would soon end all this. But you will never do it by
the whip, and guns will not help you."

Zaniloff laid a hand upon his shoulder almost in a kindly way.

"My honor alone forbids me to believe that," he exclaimed.

They arrived at the hotel while he spoke and passed immediately to the
private apartments above. A brief intimation that Alban must consider
himself still a prisoner and not leave his rooms under any
circumstances, whatever, found a ready acquiescence from one who had
heard an echo in Lois' words of his own farewell to Russia. That the
authorities would detain him he did not believe, and he knew that his
long task was not here. He must return to England and save Lois. How or
by what means he could not say; for the ultimate threat, so lightly
spoken, affrighted him when he was alone and left him a coward. How,
indeed, if he went to the fanatics of Union Street and said to
them,--"Richard Gessner is your enemy; strike at him." There would be
vengeance surely, but he had received too many kindnesses at Hampstead
that he should contemplate such an infamy. And what other course lay
before him? He could not say, his life seemed lived. Neither ambition
nor desire, apart from the prison he had left, remained to him.

The French valet Malette waited upon him in his rooms and gave him such
news of the Count as the sentinels of the sick-room permitted. Oh, yes,
his excellency was a little better. He had spoken a few words and asked
for his English friend. Nothing was known of the madman who struck him
save that which the papers in his pocket told them. The fellow had been
shot as he left the Grand Duke's palace; some thought that he had been
formerly in the Count's service and that this was merely an act of
vengeance, _mais terrible_, as Malette added with emphasis. Later on his
excellency would be able to tell the story for himself. His grand
constitution had meant very much to him to-day.

The interview took place at three o'clock in the afternoon, the doctors
having left their patient, and the perplexed Zaniloff being again at the
prison. The bed had now been wheeled a little way from the window and
the room set in pleasant order by clever and willing hands. The Count
himself had lost none of his courage. The attack in truth had nerved him
to believe that he had nothing further to fear in Warsaw, for who would
think about a man already as good as buried by the newspapers. Here was
something to help the surgeons and bring some little flush of color to
the patient's pallid cheeks. He spoke as a man who had been through the
valley of the shadow and had suffered little inconvenience by the
journey.

"I am forbidden to talk," he said to Alban, and immediately began to
talk in defiance of a nurse's protests.

"So you have been to prison, mon vieux; well, it is so much experience
for you, and experience is useful. I have done a good morning's work, as
you see. Imagine it. I open my door to a policeman, and when I ask him
what he has got for me, he whips out a butcher's knife and makes a
thrust at my ribs. Happily for me, I come from a bony race. The surgeons
have now gone to fight a duel about it. One is for septic pneumonia, the
other for the removal of the lungs. I shall be out of Poland in my
beautiful France by the time they agree."

He flushed with the exertion and cast reproachful eyes upon the nurse
who stood up to forbid his further eloquence. Alban, in turn, began to
tell him of the adventure of the morning.

"It was a Jack and Jill business, except that Jill does not come
tumbling after," he said. "What is going to happen I cannot tell you.
Lois will not leave Poland until her father is released, and I have it
from her that he never will be released. Don't you see, Count, that Mr.
Gessner is a fool to play with fire like this. Does he believe that this
secret will be kept because these two are in prison? I know that it will
not. If he is to be saved, it must be by generosity and courage. I
should have thought he would have known it from the beginning. Let him
act fairly by old Paul Boriskoff and I will answer for his safety. If he
does not do so, he must blame himself for the consequences."

"Pride never blames itself, Kennedy, even when it is foolish. I like
your wisdom and shall give a good account of it. Of course, there is the
other side of the picture, and that is not very pretty. How can we
answer for the man, even if he be generously dealt with? More important
still, how can we answer for the woman?"

"I will answer for her, Count."

"You, my dear boy. How can you do that?"

"By making her my wife."

"Do you say this seriously?"

"I say it seriously."

"But why not at Hampstead before we left England. That would have made
it easier for us all."

"I would try to tell you, but you would not understand. Perhaps I did
not know then what I know now. There are some things which we only learn
with difficulty, lessons which it needs suffering to teach us."

