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Title: By Right of Sword
Author: Marchmont, Arthur W. (Arthur Williams), 1852-1923
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 "By Right of Sword" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: I raised my sword and struck him with the flat side of
it across the face.--_Frontispiece, Page 42_.]



By Right of Sword


BY

ARTHUR W. MARCHMONT


AUTHOR OF

"Sir Jaffray's Wife," "Parson Thring's Secret," Etc., Etc.



NEW AMSTERDAM BOOK COMPANY

156 : FIFTH : AVENUE : NEW : YORK

HUTCHINSON & COMPANY, LONDON



Copyright 1897

BY

ARTHUR W. MARCHMONT



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


I Raised My Sword and Struck Him with the Flat
  Side of it across the Face . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"I Know that You are My Brother, Alexis"

A Swinging Cut Made Another Drop His Knife with a Great Cry of Pain

"Here, Strike," I Cried

"Alexis, Did You Bring That Proposal to Me Deliberately?"

"Take Another Two Grains, Mouse"

I Darted Forward into the Doorway

I Tore It from Him



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

      I. THE MEETING
     II. I AM A NIHILIST
    III. MY SECONDS
     IV. THE DUEL
      V. GETTING DEEPER
     VI. A LEGACY OF LOVE
    VII. A LESSON IN NIHILISM
   VIII. THE RIVERSIDE MEETING
     IX. DEVINSKY AGAIN
      X. "THAT BUTCHER, DURESCQ"
     XI. DANGER FROM A FRESH SOURCE
    XII. CHRISTIAN TUESKI
   XIII. OLGA IN A NEW LIGHT
    XIV. THE DEED WHICH RANG THROUGH RUSSIA
     XV. A SHE DEVIL
    XVI. THE NEXT NIHILIST PLOT
   XVII. AN EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE
  XVIII. THE REASON OF THE INTRIGUE
    XIX. OLGA'S ABDUCTION
     XX. THE RESCUE
    XXI. THREE TO ONE
   XXII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
  XXIII. CHECKMATE!
   XXIV. CRISIS
    XXV. COILS THAT NO MAN COULD BREAK
   XXVI. MY DECISION
  XXVII. THE FOUR ALDER TREES
 XXVIII. THE ATTACK ON THE CZAR
   XXIX. THE TRUTH OUT AT LAST
    XXX. AFTERWARDS



BY RIGHT OF SWORD.



CHAPTER I.

THE MEETING.


Moscow.

"MY DEAR RUPERT.

"Don't worry your head about me.  I shall be all right.  I did not see
you before leaving because of the scene with your sister and Cargill,
which they may perhaps tell you about.  I have done with England: and
as the auspices are all for war, I mean to have a shy in.  I went to
Vienna, thinking to offer myself to the Turks: but my sixteen years in
Russia have made too much of a Russ of me to let me tolerate those lazy
cruel beggars.  So I turned this way.  I'm going on to St Petersburg
to-day, for I find all the people I knew here as a lad have gone north.
I have made such a mess of things that I shall never set foot in
England again.  If Russia will have me, I shall volunteer, and I hope
with all my soul that a Turkish bullet will find its billet in my body.
It shan't be my fault if it doesn't.  If I hadn't been afraid of being
thought afraid, I'd have taken a shorter way half a score of times.  My
life is an inexpressible burden, and I only wish to God someone would
think it worth while to take it.  I don't want to be hard on your
sister, but whatever was left in my heart or life, she has emptied, and
I only wish she'd ended it at the same time.  You'll know I'm pretty
bad when not even the thought of our old friendship gives me a moment's
pleasure.  Good-bye.  Don't come out after me.  You won't find me if
you do.

Your friend,
  HAMYLTON TREGETHNER."


The letter was wretchedly inconsequential.  When I sat down to write I
hadn't meant to tell Rupert Balestier that his sister's treatment had
made such a mess of things for me; but my pen ran away with me as it
always does, and I wasn't inclined to write the letter all over again.
I hate letter writing.  I was to leave Moscow, moreover, in an hour or
two, and when I had had my things sent to the railway station and
followed them, I dropped the letter into the box without altering a
word.

It had made me thoughtful, however; and I stood on the platform looking
moodily about me, wondering whether I should find the end I wished most
speedily by joining the army or the Nihilists; and which course would
bring me the most exciting and quickest death.

I had three or four hours to wait before my train left, and I walked up
and down the platform trying to force myself to feel an interest in
what was going on about me.

Presently I noticed that I was the object of the close vigilance of a
small group of soldiers such as will generally be seen hanging about
the big stations in Russia.  They looked at me very intently; I noticed
them whisper one to another evidently about me; and as I passed they
drew themselves up to attention and saluted me.  I returned the salute,
amused at their mistake, and entered one of the large waiting saloons.

It was empty save for one occupant, who was standing by the big stove
looking out of a window near.  This was a girl, and a glimpse I caught
of her face shewed me she was pretty, while her attitude seemed to
suggest grief.

As I entered and went to another part of the room, she started and
glanced at me and then looked away.  A few seconds later, however, she
looked round furtively, and then to my abundant surprise, came across
and said in a low, confidential tone:

"It is not enough, Alexis.  I knew you in a minute.  But you acted the
stranger to perfection."

She was not only pretty, but very pretty, I thought, as she stood with
her face raised toward mine, a light of some kind of emotion shining in
her eyes where I saw traces of tears.  But my recent experiences of
Edith Balestier had toughened me a lot, and I was suspicious of this
young woman.

"Pardon me, Madam, you have made a mistake."

Then she smiled, rather sadly; and her teeth shone salt white between
her full curved lips.

"Your voice would betray you, even if your dear handsome eyes did not.
Do you think the mere shaving of your beard and moustache can hide your
eyes.  Just look into mine and see if the shade is not exact?"

I did look into them: and very beautiful eyes hers were.  Little
shining blue heavens all radiant with the light of infinite capacity to
feel.  Fascinating eyes, very.  But I had not lived the first sixteen
years of my life in Russia without getting to know that in that big
land all is not snow that looks white; and that a very awkward intrigue
may lurk beneath a very fair seeming surface.

"Madam, I am charmed, but I have not the honour of knowing you."

A passing cloud of irritation shewed and a little gesture of
impatience, sufficient to remind me that the gloved hands were very
small.

"Ah, why keep this up now?  There is no need, and no time.  Is not the
train starting in less than an hour--and by the way, what madness is it
that makes you loiter about here in this public way, out of uniform and
as if there were no danger and you were merely taking a week's holiday,
instead of flying for...."

"Madam," I broke in again.  "I must repeat, I am a stranger.  You must
not tell me these things.  My name is Hamylton Tregethner, an
Englishman, and...."

"Yes, yes, I know you are: or at least I know you are going to call
yourself English, though you haven't told me what your name is to be.
But I know that you are my brother Alexis, going to leave me perhaps
for ever, and that when I want to scold you for running this risk--for
you know there are police, and soldiers, and spies in plenty to
identify you--you...." here she made as if to throw herself into my
arms.  But suspecting some trick, I stepped back.

[Illustration: "I know that you are my brother, Alexis."]

"Madam, I must ask you to be good enough not to play this comedy any
farther."  I spoke rather sternly.

"If your disguise were only as good as your acting, Alexis, not a soul
in Russia would suspect you.  Oh, I see what you mean," she cried, a
look of intelligence breaking over her features.  "I forgot.  Of
course, I am compromising your disguise by thus speaking to you.  I am
sorry.  It was my love for you made me thoughtless, when I should have
been thoughtful.  I will go away."  She turned on me such a look of
genuine grief that it melted my scepticism.

"There is really some strange mistake," I said, speaking much more
gently.  "At first I thought you were intentionally mistaking me for
someone else; for what object I knew not.  But I see now the error was
involuntary.  I give you my honour, Madam, that you are under a
complete mistake if you take me for any relative of your own.  I am an
Englishman, as I say, and I arrived in Moscow only last night, and am
leaving for St Petersburg by the next express train.  I am afraid, if
you persist in your mistake, it may have unpleasant consequences for
you.  Hence my plain speech.  But I am what I say."

As I finished, I raised my hat and stood that she might convince
herself of her blunder.

She looked at me with the most careful scrutiny, even walking round to
get a view of my figure.  Then she came back and looked into my face
again; and I could see that she was still unconvinced.

"It is impossible," she said, under her breath.  "If I allow for the
difference your beard and moustache would make, you are my brother."

"I am Hamylton Tregethner," I said, and I took out my pocket-book and
shewed her my passport to Paris, Vienna, Moscow, "and travelling on the
Continent."

"These things can be bought--or made," she said.  Then she seemed to
understand how she had committed herself with me, if I were really a
stranger, and I saw her look at me with fear, doubt, and speculation on
her pretty expressive face.

She sighed and lifted her hands as if in half despair.

"Madam, you have my word as an Englishman that not a syllable of what
you have said shall pass my lips."  The bright glance of gratitude she
threw me inspired me to add:--"If I can be of any help in this matter,
you may command me absolutely."

She gave me a little stiff look, and I thought I had offended her: but
the next moment a light of eagerness took its place.

"When are you leaving?" she asked with an indifference I could see was
assumed.

"By the St Petersburg express at 6 o'clock."

"That is two hours after the Smolensk train."  She paused to think and
glanced at me once, as if weighing whether she dare ask me something.
Then she said quickly:--"Will you give me a couple of hours of your
company on this platform and in the station this afternoon?"

It was a strange sort of request and when I saw how anxiously she
awaited my reply I could perceive she had a strong motive: and one that
had certainly nothing to do with any desire for my company.

Then suddenly I guessed her motive.  The cunning little woman!  Her
brother was obviously going to fly from Moscow.  She saw that inasmuch
as she herself had mistaken me for him, others would certainly do so;
and thus, if she and I were together, the brother would get away
unsuspected and would be flying from Moscow while he would be thought
to be still walking about the station with his sister.  I liked the
idea, and the girl's pluck on behalf of her brother.

"I will give you not only two hours," I said, "but two days, or two
weeks, if you like--if you will tell me candidly what your reason is."

She started at this and saw by my expression that I had guessed her
very open secret.

"If you will walk with me outside, I will do that," she said.  "I am a
very poor diplomatist."  With that we went out on to the platform and
commenced a conversation that had momentous results for us all.

She told me quite frankly that she wished me to act as a cover for her
brother's flight.

"No harm can come to you.  You will only have to prove your
identity--otherwise I should not have asked this," she said,
apologetically.  And then to excuse herself, she added, "And I should
have told you, even if you had not asked me."

I believed in her sincerity now, and I told her so in a roundabout way.
Then I said:--"I am in earnest in saying that I will stay on in Moscow
for a day or two if you wish.  I have nothing whatever to do, and if
the affair should bring me in conflict with anyone, I should like it.
I can't tell you all my reasons, as that would mean telling you a
biggish slice of my life; but feel assured that if there's likely to be
any adventure in it from which some men might shrink, it would rather
attract me than otherwise.  But if you care to tell me the reasons of
your brother's flight, I will breathe no word of them to a soul, and I
may be of help."  I began to scent an adventure in it, and the perfume
pleased me.

My words set her thinking deeply, and we took two or three turns up and
down before she answered.

"No, you mustn't stop over to-day," she said, slowly.  Then she added
thoughtfully:--"I don't know what Alexis would say to my confiding in
you; but I should dearly like to."  She turned her face to me and
looked long and searchingly into my eyes.  Then smiled slightly--a
smile of confidence.  "I feel I can trust you.  I will risk it and tell
you.  My brother is flying because a man in his regiment"--here her
eyes shone and her cheeks coloured to a deep red--"has fastened a
quarrel on him.  He has--has tried to--well, he has worried me and I
don't like him"--the blush was of indignation now--"and because of this
he has picked a quarrel with Alexis; and to-morrow--means to kill him
in that form of barbarous assassination you men call duelling.  He
knows he is infinitely more skilful than poor Alexis, and that my dear
brother is no match for him with either sword or pistol; and he will
drag him out to-morrow, and either shoot or stab him."

The tears overflowed here, and made the eyes look more bright and
beautiful than ever.

"Why didn't your brother refuse to fight?"

"How could he?" she asked despairingly.  "He would have been a marked
man--a coward.  And this wretch would have triumphed over him.  And he
knows this, because he offered to let Alexis off, if I--if I--Oh, would
that I were a man!" she cried, changing the note of indignant grief for
anger.

"Do you mean he has made such an offer as this since the challenge
passed?"

"Yes, my brother came and told me.  But I could not do it.  And now
this has come."

I didn't think very highly of the brother, but he had evidently talked
his sister round.  What I thought of most was the chance of a real
adventure which the thing promised.

The man must be a bully and a scoundrel, and it would serve him right
to give him a lesson.  If this girl had not recognised me, perhaps he
would not.  I felt that I should like to try.  There was no reason why
I should not.  I could easily spare a couple of days for the little
drama, and go on to St Petersburg afterwards.

"You are very anxious for your brother's safety?" I asked.

"He is my only protector in the world.  If he gets away now to Berlin
or Paris, I shall follow and go to him."

"But is he likely to get away when he will be missed in a few hours.  A
single telegram from Moscow will close every frontier barrier in Russia
upon him."

"We know that;" and she wrung her hands.

"If he could have two clear days he could reach the frontier and pass
unquestioned," I said, significantly.

She was a quick-witted little thing and saw my point with all a woman's
sharpness.

"Your life is not ours to give away.  This man is noted for his great
skill."

"Would everyone be likely to make the same mistake about me that you
have made this afternoon?" I asked in reply.

She looked at me again.  She was trembling a little in her earnestness.

"Now that I know, I can see differences--especially in your expression;
but in all Moscow there is not a man or woman who would not take you
for my brother."

"Then I decide for the two days here.  And if it will make you more
comfortable, I can assure you I am quite as able to take care of myself
with either sword or pistol as this bully you speak of.  But it is for
you to decide."

There came a pause, at the end of which she said, her face wearing a
more frightened look:--

"No, it must not be.  There are other reasons.  My brother is mixed up
with..."

"Excuse me, can you tell me which is the train for Smolensk?" asked a
man who came up and interrupted us, speaking in a mixture of Russian,
English and German.

The girl started violently, and I guessed the man was her brother.  A
glance at his eyes confirmed this.  They were a weak rendering of the
glorious blue eyes that had been inspiring me to all sorts of impulses
for the last hour.

"That disguise is too palpable," I said, quietly.  He had shaved and
was wearing false hair that could deceive no one.  In a few minutes the
whole situation was explained to him by his quick sister.

"I've only consented to go in order that Olga here may not be robbed of
her only protector," he said, thinking apparently to explain away his
cowardice.  "She has no one in the world to look after her but me, you
know.  If you'll help her in this matter, she will be very much
obliged; and so shall I.  You needn't go out to-morrow and fight
Devinsky--that's the major's name: Loris Devinsky.  My regiment's the
Moscow Infantry Regiment, you know.  If you'll go to my rooms and sham
ill, no one will know you, and as soon as I'm over the frontier I'll
wire Olga, and you can get away."  He was cunning enough as well as a
coward, evidently.

"Very well," said I.  "But you'll get over no frontier if you wear a
beard which everyone with eyes can see is false, and talk in a language
that no one ever spoke on this earth.  Pull off the beard: the little
black moustache may stay.  Speak English, or your own tongue, and play
my part to the frontier; and here take my passport; but post it back to
your sister to be given to me as soon as you're safe over.  And for
Heaven's sake don't walk as if you were a thief looking out for arrest.
No one suspects; so carry yourself as if no one had cause to."

It was a good thing for him I had seen his sister first.  He would
never have got me to personate him even for a couple of hours.

But we got him off all right, and his sister was so pleased that I
could not help feeling pleased also.  First in his assumed character he
made such arrangements for my luggage as I wished, and then we hurried
up to the train just before it started.  As we reached the barrier
where the papers had to be examined, he turned and bade his sister
good-bye, and then said to me aloud in Russian, hiding his voice a
little:--

"Well, good-bye, Alexis;" and he shook hands with me.

"Good-bye," I answered with a laugh: and he waved an adieu to us from
the other side of the barrier.

As we turned away together, Olga was a little pale.

Three soldiers saluted me, and I acknowledged the salute gravely,
glancing at them as I passed.

Then I noticed a couple of men who had been standing together and
watching the girl and myself for some time, leave their places and
follow us.  I told my companion and presently I saw her turn and look
at them, and then start and shiver.

"Do you know them?" I asked.

"Alas, yes.  They are Nihilist spies, watching us."

"Ah, then there is a little more in this than I have understood so
far," I said.

"You shall know everything," she replied as we left the station
together.



CHAPTER II.

I AM A NIHILIST.

"I think if you don't mind we will go back to the station," said my
companion, stopping after we had gone a little way without speaking.
"It is very convenient for talking.  Besides, you have to decide
whether this thing shall be carried any farther."

"I have already decided," I replied, quietly.  "I am going through with
it, if it is at all possible.  But I have thought of many difficulties."

"You must know all that I can tell you, please, before you decide, or I
shall be very uncomfortable."  She said this very firmly.

"Certainly you must tell me everything that will help me to know what
manner of man I am now."  I smiled as I said this to reassure her; but
she was very earnest and a little pale.

She waited a while until there was no one near us, and then said in a
low tone:--

"My brother is mixed up with the Nihilists in some way.  I don't know
how, quite: but I believe they suspect him of having played them false,
and I think his life is threatened.  Those two men you saw at the
station were spies, sent either to stop him, or, if he got away, to
follow him."

"But they didn't attempt to stop him."

"No, they mistook you for him, thinking they could see through the
disguise of a clean shaven face.  Had you entered the train, they would
very likely have told you openly not to go, or have warned you of the
consequences."

"And what would be the consequences?"

"Surely you know what it means for a Nihilist to disobey orders?  It is
death."  She was white now and agitated.  "I am so ashamed at not
having told you before you took the first step."

"It would have made no difference in my decision," I replied promptly.
I thought more of clearing her clouded face than of any possible
consequences to me.  "But tell me, are you also mixed up with them in
any way?"

"I am putting my liberty and perhaps my life into your hands," she
said, in the same very earnest tone and manner.  "My brother has drawn
me in with him to a certain extent.  You know they like to have many
women in the ranks."

"I am sorry for you.  I have rarely known a Nihilist who was capable of
getting much pleasure out of life."  A cold touch of fear seemed to
contract her features, as she glanced at me and shrank a little from me.

"You!  What--how come you to know anything of this?  You said you
were--an Englishman?"

"I am an Englishman: but I lived the first sixteen years of my life in
Russia: the last six of them in Moscow here; and I know much of Russian
life.  I have made only one visit to Russia since I left; and this time
I arrived only last night, and intended to go on to St Petersburg as I
told you to-day.  It will save time in this matter if you can make up
your mind to believe absolutely in my good faith."