A sharp spasm, almost of pain, crossed the Count's face.

"That is very true," he exclaimed, "please do not think I am deficient
in understanding. It has been necessary for you to come to Poland to
discover where your happiness lay?"

"Yes, it has been necessary."

"Do you understand, that this would mean the termination of your good
understanding with my friend Gessner. You could not remain in his house
naturally."

"I have thought of that. It will be necessary for me to leave him as you
say. But I have been an interloper from the beginning, and I do not see
how I could have remained. While everything was new to me, while I
lived in Wonderland, I never gave much thought to it; but here when I
begin to think, I am no longer in doubt. How could I shut myself up in a
citadel of riches and know that so many of my poor people were starving
not ten miles from my door. I would feel as though I had gone into the
enemy's camp and sold myself for the gratification of a few silly
desires and a whole pantomime of show which a decent man must laugh at.
It is better for me to have done with it once and for all and try to get
my own living. Lois will give me the right to work, if she ever wins her
liberty, which I doubt. You could help her to do so, if you were
willing, Count."

"I, what influence have I?"

"As much as any man in Poland, I should say."

"Ah, you appeal to my vanity. I wish it could respond. Frankly, my
Government will be little inclined to clemency, just now at any rate.
Why should it be? These people are burning down our houses, why should
we help them to build their own? Your old friend Boriskoff was as
dangerous a man as any in Poland, why should they let him go just
because an English banker wishes it."

"They will let him go because he is more dangerous in prison than out of
it. In London I could answer for him. I could not answer while he is at
Petersburg."

"My dear lad, we must really make you Master of all these pretty
ceremonies. I'll speak to Zaniloff." He laughed lightly, for the idea of
this mere stripling being of any use to his Government amused him
greatly. His apologies for the indulgence, however, were not to be
spoken, for the blood suddenly rushed from his cheeks, and the good
nurse intervened in some alarm.

"Please to leave him," she said to Alban in French. He obeyed her
immediately, seeing that he had been wrong to stay so long.

"I will come again when you permit me. Please let me know when his
excellency is better."

She promised him that she would do so, and he returned to his own rooms.
He was not, however, to see the Count again until he met him many years
afterwards in Paris. The distressed Zaniloff himself carried the amazing
news, some two hours later.

"You are to leave for London by the evening mail," the Chief said
shortly, "a berth has been reserved for you, and I myself will see you
into the train. Do not complain of us, Mr. Kennedy. I can assure you
that there are many cities more agreeable than Warsaw at the present
moment."

Alban was not surprised, nor would he argue upon it. He realized that
his labors in Poland had been in vain. If he could save Lois from the
prison, he must do so in London, in the alleys and dens he had so long
deserted. Not toward Wonderland, not at the shrines of riches, but as an
exile returned to labor with the humblest, must this journey carry him.

And he bowed his head to destiny and believed that he stood alone
against the world.



CHAPTER XXX

WE MEET OLD FRIENDS


Alban had returned some two months from Poland, when, upon a drear
October evening, the Archbishop of Bloomsbury, my Lady Sarah, the flower
girl, and "Betty," the half-witted boy, made their way about half-past
nine o'clock to the deserted stage of the Regent Theatre, and there by
the courtesy of the watchman, distantly related to Sarah, began their
preparations for a homely evening meal.

To be quite candid, this was altogether a more respectable company than
that which had assembled in the Caves at the springtime of the year. The
Lady Sarah wore a spruce black silk dress which had adorned the back of
a Duchess more than three years ago; the Archbishop boasted a coat that
would have done no discredit to a Canon of St. Paul's; the boy they
would call "Betty" had a flower at the button-hole of a neat gray suit,
and carried himself as though all the world belonged to him. This purple
and fine linen, to be sure, were rather lost upon the empty stage of
that dismal theatre, nor did the watchman's lantern and two proud
wax-candles which the Lady Sarah carried do much for their reputation;
but, as the Archbishop wisely said, "We know that they are there, and
Sarah has the satisfaction of rustling for us."