I looked into her face as I said this, and I held out my hand.  She
laid hers in it, and we clasped hands in a strong firm grip as a token
of mutual faith and friendship.  I believed in the little soul, and
meant to stand by her.

"I will trust you now," she said, simply, after a pause.

"As for what you have told me, it can make no difference to me," I
declared.  "If I go out and meet this fellow Devinsky to-morrow, and he
beats me, it will be all the same to me whether I am a Nihilist or an
Englishman.  There is only one soul in all the world who will care; and
I shall give you a letter to be posted to him--if things go wrong."

I stopped to give her an opportunity of promising to do this; but she
remained silent, and walked with her head bent low.  I felt rather a
clumsy fool.  She was such a sensitive little body, that the thought of
my being killed, as the result of her having got me to help her brother
away, naturally upset her.  She couldn't know how gladly I should
welcome the other man's sword-point between my ribs.

After a pause of considerable constraint she said:--

"There is no need whatever for you to go out and meet Major Devinsky.
You can do as Alexis said; be ill in bed until the passport comes back,
and then leave."

"Oh, I'm not one to play the coward in that way," said I, lightly, when
a look of reproach from those most expressive eyes of hers made me
curse myself for a clumsy fool for this reflection on her brother's
want of pluck.  "I mean this.  If I take up a part in anything I must
play it my own way; but there's more than that behind.  I don't want to
look like bragging before you; but I have come out here to Russia to
volunteer for the war which everyone says must come with Turkey.  I've
done it because--well, you may guess that a man has a pretty strong
reason when he wants to volunteer to fight another country's battles.
It's the sort of thing in which he can expect plenty of the kicks,
while others get all the ha'pence.  I've not been a success in England
and I've had a stroke lately that's made me sick of things.  I can't
explain all this in detail: but the long and short of it is that if
anything were to happen to me to-morrow morning, it would be the most
welcome thing imaginable for me.  Now, you'll understand what I mean
when I tell you that nothing you can say as to the danger of the
business can do anything but attract me.  If I could only feel my blood
tingling again in a rush of excitement, I'd give anything."

My companion listened carefully to this, and her tell-tale face was all
sympathy when I finished.  Obviously she was deeply interested.

"Have you no mother or sister?" she asked.

"No--fortunately for them."

"Have you never had anyone to lean on you and trust to you for guidance
and protection?  That helps a good man."

"No.  But I've had those who've taken good care to break my trust in
them--and everything else."  This with a bitter little reminiscent
sneer and a shrug of the shoulders.  "Still, it has its advantages.
Any new part I might wish to play could not be more barren than the
old."

My companion shot a glance up in my face as I said this, but made no
answer.  It was I who broke the silence.

"Time is flying," I said, in a lighter tone: "and I have much to learn
if I am to be your brother for the next two or three days.  I want to
know where I live, where you live, all that you can tell me about my
brother officers and my duties--everything.  Indeed that is necessary
to prevent my being at once discovered."

After some further expostulation she told me that she and her brother
were orphans; that they had come about a year or so before to Moscow on
her brother being transferred to this regiment; and that the brother
had private quarters in the Square of St. Mark, while she lived with an
aunt, their only relative, in a suite of rooms close to the Cathedral.
They were of a very old family, neither rich nor poor, but having
enough to live comfortably and mix in some amount of society.

I gathered, however, that Alexis had been the source of much trouble.
He had embarrassed his money affairs; lived a fast life, become
involved with the Nihilists; dragged in his sister; and had ended by
compromising himself in many quarters.  She told me the story, so much
as she knew of it, very deftly, intending no doubt to screen her
brother; but I could read enough between the lines to understand that
his life had been anything but saintly.  Moreover, I was very much
mistaken if he were not as arrant a coward as ever crowed on a
dung-hill and ran away when the time came for fighting.

All this gave me plenty of food for thought--some of it disagreeable
enough.  It was no pleasant thing to take up the part of a coward and a
scape-grace.  Scapegrace I had been all my life in a way: but no man
ever thought me a coward.

I take no credit to myself for not being a coward; and I am quite ready
to believe that there are sound physiological reasons for it.  Nature
may have forgotten to give me those nerves by which men feel fear; but
it is the case that never in my life have I experienced even a passing
sensation of fear.  I would just as soon die as go to sleep.  I have
seen men--much better men than I, and quite as truly brave--shudder at
the idea of death and shrink with dread from the thought of pain.  But
at no time in my life have I cared for either; and I have come to
regard this as due to Nature's considerate omissions in my creation.
Certain other omissions of hers have not been so considerate.

This will explain, however, why the thought of the danger which
troubled my new "sister" so much did not cause me even a passing
uneasiness, especially at such a time.  What I was anxious to do was to
get hold of as much detail as possible of my new character; and I was
sufficiently interested by it to wish to play it successfully.

To this end I questioned my companion very closely indeed about the
names and appearance of the brother's friends and fellow officers,
about the habits of military life, and in short about everything I
deemed likely to help me not to stumble.

At the close of the examination I said:----

"At any rate we two must begin to rehearse.  You must call me Alexis
and must allow me to call you Olga; and we must do it always to avoid
slips."

She saw the need but blushed a bit when I added:---"And now, Olga,
we'll make our first practical experiment.  We'll go together to my
rooms and you must shew me what sailors call my bearings."

"Shall we walk--Alexis?" she asked, her eyes bright and her cheeks
ruddy with pretty confusion.

"By all means--Olga," I answered, returning her smile, and imitating
her emphasis on the Christian name.  "Do you know that my sister's name
has a very quaint sound in my ears, and comes very trippingly to a
brother's tongue?"

"But you don't like it and you think it common," she returned.

"I?"

"Yes, you have often said so, Alexis.  Surely you remember.  Why, only
this morning you said how silly you had always thought it," she
replied, demurely.

"Oh, I see," I laughed.  "Ah, I've changed that opinion.  A good many
other things have changed too, since this morning," I added drily; and
we both laughed then, and, considering the circumstances, were in
extremely good spirits.

"Alexis," she cried, with a sudden warning, as we turned a corner into
the Square of St. Gregory.  "Don't you see who is coming toward us?
Major Devinsky and Lieutenants Trackso and Weisswich.  The major will
pass next you.  What will you do?"  She asked this in a quick hurried
voice.

"Cut him as dead as a door nail," said I, instantly, drawing myself up.
"And the other fellows too; are they friends of mine, by the way?"

"No, they are his toadies," she whispered.

Olga bent her face down and would not see them; but I squared my
shoulders and held my head aloft, fixing my eyes steadily on the three
men as they approached.  At first they did not recognise me.  Then I
saw one of them start, and making a rapid motion of his hand across his
chin, he whispered to his companion, both of whom started in their turn
and laughed.

As we passed the major made an effusive bow to my "sister" which the
other two copied, while all three sneered with an air of insolent
braggadocio and simultaneously put their hands to their chins as their
eyes fell on me.

My blood seethed with anger at the insult.  Nothing could have fired my
eagerness more effectively to begin the drama of my new life.  If I
didn't punish each of those three for that insult, it should be because
death stepped in to stop me.

"I am glad we met them," said I, smiling.  "I shall know now which is
my adversary to-morrow, and shan't pink the wrong man by mistake.  But
you look a bit scared, Olga."--I saw she was very pale.

"I am afraid of that man," she answered.  "He is a man of good family
and great wealth, and has a lot of influence in certain circles.  He is
an ugly enemy."

"Ugly, he certainly is," said I, lightly, speaking of his face.

"I mean dangerous," replied the girl seriously.

"I know you do, child," I answered, as naturally as if she were really
my sister.  "But we'll wait till we talk this over after to-morrow
morning.  I tell you what I'll promise you as a treat.  You shall
breakfast with me, or rather I'll breakfast with you to-morrow, and
tell you at first hand all about the meeting.  You have been a little
too anxious about me."

"I am afraid that might occasion remark," she replied with the demure
look I had noticed once or twice before.  "You know that you have not
always been an attentive brother, Alexis: and it is not good acting to
overdo the part:" and she threw me a little smile and a glance.

I laughed and answered:--"That may be: but I've changed since the
morning, as I told you before."

"Very well, then.  You remember of course that aunt never gets up early
enough to have breakfast with me--but you shall come if"--and here the
light died right out of her face and her underlip trembled so that she
had to bite it to keep it steady--"if all goes well, as I pray it may."

"You are a good sister, and need have no fear.  I am not made of the
stuff to go down before that bully's sword.  So get ready my favourite
dish--whatever that may be--and I'll promise to do justice to it."

"Here are your rooms," she said, a moment later, as she stopped before
a large wide house.  "They are on the ground floor with those windows.
But before we go in, remember your manservant's name is Vosk, and he is
a very sharp fellow.  And please let me give you a word of warning.
Alexis has not only not been attentive to me, but his manner has often
been very brusque and--oh, if you had had sisters you would know how
brothers behave.  They don't mind turning their backs on one; they
contradict, and interrupt and laugh at one; treat one as a convenience,
and are rude.  They don't in the least mind hiding their affection
under the garb of indifference and contempt, and all that."

"Am I to treat you with contempt, then?" I asked with a grin.

"I think you should be a little more brusque," she replied, laughing
and blushing.  She was really a very jolly little sister.

"I shall get into it all in a day or two, perhaps."

"You had better try.  Vosk is very sharp indeed."

"All right, I'll find means somehow to dull his wits."

We went in and I then tried to put a little more bluntness into my
manner and to play the brother.

The man was in his room when I entered and started when he saw the
change in my appearance.  I caught his vigilant eye glance sharply at
the pattern and cut of my clothes.

"Does your face hurt you now, Alexis?" asked Olga.

I understood her and answered in a somewhat surly tone, putting my hand
to my left cheek.  "No, not so much now; but it was an infernally silly
joke to play.  It's cost me my beard and a suit of clothes.  A good
thing it wasn't a uniform.  Put out something for me to wear, Vosk," I
said sharply to the man.

He looked at me again very keenly, but went at once to do what I
ordered.  Olga and I went into the chief sitting room--there were two
leading one out of the other--and sat down.  The man's manner had
reminded me of several things.  Very soon I made an excuse and sent him
out.

"You must tell me all about the clothes I have to wear at different
functions," I said.  "Vosk saw that these were not out of my wardrobe
proper, and while he's out, I'll hurry and change them, and we'll see
how the uniforms fit me.  A mistake may spoil everything at the last
moment."

I ran into the bedroom and slipped into the undress uniform the man had
laid ready.  To my supreme satisfaction I found that they fitted me
fairly well; and though they required some touches here and there, they
would pass muster as my own.  I tried on also some of the other
uniforms I saw in the room; and wearing one of them, I went back to my
"sister."

She cried out in her astonishment:--"My brother Alexis to the life."

"Your brother Alexis to the death," I answered so earnestly that she
coloured as I took her hand and kissed it.  Then in a lighter tone I
added, "Uniforms make all men of anything like the same figure look
alike.  It's fortunate that your brother's an army man."  Then we
chatted for some minutes until I thought it prudent to change back
again into the undress uniform that Vosk had put out.

Then I took a lesson in uniforms and questioned Olga until she had told
me all that she herself knew about them.



CHAPTER III.

MY SECONDS.

I walked with my sister to her home, and then returned to my rooms and
sat down to think out seriously and in detail the extraordinary
position into which I had fallen.

The more I considered it the more I liked it, and I am bound to add the
more dangerous it seemed.  Obviously it was one thing to be mistaken
for a man and to pass for him for a few minutes or hours: but it was
quite another to take up his life where he had dropped it and play the
part day by day and week after week.  There must be a thousand threads
of the existence of which no one but himself could know, yet each would
have to be laid correctly in continuation of the due pattern of his
life; or discovery would follow.

Here lay my difficulty, and for a time I did not see a way round it or
through it or under it.  So far as I could judge by all that my sister
had told me, the resemblance between the real Alexis and myself was
strictly limited to physical qualities.  A freak of nature had made us
counterparts of one another in size, look, complexion, voice, and
certain gestures.  But it stopped there.  My other self was a subtle,
cunning, intriguing, traitorous conspirator, and very much of a coward:
while I--well, I was not that.

I come of a very old Cornish family with many of the Celtic
characteristics most strongly developed.  I believe that I have a
certain amount of mother wit or shrewdness, but no process that was
ever known or tried with me was sufficient to drive into me even
sufficient learning to enable me to scrape through a career.  I was the
despair first of the Russian schoolmasters for over ten years, and next
of all the English tutors who took me in hand during the next ten.  I
went to a large English school, and was expelled, after a hundred
scrapes, because I learnt nothing.  I tried to cram for Oxford, but
never could get through Smalls; and the good old Master, who loved a
strong man, almost cried when, after two years of ploughs, he had to
send me down, when I was the best oar in the eight, the smartest field
and hardest hitter in the eleven, the fastest mile and half-mile in the
Varsity, and one of the three strongest men in all Oxford.

But I had to go, and I went to an army crammer to try and be stuffed
for the service.  I never had a chance with the books; but I carried
all before me in every possible form of sport.  It was there I picked
up my fencing and revolver shooting.  It became a sort of passion with
me.  I could use the revolver like a trickster and shoot to a hair's
breadth; while with either broadsword or rapier I could beat the
fencing master all over the school.  However, I was beaten by the
examiners and my couple of years' work succeeded only in giving my
muscles the hardness of steel and flexibility of whipcord.  I am not a
big man, nearly two inches under 6ft, but at that time I had never met
anyone who could beat me in any trial where strength, endurance, or
agility was needed.  But these would not satisfy the examiners, so I
gave up all thought of getting into the army that way.

I tried the ranks, therefore, and joined a regiment in which a couple
of brainless family men had enlisted, as a step toward a commission.
But I was only in for six months: and my surprise is that I stopped so
long.  There was a beast of a sergeant--a strong fellow in his way who
had been cock of the dunghill until I came--and after I'd thrashed him
first with the single-sticks, and then with the gloves, and in a
wrestling bout had given him a taste of our Cornish methods, he marked
me out for special petty illtreatment.  It came to a climax one day
when a couple of dozen of us were sent off on a train journey.  I left
on the platform some bit of the gear.  He noticed it and bringing it to
the carriage window, flung it in at me and, with a sneer and a big
coarse oath, cried:--"D'ye think I'm here to wet-nurse you, you
damnation great baby?"  And he waited a moment with the sneer still on
his face: and he didn't wait in vain, either.  Forgetting all about
discipline and thinking only of his insult, I flung out my left and hit
him fair on the mouth, sending him down like a ninepin.  Then I picked
up my things and went straight away to report myself to the officer in
charge of us.  There was a big row, with the result that the sergeant
was reduced to the ranks, and I was allowed to buy myself out, being
given plainly to understand that if I stayed in, my chance of a
commission was as good as lost.  This closed my army career.

For a few years I was at a loose end altogether--a man of action
without a sphere.  Then the natural result followed.  I fell madly in
love with my best friend's sister, Edith Balestier.  I cursed my folly
in having wasted my life, and filled the air with vows that I would set
to work to increase my income of £250 a year to an amount such as would
let me give her a home worthy of her.  She loved me.  I know that.  But
her mother didn't; and in the end, the mother won.  Edith tossed me
over ruthlessly, while I was away for a couple of months; and all in a
hurry she married another man for his title and money.

It was only the old tale.  I knew that well enough; but it seemed to
break my last hope.  Everything I'd ever really wanted, I'd always
failed to get.  I was like a lunatic; and vowed I'd kill myself after
I'd punished the woman who'd done worse than kill me.

I thought out a scheme and played it shrewdly enough.  I shut the
resolve out of sight, and laughed and jibed as though I felt no wound.
And I waited.  The chance came surely enough.  I went down to a dance
at a place a bit out of town and took my revolver with me.  After a
waltz I led my Lady Cargill out into the shrubbery and when she least
suspected what I was about, whipped out the weapon and told her what I
was going to do.  She knew me well enough to feel I was in deadly
earnest; but she made no scene, such as another woman might.  Her white
beauty held my hand an instant, and in that time her husband, Sir
Philip, came up.  Then I had a flash of genius.  I knew he was as
jealous as a man could be and as he had known nothing of my relations
with Edith, like many another self-sufficient idiot, he imagined she
had loved him and no one else.  I opened his eyes that night.  Keeping
him in control with the pistol, I made him hear the whole passionful
story of her love for me from her own lips; and I shall never forget
how the white of his craven fear changed to the dull grey of a sickened
heart as he heard.  At a stroke it killed my desire to kill.  I had had
a revenge a thousand times more powerful.  I had made the wife see the
husband's craven poltroonery, and the husband the wife's heart
infidelity; and I let them live for their mutual distrust and
punishment.

A month later I stood on the Moscow platform, my back turned on England
for ever, my face turned war-wards, and my heart ready for any
devilment that might offer, when my fate was tossed topsy-turvy into a
cauldron of welcome dangers, promising death and certainly calculated
to give me that distraction from my own troubles which I desired so
keenly.

I was thus ready enough to take up my new character in earnest and play
it to the end.  If I were discovered, it could not mean more than
death; while there were possibilities in it which might have very
different results.  War with Turkey was a certainty, and at such a time
I should be able to find my sphere, and might be able to carve for
myself a position.

It was clear that Alexis had so far been known as a very different man
from the kind that produces good soldiers: but men sometimes reform
suddenly, and the new Alexis would be cast in a quite different mould.
The difficulty was to invent a pretext for the sudden change; and in
regard to this a good idea occurred to me.

I resolved to say that I had had an ugly accident and a great fright,
and to connect this with the shaving of my beard and moustache.  To
pretend that the mishap had effected as complete a change in my nature
as in my appearance: as if my brain had been in some way affected.  I
mapped out a very boldly defined course of eccentric conduct which
would be not altogether inconsistent with some such mental disturbance.
I would be moody, silent, reserved, and yet subject to gusts and fits
of uncontrollable passion and anger: desperate in all matters touching
courage, and contemptuously intolerant of any kind of interference.  I
knew that my skill with the sword and pistol would soon win me respect
and a reputation, while any mistakes I made would be set down to
eccentricity.  I was drawing from life--a French officer whom I had
known stationed at Rouen: evidently a man with a past which no one even
dared to question.  I calculated that in this way I should make time to
choose my permanent course.

I soon had an opportunity of setting to work.

The officer who, as Olga had told me, was to be my chief second in the
morning, Lieutenant Essaieff, came to see me.  He was immensely
surprised at the change in my appearance, scanned me very curiously and
indeed suspiciously, and asked the cause.

"Drink or madness?" he put it laconically, in that tone of contempt
with which one speaks to a distrusted servant or a disliked
acquaintance.

Even my friends held me cheap, it seemed.

"Neither drink nor madness, if you please," said I, very sternly,
eyeing him closely.  "But a miracle."

"And which of the devils is it this time, Petrovitch?" he asked,
laughing lightly.  "Gad, he must have been hard put to it.  Or is it
one of the she-devils, eh?  You know plenty of those.  Let's have the
tale."  He laughed again; but the mirth was not so genuine that time,
and I could see that the effect of the fixed stare with which I
regarded him began to tell.

"I'm in no mood for this folly," said I, very curtly.  "Save for a
miracle, I should now be a dead man.  That's all.  And I'll thank you
not to jest about it."

He was serious now and asked:--"How did it happen?"

I made no answer, but sat staring moodily out in front of me, and yet
contriving to watch him as he eyed me furtively now and again, in
surprise at the change in me.

"Are you ill, Petrovitch?" he asked at length.

"Hell!" I burst out with the utmost violence, springing to my feet.
"What is it to you?"  And then with complete inconsequence I added:--"I
was praying, and in answer a light flashed on me and would have
consumed me wholly, but for a miracle.  Half my clothes and my
face-hair were consumed--and I was changed."

"Ah, prayer's a dangerous thing when you've a lot of arrears to make
up," he said with a sneer.

I turned and looked at him coldly and threateningly.

"Lieutenant Essaieff, you have been good enough to lend me your
services for this business to-morrow morning, but that gives you no
title to insult me.  After to-morrow you will be good enough to give me
an explanation of your words."

He had risen and stood looking at me so earnestly that I half thought
he suspected the change.  But he did not.

"You will not be alive to demand it," he said, at length,
contemptuously, clipping the words short in a manner that shewed me how
angry he was and how much he despised me.  "I'm only sorry I was fool
enough to be persuaded to act for you," he added as he swung out of the
room.

I laughed to myself when he had gone, for I saw that I had imposed on
him.  He thought I was half beside myself with fear.  Evidently I had
an evil-smelling reputation.  But I would soon change all that, I
thought, as I set to work to examine all the papers and possessions in
the rooms.  I was engaged in this work when my other second arrived.
He was named Ugo Gradinsk, and was a very different kind of man, and
had been a much more intimate friend.  He had heard of my accident and
had come for news.

A glance at him filled me with instinctive disgust.

"What's up, Alexis?" was his greeting.  "That prig Essaieff, has just
told me you're in a devil of a funny mood, and thinks you're about out
of your mind with fear.  What the devil have you done to yourself?"  He
touched his chin as he spoke.

"Can't I be shaved without setting you all cackling with curiosity?  I
had half my hair burnt off and shaved the other half."  He started at
my surly tone and I saw in his eyes a reflection of the other man's
thoughts.

"D'ye think you'll be a smaller mark for Devinsky's sword?  It's made a
devil of a difference in your looks, I must say.  And in your manners
too."  I heard him mutter this last sentence into his moustache.

"Do you think I mean for an instant to allow that bully's sword to
touch me?" I asked scowling angrily.

"Well, you thought so last night when I was giving you that wrinkle
with the foils--and that was certainly why you got this infernal duel
put off for a day."

"Ah, well, I've been fooling you, that's all," said I, shortly.  "I've
played the fool long enough too, and I mean business.  I've taken out a
patent."  I laughed grimly.

"What the devil d'ye mean?  What patent?"

"A new sword stroke.  The sabre stroke, I call it.  Every first-rank
swordsman has one," I cried boastfully.

"First-rank swordsman be hanged.  Why, you can't hold a candle to me.
And I would not stand before Devinsky's weapon for the promise of a
colonelcy.  Don't be an ass."

"My cut's with the flat of the sword across the face directly I've
disarmed my man."

"And a devilish effective cut too no doubt--when you have disarmed him.
But you'd better be making your will and putting your things in order,
instead of talking this sort of swaggering rubbish to keep your courage
up.  You know jolly well that Devinsky means mischief; and what always
happens when he does.  I don't want to frighten you, but hang it all,
you know what he is."

"I'm going to pass the night in prayer," said I: and my visitor laughed
boisterously at this.

"If you confess all we've done together, old man, you'll want a full
night," he said.

"The prayers are for him, not for me," and at that he laughed more
boisterously than before: and he began to talk of a hundred dissipated
experiences we had had together.  I let him talk freely as it was part
of my education, and he rattled on about such a number of shameful
things that I was disgusted alike with him and with the beast I was
supposed to be.  At length to my relief he stopped and asked me to go
across to the club for the last night.

I resolved to go, thinking that if I were in his company it would seem
appropriate, and I wished to paint in more of the garish colours of my
new character among my fellow-officers.  I made myself very offensive
the moment I was inside the place.  I swaggered about the rooms with an
assumption of insufferable insolence.  Whenever I found a man looking
askance at me--and this was frequent enough--I picked him out for some
special insult.  I spoke freely of the "miracle" that had happened to
me, and the change that had been effected.  I repeated my coarse silly
jest about praying all night for my antagonist: and I so behaved that
before I had been in the place an hour, I had laid the foundations of
enough quarrels to last me a month if I wished to have a meeting every
morning.

"Ah, he knows well enough he's going to die to-morrow morning," said
one man in my hearing.  "It's no good challenging a man under sentence
of death," said another; while a number of others held to Essaieff's
view--that I was beside myself with fear, or drink, or both combined.
I placed myself at the disposal of every man who had a word to say; but
the main answer I received was an expression of thanks that after that
night I should trouble them no more.

I left the place, hugely pleased with the result of the night's work.
I had created at a stroke a new part for Alexis Petrovitch: and
prepared everyone to expect and think nothing of any fresh
eccentricities or further change they might observe in me in the future.

I reached my rooms in high spirits, and sat down to overhaul the place
for papers, and to learn something more of myself than I at present
knew.



CHAPTER IV.

THE DUEL.

The discoveries I made were more varied and interesting than agreeable:
and I found plenty of evidence to more than justify my first ill
impressions of Olga's real brother.

It was time indeed that there should be a change.

The man must have gone off without even waiting to sort his papers.

Rummaging in some locked drawers, the keys of which I found in a little
cabinet that I broke open, I came across a diary with a number of
entries with long gaps between them, which seemed to throw a good deal
of light on my past.

There were indications of three separate intrigues which I was
apparently carrying on at that very time; the initials of the women
being "P.T.," "A.P.," and "B.G."  The last-named, I may say at once, I
never heard of or discovered: though in some correspondence I read
afterwards, I came across some undated letters signed with the
initials, making and accepting and declining certain appointments.  But
both "P.T." and "A.P." were the cause of trouble afterwards.

I found that a number of appointments of all kinds were fixed for the
following afternoon.  The initials of the persons only were given, but
enough particulars were added to shew the nature of the business.  Thus
someone was coming for a bet of 1,000 roubles; a money lender was due
who had seemingly declared that he would wait no longer; and quite a
number of tradesmen for their bills.

I soon saw the reason for all this.  I was evidently a fellow with a
turn for a certain kind of humour; and I had obviously made the
appointments in the full assurance either that Devinsky's sword would
have squared all earthly accounts in full for me, or that I should be
safe across the frontier and out of my creditors' way.

I recalled with a chuckle my words to Olga--that if I were to play the
part I must play it thoroughly.  This meant that not only must I fight
the beggar's duel for him, but if I were not killed, fence with his
creditors also or pay their claims.

I swept everything at length into one of the biggest and strongest
drawers, locked them up, and sat down to think for a few minutes before
going to bed.

If I fell in the morning I wished Rupert Balestier to hear of it; and
the only means by which that could be done would be for me to write a
note and get Olga to post it.  Half a dozen words would be enough:


"MY DEAR RUPERT,

"The end has come much sooner than I hoped when writing you this
afternoon.  A queer adventure has landed me in a duel for to-morrow
morning with a man who is known as a good swordsman.  He may prove too
much for me.  If so, good-bye old friend, and so much the better.  It
will save an awful lot of trouble; and the world and I are quite ready
to be quit of one another.  The receipt of this letter posted by a
friendly hand will be a sign to you that I have fallen.  Again,
good-bye, old fellow.  H.T."


I did not put my name in full, to lessen the chance of complication
should the letter go astray.  I addressed it, and then put it under a
separate cover.  Next I wrote a short note to my sister; and this had
to be ambiguously worded, lest it also should get into the wrong hands.


"MY DEAR SISTER,

"You know of my duel with Major Devinsky and that it is in honour
unavoidable.  Should I fall, I have one or two last words.  I have many
debts; but had arranged to pay them to-morrow; and I have more than
enough money in English bank notes for the purpose.  Pay everything and
keep for yourself the balance, or do with it what you think best.  My
money could be used in no better way than to clear up entirely this
part of my life.  I ask you to post the enclosed letter to England; and
please do so, without even reading the address.  This is my one request.

"God bless you, Olga, and find you a better protector than I have been
able to be.

Your brother,
  "ALEXIS."


This I sealed up and then enclosed the whole in an envelope together
with about £2,000 in bank notes which I had brought with me from
England.  The envelope I addressed to my "sister" and determined to ask
my chief second, Lieutenant Essaieff, to give it to Olga, should I fall.

One other little task I had.  I went through my clothes and my own few
papers and carefully destroyed every trace of connection with Hamylton
Tregethner, so that there should be nothing to complicate the matter of
identity in the event of my death.

So far so good--if Devinsky killed me.  But what if I could beat him?

The quarrel was none of mine.  I had no right to go out and even fight
a man in an assumed character, to say nothing of killing him.  Look at
the thing as I would I could make nothing else than murder of it; and
very treacherous murder, to boot.

The man was doubtless a bully, and he seemed willing to use his
superior skill to fix a quarrel on Olga's brother and kill him, in
order to leave the girl without protection.  But his blackguardism was
no excuse for my killing him.  I had no right to interfere.  I had
never seen her or him until the last few hours; and however much Major
Devinsky deserved punishment, I had no authority to administer it.

Probably if the man knew how I could use the sword he would never have
dreamt of challenging me; and I could not substitute my exceptional
skill for Olga's brother's lack of it and so kill the man, without
being in fact, whatever I might seem in appearance, an assassin.

If I were to warn him before the duel that a great mistake had been
made as to my skill, I shouldn't be believed.  He and others would only
think I was keeping up the braggart conduct of that evening at the
club.  At the same time I liked the idea of the warning.  It would at
any rate be original, especially if I succeeded in beating the major.
But it was clear that I could not kill him.

All roads led round to that decision: and as I had come to the end of
my cigar and there was plenty of reason why I should have as much sleep
as possible, I went to bed and slept like a top till my man, Vosk,
called me early in the morning and told me that Lieutenant Gradinsk was
already waiting for me.

"That beggar, Essaieff, has gone on to the Common"--this was where we
were to fight--"Told me to tell you.  Suppose he doesn't care to be
seen in our company.  I hate the snob," he said when I joined him.

"So long as he's there when I want him, it's enough for me," said I, so
curtly, that my companion looked at me in some astonishment.

"Umph, don't seem over cheerful this morning, Alexis.  Must perk up a
bit and shew a bold front.  It's an ugly business this, but you won't
help yourself now by...."

"Silence," I cried sternly.  "When I'm afraid, you may find courage to
tell me so openly.  At present it's dangerous."

Then I completed my few preparations in absolute silence, both Gradinsk
and the servant watching me in astonishment.  When I was ready, I
turned to Vosk.

"What wages are due to you?" I asked sharply.  He told me, and I paid
him, adding the amount for three months' further.  "You leave my
service at once.  I have no further need of you."  I was in truth
anxious to get rid of him.

"My things are here.  I...." he began, obviously making excuses.

"I give you five minutes to take what is absolutely necessary.  The
rest you can have another time.  You will not return here."

"Do you suspect..."  he began again.

"I only discharge you," I returned curtly.  "Half of one of your
minutes is gone."  He looked at me a moment, fear mingled with his
utter astonishment, and then went out of the room.

Five minutes later I locked the doors behind us and put the keys in my
pocket.

"What has he done, Alexis?  Isn't it rather risky?  You've been so
intimate...." said Gradinsk, as soon as we were in the droschky.

"It is I who have done this, not he," I answered, sharply.  "It is my
private affair if you please."

"D---- your private affairs," he cried in a burst of temper.  "Even if
you are going to die, you needn't behave like a sullen hog."

I stared round at him coldly.

"After the meeting I shall ask you to withdraw that, Lieutenant
Gradinsk," and we did not exchange another word till the place of
meeting was reached.

We were the last to arrive: and there appeared to have been some doubt
as to whether I should dare to turn up, I think; for I caught a
significant gesture pass between my opponent's seconds.

How I looked I know not; but I felt very dangerous, and I tried to be
perfectly calm and self-possessed and natural in my manner.

"Lieutenant Essaieff," I said, drawing my chief second on one side
after I had saluted the others.  "There are two matters to be
mentioned.  If I should fall, will you give this letter with your own
hands immediately to my sister?"

"You have my word on that," he said, bowing gravely.

"One thing more.  I have an explanation to make to my opponent, Major
Devinsky, which I think should be made in the hearing of all."

"An apology?" he asked, with a slight curl of the lip.

"No, but an explanation without which this duel cannot take place.
Will you arrange it?"

He went to Devinsky's seconds, and then returning fetched me and
Gradinsk, who was very nervous.  I went up to the other group and spoke
very quietly but firmly.

"Before the duel takes place, Major Devinsky, I must make such an
explanation as will prevent its being fought under a mistake.  I am a
much more expert swordsman than is currently known.  I have purposely
concealed my skill during the months I have been in Moscow; but I
cannot engage with you now, without making the fact known.  I have
indeed rather drawn you into this affair and I now desire you to join
with me in declining to carry the dispute further.  After this
explanation, and at any future time I shall of course be at your
disposal."

The effect of this short speech was pretty much what might have been
expected.  All the men thought I was trying to get out of the fight by
impudent bragging, and Devinsky's seconds laughed sneeringly.

I turned away as I finished speaking, but a minute later, Essaieff
brought me a message--and the contempt rang in his tone as he delivered
it.

"Major Devinsky's reply to your extraordinary request is this: The only
terms on which he will let you off the fight are an unconditional
compliance with the condition he has already named to you.  What is
your answer?"

"We will fight," I replied shortly: and forthwith threw off my coat and
vest and made ready.

I eyed my antagonist with the keenest vigilance during the minute or
two the seconds took in placing us, and I saw a certain boastful
confidence in his looks and a swagger in his manner, which were
eloquent of the cheap contempt in which he held me--a sentiment that
was shared by all present.

My second, Essaieff, manifestly did not like his task; but he did
everything in a workmanlike way which shewed me he knew well what he
was about, and in a very short time our swords were crossed and we had
the word to engage.

An ugly glint in the major's eyes told me he had come out to kill if he
could; and the manner in which he pressed the fight from the outset
shewed me that he thought he could finish it off straight away.

He was a good swordsman: I could tell that the instant our blades
touched: and he had one or two pretty tricks which wanted watching and
would be sure to have very ugly consequences for anyone whose eye and
wrist were less quick than his own.  As he fought I could readily see
how he had gained his big reputation and had so often left the field
victorious after only a few minutes' fighting.

But he was not to be compared with me.  In two minutes I knew precisely
his tactics and at every point I could outfight him.  I had no need
even to exert myself.  After a few passes, all my old love of the art
came back to me and all my old skill; and when he made his deadliest
and trickiest lunges I parried them without an effort, and could have
countered with fatal effect.

I wished to get the fullest measure of his skill, however, and for this
reason did not attempt to touch him for some minutes.  Then an idea
occurred to me.  I would prove to the men with us that I had no real
wish to avoid the fight.  Intentionally I let my adversary touch my
left arm, drawing a little blood.

They stopped us instantly; and then came the question whether enough
had been done to satisfy the demands of honour.  Had I chosen, I could
without actual cowardice have declared the thing finished: but I
intended them all to understand that I had to the full as keen an
appetite as my opponent for the business.  I was peremptory therefore
in my demand to go on.

In the pause I made my plan.  I would cover my adversary with ridicule
by outfencing him at all points: play with him, in fact; and give him a
hundred little skin wounds to shew him and the rest how completely he
had been at my mercy.

I did it with consummate ease.  My sword point played round him as an
electric spark will dart about a magnet, and he was like a child in his
feeble efforts to follow its dazzling swiftness.  Scarcely had we
engaged before I had flicked a piece of skin from his cheek.  The next
time it was from his sword arm.  Then from his neck, and after that
from his other cheek; until there was no part of his flesh in view
which had not a drop of blood to mark that my sword point had been
there.  The man was mad with baffled and impotent rage.

Then I put an end to it.  After the last rest I put the whole of my
energy and skill into my play, and pressed him so hard that any one of
the onlookers could see I could have run him through the heart half a
dozen times: and at the end of it I disarmed him with a wrench that was
like to break his wrist.

To do the man justice, he had pluck.  He made sure I meant to kill him,
but he faced me resolutely enough when I raised my sword and put the
point right at his heart.

"One word," said I, sternly.  "I have put this indignity on you because
of the insolent message you sent to me by Lieutenant Essaieff.  But for
that I would simply have disarmed you at once and made an end of the
thing.  Now, remember me by this...."  I raised my sword and struck him
with the flat side of it across the face, leaving an ugly red trail.

Then I turned on my heel and went to where my seconds stood, lost in
staring amazement at what I had done.  I put on my clothes in silence;
and as I glanced about me I saw that the scene had created a powerful
impression upon everybody present.

All men are irresistibly influenced by skill such as I had shewn under
circumstances of the kind; and the utter humbling of a bully who had
ridden rough-shod over the whole regiment was agreeable enough now that
it had been accomplished.  My own evil character was forgotten in the
fact that I had beaten the man who had beaten everybody else and traded
on his deadly reputation.

Lieutenant Essaieff came to me as I was turning to leave the place
alone.  He gave me back the letter I had entrusted to him, and after a
momentary hesitation, said:--

"Petrovitch, I did you an injustice, and I am sorry for it.  I thought
you were afraid, and I had no idea that you had anything like such
pluck and skill.  I believed you were blustering; and I apologise to
you for the way in which I brought Devinsky's message.  But for what
happened last night in your rooms"--and he drew himself up as he
spoke--"I am at your service if you desire it."

"I'd much rather breakfast than fight with you to-morrow morning,
Essaieff, if you won't think me a coward for crying off the encounter."

"After this morning no one will ever call you a coward;" said he; and I
think he was a good deal relieved at not having to stand in front of a
sword which could do what mine had just done.  "Shall we drive back
together?"