Now to be plainer, this was the occasion of a letter just received from
"the Panorama," who had gone to America since June, and of joyful news
from that incurable optimism.

"I gather," the Archbishop had said, as he passed the document round,
"that our young friend, er--hem--having exhibited the American nation in
wax, a symbol of its pliability, surely is now proceeding to melt it
down and to return to England. That is a wise undertaking. Syrus, the
philosopher, has told us that Fortune is like glass, when she shines too
much she is broken. Let our friend take the tide at the flood and not
complain afterwards that his ship was too frail. The Panorama has
achieved reputation, and who is of the world does not know the pecuniary
worth of that? Consider my own case and bear with me. I have the
misfortune to prick myself with a needle and to suffer certain personal
inconveniences thereby. The world calls me a villain. Other men,
differently situated, kill thousands of their fellow-creatures and look
forward to the day when they will be buried in Westminster Abbey. We
envy them at the height and the depth of it. This the Panorama should
remember. A successful showman is here to-day and--er--hem--melted down
to-morrow. It is something to have left no debts behind him; it is much
more to have remembered his old friends in these small tokens which we
shall consume in all thankfulness, according to our happiness and our
digestions."

He had seated himself upon a stage chair, gilt and anciently splendid,
to deliver himself of this fine harangue. The lady Sarah, in her turn,
hastened to take up a commanding position upon the throne that had
served for a very modern Cleopatra, while the boy "Betty," accustomed to
hard beds, squatted upon the bare boards and was the happier for his
liberty. For inward satisfaction, the menu declared a monstrous pie from
a shop near by; a plentiful supply of fried fish; three dozen oysters in
a puny barrel, and a half a dozen bottles of stout, three of which
protruded from the Archbishop's capacious pockets. The occasion was a
great one, indeed, the memory of their old friend, the Panorama, at its
zenith.

"I always did say as he'd make a noise in the world, and that's the
truth, God knows," Sarah took an early occasion to remark. "Not if he
were my own brother could I wish him more than I do this night. 'Tisn't
all of us would care to go 'crost the ocean among the cannibals and take
the King of Hingerland in a 'amper. I saw him myself, wrapped up in a
piper box and lookin' beautiful, God's truth, with the crown done up in
tissue beside him. That was before the Panorama left us. 'Be a good
boy,' says I, 'and don't fall in love with any of them darkies as you'll
find in' Mericky. So help me lucky, I'd a good mind ter come after you,'
says I, 'and marry their Ole Man jess ter set 'em a good example.'"

By which it will be perceived that the Lady Sarah's knowledge of the
great and mighty Republic beyond the seas was clearly limited. Such
ignorance had often provoked the Archbishop of Bloomsbury to
exasperation, it annoyed him not a little to-night.

"My dear child," he protested, "you are laboring under a very great
delusion. Be assured that America is a very great country,
where--er--hem--they may eat each other, but not as you imagine. I
believe that the American ladies are very beautiful. I have met some of
them--er--in the old days, when--hem--the Bishops showed their
confidence in me by drinking my claret and finding it to their liking.
All that we have in England they have in America--prisons, paupers,
policemen, palaces. You are thinking of Africa, Sarah, darkest Africa,
that used to be, but is fast disappearing. Led me add--"

Sarah, however, was already busy upon her dozen of oysters and had no
patience to hear the good man out.

"Don't you take on so, Bishop," she intervened, "'Mericky ain't done
much for me and precious little it's going ter do for you. What I says
is, let those as have got a good 'ome stop there and be thankful. Yer
may talk about your oshun wave, but I ain't taking any, no, not though
there was diamonds on the sea beach the other side and 'ot-'arse roses
fer nothink. Who ever sees their ole friends as is swallered up by the
sea? Who ever heard of Alb Kennedy since he went ter Berling as he told
us for to mike his fortune? Ho, a life on the oshun wave if yer like,
but not for them as has bread and cheese ashore and a good bed to go to
arterwards; that's what I shall say as long as I've breath in my body."

"Betty," the boy, answered to this earnest lamentation with a sound word
of good common sense.