We saluted the others ceremoniously, my late antagonist scowling very
angrily as he made an abrupt and formal gesture.  Then I snubbed
Gradinsk, who looked very white, remembering what I had said to him
when driving to the ground; and Lieutenant Essaieff and I left together.

"How is it we have all been so mistaken in you, Petrovitch?" asked my
companion when we had lighted our cigarettes.

"How is it that I have been so mistaken in you?" I retorted.  "I chose
to take my own way, that's all.  I wished to know the relish of the
reputation for cowardice, if you like.  I have never been out before in
Moscow, as you know; and have never had to shew what I could do with
either sword or pistol.  Nor did I seek this quarrel.  But because I
have never fought till I was compelled, that does not mean that I can't
fight when I am compelled.  But the truth's out now, and it may as well
all be known.  Come to my rooms for five minutes before breakfast--I am
going to my sister's to breakfast--and I'll shew you what I can do with
the pistols.  It may prevent anyone making the mistake of choosing
those should there be any more of this morning's work to do."

"I hope you can keep your head," he said, after a pause.  "You'll be
about the most popular man in the whole regiment after to-day's
business.  I don't believe there's a more hated man in the whole city
than Devinsky; and everyone's sure to love you for making him bite the
dust.  I suppose you're coming to the ball at the Zemliczka Palace
to-night.  You'll be the lion."

There was a touch of envy in his voice, I think, and he smiled when I
answered indifferently that I had not decided.  As a fact I didn't know
whether I had any invitation or not, so that my indifference was by no
means feigned.

When we reached my rooms I took him in and as I wished to noise abroad
so far as possible the fact of my skill with weapons, I shewed him some
of the trick shots I had learnt.  Pistol shooting had been with me, as
I have said, quite a passion at one time and I had practised until I
could hit anything within range, either stationary or moving.  More
than that, I was an expert in the reflection shot--shooting over my
shoulder at a mark I could see reflected in a mirror held in front of
me.  Indeed there was scarcely a trick with the pistol which I did not
know and had not practised.

The lieutenant had not words enough to express his amazement and
admiration; and when I sent him away after about a quarter of an hour's
shooting such as he had never seen, he was reduced to a condition of
speechless wonder.

Then I dressed carefully, having bathed and attended to the light wound
on my arm, and set out to relieve my "sister's" suspense and keep my
appointment for breakfast.  I found myself thinking pleasantly of the
pretty, kindly little face of the girl, and when I saw a light of
infinite relief and gladness sparkle in her eyes at sight of me safe
and sound and punctual, I experienced a much more gratifying sensation
than I had expected.

Her face was somewhat white and drawn and her eyes hollow, telling of a
sleepless, anxious night; and she grasped my hand so warmly and was so
moved, that I could not fail to see that she had been worrying lest
trouble had come to me through her action of the previous day.

"You haven't had so much sleep as I have, Olga," I said, lightly.

"Are you really safe, quite safe, and unhurt?  And have you really been
mad enough to go out and fight that man?  Oh, I could not sleep a wink
all night for thinking of you and of the cruel gleam I have seen in his
eyes."  And she covered her face with her hands and shivered.

"Getting up early in the morning always gives me an unconscionable
appetite, Olga.  I thought you knew that," said I lightly and with a
laugh.  "But I see no breakfast; and that's hardly sisterly, you know."

"It's all in the next room ready," she answered, leading the way.  "But
tell me the news:" and her face was all aglow with eager inquiry.

"I had no difficulty with Major Devinsky.  As I anticipated he was no
sort of a match for me at that business.  I'm not bragging, but I've
been trained in a totally different school, and--well, the beggar never
had a chance."

She smiled then, and her eyes danced in gladness, but as suddenly grew
grave again.  Wonderfully tell-tale eyes they were!

"What about--I mean--is he hurt?"

"No, not much.  Nothing serious.  His quarrel wasn't with me, you see,
so I couldn't kill him or wound him seriously.  But you'll hear
probably from others what happened."

"I want to hear from you, please.  You promised the news at first hand
remember."

"Well, I played rather a melodrama, I fear.  I managed to snick him in
a number of places till he's pitted a good deal.  I gave him a lesson
for having treated you in that way and also for his insolence to me.
Besides I wished to make a bit of an impression on the other men there.
He won't trouble us again, I fancy."

"He's dangerous, Alexis: mind that.  Very dangerous.  But oh, I'm so
glad it's all over and you're safe and sound--And here's your favourite
dish--though you don't know what it is."

"I don't care what it is.  I'll take whatever you give me on trust."
At that she glanced at me and coloured, and hung her head.

She was very pretty indeed when the colour glowed in her cheeks, and as
a rather long silence followed I had plenty of time to observe her.
She made a most captivating little hostess, too; and I began to feel
that if I had had a sister of my own like her, I should have been
remarkably fond of her, and perhaps--who can tell?--a very different
man myself.

"By the way, there's one thing you must be careful to say," I said,
breaking a long pause that was getting embarrassing.  "You will
probably be asked whether you knew that I was an expert with the sword
and pistol and was purposely concealing my skill from the men here in
Moscow.  That's what I've said, and it may be as well that you should
seem to have known it.  A brother and sister should have no secrets
from each other, you know."

She shook her head at me and, with a smile and in a tone of mock
reproach, said:

"You haven't always thought that, Alexis."

"It's never too late to mend," returned I.  "And I'll promise for the
future, if you like--so long as the relationship lasts, that is."

To that she made no answer, and when she spoke again she had changed
the subject.

We chatted very pleasantly during breakfast, and I asked her presently
about the dance at the Zemliczka Palace.  She was going to it, she
said, and told me that I had also accepted.

"Can a brother and sister dance together, Olga," I asked.

"I don't know," she replied, playing with the point as though it were
some grave matter of diplomacy.  "I have never had to consider the
question practically because you have never asked me, Alexis.  But I
think they might sit out together," and with the laugh that accompanied
that sentence ringing in my ears, like the refrain of a sweet song, we
parted to meet again at the ball.



CHAPTER V.

GETTING DEEPER.

The news that I had beaten Devinsky, had played with him like a cat
with a bird, spread like a forest fire.  Essaieff was right enough in
his forecast that everyone would be delighted at the major's overthrow.
But the notoriety which the achievement brought me was not at all
unlikely to prove a source of embarrassment.

I should be a marked man, and everything I did would be sure to be
closely observed.  Any gross blunder made in my new character would be
the more certainly seen, and would thus be all the more likely to lead
to my discovery.

There were of course a thousand things I ought to know; hundreds of
acts that I had no doubt been in the habit of doing regularly--and thus
any number of pitfalls lay gaping right under my feet.

My difficulties began at once with my regimental duties.  I did not
know even my brother officers by sight, to say nothing of the men.  The
fact that the real Alexis had not been very long with the regiment
would of course help me somewhat in regard to this; as it was quite
conceivable that having been very indifferent to my duties and anything
but a zealous officer, I might not have got to know the men.  But I was
just as ignorant of the regimental routine which ought to be a matter
of course.  I had questioned Olga on every detail and drawn from her
all that she knew--and she was surprisingly quickwitted and well
informed on the subject--and I had of course my own limited military
experience to back me; but I lacked completely that familiarity which
only actual practice could give.  This difficulty gave me much thought
and I am bound to say amused me immensely.  The way out that I chose
was a mixture of impudence and eccentricity; and I relied on the
reputation I had suddenly made for myself as a swordsman being
sufficient to silence criticism.

I went back to my rooms, and while there a manservant whom Essaieff had
promised to send to me, arrived.  I would not have one from the ranks,
but chose a civilian that had been a soldier; and under the guise of
questioning his present knowledge of military matters, dress, etc., I
drew out of him particulars of the uniforms I ought to wear on
different occasions, the places and times of all regimental duties,
and--what was of even more importance--a rough idea of the actual
duties which fell to the share of Lieutenant Alexis Petrovitch.

That was enough for me.  I dressed and went to head-quarters, resolved
to see the Colonel, and on the plea of indisposition ask to be excused
from duty on that and the following day.  To my surprise--for I had
heard from Olga that I stood very low down in Colonel Kapriste's
estimation--I was received with especial cordiality and favour.  His
greeting was indeed effusive.  He granted my request at once, said I
could take a week if I liked, after my hard work, and declared that I
must take great care of myself for the sake of the regiment.  Then he
pressed me to wait until he had finished his regimental work as he
wished to talk to me.

What he wanted was an account of the duel, and a very few minutes
shewed me that if he was no friend of mine, he was a strong enemy of
the man I had fought.  He questioned me also as to the change in my
appearance, why I had shaved my beard and moustache, what excuse I had
to give for having been out without my uniform on the previous day; and
my blunt reply that I had had an accident and hoped I was master of my
own features, and that if my uniform was burnt it was more becoming for
an officer to be in mufti than naked, drew from him nothing more than
the significant retort that he hoped I had changed as much in other
respects.  Then he turned curious to know where I had learnt to use the
sword, and who was the fencing master that had taught me; and I turned
the point with a laugh--that Major Devinsky's evil genie conferred the
gift on me, as they were not ready yet below to take charge of the
major's soul.

He was so delighted with my success over the man whom he evidently
hated, that he let my impertinence pass; but I could see that the two
aides who were present, were as much astonished at my conduct as at the
Colonel's reception of it.

But it was of great service to me.  It emphasized the complete change
in me; and I left with a feeling of intense satisfaction that the
difficulties of the position were proving much less formidable when
faced than they had seemed in anticipation.

I went next to the exercise ground and watched with the closest
scrutiny everything that took place.  Now and again one or other of the
officers came up to me; and to all alike I adopted an attitude of cold
and stolid impassiveness.  This was my safe course.  I knew that Alexis
had hitherto been unpopular with the whole regiment, except perhaps one
or two of the worst and wildest fellows; and I judged that any
approaches made now were rather out of deference to the dangerous skill
I had suddenly developed than to any old familiarity.  In most cases I
could therefore quite safely appear to resent old neglect and so
repulse any present advances.

"You're not at drill, this morning, Petrovitch," said one.

I gave him a stony, stolid stare.

"On the contrary, I am here," I answered, turning away.

"I mean, you're not drilling," he said, with a feeble laugh.

"I have already been out this morning," I returned giving him another
most unpleasant look.  "Do you mean that you want to drill with me?"  I
stared him out of countenance until the feeble laugh which he repeated
had passed from his face, and with a muttered excuse he went back to
his men.

This sort of thing with variations in my hard unpleasantness happened
several times while I remained on the ground; and before I left I had
managed to stamp the impression pretty clearly on my fellow-officers
generally, that it would be best not to interfere with me.  This was
just what I wished.

At the club, where I went after leaving the exercise ground, there were
several of the men whom I had so insulted on the previous night.  I was
in truth rather sorry that I had made such a cad of myself; since that
was not the sort of character I saw now I could construct out of the
composite materials of the two very different careers and persons that
were now to be blended.

My reputation was made already and I found everywhere some evidences of
the advantages it carried.  More than one of those who on the night
before had been most profuse in their expressions of contempt for me
were now obviously very ill at ease; and some of them were
unquestionably expecting me to take a strong course.  But I spoke to no
one; and merely returned a curt and formal acknowledgment of any
greetings made to me.

After a time Lieutenant Essaieff came in, and I noticed not without
satisfaction that as soon as he saw I was in the place he came across
to me.

"I hear you have made a remarkable conversion, Petrovitch."

"Yes?"

"Old Saltpetre, I mean.  Cruladoff told me and said he could scarcely
believe his own eyes and ears when you and that old martinet were
chumming together like a couple of young subs.  He swears that a man
has been cashiered before now for saying a good deal less than you
said."  I saw he was referring to the Chief, so I made a shot.

"It's not much of a secret what he thinks of Devinsky."

"Do you really know the story, then?  Why, you told me last week that
you didn't."

"I didn't know a good deal then that I know now," I returned drily.

"Neither did we," he answered significantly.  "Any way the old boy
swears by you now; and after you'd left this morning went on in a fine
strain to the two aides, praising you sky high.  By Gad, if the war
really comes you'll be in luck, and get every bit of daredevil work the
old Salamander can thrust your way.  Hullo, Cruladoff!" he broke off as
one of the men I had seen that morning with the Chief came up.  "I was
just telling Petrovitch what you told me."

Some others joined us then, and though I held myself in the strongest
reserve, I exchanged a few words with one or two.  What was of great
importance, moreover, I learnt to know a number of my comrades by sight
and name.

My actions were all carefully studied.  I spoke very little indeed;
never dropped a word that had even a suggestion of boastfulness in it,
and only answered when any man chose to address me.  I knew from what
Olga had told me that I was with some of the best men in the
regiment--those who hitherto had held me in the poorest esteem--and I
was scrupulously careful that in my outward demeanour there should now
be nothing whatever to cause offence.  I would allow no man to
interfere with or even criticise me--but on my side I would interfere
with none.  The eccentricity that was to cover my ignorance should be
defensive armour only.

In this manner I carried myself through the difficulties of that day;
and it was indeed easy enough.  I found most of my comrades only too
ready to be civil rather than suspicious; and the extraordinary success
of the morning set them on the look out for further eccentricities and
peculiarities.  A man who could successfully conceal the possession of
such extraordinary skill with sword and pistol, might be expected to
have any number of surprises in store; and no one was in any hurry to
ask the reason for the concealment.

The fame of my achievement affected even the men who came to have their
debts paid that afternoon and evening; and the money lender--a scurvy
wretch of the lowest type--was so frightened and trembled so violently
when I asked him how he dared to send me threatening letters, that he
could scarcely sign his receipt.  The whole of them were certainly
profoundly astonished at getting their money; and probably I should not
have paid a kopeck, but for a change in my intentions that had begun to
affect me.

I liked the promise of the new life for which I had exchanged my old
and empty career; and I had begun to consider whether, instead of
leaving when my passport came, I should not remain where I was and
continue to be Lieutenant Alexis Petrovitch of the Moscow Infantry
Regiment.

I had already done much to earn a title to the position.  I had saved
the real man's body by helping him over the frontier; I had saved his
honour by fighting his duel for him; I had made his sister pretty safe
from further molestation at Devinsky's hands; I had created quite a new
Alexis Petrovitch in the regiment; and now I had paid the beggar's
debts.

Obviously I could play the part a good deal better than he could, and
therefore--why not continue to play it?  There was plenty of danger in
it.  Siberia at least, if it was discovered that I had been personating
a Russian officer and fighting duels in his name.  But I cared nothing
for that.  If it threatened me, it had its compensations; since it made
it quite impossible for the real Alexis ever to return and claim his
position, even if he wished.

I had intended to fight for Russia in any event, supposing the war
came; and if I fell in some battle it would not matter in the least how
my grave was ticketed.  It might save me no end of trouble, moreover,
if I took the good the gods gave me without bothering any more about
volunteering.

The more I thought of it as I sat and smoked by myself, the firmer
became my resolve just to float with the stream and remain what I was,
till chance discovered me, if ever it did.

I had probably got over the worst danger by my impudence, my knack of
fighting, and the extraordinary resemblance to my other self; and
already I could see my way through many of the difficulties, so far as
the regiment was concerned.

Moreover, I am bound to admit I liked the part.  I had never had such a
chance before; and if all the truth must be told, my vanity was not
altogether proof against the sensation I was creating.  I had had such
a run of bad luck for the past few years, that a change was welcome.

By the time my reverie was finished, therefore, I had more than half
resolved to be Hamylton Tregethner no more.  Then it was time to dress
for the ball at the Zemliczka Palace; and I was snob enough--I can call
it nothing but sheer snobbery--so to time my entrance into the rooms as
to cause as much sensation as possible.  Though outwardly calm and
quite impassive, I am positively ashamed to say I enjoyed the ripple of
comment which I saw pass from lip to lip, and the evident interest
which I awakened.

At the same time matters were within an ace of being very awkward.  Any
number of people came forward to speak to me, all of whom manifestly
expected I should know them both by name and by sight.  I had one
greeting for all: cold, impassive, uninterested, though there were a
number of very handsome women with whom I should have been glad to
chat, if I could have done so safely.  But I dared not.

Indeed the women worried me more than enough.  The men I could stave
off and keep at a distance easily; for in truth they all seemed shy of
forcing themselves on me;--but the women wanted to compel me to take
notice of them and were not to be put off by any excuse or shift.  How
many I ought to have known; with how many I had had flirtations, I of
course had not the remotest idea.  I was thus very glad when a chance
of escape came with the entrance of Olga, who arrived with her aunt.
The latter was rather a good looking woman, I thought; and I got away
from the other people on the plea of having to go and speak to the two.

"Well, aunt, what do you think...."

"Aunt?" exclaimed Olga's companion, looking at me with unmistakable
anger.

My sister flashed a quick danger signal at me.  I had blundered badly.

"Alexis, your joke is very ill-timed," she said, severely.  "You should
know the Countess Krapotine better than to suppose that your
barrack-yard jibes would be welcome."

"I hope the Countess Krapotine knows there is no one in all Moscow
whose good will I prize more highly and would lose more unwillingly
than hers.  It was a silly jest: and was prompted only by a desire to
claim even a passing relationship with one whom Moscow delights to
honour.  Her kindness to you, Olga, makes her kin to me."

"You are always a little hard on your brother, Olga," said the
Countess, whom I had mistaken for an aunt many years older and
infinitely ugly.  But the matter passed, and as I did not care to stop
and talk with them for too long, I left them after arranging which
dances I was to sit out with my sister.

I did not dance with anyone: but contented myself with lounging about
observing what was going on.  I had more than one little adventure: but
one in particular impressed me.  I was leaning against the wall near an
archway between two of the ball rooms when I noticed an exceedingly
handsome woman making eyes and signs secretly to some one near me.  She
was a remarkably striking woman, tall, dark, handsome, and passionate
looking; and after a minute I glanced round about me to see who the
fortunate man might be.  Just then there was no man at all near me: and
looking furtively at her, I noticed that the signs ceased when I was
apparently not observing her.

I looked at her openly and they recommenced immediately.  It seemed
therefore that they were meant for me.  I tested this, until there was
no room for doubt: and I looked at her with a little more interest,
speculating who she might be, and what she was to me.  But I made no
sign that I knew her; as of course I did not; and after a minute or two
I moved away, as it was time for me to go to Olga.

There was just then a little difficulty in getting through the rooms
owing to the crush of people, and presently to my intense surprise a
very angry voice whispered close in my ear:--

"Beware!"

I turned at once and found it was the handsome woman who had been
signalling to me.  The crowd had brought us close together, and she was
staring hard at me, her face expressive of both agitation and ill
temper.  I was amused and without relaxing my features bowed as I
muttered:

"I will."

This answer seemed to increase her anger, but at that instant another
movement of the throng separated us, and I went away to find Olga.

We sat and chatted and laughed together--especially at my mistake with
the countess--and presently glancing up I saw opposite to us the woman
who had acted the little bit of melodrama with me.  She was eyeing us
both now angrily.

"Who's that?" I asked, pointing her out to my sister.  The girl shook
her head gravely.

"I wish you didn't know, Alexis."

"Oh, do I know?  I've put my foot in it then, I expect;" and I told her
what had happened.  She smiled, and then shook her head again, more
gravely than before.

"All Moscow knows that you and Madame Paula Tueski are thick friends;
and you ought to know that you have set many scandalous tongues
wagging."

"Well, she's a very handsome woman," said I, glancing across at her.

"Your favourite style of beauty was always somewhat masculine and
fleshly," said Olga in a very sisterly and very severe tone.

"Yes, I'm afraid I've not always admired those things I ought to have
admired."

"Say, rather, you have often admired those things which you ought not.
_Com_mission, not _o_mission."

"Well, I've a new commission now, and you gave it me," said I, playing
on her word and looking closely at her.  I took rather a pleasure in
watching the colour ebb and flow in her bright expressive face.

She looked up now, very steadily, right into my eyes, as if to read my
thoughts; and then looked down again and was silent.  And in some way
the look made me sorry I had jested.  After a pause she said in her
usual direct way:--

"We are wasting time.  There is so much I must yet tell you, and some
of it is very disagreeable.  You and I have quarrelled more than once
about that woman, Paula Tueski.  You wished me to know her, and I would
not; I wished you to give her up, and you would not."

"I'll do it at once," I said, readily.  "I shall not feel the pang----"

"Do, please, be serious," she interrupted in her turn, with a little
foot tap of impatience, while a frown struggled with a smile for the
mastery in her expression.  The smile had the best of it at first, but
the frown won in the end.  "Paula Tueski, you have often told me, is a
dangerous woman.  As wife of the Chief of the Secret Police she has
considerable power and influence; though to be candid I never could
tell whether you said this as an excuse for continuing your friendship
with her, or because you were really afraid of her.  You are not very
brave, Alexis, you know."

"No, I'm afraid I'm not," I admitted.  "But at any rate I won't try to
force her on you for the future.  I think I can promise that."

"She's an exceedingly ambitious woman, and means you no good, Alexis,"
said Olga, very energetically.  "If you can give her up safely I hope
you will."  She was very earnest about this, and I was going to
question her more closely when someone came up to claim her for a dance.

Very soon after this I left, taking care to keep out of the way of the
woman who seemed so anxious that I should speak to her.  I remembered
the "P.T." of the diary and of the correspondence; and I saw that there
might easily be some ugly complications unless I was very careful.

I walked home to my rooms and was very thoughtful on the way.  This
legacy of old sweethearts was the most unpleasant feature of my new
inheritance as well as possibly the most dangerous.  It was just the
kind of knot, too, that a sword could not cut; and before the night
closed, I had a very jarring reminder of this.



CHAPTER VI.

A LEGACY OF LOVE.

As I approached the broad deep doorway of my house I saw a tall man
muffled up, standing half concealed in the shadow of one of the pillars.

"Who are you, and what are you doing there?" I asked peremptorily,
stopping and looking at him.

"What should I be doing, but waiting for Lieutenant Petrovitch?"
answered the fellow, stepping forward.

"Well, I am Lieutenant Petrovitch.  What do you want?"

"You are not the lieutenant."

"Then you are not looking for Lieutenant Petrovitch," I returned, as I
opened my door.  "Be off with you."  I spoke firmly, but his reply had
rather disconcerted me.

Instead of going he advanced toward me when he saw me open the door,
and shot a glance of surprise at me.

"I beg you honour's pardon.  I didn't recognise you; and when you
pretended not to know me, I thought it was someone else.  You've
disguised yourself by that change in your face, sir."

There was a mixture of servility and impudence in the man's manner
which galled me.  He spoke like a fawning sponger: and yet with just
such a suggestion of threat and familiarity in his manner as might come
from a low associate in some dirty work which he thought gave him a
hold over me.

"What is it you want?" I spoke as sternly as before; and the fellow
cringed and bowed as he answered with the same suggestion of familiar
insolence.

"What have I waited here five hours for but to speak to your lordship
privately--waited, as I always do, patiently.  It's safer inside,
lieutenant."

"Come in, then."  It was clearly best for me to know all he had to say.

As soon as we were inside and I had turned up the lights I placed him
close to the biggest of them; and a more villainous, hangdog looking
rascal I never wish to see.  A redhaired, dirty, cunning, drinking Jew
of the lowest class; with lies and treachery and deceit written on
every feature and gesture.  The only thing truthful about him was the
evidence of character stamped on his self-convicting appearance.

"I wonder what you are to me," I thought as I scanned him closely, his
flinty shifting eyes darting everywhere to escape my gaze.

"Well, what do you want?  I'm about sick of you."  A quick lifting of
the head and eyebrows let a questioning glance of mingled malice, hate,
and menace dart up into my face.

"Lieutenant, your child is starving and his mother also; and I, her
father, am tired of working my fingers to the bone to maintain them
both."

"What are you working at now?" I asked with a sneer.  I spoke in this
way to hide my unpleasant surprise at the unsavoury news that lay
behind his words.  The more I looked at him the more was I impressed
with a conviction of his rascality: but the fact that he was a
scoundrel did not at all exclude the possibility that some ugly episode
concerning me lay behind.  On the contrary it increased the probability.

"I've not come to talk about my work, but to get money," said my
visitor in a surly tone.  "And money I must have."

"Blackmail," was my instant conclusion: and my line of conduct was as
promptly taken.  There is but one way to take with blackmailers--crush
them.

"Did you understand what I said just now?  I am sick of you and your
ways, and I have done with you."

The man shifted about uneasily and nervously without replying at once,
and then in a sly, muttering tone, and with an indescribable suggestion
of menace said:--

"There are some ugly stories afloat, Lieutenant."

"Yes: and in Russia, those who tell them smell the atmosphere of a gaol
as often as those against whom they are told.  A word from me and you
know where you will be within half a dozen hours."  This was a safe
shot with such a rascal.

"But you'll never speak that word," he said sullenly.  "We've talked
all this over before.  You can't shake me off.  I know too much."

Obviously my former self had handled this man badly: probably through
weakness: and had allowed him to get an ugly hold.  He was presuming on
this now.

I took two rapid turns up and down the room in thought.  Then I made a
decision.  Taking ink and paper I sat down to the table and wrote,
repeating the words aloud:--

"To the Chief of Police.--The Bearer of this----"

"How do you spell your rascally name?" I cried, interrupting the
writing and looking across at him.

"You know.  You've written it often enough to Anna."

Good.  I had got the daughter's name at any rate.

"Yes, but this is for the police, and must be accurate."  The start he
gave was an unmistakable start of fear.

"Everyone knows how to spell Peter, I suppose.  And you ought to know
how to spell Prashil, seeing your own child has to bear the name."

"The Bearer of this, Peter Prashil, declares that he has some
information to give to you which incriminates me.  Take his statement
in writing and have it investigated.  Hold him prisoner, meanwhile, for
he has been attempting to blackmail me.  You, or your agents will know
him well.

Signed, ALEXIS PETROVITCH.
  Lieutenant, Moscow Infantry Regiment."

"Now," I cried, rising, giving him the paper, and throwing open the
door.  "Take that paper and go straight to the Police.  Tell them all
you know.  Or if you like it better stand to-morrow at midday in the
Square of the Cathedral and shout it out with all your lungs for the
whole of Moscow to hear.  Or get it inserted in every newspaper in the
city.  Go!" and I pointed the way and stared at him sternly and angrily.

"I don't want to harm you."

"Go!" I said.  "Or I'll wake my servant and have the police brought
here."

For a minute he tried to return my look, and fumbled with the paper
irresolutely.

"Go!" I repeated, staring at him as intently as before.

He stood another minute scowling at me from under his ragged red brows
and then seemed to concentrate the fury of a hundred curses into one
tremendous oath, which he snarled out with baffled rage, as he tore the
paper into pieces and threw them down on the table.

"You know I can't go to the police, damn you," he cried.

I had beaten him.  I had convinced him of my earnestness.  I shut the
door then and sitting down again, said calmly:--

"Now you understand me a little better than ever before; and we will
have the last conversation that will ever pass between us.  Tell me
plainly and clearly what you want.  Quick."

"Justice for my daughter."

"What else?"

"The money you've always promised me for my services," with a pause
before the last word.

"What services?"

"You know."

"Answer.  Don't dare to speak like that," I cried sternly.

"For holding my tongue--about Anna--and--the child.  I want my share,
don't I?" he answered sullenly, scowling at me.  "Is a father to be
robbed of a child and then cheated?"  He asked this with a burst of
anger as if, vile as he was, he was compelled to stifle his sense of
shame with a rush of rage.

"Hush-money, eh?  And payment for your daughter's shame.  Well, what
else?"  I threw into my manner all the contempt I could.

"My help in other things--with others."  He uttered the sentence with a
leer of suggestion that sent my blood to boiling point; and he followed
it up with a recital of mean and despicable tricks of vice and foul
dissipation until in sheer disgust I was compelled to stop him.

What more the man might have had to say I knew not; but I had heard
enough.  It was clear that I was indeed a bitter blackguard, and that
for my purposes I had made use of this scoundrel, who had apparently
begun by selling me his own daughter.  It was clear also that all this
must end and some sort of arrangement be made.

At the same time I knew enough of Russian society to be perfectly well
aware that not one of the acts which this man had suggested would count
for either crime or wrong against me.  One was expected to keep the
seamy side of one's life decorously out of sight; but if that were
done, a few "slips" of the kind were taken as a matter of course.

Personally, I hold old-fashioned notions on these things, and it was
infinitely painful to me that I should be held guilty of such
blackguardism.  I would at least do what justice I could.

"I have been thinking much about these things lately," I said, after a
pause.  "And I have come to a decision.  I shall make provision for
you..."

"Your honour was always generosity itself," said the fellow squirming
instantly.

"On condition that you leave Moscow.  You will go to Kursk; and there
ten roubles will be paid to you weekly for a year; by which time if you
haven't drunk yourself to death, you will have found the means to earn
your living."

"And Anna?"

"Your daughter will call to-morrow afternoon on my sister----"

"Your sister?" cried the man in the deepest astonishment.

"My sister," I repeated, "at this address"--I wrote it down--"and the
course to be taken will depend on what is then decided.  You understand
that the whole story will be sifted, so she must be careful to tell the
truth.

"The discreet truth, your honour?" he asked with another leer.

"No, the whole truth, without a single lie of yours.  Mind, one lie by
either of you, and not a kopeck shall you have."

With that I sent him about his business.  I resolved to have the whole
story investigated; and it occurred to me that it would be a good test
of my sister's womanliness to let her deal with the case.  I reflected
too that it would do her no harm to know a little of the undercurrent
of her brother's life.

That done, I turned into bed after as full a day as I had ever lived,
and slept well.

Reflection led me to approve the plan of sending the old Jew's daughter
to Olga; and after breakfast the next morning I wrote a little note to
prepare her for the visit.

"This afternoon," I wrote, "you will have a visit from a girl whose
name is Anna Prashil, and she will tell you something about your
brother's history which I think your woman's wit will let you deal with
better than I can.  We will have the story sifted, but you can do two
things in the matter better than I--judge whether the girl is an
impostor; and if not, what is the best thing to do for her.  I will see
you afterwards."

I sat smoking and thinking over this business when my servant, Borlas,
announced that a lady wished to see me; and ushered in a tall woman
closely veiled.

I was prepared now for anything that could happen.

I rose and bowed to her; but she stood without a word until Borlas had
gone out.

"Don't pretend that you don't know me," she said, in a voice naturally
sweet and full and musical, but now resonant with agitation and anger.

It was a very awkward position.  Obviously I ought to know her, so I
thought it best to speak as if I did.

"I make no attempt at pretence with you," I said, equivocally.  "But
aren't you going to sit down?"

"No attempt at pretence?  What was your conduct last night if not
pretence--maddening, infamous, insulting pretence?"

I knew her now.  It was the handsome angry woman whose signals at the
ball I had ignored--Paula Tueski.  She had probably come to upbraid me
for my coldness and neglect.  "Hell holds no fury like a woman
scorned," thought I; and this was a woman with a very generous capacity
for rage.  If she recognised me....

"Won't you take off that thick veil, which prevents my seeing your very
angry eyes.  You know I always admire you in a passion, Paula."  I did
not know how I ought to address her so I made the plunge with her
Christian name.

"Why dared you insult me by not speaking to me at the ball last night?
Why dared you break your word?  You pledged me your honour"--this with
quite glorious scorn--"that you would introduce your impudent chit of a
sister to me at the ball.  And instead, my God, that I am alive to say
it!--you dared to sit with her laughing, and jibing and flouting at me.
Pretending--you, you of all men on this earth--that you did not know
me!  Do you think I will endure that?  Do you think----"  Here rage
choked her speech, and she ended in incoherency, half laugh, half sob,
and all hysterical.

I was sorry she stopped at that point.  The more she told me the easier
would be my choice of policy.  From what she said I gathered this was
another of the pledges made under the fear of Devinsky's sword.

"You know perfectly well that Olga is exceedingly difficult to coerce--

"Bah!  Don't talk to me of difficulties.  You would be frightened by a
fool's bladder and call it difficulties.  I suppose you shaved your
beard and moustache because they were difficulties, eh?  Difficulties,
perhaps, in the way of getting out of Moscow unrecognised on the eve of
a fight?  You know what I mean, eh?"

For a moment I half thought she, or the police agents of her husband
might have guessed the truth, and this made me hesitate in my reply.

"Did you think I was afraid to kill Major Devinsky, or ashamed to let
it be known that I am the best swordsman in the regiment?"

"Why have you never told me that?" she cried with feminine
inconsequence.  "I don't understand you, Alexis.  You want me one day
to get this man assassinated because you say you know he can run you
through the body just as he pleases, and you promise me the friendship
of your sister if I will do it; and yet the very next, you go out and
meet him and he has not a chance with you.  But why did you do it?  I
have heard of it all.  Did you want to try me?"

I thanked her mentally for that cue.

"At all events two things are clear now," I said.  "I did not want to
get out of Moscow for fear of Devinsky, and you would not do that which
I told you could alone save my life.  You did not think my life worth
saving."  I spoke very coldly and deliberately.

"So that is it?" she cried, with a quick return of her rage.  "You
insult me before all Moscow because I will not be a murderess--your
hired assassin."

It was an excellent situation.  If I had devised it myself, I could not
have arranged it more deftly, I thought.

I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing; but the silence and the
gesture were more expressive than many words.

My visitor tore off the veil she had worn till now, and throwing
herself into a chair looked at me as though trying to read my innermost
thoughts: while I was trying to read hers and was more than half
suspicious that she might see enough to let her jump at the truth.

But a rapid reflection shewed me I should be wise to use the means she
herself had supplied, as an excuse for the change in me toward her.  It
was dangerous, of course, to set at defiance a woman of her manifest
force of character and in her position; but in attempting to continue
even an innocent intrigue with her there was equal danger.

She remained silent a long time, considering as it seemed to me, how
she should prevent my breaking away from her.  She was a clever woman,
and now that the first outburst of emotion was over, she abandoned all
hysterical display and resolved, as her words soon proved, to appeal to
my fears rather than to any old love.

She laughed very softly and musically when she spoke next.

"So you think you can do as you will with me, Alexis?"

"On the contrary," I replied, quite as gently and with an answering
smile.  "I have no wish to have anything at all to do with you."

"Yet you loved me once," she murmured, the involuntary closing of her
eyelids being the only sign of the pain my brutal words caused.

"The sweetest things in life are the memories of the past, Paula.  If
you really loved me as you said, it will be something for you to
remember that while you prized my life, you held my love."

"A man would starve on the memory of yesterday's dinner."

"True; or hope that somebody else will give him even a more satisfying
meal."

"You could always turn a woman's phrases, Alexis."

"And you a man's head, Paula."

"Bah!  I have not come here to cap phrases."

"Yet there can be little else than phrases between us for the future.
You have shewn me what store you set on my life."

"Did you think I could love you if you were such a coward that you
dared not fight a duel?"

"You thought I dared not when you refused to help me."

"You said you dared not.  But do you think I believed you?  Could I
believe so meanly of the man I loved?"

"You discussed the matter as if you believed it," said I; making a leap
in the dark and blundering badly.

"Discussed it?  What do you mean?  With whom?  Do you think I am mad?
I sat down at once and answered your mad letter in the only way it
could be answered."

Great Heavens!  I had apparently been fool enough in my desperate
cowardice to actually write the proposal.  The letter itself, if she
dared to use it, spelt certain ruin.

"Well, you answered the test your own way, and...."  I shrugged my
shoulders as a suggestive end to the sentence.

She paused a moment looking thoughtfully at me.  Then knitting her
brows, she asked:

"What is the real meaning of this change, Alexis?  Do try for once to
be frank.  You have always half a dozen secret meanings.  You have
boasted of this in regard to others--perhaps because you were afraid to
do anything else."

"Are you a judge of my fears?  I think I have already shewn you that
that which I led you to believe frightened me most had in reality no
terrors at all for me."

"One thing I know you are afraid of--to break with me."  This came with
a flash of impetuous anger, bursting out in spite of her efforts at
self-restraint.

I smiled.

"We shall see.  I have not broken with you.  It is you who have broken
with me.  How often have you not sworn to me," I cried passionately,
making another shot--"that there was nothing upon this earth that you
would not do if I only asked you?  What value should I now set on a
broken love-vow?"

"Had I thought you were even in danger, I would have dared even that,
Alexis, dangerous and desperate as you know such a hazard must be."
She spoke now with a depth of tone that was eloquent of feeling.  "What
I told you is true--and you know it.  There is nothing I will not do
for you.  Bid me do it now to shew you my earnestness.  Shall I leave
my husband?--I will do it.  Shall I tell the world of Moscow the tale
of my love?--I will do it.  Nay, bid me strip myself and walk naked
through the streets of the city, calling on your name and proclaiming
my love--and I will do it with a smile, glorying in my shame because it
brings you to me and me to you--never to part again."

This flood of passion spoken with such earnestness as I had never heard
from the lips of woman before was almost more than I could endure to
hear without telling the truth to her.  It abashed me, and the story of
the deception I was practising on her rose to my lips: but before I
could speak she had resumed, and her wonderful voice had a power such
as I cannot describe.  It seemed to compel sympathy; and as it became
the vehicle for every varying phase of feeling it almost raised an echo
of feeling in me.