"You're a-goin' to sleep in one o' them boxes to-night, ain't you,
Sarah?" he asked, and she admitted the truth of his conclusions.

"And sweeter dreams I would have if I knew where the Dook was a-layin'
his 'ed this night," she added.

The Archbishop ate a succulent morsel and drank a long draught from the
unadorned black bottle.

"Nothing is known of Kennedy at Hampstead," he interposed, "I have made
diligent inquiries of the gardener there, and he assures me that our
dear friend never returned from Poland and that no one knows anything of
him, not even Mr. Gessner. Anna, the daughter, I understand, is married
to an old acquaintance of ours and has taken a little house in Curzon
Street. She liked to go the--er--hem--pace, as the people say; and she
is mated to one who will not be afraid of exceeding the legal limits.
Mr. Gessner himself is on his yacht, and is supposed to be cruising off
the coast of Norway. That is what they tell me. I have no reason to
doubt the truth of their information. Would to heaven I had. Kennedy was
a friend, a true friend, while he was in England. I have known many a
bitter night since he left us."

He sighed, but valiantly, and applied himself once more to the pewter
pot. It was a terrible night outside, raining heavily and blowing a
bitter wind. Even here on the stage of the deserted theatre a chilling
draught sported with their candles and made fine ghosts for them upon
the faded canvas. Talk of Alban Kennedy seemed to have depressed them
all. They uttered no word for many minutes, not indeed until one of the
iron doors suddenly swung open and Alban himself came in among them. He
was drenched to the skin, for he had carried no umbrella, and wore but a
light travelling suit, the identical one in which he had returned from
Poland. Very pale and worn and thin, this, they said, was the ghost of
the Alban who had left them in the early summer. And his manner was as
odd as his appearance. You might almost have said that he had thrown the
last shred of the aristocratic rags to the winds and put on old habits
so long discarded that they were almost forgotten. When he crossed the
stage to them, it was with his former air of dogged indifference and
cynical self-content. Explanations were neither offered nor asked. He
flung his hat aside and sat upon the corner of a crazy sofa despised by
the rest of the company. A hungry look, cast upon the inviting
delicacies, betrayed the fact that he was hungry. Be sure it was not
lost upon the watchful Sarah.

"Good Gawd, to see him walk in amongst us like that. Why, Mr. Kennedy,
whatever's up, whatever brings you here a night like this?"

Alban had always admired the Lady Sarah, he admired her more than ever
to-night.

"Wind and rain, Sarah," he said shortly, "they brought me here, to say
nothing of Master Betty cutting across the street as though the cops
were at his heels. How are you all? How's his reverence? Speak up, my
lord, how are the affairs of your extensive diocese?"

"My affairs," said the Archbishop, slowly, "are what might be called in
_nubibus_--cloudy, my dear boy, distinctly cloudy. I am, to adopt a
homely simile, at present under a neighbor's umbrella, which is not as
sound as it might be. Behold me, none the less, in that state of content
to which the poet Horace has happily referred--_nec vixit male qui natus
moriensque fefellit_. At this moment you discover me upon a pleasant
bridge which spans an unknown abyss. I eat, drink and am merry. What
more shall I desire?"

"And Betty here, does Betty keep out of mischief?"

Sarah answered this.

"I got him a job at Covent Garden, and he's there regular at four
o'clock every morning sure as the sun's in heaven. Don't you go thinking
nothink about Betty, Mr. Kennedy, and so I tell you straight."

"And what have you done with the Panorama, Sarah?"

She laughed loudly.

"Panorama's among the black men, them's his oysters as we're eatin' now.
Try one, Mr. Kennedy. You look as if a drop of summat would do you good,
so help me you do. Take a sup o' stout and rest yourself awhile. It is a
surprise to see you, I must say."

"A very pleasant surprise, indeed," added the Archbishop, emphatically.
"There has been no event in my life for many months which has given me
so much satisfaction. We have not so many friends that we can spare even
one of them to those higher spheres, which, I must say, he has adorned
with such conspicuous lustre."