"You don't know the fire you have kindled; you don't dream of its
volcanic fierceness.  I do not think I myself knew it until last night
when you turned from me in silence and coldness, as though, my God! as
though your lips had never rested on mine, or mine on yours, in pledge
of delirious passion.  Ah me!  You cannot act like this, Alexis.  It
was you who warmed into life the love that burns in me, and it is not
yours to quench.  You must not, cannot, aye--and dare not do it.  You
know this.  Come, say that all this is just your pique, your temper,
your whim, your test, your anything; and that all is still between us
as it must always be--always, Alexis, always."

If I had been the man she thought I was, I cannot but believe she would
have prevailed with me.  The seductiveness of her manner, her absolute
self abandonment, and the plain and unmistakable proof of her love,
were enough to touch any man placed as he would have been.

But I had nothing to prompt my kinder impulses.  She was only a
stranger: infinitely beautiful, passionate, and melting: but yet
nothing more than a stranger.  And I had no answering passion to be
fired by her glances, her pleas, and her love.  She was a hindrance to
me; and I was only conscious that I was in a way compelled to act the
part of a cad in listening to her and cheating her.  And I could only
remain silent.

She read my silence for obstinacy, and then began to shew the nature of
the power she held over me.  I was glad of this; as it seemed to give
me a sort of justification for my action.  It was an attack; and I had
to defend myself.

"You do not answer me.  You are cold, moody, silent--and yet not
unmoved.  I wonder of what you are thinking.  Yet there can be but one
burden of your thoughts.  You are mine, Alexis, mine; always, till
death--as you have sworn often enough.  And after your bravery I love
you more than ever.  I love a brave man, Alexis.  Every brave man.  I
would give them the kiss of honour.  And that you are the bravest of
them all is to me the sweetest of knowledge.  Yesterday, when I heard
how you had humbled that bully, I could do naught but thrill with pride
every time I thought of it.  It was my Alexis who had done it.  Won't
you kiss me once as I kissed you a thousand times in thought yesterday?
No?  Well, you will before I go.  And then I began to think how glad I
was that I had made it impossible for you ever to think of giving me
up.  I know you are brave;--but even the bravest men shudder at the
whisper of Siberia."

She paused to give this time to work its effect.

"I wonder how other women love; whether, like me, they think it fair to
weave a net round the man they love, strong enough to hold the
strongest, wide enough to reach to the Poles, and yet fine enough to be
unseen?"  She laughed.  "I have done this with you, sweetheart.  You
know how often you have asked me for information and I have got it for
you--you have wanted it for the Nihilists.  Knowing this I have given
it and--you have used it.  Once or twice you have told them what was
not true, and now you are suspected and in some danger of your life.
But you are guarded also and watched.  Two days ago you were at the
railway station in private clothes and with your dear face shaven; you
were trying to leave Moscow.  But you probably saw the uselessness of
the attempt and gave it up.  Had you really tried, you would have been
stopped.  Do you think you can hope to escape from me?  Do you think
you can break through the net-work of the most wonderful police system
the world ever knew?  Psh!  Do not dream of it.  Moscow is a fine,
large, splendid city.  But Moscow is also a prison; and the man who
would seek to break out of it, but dashes his breast against the drawn
sword of implacable authority."

"You have a pleasant humour, and a light touch in your methods of
wooing," said I, bitterly.  She had made a great impression on me.

"The wooing is complete, Alexis.  It was your work.  I do but guard
against being deceived.  Escape from Moscow being hopeless for you, you
have only to remember that a word from me in my husband's ear will open
for you the dumb horrid mouth of a Russian dungeon which will either
close on you for ever, or let you out branded, disgraced, and manacled
to start on the long hopeless march to Siberia."

I had rather admired the woman before; now I began to hate her.  I
could not fail to see the truth behind her words; and a flash of
inspiration shewed me now that the safest course I could take was to
shake off the character I had so lightly assumed.  But her next words
bared the impossibility of that.

"Do you think now it is safe to break away from me?  But that is not
all.  There is another consideration.  You have drawn your sister into
these Nihilist snares.  You know how she is compromised.  I know it
too.  There are more dungeons than one in Russia.  If you were in one,
I would see to it that she, who has scorned and flouted and insulted
me, was in another; with her chance also of a jaunt across the plains."
The flippancy of this last phrase was a measure of her hate.

The thought of the poor girl's danger beat me.  What this woman said
was all true--damnably, horribly, sickeningly true.

"Have you planned all this?" I asked, when I could bring myself to
speak calmly.

"No, no, Heaven forbid.  I had not a thought of it in all my heart; not
a thought, save of love and a desire to shield you from any real danger
that threatened you, till,"--and her voice changed
suddenly--"yesterday, when you loosed all the torrents that can flow
from a jealous woman's heart.  I am a woman; but I am a Russian."

She was lying now, for she was contradicting what she had said just
before.

"My sister's fate is nothing to me," I said, callously.  "She has made
her bed, let her lie on it.  But as for myself"--I had but one possible
to seem to yield--"I care nothing.  I am not the coward you once
thought me, and my meeting with Devinsky shews you that clearly enough.
But I doubted your love when I found you did not answer to the test I
made."

"You do not doubt it now.  I am here at the risk of my life; at the
risk of both our lives," she said, her eyes aflame with feeling as she
hung on my deliberately spoken words.

"This morning has been a further test, and I should not be a sane man
if I doubted you now, or ever again."

"Then kiss me, Alexis."

She sprang from her chair and threw herself into my arms, loading me
with wild tempestuous caresses, like a woman distraught with passion.

I hated myself even while I endured it; and nothing would have made me
play so loathesome and repugnant a part but the thought that Olga's
safety demanded it.

She was still clinging about me, calling me by my name, caressing me,
upbraiding me for my coldness, and chiding me for having put her to
such a test, when a loud knock at the door of the room disturbed us
both.

It was my discreet servant Borlas; the loudness of his knock being the
measure of his discretion.

He said that my sister was waiting to see me.



CHAPTER VII.

A LESSON IN NIHILISM.

I was not a little annoyed that so soon after Olga had warned me
against the wiles of Paula Tueski, she should come just when my most
unwelcome lover was in my rooms--and at such a moment.  But I thrust
aside my irritation--which was not against Olga--and went to her,
curious to learn what had brought her to visit me.

She told me in a few sentences.  A friend had been to warn her that I
was in danger from the Nihilists and that unless I took the greatest
care, I should be assassinated.  The poor girl was all pale and
agitated with alarm on my account, and had rushed off to hand the
warning on to me.  She was half hysterical.  She wanted me to fly at
once, to claim the protection of the British Consulate; to proclaim my
identity and get away even before my passport came from her brother.

"There is not the danger you fear, Olga," I said, reassuringly.  "I
shall find means to avoid it.  But I want to speak to you about another
matter.  Paula Tueski is here"--my sister shrank back and looked at me
with a hard expression on her face such as I had not seen there in all
our talks.  Evidently she hated the woman cordially.  "You are right in
your estimate of her in one respect, and for the moment she has beaten
me.  Much as I dislike the business, we must manage to blind her eyes
and tie her hands for the moment--or I for one see none but bad
business ahead."

"How comes she to be here?" asked Olga, in a voice of suppressed anger.

"I will tell you all that another time," I answered, speaking hurriedly
and in a very low tone.  "Another point has occurred to me.  She is
very bitter against you and has been urging your brother to get you to
receive her.  This was to have been done last night.  My apparent
refusal to speak to her at all came as a crowning insult, and she was
mad.  There is one way in which I think we might the more easily
deceive her, if you can bring yourself to do it.  Come in now and let
me present her to you: or let me go and tell her that you will call on
her."

"Will it make things safer for you?" she asked, always thinking of the
trouble into which she would persist in saying she had brought me.

"It would make them safer for you, I think."

"I care nothing for myself.  She can't harm me.  Do you wish it?  Do
you think it desirable?  I will do it if you say yes."  She spoke so
earnestly that I smiled...  Then she added:--"Ah, it is so good to have
someone that I can trust.  That's why I leave it to you."

"I don't wish it," I answered, gravely, "because she is the reverse of
a good woman, but I do think it would be prudent."

"Let's go to her at once," cried the girl, getting up from her chair
readily.  "We can talk afterwards.  That's the one privilege...." she
checked herself and then coloured slightly.  I pretended not to notice
it; but this absolute confidence pleased me not a little.

"Bear in mind, we are only playing a part with this woman," I whispered.

"I know.  She is too dangerous for me ever to forget that, or to play
badly."  She dashed a glance of quick understanding at me and then
seemed to change suddenly into a Russian grande dame.  An indescribable
air of distinction manifested itself in a hundred little signs, and she
carried herself like a stately duchess, as we entered the room where
Paula Tueski sat waiting impatiently.

A great glad light of triumph leapt into the latter's eyes as she saw
Olga was with me, and she, too, drew herself up as I made the two
formally known to each other.  It was a delightful bit of comedy.  Olga
was full of quite stately regrets that she had not had the pleasure of
knowing the other long before: said that her brother's friends were, of
course, her friends; and that she hoped to call that week on Madame
Tueski and that Madame would find an opportunity of returning the visit
speedily.  She made such an appearance of unbending to the other, that
the difference between them was all the more pronounced.

Madame Tueski on her side was too full of the seeming triumph over us
to be able to be natural with my sister; and she alternately gushed and
froze as she first tried to captivate and then would remember that Olga
was only consenting through compulsion to know her.  The result was as
ridiculous as an episode could be beneath which lurked such
possibilities of tragedy.

It lasted only a few minutes when I suggested, and I had a purpose,
that the two should leave the house together.  I wished to get rid of
Paula Tueski without further love-making: and desired in addition that
if there were any spies about the house they should see the two
together, so that if any tales were carried to the Chief of the Police
they should be innocent ones.

"I will call later in the day if possible," I promised Olga, as she
left.

"Ugh, how I hate her;" was the whispered reply, inconsequential but
very feminine.  And I shut the door on the two and went back to my room
to think out this new set of most complicated problems.

Paula Tueski's visit had changed everything; and I saw it would be
foolish not to look that fact straight in the face.  I could not see
how things would end; but certainly flight, for the time, was simply
impossible.  For myself, I did not much care.  I had had a few hours of
excitement which had completely drawn me out of the morbid mood in
which I had arrived in Moscow; and nothing had happened to make me much
more anxious to live than I had been then.

Life might have been endurable enough, if I could have gone on with my
army career as Lieutenant Petrovitch; but not if the abominable and
disgraceful intrigue were to be added as a necessary condition.  That
would be unendurable: and had I been a free agent, I would have ended
the whole thing there and then, by admitting the deception and putting
up with the results.  Indeed, it occurred to me that in a country like
Russia, where I knew that courage stood for much and military skill for
more, the reputation I had managed to make would be likely enough to
tell in my favour if I told the truth and asked leave to volunteer.

But was I a free agent?

Look at the thing as I would I could see no means by which I could get
out of the mess, even taking my punishment, without leaving my sister
in deep trouble.  If Paula Tueski found that I had humbugged her and
that Olga was in the plot, it was as plain as a gallows that she would
be simply mad and would wreak her spite on the girl.

Could I leave Olga to this?  The words of confidence she had spoken
were still echoing in my ears--and very pleasant music they made--and
could I quietly save my own skin and leave her in the lurch?  It was
not likely that I should do anything of the sort; and I didn't
entertain it for a moment as a possibility.  The girl had trusted to
me; and I must make her safety the first consideration of any plan I
formed.

But how?

I could see only one way.  It was that she should get out of Moscow,
and indeed out of Russia altogether.  It was not probable that the
woman Tueski would place any obstacle in the way, provided I did not
attempt to leave as well; and I came to the conclusion that the best
possible course would be for Olga to take her departure at once.  She
could go and join her brother in Paris, or wherever he had gone; and
then I could carry on alone the play, farce, burlesque, comedy, or
tragedy, as it might prove.

It was early evening before I could get round to see Olga, and then I
had to spend some time with her aunt, the Countess Palitzin, an ugly,
garrulous and dyspeptic old lady, who wanted to hear all about the
Devinsky business over again: and then went on to tell me of some
famous duels that had happened in her young days.

I observed that Olga was very thoughtful during the interview with the
aunt, but as soon as we were alone she put her hand into mine and with
a look that spoke deep feeling and pleasure, said:--

"You could have done nothing that would have better pleased me--nothing
could shew so clearly that you understand me better than anyone ever
did before.  I have seen the girl and listened to her story and
questioned her.  I think there is yet good in her and I am convinced
she tells the truth.  She longs to be separated from her dreadful
father...."

"He leaves for Kursk to-morrow," I said.

"Good.  Then I will make the care of the others my charge.  I don't do
much that is useful; and if I can make that life happier and give the
child the chance of growing up to be a good Russian, I shall have done
something.  What say you?"

She seemed more admirable than ever in my eyes for this; but I
hesitated a moment what to say; and she, quick to read my looks, added,
her own features taking a reflection of my doubts:--

"But of course that is all subject to your opinion.  Is there anything
else you think better?  But I should like this very much:" and a smile
broke over her face.

"The plan is excellent; but there is a difficulty, unless you can make
your arrangements at once and permanently, or at any rate for a
considerable time ahead.  Or you might perhaps better arrange for the
mother and child to leave Russia."

The girl looked perplexed; and fifty little notes of interrogation
crinkled in her forehead and shot from her eyes.

"There is something behind that, of course," she said.  "What is it?"

"I think it would be the best plan if you yourself were to go away on a
little tour.  You have had the idea of leaving Russia, you know, and
going to your brother as soon as he has made a home in Paris, or
wherever he stops."

"Well?" when I paused.

"Bluntly, I think you would be safer across the frontier;" and I told
her at some length my reasons.

"But what of you?  Do you think I do not wish to share the success
which my brother is enjoying here?  Or are you thinking of leaving
Russia also?"  By a swift turn of the head she prevented me from seeing
her face as she asked this.

I laughed as I answered lightly:--"No.  The state of my health,
combined with regimental duties, social engagements, Nihilistic
contracts, and other complications render it a little difficult to
leave at present."

The girl did not laugh, however, but kept her face turned from me; and
I could not help admiring the poise of the head and the graceful
outline it made against the grey evening light falling on her from the
window.

She seemed so much more womanly than the laughing girl I had met first
on the Moscow platform, and it was difficult to think that so short a
time had passed since then.  I filled up the long pause during which
she appeared to be making up her mind what answer to give me, by
thinking what a pleasant sister she was and how sorry I should be to
lose her.

"Well?" I asked, when the pause had lasted a very long time.

"I am very much obliged to you for your advice," she said, turning
round and looking coldly at me, and speaking in a formal precise tone;
"but I find myself unable to take advantage of it.  I cannot
conveniently leave Moscow just now."  Then just when I was at a loss to
know how I had offended her, she changed suddenly.  She stamped her
foot quite angrily, a flush of indignation reddened her cheeks and her
eyes flashed as she looked at me and cried:--"And I thought you
understood me!  Do you think we Petrovitch's are all cowards?  And that
I am like Alexis, having got you into this fearful trouble would run
away and leave you to get out of it alone?"  For an instant she
struggled with her emotion.  Then she exclaimed: "It is an insult!" and
bursting into tears she rushed out of the room.

I stared in blank amazement at the door after it had closed behind her,
and wondering what it was all about, left the house in a medley of
confused thoughts, in which regret for having in some clumsy way
worried her and the consciousness that she was really a plucky girl
intermingled themselves with the memory of how pretty she had looked in
her emotional indignation.  The thought of her tears, and that I had
caused them, gave me the worst twinges, however; and this kept
recurring and bothering me during the whole evening.

At the club, where I went from Olga's house, I was careful to maintain
the same part as on the previous day: the character of a stern,
reserved, observant man, moody but very resolute and determined.  Not a
sign of the bully nor a symptom of braggadocio: but just the kind of
man who, while quite willing to let others take their own way in life,
means to take his.  Unready to force a quarrel, but equally unready to
pass over a slight; and relentless if involved.

This was pretty much my own character, with some of the dash and life
pressed out of it; and it was easy enough for me to maintain it.  That
night I played a little.  I knew I had formerly been a pretty heavy
gambler; but to-night I purposely stopped short in the full tide of
winning.  I had lost at first, and the luck turned with a rush, as it
will, and as soon as I had pulled back my losses I stopped, to the
astonishment of all who had been accustomed to find in me a heavy
plunger.

"You'll be donning the cowl, next, Petrovitch, and preaching
self-denial," said one, a handsome laughing youngster who had been
bemoaning his own losses a minute before.

"A good thing for the Turks, if he does it before the war," said
another subaltern.

Some others chimed in, and it was easy to see from the drift of the
talk how genuine was the turn in the tide of opinion about me.

I left the club and wanting fresh air while I thought over matters I
went for a short walk.  I knew the City pretty well, of course, owing
to my long residence there; and the changes since I had left were not
very considerable.

Walking thoughtfully down one of the broad streets I became conscious
that I was being followed.  I had had a similar sensation before; but
what Paula Tueski had told me about being watched and guarded, and the
warning that Olga had given me now caused me to attach more importance
to the matter.

It is one of the most hateful sensations I know, to feel that one's
footsteps are being dogged by a spy.  I turned round sharply several
times, and each time noticed a man at some distance behind me trying to
slip out of sight.  He was clever at his business, and several feints I
made in the attempt to shake him off failed.  But I escaped him at
length in the great Church of St Martin.  Everyone knows the many
outlets of that enormous pile.  It has as many entrances as a rabbit
warren, and most of them are nearly always open.  I went in by one door
and left instantly by another, and running off at top speed, I was out
of sight before the spy could well know I had left the building.  I
seemed to breathe more freely as soon as I had shaken the fellow off.

I stayed out some time, renewing my acquaintance with several parts of
the city; and it was late when I reached home--so late that the streets
were deserted.

This fact nearly cost me my life.

I was passing a narrow street when, without the slightest
warning--though I cannot doubt that in some way my approach had been
signalled--four men rushed out on me with drawn knives.  By mere chance
their first rush did not prove fatal; for two of them who struck at me
came so close, that the knives gashed my clothes.

But when they missed their chance, I did not give them another.  I
sprang aside, whipped out my sword, sent up a lusty cry for help that
made the houses ring again, and set my back against the wall to sell my
life as dearly as I could.  They closed round me and attacked
instantly; a swift lunge sent my blade through one of them, a swinging
cut made another drop his knife with a great cry of pain, and an
unexpected, but tremendously violent back-handed blow with the hilt of
my sword right in the face sent a third down reeling and half senseless.

[Illustration: A swinging cut made another drop his knife with a great
cry of pain.]

This sort of reception was by no means what they had expected; and as a
shout in answer to my cry for help came from a distance, the unwounded
man and the two who could get away rushed off at top speed; while the
fourth who had only been dazed, struggled to his feet and would have
staggered off as well had I let him.  But I stopped him, made him give
up his knife, and then I drove him before me to my rooms--only a very
short distance off--without waiting for the man to come up who had
replied to my shout for help.  I did not want any help now.  No one man
was at all likely to do me any harm, and I might thus get to know the
cause of the attack, without being troubled with any outside
interference.

"Now, why did you seek to kill me?" I asked sternly, as soon as the man
was in my room.  "You're not a thief; your dress and style shew that.
Why, then, do you turn assassin?"

"There should be no need for me to tell you that," said he, speaking
with vehemence.

"Nevertheless, I ask it," I returned, with even more sternness.
Evidently I was going to make another discovery; and when the man
waited a long time before answering, I scanned him closely to see if I
could guess his object.  Clearly he was no thief.  He was fairly well
dressed in the style of an ordinary tradesman or a superior mechanic;
his appearance betokened rather a sedentary life and his muscles had
certainly not been hardened by any physical training.  As certainly he
was no police spy.  He was the last man in the world to have been
picked out for such a job as that of the attempt on my life.  There was
no probability of there being any private feud against me; that seemed
ridiculous.

I could only conclude, therefore, that the attack was from the
Nihilists.  The man looked much more like an emissary of that
kind--able to give a sudden thrust with a sharp knife; but incapable of
doing more.  The instant I had come to this conclusion, and I came to
it much more quickly than I can write it, I resolved what to do.

"I am glad this encounter has taken place--not omitting the result, of
course," I added grimly.  "There is no cause whatever for this decree."

The man's lip curled somewhat contemptuously, as I made this protest.
He seemed to have formed the average low estimate of the value of my
word.  Everywhere I turned I was met by the worthlessness of the scamp
whose name I now bore.  The contempt silenced, even while it angered,
me.

"You did not attend," he said curtly.  "A man's absence is poor proof
of either innocence or courage.  You are not only a traitor but a
coward."

"What!" I turned on him as if he had struck me.

This puny, pale, insignificant weakling faced me as dauntlessly as if
the positions were reversed and I was in his power, not he in mine.

"You are brave enough here now, no doubt--you armed against me
unarmed."  He threw this sneering taunt at me with deliberate insolence.

I stared at him first in amazement, and then in admiration.

I had but to raise my hand to kill him with a stroke.  He read my
thoughts.

"What do I care for my life, do you think?  Take it, if you like.  One
murder more--even in cold blood--is a little matter to a soldier."

A couple of turns up and down the room cooled me.

"I don't want your life," said I, calmly.  "Though it's dangerous to
call me a coward, and were you other than what you are, I'd ram the
word down your throat.  With you, however, I'll deal differently.  You
say I was afraid to attend your last meeting.  I'll do better than
merely call that a lie, I'll prove it one.  Call another meeting in as
big a place as you can, pack it with all the deadliest cut-throats you
can find, resolve to shoot me down as I enter the door, and if I dare
not attend it, then call me coward--but not till then."  My blood was
up now, and I spoke as hotly as I felt.

"Will you come?" asked the man.

"Call the meeting and see.  Nay, more.  Between now and the time of the
meeting think of the wildest and most dangerous scheme that you can to
test what a desperate man can do for the cause, and give me the lead in
it.  And when I've failed, write me down traitor, and not till then.
And now, go, or by God I may forget myself and lay hands on you."

My voice rang out in such sharp stern tones that the man's antagonism
was beaten down by my earnestness.  My fierceness seemed to fire him,
and when I threw open the door for him to go, he stood a moment and
stared into my face, his own all eagerness, light and wildness.  Then
he exclaimed in a tone of intense excitement:---

"By God, I believe you're true after all."  And with that he went.

It was not until the man had been gone some time and I was pacing up
and down my room, still excited, and revolving the chances of this,
perhaps the most desperate of all the complications which threatened
me, that I saw a letter on tinted paper, lying on my table.  I took it
up and found it was from Olga, and my thoughts went back with a rush to
her and to the circumstances under which I had left her that evening.

The letter was not very long.


MY DEAR BROTHER,

"I have not ceased to regret the hasty words I spoke to you this
evening.  Forgive me.  Of course you do not think me a coward; and I
can see now that you must have some other motive for wishing me to
leave Moscow and Russia, while you remain here alone to face--what may
have to be faced.  But whatever your reason is, I cannot do it.  Do you
understand that?  I cannot.  That is stronger than I will not.  I think
you know me.  If so, you know that I will not.  If I thought you
believed me capable of leaving you in the lurch after having brought
all this on you, I should wish I had never had--such a brother.  I will
never even let you mention the matter to me again.

Your sister,
  OLGA."


I read this letter through two or three times, each time with a higher
opinion of the staunch-hearted little writer.  And at the end I
surprised myself considerably by pressing the letter involuntarily to
my lips.

She was a girl worth a good tough fight.



CHAPTER VIII

THE RIVERSIDE MEETING

The Nihilists were not long in taking up my challenge; and on the
following afternoon, the man whom I had interviewed in my rooms met me
in the street and told me I was to meet him on the south side of the
Cathedral Square at nine o'clock the next night.  There was a
peremptory ring in the message which I didn't care for, but I promised
to keep the appointment.

I had thought out my plans and had come to see that the impulse under
which I had spoken was as shrewd as the proposal itself was risky.  If
I was not to be a perpetual mark for their attacks, I must make an
impression on them; and I saw at once that the safest thing that could
happen was at the same time the most daring--I must take the lead.  If
some desperate scheme were placed in my hands for execution, I should
certainly be allowed a free hand to carry it out, and as certainly have
time in which to do it.  That was what I needed.

I did not place the danger of attending the meeting very high.  If I
were not murdered on my way to the place, wherever it might be--and
that was highly improbable--I did not think they would venture to kill
me at the meeting itself.  Moreover I reckoned somewhat on the effect I
believed I had created on the man in my rooms.

I took a revolver with me as a precaution; but I had little doubt about
getting through the night safely.

It turned out to be a very different affair from anything I had
anticipated, however, and taken on the whole it was perhaps one of the
most thrilling experiences I have ever passed through.  Whether I was
really in danger of death at any time, or whether the whole business
was merely intended to try and scare me, I don't know.  But I believe
that if I had shewn any signs of fear, they would have murdered me
there and then.  Certainly they had all the means at hand.

I met the man by the Cathedral, and muttering to me to follow him at
twenty paces distance, he walked on and presently plunged into a
labyrinth of streets, leading from the Cathedral down to the river in
the lowest quarter of the town.  The place was ill lit and worse
drained, and the noisome atmosphere of some of the alleys which we
passed and the mess through which we trudged, were horribly repulsive.

In the lowest and darkest and dirtiest of the streets the man stopped
and with a sign to me not to speak, pointed to a dark tumbling doorway.
As I entered it, I saw it was about the aptest scene for a murder that
could have been chosen.

The place was almost pitch dark, and as we had stepped out of a very
bright moonlight, I had to stand a moment to let my eyes accustom
themselves to the change.  Then I made out a broken, rambling stairway
just ahead of us.  Taking it for granted that I was to go up these,
ignorant whether I was supposed to know the place, and quite unwilling
even to appear to wish to hang back, I stumbled up the stairs as
quickly as the gloom would let me.  When I reached the top I found
myself in a long, low shed that ran on some distance in front of me to
a point there I thought I could discern a faint light.

I groped my way forward, the boards giving ominously under my feet,
when suddenly a voice said in a loud whisper out of the gloom and as if
at my very ear:--

"Stand, if you value your life."

I stopped readily enough, as may be imagined; and then the silence was
broken by the swishing, rushing swirl of the swiftly flowing river,
while currents of cold air caused by the moving water, were wafted up
full in my face.  I strained my ears to listen and my eyes to see and
craning forward, I could make out a huge gap in the floor wider than a
man could have leapt, which opened right to my very feet.

What happened I don't know; it was too dark to see.  But after a time
there was a sound of a heavily moving body close at my feet, the noise
of the water grew faint, and I was told to go forward.  I went on until
I was again called to a halt; and after a minute the sound of the
rushing water came again clear and distinct, this time from behind me.
Then a flaring light was kindled all suddenly and thrown down into the
wide gap until with a hiss it was extinguished in the river below.

I knew what that meant.  It was a signal that all hope of retreat was
cut off, and the signal was given in this dramatic fashion to frighten
me if my nerves should be unsteady.  As a matter of act it had rather
the opposite effect.  I have generally found that when men are really
dangerous they are least demonstrative.  These things--the darkness,
the silence, the rushing water, the means of secret murder--were all
calculated to frighten weak nerves no doubt, but they did not frighten
me.

At the same time I saw that if the men wished to murder me, they had
ample means of doing it safely, and that the situation might easily
become a very ugly one.

Without wasting time I went forward again, and passing through a door
which was opened at my approach, I found myself in the end room of a
disused and tumbling riverside warehouse; the side next the river being
quite open and over-hanging the waters.  The place was unlighted save
for the bright moonlight which came slanting in from the open end, and
down through some chinks and gaps in the roof.

Scattered round the place were some thirty or forty men, their faces
undistinguishable in the gloom, though care was taken to let me see
that each man carried a knife: and when I entered, five or six of them
closed round the door, as if to guard against the possibility of my
retreat.

I glanced about me to see whom to address, or who would speak to me.

For a couple of minutes or more, not a soul moved and not a word was
spoken.  The only sounds audible were these which came from the river
without; the hushed burr of night life from the dim city beyond.

"You plea has been considered," said a voice at length in a tone
scarcely above a whisper; but I thought I could recognise it as that of
the man who had been in my rooms.  "It has been resolved not to accept
it.  You have been brought here to-night to die."

"As you will; I am ready," I answered promptly.  "I am as ready to lose
my life as you are to take it."

"Kneel down," said the man.

"Not I," I cried, resolutely.  "If I am to die, I prefer to stand.  But
here, I'll make it easier for you.  Here's the only weapon I have.
Take it, someone."  I laid my revolver on the floor in a little spot
where a glint of moonlight fell on it.  Then I threw off my coat and
waistcoat and turning back my shirt bared the heart side of my breast.
If they could be dramatic, so could I, I thought.  "Here, strike," I
cried.  "And all I ask is for a clean quick thrust right to the heart."
I was growing excited.

[Illustration: "Here, strike," I cried.]

"No 13," said the man, after a long pause.

A tall, broad, huge man loomed up out of a dark corner and stood
between me and the light from the river.  As he laid his hands on me,
the clasp was like a clamp of iron, and his enormous strength made me
as a child in his clutch.

With a trick that seemed to tell of much practice, he seized me
suddenly by the right arm, holding it in a grip I thought no man on
earth could possess, and bending me backwards held me so that either my
throat or my heart were at the mercy of the long knife he held aloft.

I let no sound escape me and did not move a muscle.  The next instant
my left hand was seized and a finger pressed on my pulse.  In this
position I stayed for a full minute.  I do not believe that my pulse
quickened, save for the physical strain, by so much as one beat.

"It is enough," said the man who had before spoken; and I was released.

"You are no coward," he said, addressing me.  "I withdraw that.  You
can have your life, on one condition."

"And that?"

"That you swear..."

"I will swear nothing," I interposed.

"You have taken the oath of fealty."

"I will swear nothing.  Take my life if you like, but swear I will not.
If I had meant treachery, I should have had the police round us
to-night like a swarm of bees.  You have had a proof whether I'm true
or not; and when I turn traitor, you can run a blade into my heart or
lodge a bullet in my brain.  But oaths are nothing to a man who means
either to keep or break his word.  What is the condition?  I told you
mine before."

"Yours is accepted.  Your task is"--here he sunk his voice and
whispered right into my ear--"the death of Christian Tueski."

"I accept," I answered readily.  I would have accepted, had they told
me to kill the Czar himself.  "But it will take time.  I will have no
other hand in it than mine.  It is a glorious commission.  Mine alone
the honour of success, and mine alone the danger, or mine alone the
disgrace of failure."  I looked on the whole thing now as more or less
of a burlesque; but I played the part I had chosen as well as I could.
And when the little puny rebel put out his hand in the darkness and
clasped mine, I gripped his with a force that made his bones crack, as
if to convey to him the intensity of my resolve and my enthusiastic
pleasure at the grim work they had allotted me.

Then I was told to leave; and in a few minutes I was once more in the
open air, quite as undecided then as I have always remained, as to what
had been the real intentions in regard to myself.  One of my chief
regrets was not to be able to see the burly giant who had twisted me
about on his knee as easily as I should a fowl whose neck I meant to
wring.  He was a man indeed to admire; and I would have given much for
a sight of him.

But my guide hurried me back through the labyrinth of streets into
respectable Moscow once more, and I was soon busy with my thoughts as
to how long a shrift I should have before my new "comrades" would grow
impatient for me to act.

Certainly they would have plenty of time for their patience to grow
very cold before I should turn murderer to further their schemes.  But
I could not foresee the strange chain of events which was fated to
fasten on me this new character that I had assumed so lightly and
dramatically--the character of a desperate, bloodthirsty, and
absolutely reckless Nihilist.



CHAPTER IX.

DEVINSKY AGAIN.

It will be readily understood that I now found life exciting enough
even to satisfy me.  The complications multiplied so fast, without any
act of mine, that I had no time to think of the old troubles and
disappointments which had so soured Hamylton Tregethner, and emptied
life for him.  They had already faded into little more than memories,
associated with a life that I had once lived but had now done with
altogether.  I was getting rapidly absorbed by the dangers and
incidents of the new life.

How completely I had changed the current of opinion about Alexis
Petrovitch I had abundant evidence during the next few days, in the
form of invitations to houses which had hitherto been closed to me.
People also began to remember Olga, and she shared in this way in the
altered condition of things.

I did not tell her any particulars of my night with the Nihilists, nor
of the mission with which I was charged.  It would probably distress
her, and could do no good; unless I might find it necessary to use it
to compel her to leave Moscow.  I questioned her as to her own
connections with the Nihilists, and from what she told me I saw that
though they were slight in themselves, they were enough to put her in
the power of a woman such as Paula Tueski; and decidedly much more than
sufficient to make her arrest a certainty if I were to be arrested, or
if anything should happen to throw increased suspicion on me.

Our meeting after her letter to me was a very pleasant one.  She met me
with a smile and begged me again to forgive her.  That was not
difficult.

"I can speak frankly to my brother, now.  I couldn't always, you know,
Alexis"--she glanced with roguish severity into my face--"because a few
days ago you used to get very bad tempered and even swear a little.
But I'll admit you are improving--in that respect; though I am afraid
you are as dogged as ever.  But I can be dogged, too: and if I speak
frankly now, it is to tell you that nothing you can do will make me go
out of Russia until you are safe.  You may form what opinion you like
of me--though I don't want that to be very bad--but a coward you shall
never find me."

"I didn't think you a coward.  You know that; you said it in your
letter; and I shall not forgive that rudeness of yours, if you persist
in this attitude."

"What is the use of a brother if one can't be rude to him, pray?  As
for your forgiveness, you can't help that now.  You've given it.
Besides, on reflection, I should not be frightened of you.  Will you
make me a promise?"

"Yes, if it has nothing to do with your going away."

"It has."

"Then I won't make it.  But I'll make a truce.  I will not press you to
go away, unless I think it necessary for my own safety.  Will that do?"

"Yes, I'll go then," she answered readily, holding out her hand to make
a bargain of it, as she added:--"Mind, if it's necessary for your
safety."

"You're as precise as a lawyer," said I, laughing, as I pressed her
hand and saw a flush of colour tinge her face a moment.

"Now," she said, after a pause.  "I have a surprise for you.  I have a
letter from an old friend of yours--a very old friend."

"An old friend of mine.  Oh, I see.  And old friend of your brother's,
you mean.  Well, who is it now?  Is there another complication?"

"No, no.  An old friend of my new brother's.  From Mr. Hamylton
Tregethner."  She laughed merrily as she stumbled over the old Cornish
syllables.  "I don't like that Englishman," she said, gravely.  "Do you
know why?"

"Not for the life of me."

"Well, I do not; but I can't say why."  Her manner was peculiar.  "See,
here is the passport.  Mr. Tregethner has sent it and he seems to have
crossed the Russian frontier without the least difficulty.  He has gone
to Paris by way of Austria.  When shall you go?"  She did not look up
as she asked this, but stood rummaging among the papers on the table.
I took the passport, unfolded and read it mechanically; then without
thinking, folded it up again and put it away in my pocket.

Evidently she meant it as my dismissal; and it was very awkward for me
to explain that I could not be dismissed in this way because of the
difficulties in the road of my leaving.  I did not wish to appear to
force myself upon her as a brother; but I could not go without first
seeing her in safety.  And there was the crux.

"I'll make my arrangements as soon as I can," I replied, after a
longish pause; and I was conscious of being a little stiff in my
manner.  "But of course I can't manage things quite as I please.  You
see, I didn't come into this--I mean, I took up the part and--well, I'm
hanged if I know what I do mean; except that of course I'm sorry to
seem to force myself on you longer than you like, but I can't get away
quite so easily as you seem to think.  I know it puts you in an awkward
position, but for the moment I don't for the life of me see how it's to
be helped."

As I finished she lifted her head, and her expression was at first
grave, until the light of a smile in her blue eyes began to spread over
her face, and the corners of her mouth twitched.

"Then you won't be able to go yet?  Of course, it's very awkward, as
you say: but I must manage to put up with it as best I can.  In the
meantime as we have to continue the parts, we had better play them so
as to mystify people.  Don't you agree with this?

"Yes, I think that, certainly," I answered, catching her drift, and
smiling in my turn.

"Then I am riding this afternoon at three o'clock; and as it might
occasion remark if our afternoon rides were broken off quite suddenly,
don't you think it would be very diplomatic if you were to come with
me?"

"Yes, very diplomatic," I assented, readily.  "But you never told me
before," said I, rising to go and get ready, "that we were in the habit
of riding out together every day."

"It hasn't been exactly every afternoon," answered Olga, laughing.  "In
fact, it's more than a year since the last ride, but the principle of
the thing is the same.  We ought not to break the continuity."

"No, we ought not to break the continuity," I assented, laughing.
"I'll soon be back."  I was, and an exceedingly jolly ride we had.
Olga was a splendid horsewoman--a seat like a circus rider--and as soon
as we were free of the city we had two or three rattling spins.  As we
rode back we discussed the question of the best course for us to take.
We were both too much exhilarated by the ride to take any but a
sanguine view; and so far as I am concerned, I think I talked about it
rather as a sort of link between us two than in any serious sense.