"Oh, spare me, reverence, don't talk nonsense to-night. I am tired as
you see, tired and hungry. And I'm going to beg food and drink from old
friends who have loved me. Now, Sarah, what's it to be?"

He drew the sofa nearer to the bare table and began to eat with them.
Sarah's motherly protestations induced him to take off his coat and hang
it up in the watchman's office to dry. The same tender care served out
to him the most delicate morsels, from a generous if uncouth table, and
insisted upon their acceptance. If his old friends were hot with
curiosity to know whence he came and what he had been doing, they, as
the poor alone can do successfully, asked no questions nor even hinted
at their desire. Not until the supper was over and the Archbishop had
produced a little packet of cigars, did any general conversation
interrupt that serious business of eating and drinking, so rarely
indulged in, so sacred when opportunity offered.

This amiable truce to curiosity, dictated by nature, was first broken by
the Archbishop, who did not possess my Lady Sarah's robust powers of
self-command. Passing Alban a cigar, he asked him a question which had
been upon his lips from the beginning.

"You are just returned from Poland, Kennedy?"

"I have been in England two months, reverence."

"But not at Hampstead, my dear boy, not at Hampstead, surely?"

"As you say, not at Hampstead, at least not at "Five Gables." Mr.
Gessner is away yachting; I read it in the newspapers."

"You read it in the newspapers. God bless me! do you mean to say that he
did not tell you himself?"

"He told me nothing. How could he? He hasn't got my address."

They all stared, open-eyed in wonder. Even the Lady Sarah had a question
to ask now.

"You're not back in Whitechapel again."

"True as gold. I am living in Union Street, and going to be married."

"To be married; who's the lidy?"

"That's what I want to know; perhaps it would be little red-haired Chris
Denholm. I can't exactly tell you, Sarah."

"Here none of that--you're pullin'--"

Sarah caught the Archbishop's frown, and corrected herself adroitly.

"It ain't true, Mr. Kennedy, is it now?"

"God knows, Sarah, I don't. I'm earning two pounds a week in a motor
shop and living in the old ken by Union Street. Mr. Gessner has left the
country and his daughter is married to Willy Forrest. I hope she'll like
him. They'll make a pretty pair in a crow's nest. Pass the stout and
let's drink to 'em. I must be off directly; if I don't walk home, it'll
be pneumonia or something equally pleasant. But I'm glad to see you all,
you know it, and I wish you luck from the bottom of my heart."

He took a long drink from a newly opened bottle and claiming his coat
passed out as mysteriously as he had come. The watchman said that a man
waited for him upon the pavement, but his information seemed vague. The
others continued to discuss him until weariness overtook them and they
slept where they lay. His going had taken a friend away from them, and
their friends were few enough, God knows!



CHAPTER XXXI

THE MAN UPON THE PAVEMENT


A well-meaning stage-door keeper for once had told the plain truth and
there had been a man upon the pavement when Alban quitted the Regent
Theatre.

Little more than six months ago, this identical fellow had been
commissioned by Richard Gessner to seek Alban out and report upon his
habits. He had visited the great ship-building yard, had made a hundred
inquiries in Thrawl Street and the Commercial Road, had tracked his
quarry to the Caves and carried his news thereafter triumphantly to
Hampstead and his employer. To-night his purpose was otherwise. He
sought not gossip but a man, and that man now appeared before him upon
the pavement, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his head bent, his
attitude that of utter dejection and despair.

"Mr. Kennedy, if you please."

The stranger spoke beneath the shadow of a great lamp in the Charing
Cross Road. Not hearing him immediately, Alban had arrived at the next
lamp before the earnest entreaty arrested him and found him erect and
watchful in a moment.

"I beg your pardon, sir; you are Mr. Kennedy, are you not?"

"My name, at least the half of it."

"Mr. Alban Kennedy, shall we say. I have been looking for you for three
days, sir. It is not often that I search three days for anybody when his
house is known. Forgive me, it is not my fault that there has been a
delay."

Alban knew no more than the man in the moon what he was driving at, and
he thought it must be all a mistake.

"What's it all about, old chap?" he exclaimed, falling into the manners
of the street. "Why have you been hurrying yourself on my account?"

"To give you this letter, sir, and to ask you to accompany me."

Alban whistled, but took the note nevertheless and tore it open with
trembling fingers. He thought that he recognized the handwriting, but
was not sure. When he had read the letter through, he turned to the man
and said that he would go with him.

"Then I will call a hansom, sir."

The detective blew a shrill whistle, and a hansom immediately tried to
cannon an omnibus, and succeeding came skidding to the pavement. The two
men entered without a word to each other; but to the driver the
direction was Hampstead Heath. He, wise merchant, demurred with chosen
phrase of weight, until a fare was named and then lashed his horse
triumphantly.

"My lucky's in," he cried to a friend upon another box, "it's a quid if
I ain't bilked."

Alban meanwhile took a cigarette from a paper packet, and asked his
companion for a light. When he struck it an observer would have noticed
that his hand was still shaking.

"Did you go down yonder?" he asked, indicating generally the
neighborhood east of Aldgate.

"Searched every coffee shop in Whitechapel, sir."

"Ah, you weren't lucky. I have been living three days on Hampstead
Heath."

"On Hampstead Heath? My godfather, I wish I'd known."

They were driving through Regent's Park by this time, and the darkness
of a tempestuous night enshrouded them. Alban recalled that unforgotten
evening of spring when, with the amiable Silas Geary for his companion,
he had first driven to Mr. Gessner's house and had heard the story of
Wonderland, as that very ordinary cleric had described it. What days he
had lived through since then! And now this news surpassing all the
miracles! What must it mean to him, and to her! Had they been fooling
him again or might he dare to accept it for the truth? He knew not what
to think. A surpassing excitement seized upon him and held him dumb. He
felt that he would give years of his life to know.

They toiled up the long hill to the Heath and entered the grounds of
"Five Gables" just as the church clock was striking eleven. There were
lights in the Italian Garden and in the drawing-room. Just as it had
been six months ago, so now the obliging Fellows opened the door to
them. Alban gave him a kindly nod and asked him where Lois was.

"The young lady is there, in the hall, sir. Pardon me saying it, she
seems much upset to-night."

"Mr. Gessner is still away?"

"On his yacht, sir. We think he is going to visit South America."

Alban waited for no more, but went straight on, his eyes half blinded by
the glaring lights, his hands outstretched as though feeling for other
hands to grasp them.

"Lois, I am here as you wished."

A deep sob answered him, a hot face was pressed close to his own.

"Alban," she said, "my father is dead!"



CHAPTER XXXII

IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY


Very early upon the following morning, almost before it was light, Alban
entered the familiar study at "Five Gables" and read his patron's
letter. It had been written the day after he himself returned from
Poland, and had long awaited him, there in that great lonely house. He
opened it almost as though it had been a message from the dead.

"I am leaving England to-day," the note went on, "and may be many months
abroad. The unhappy death of Paul Boriskoff in the Schlusselburg will be
already known to you, and will relieve you of any further anxiety upon
his daughter's account. I have the assurance of the Minister of St.
Petersburg that she will be released immediately and sent to "Five
Gables" as I have wished. There I have made that provision for her
future which I owe to my own past, and there she will live as your wife
until the days of my exile are finished.

"You, Alban Kennedy, must henceforth be the agent of my fortunes. To
you, in the name of humanity, I entrust the realization of those dreams
which have endeared you to me and made you as my own son. If there be
salvation for the outcasts of this city by such labors as you will now
undertake upon their behalf, then let yours be the ministering hands,
and the people's gratitude. I have lived too long in the kingdom of the
money-changers either to accept your beliefs or to put them into
practice. Go you out then as an Apostle in my name, that at my coming I
may help you to reap a rich harvest.

"My agents will be able at all times to tell upon what sea or in what
haven I am to be found. I go in quest of that peace which the world has
denied to me. But I carry your name before others in my memory, and if I
live, I will return to call you my son."

So the letter went on, so Alban read it as the dawn broke and the great
city woke to the labors of the day.





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