When I got to my rooms I was surprised to learn from my servant Borlas
that my old opponent, Major Devinsky, had called to see me.  I did not
know he was back in Moscow, though I knew he had been away.  I had been
at drill that morning--I had quickly fallen into the routine of the
work--and had heard nothing of his return.  Certainly there was no
reason why he should come to me; though there were many why he should
keep away.

He may have watched me into my rooms; for almost before I had changed
my riding things, he was announced.  He came in smiling, impudent, self
assertive, and disposed to be friendly.

"What can you want with me that can induce you to come here?" I asked
coldly.

"I want an understanding, Petrovitch...."

"Lieutenant Petrovitch, if you please," I interposed.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Lieutenant Petrovitch, I'm sure," he answered
lightly.  "But there's really no need for this kind of reception.  I
want to be friends with you."

I bowed as he paused.

"You and I have not quite understood each other in the past."

"Not until within the last few days," I returned, significantly.

"I'm not referring to that," he said, flushing.  "Though as you've
started it I'll pay you the compliment of saying you're devilish neat
and clever in your workmanship.  I had no idea of it, either, nor
anyone less...."

"What do you want with me?" I interrupted, with a wave of the hand to
stop his compliment.

"I want to talk quietly over with you my suit for your sister's hand.
I want to know where we stand, you and I."

"My sister's hand is not mine to give."  This very curtly.

"I don't ask you to give it, man; I only want to win it.  I am as good
a match for her as any man in Moscow..."  and with that he launched out
into a long account of his wealth, position, and prospects, and of the
position his wife would occupy.  I let him talk as long as he would,
quite understanding that this was only the preface to something
else--the real purpose of his visit.  Gradually he drew nearer and
nearer to the point, and I saw him eyeing me furtively to note the
effect of his words, which he weighed very carefully.  He spoke of his
family influence; how he could advance my interests; what an advantage
it was to have command of wealth when making an army career: and much
more, until he shewed me that what he really intended was to presume on
my old evil reputation and bribe me with money down if necessary, and
with promises of future help, if I would agree to let Olga marry him.

"Your proposal put in plain terms means," I said, bluntly, when he had
exhausted his circuitous suggestions, "that you want to buy my consent
and assistance.  I told you at the start that my sister's hand was not
mine to give; neither is it mine to sell, Major Devinsky."

He bent a sharp, calculating look on me as if to judge whether I was in
earnest, or merely raising my terms.

"I am not a man easily baulked," he said.

"Nor I one easily bribed," I retorted.

"You will have a fortune, and more than a fortune behind you.  With
skill like yours you can climb to any height you please."

"Sink to any depth you please, you should say," I answered sternly.
"But my sister declines absolutely to be your wife.  She dislikes you
cordially--as cordially as I do: and no plea that you could offer would
induce her to change her mind."

"You weren't always very solicitous about her wishes," he muttered,
with an angry sneer.  I didn't understand this allusion: but it made me
very angry.

"You are under my roof," I cried hotly.  "But even here you will be
good enough to put some guard on your speech.  It may clear your
thoughts to know what my present feelings are."  I now spoke with
crisp, cutting emphasis.  "If my sister could by any art or persuasion
be induced to be your wife, I would never consent to exchange another
word with her in all my life.  As for the veiled bribe you have
offered, I allowed you to make it, that I might see how low you would
descend.  Sooner than accept it, I would break my sword across my knee
and turn cabman for a living.  But your visit shall have one result--I
will tell my sister all that has passed..."

"By Heaven, if you dare."

"All that has passed now, and if she would rather marry you than retain
her relationship to me, I will retire in your favour.  But you will do
well not to be hopeful."  I could not resist this rather petty little
sneer.

"You will live to repent this, Lieutenant Petrovitch."

"At your service," I replied, quietly with a bow.  He was white to the
lips with anger when he rose to go, and he seemed as if fighting to
keep back the utterance of some hot insult that rose to his tongue.
But his rage got no farther than ugly looks, and he was still wrestling
with his agitation when he left the room.

I could understand his chagrin.  He would have dearly liked to force me
at the point of the sword to consent, and the knowledge that this was
no longer possible, that in some way which of course he could not
understand I had broken his influence and was no longer afraid of him,
galled and maddened him almost beyond endurance.  He looked the baffled
bully to the life.

It was two days before I had an opportunity of speaking to Olga about
it.  I had made a rule of seeing her daily if possible, lest anything
should happen that needed explanation by her; but she was away the next
day and our daily "business conference," did not take place.

She took the matter very curiously when I did mention it, however.  She
was a creature of changing moods, indeed.

"I have a serious matter to speak to you about; something that may
perhaps surprise you," I said, when we were riding.  "I am the bearer
of a message to you."

"To me?" her face wrinkling with curiosity.

"Yes, to you.  I have to be very much the brother in this; in fact the
head of the family," and then without much beating about the bush I
told her of Devinsky's visit and of his desire to make her his wife.

She listened to me very seriously, scanning my face the while; but did
not interrupt me.  I had expected a contemptuous and passionate
refusal.  But her attitude was simply a conundrum.  She heard me out to
the end with gravity, and when I had finished, reined in her horse and
for a full minute stared point-blank into my eyes.

Then she laughed lightly, and asked as she sent her horse forward
again:--

"Do you think I ought to marry him--brother?"

Frankly, I was a good deal disappointed at her conduct.  I did not see
that there could be a moment's hesitation about her answer, especially
after all she had said to me about the man.  And this feeling may
perhaps have shewn in my manner.

"I could do no less than tell you of the proposal, considering that
Devinsky believes in the relationship between us," I said.  "But I
don't see how you, knowing everything, can look to me for the judgment
I should have had to give were that relationship real and I actually
head of the family."

This stilted reply seemed to please her, for she glanced curiously at
me and then smiled, as I thought almost merrily, or even mischievously,
as she replied:--

"A proposal of marriage is a very serious thing, Alexis."

"Yes, and so people often find it."

"Major Devinsky is very rich, and very influential.  He is right when
he says that his wife would have a very good position in one way in
Moscow."

"I wish her much happiness with him," I retorted, grimly.

"He is very handsome, too."

I said nothing.  She disappointed and vexed me.

"Ah, you men never see other men's good looks.  You're very moody," she
added, after a pause when she found me still silent.

"I don't admire Major Devinsky," I said rather sullenly.

She laughed so heartily at this and seemed evidently so pleased that I
wished I had found the laugh less musical.  Next, she looked at me
again thoughtfully before she spoke, as if to weigh the effect of her
words.

"It would be greatly to your advantage, too, Alexis, to have Major
Devinsky...."

"Thank you," I cut in shortly.  "I do not seek Major Devinsky's
patronage.  When I cannot climb or stand without it, I'll fall, and
quite contentedly, even if I break my neck.  Shall we get on?"  And I
urged my horse to a quick trot.

My evident irritation at her suggestion--for I could not hear the
matter without shewing my resentment--seemed to please her as much as
anything, for she smiled as her nag cantered easily at my side.  But I
would not look at her.  If she meant to marry Devinsky I meant what I
had said to him.  I would have no more to do with the business, and I
would get out of Russia as soon as possible the best way I could.

A sidelong glimpse that I caught of Olga's face after a while shewed me
that the look of laughing pleasure had died away and had given place to
a thoughtful and rather stern expression.  "Making up her mind," was my
thought; and then having a stretch of road ahead, I quickened up my
horse's speed to a hard gallop and we had a quick burst at a rattling
pace.

When we pulled up and stood to breathe our horses before turning their
heads homewards, the girl's cheeks were all aglow with ruddy colour and
her eyes dancing with the excitement of the gallop.  She made such a
picture of beautiful womanhood that I was forced to gaze at her in
sheer admiration.

We had not spoken since I had closed the last bit of dialogue, and now
she manoeuvred her horse quite close to me and said:--

"Alexis, did you bring that proposal to me deliberately?"

[Illustration: "Alexis, did you bring that proposal to me
deliberately?"]

"Yes.  It was scarcely a question I could answer for you."

"Couldn't you?"  Her eyes rested on mine with an expression that at
another time I should have read as reproach.  "Did you think there
could be any but one answer?"

"No, I didn't.  But one never knows," I said, remembering what she had
said just before the gallop.

"Don't you?  Well, you must think we Russian women are poor stuff!  One
day, ready to sneak off in disgraceful cowardice: and the next, willing
to marry an utterly despicable wretch because he has money and
influence and position.  Do you mean to tell me that you, acting as my
brother, actually let this man make this proposition in cold blood, and
did not hurl him out of your rooms?  You!"

I stared at her in sheer amazement at the change, and could find not a
word to say.  Nor was there any need.  Now that her real feelings had
forced themselves to words she had plenty: and for some minutes she did
nothing but utter protestation after protestation of her hatred and
contempt of Devinsky: while her hits at me for having been the
mouthpiece of the man were many and hard.  What angered her was, she
said, to feel that the smallest doubt of her intention had been left in
Devinsky's mind; and it was not till I told her much more particularly
and exactly all that had passed on this point that she was satisfied.

We had ridden some way homewards when her mood changed again, and
laughter once more prevailed.

"So you told him I must choose between him and--my brother; or rather
my present relationship to you?"

"I told him I would never speak to you again if you married him."

"Well, I have chosen," she replied at once.  "I shall not give up--my
brother," and with that she pricked up her nag and we rattled along
fast, her cheeks growing ruddier and ruddier than ever with the
exercise.

I couldn't follow her change of mood; but I was heartily glad she had
decided to have nothing to do with Devinsky.  She was far too good a
girl to be wasted on him.



CHAPTER X.

"THAT BUTCHER, DURESCQ."

We were not by any means done with Devinsky yet, however, and I was to
have striking proof of this a couple of days later.  I met him in the
interval as men in the same regiment are bound to meet; and I deemed it
best to avoid all open rupture, seeing that he was my superior officer,
and unpleasant consequences to others beside myself might result.

I told him shortly that Olga declined his offer and that it must never
be renewed.  He took it coolly enough, replying only that his feelings
for her would never change, nor should he abandon the resolve to make
her his wife.  Then he made overtures of peace and apologised for what
he had said.  I thought it discreet to patch up a sort of treaty of
mutual tolerance.

I was speaking of this to Essaieff, to whom, in common with all the
mess, Devinsky's infatuation for Olga was perfectly well known, and my
former second seemed particularly impressed by it.  Since the duel I
had seen more of him than of any other man, and I liked him.  I could
be with him more safely than with others, moreover, because he had seen
so little of the unregenerate Alexis.  Every man who had been at all
intimate with my former self I now avoided altogether, because of the
risk of detection--although this risk was of course diminishing with
every day that passed.

"I don't like what you say, Petrovitch," said Essaieff, after he had
thought it over.  "I'm convinced Devinsky's a dangerous man; and if he
attempts to make things up with you, depend upon it he's got some ugly
reason behind."

"A reason in petticoats," said I, lightly.  "A brother's a charming
fellow to a man in love with the sister."

"No doubt; but he thought he was going to kill the 'charming fellow' in
that duel.  Why did he go away; and where did he go?"

"He didn't tell me his private business, naturally."

"Yet I'm much mistaken if it didn't in some way concern you."

"I don't see how."

"We don't see the sun at midnight, man; but that's only because there's
something in the line of sight.  Other people can see it clearly
enough."

"Well, I don't see this sun, any way; and I'm not going to worry about
it."

"Have you ever heard of Durescq?  Alexandre Durescq?" he asked after a
pause.

"No, never," I answered promptly, making one of those slips which it
was impossible for me to avoid in my private chats.  Essaieff's next
words shewed me my blunder.

"My dear fellow, you must have heard of him.  Durescq, the duellist.
The man who has the reputation of being the best swordsman in the
Russian army.  The French fellow who naturalised, and clapped a 'c'
into his name and cut off the tail of it to make Duresque into Durescq.
Why, he was here last year, and dined with us at the mess.  Devinsky
brought him.  You had joined us then, surely and must have been
introduced by Devinsky?  You must remember him."

"Oh, that Durescq!" I exclaimed, as if recalling the incident.

"'That Durescq!'  There's no other for the whole Russian army," said
Essaieff drily.  "And if he heard you say it, he'd want an explanation
quickly enough."

"I was thinking for a minute of another Duresque, Essaieff, whom I knew
much better.  Different sex, whose killing of men was done in a
different way."  I smiled as I made the equivocation.

"I met him this morning," said my companion, not noticing my remark and
looking more thoughtful than before.  "I wonder if Devinsky's absence
has anything to do with Durescq's presence; and whether..." he paused
and looked at me.  "It would be a damnably ugly business; but
Devinsky's not incapable of it; and so far as I know, the other man's
worse than he is.  Moreover, I know that they have been together in
more than one very dirty affair.  There are ugly items enough standing
to both their debits.  But this would be murder--sheer, deliberate,
damnable murder, and nothing else."

I had rarely seen him so excited as he was now.

"You think Devinsky has brought this man here to do what he couldn't do
himself the other morning?"

"I don't say I think it," replied Essaieff, cautiously.  "I shouldn't
like to think it of any man: but if I were you I'd be a bit cautious
about getting into a quarrel."

"Caution be hanged," I cried.  "If that's their game I'll force the
pace for them.  We'll have a real fight next time, Essaieff, and we'll
make the thing such that one of us is bound to go under.  But I'll have
one condition, and one only--that Devinsky meets me first.  And if I
don't send him first to hell to wait for his friend or act as my _avant
courier_, may I have the palsy."

"What a fire-devil you've turned, Alexis," said Essaief,
enthusiastically.  It was the first time he had used my Christian name,
and it pleased me.  "Even the rankers have found you out now.  'That
devil Alexis,' is what they call you one to the other, since you beat
their best men in leaping, and running, and staff playing.  If the war
comes, as like good Russians we pray it may, what a time you'll have.
They'll follow you anywhere.  Yes, there's shrewdness enough in your
last devilment.  If you insist on first killing Devinsky, Durescq will
probably take back a bloodless sword to the capital."

His pithy reference to the feeling in the regiment touched my vanity on
its weak spot, and gave me quite disproportionate pleasure.  As we
talked over this possible plan of Devinsky's I tried to get him to
speak of the feeling again.  It is rather a paltry confession to make;
but the nick-name, 'That devil Alexis,' was exactly what I would have
wished to bear.

Although Essaieff had suggested this action on the part of Devinsky, I
scarcely thought it possible that he would do what we had discussed;
but I had not been many minutes in the club that evening before the
thing seemed not only probable, but certain; and I saw that I had a
very ugly corner to turn.

Alexandre Durescq was there and I eyed him curiously.  He was taller
than I by an inch, but not so broad.  His figure was well knit and
lithe, and he moved with the air which a man gets whose sinews are of
steel and are kept in perfect condition by constant and severe
training.  He was the type of a sinewy athlete.

His face was a most unpleasant one.  The features were thin and all
very long; and the thinness added to the apparent abnormal length from
brow to chin.  His complexion was almost Mongolian in its sallowness;
his hair coal black, and his eyes, set close to his large and very
prominent aquiline nose, were small but brilliant in expression and
seemingly coal black in colour.  Altogether a most remarkable looking
man; and I was not astonished that Essaieff had been surprised when I
said I had forgotten him.  He was not a man to be forgotten.  The
expression of his face was sardonic and saturnine, and his manners and
gestures were all saturated with intense self-assertiveness.  He moved,
looked, and spoke as though he felt that everyone was at once beneath
him and afraid of him.

He was at the far end of the room when I entered, and I saw Devinsky
stoop and whisper to him immediately he caught sight of me.  The man
turned slightly and glanced in my direction, and my instincts warned me
of danger.

I would not baulk the pair; but I would not provoke the quarrel.  I
moved quietly about the room, chatting with one man and another; but
keeping a wary eye disengaged for the two at the other end.  Gradually
I worked my way round to where they were, and both rose as I
approached.  I saw too, that Devinsky's old seconds and toadies were
near and were watching me and smirking.  They formed a group of three
or four men who seemed to me to have intimation what was coming.  They
were waiting to see me "jumped."

I knew, however, that if I kept quiet, I should make the task more
difficult for the pair, and thus compel Devinsky to shew his hand; and
so give me the pretext I needed to force the first fight on him.

"Good evening, Petrovitch, or Lieutenant Petrovitch, I suppose I should
say," said Devinsky, and the instant he spoke I could tell he had been
drinking.  "I think you've met my friend Captain Durescq?"

"Not yet," I said, looking straight into Devinsky's eyes with a meaning
he read and didn't like.

"Is this the gentleman who is so particular in asserting his
lieutenancy?  Good evening, Lieutenant Petrovitch."  He said this in a
tone that was insufferably insolent; and as if to point the insult, the
two toadies when they heard it, sniggered audibly.

Nothing could have played better into my hands.  All four made an
extraordinary blunder, since they shewed, before I had opened my lips,
that the object was to force a quarrel; and thus the sympathies of
every decent man in the place were on my side.  I kept cool.  I was too
wary to take fire yet.

"I thought you knew Captain Durescq when he was here last year," said
Devinsky.  "But you may have forgotten."

"Good evening, Captain Durescq," said I, ignoring Devinsky and
returning the other man's greeting.  "What is the latest war news in St
Petersburg?"

"Bad for those who do not like fighting," he said, looking at me in a
way that turned this to a personal insult.

"But good perhaps, for those soldiers whose swords are to hire," I
returned, with a smile which did not make my point less plain.

The man's eyes flashed.

"They will take the place of your friends who do not like the
fighting," I added; and at this all about us grew suddenly silent.

"My friends?  How do you mean?" asked Durescq stiffly.

"Those you mentioned in your first sentence.  Whom else should I mean?"
and I let my eye rest as if by accident on Devinsky.

"You have a singular manner of expressing yourself, Lieutenant."

"We provincials do not always copy the manners of the capital, you
know," I returned in my pleasantest manner.  "I think the provinces are
growing more and more independent every year.  We arrange our own
affairs in our own way, have our own etiquette, form our own
associations, and settle our own quarrels without aid from the capital."

I heard Devinsky swear softly into his moustache at this; but there was
nothing for them to take hold of, though every man in the room
understood what I meant; and nearly all were now listening.

"Yes, I have heard you have singular manners in the provinces.  My
friend here, Devinsky, has told me several curious things.  I heard of
one provincial for instance, who allowed himself to be insulted and
browbeaten till his cowardice was almost a by-word, and it became
really impossible for him to remain in the army unless he accepted the
challenge he had so often refused.  And then he begged, almost with
tears, to get terms made; and when this was not done, he deadened his
fears with drink and came to the club here like a witless fool,
behaving like a drunken clown; and then at last actually went out and
fought in a condition of seeming delirium.  We do not have that in the
capital.  In St Petersburg we should have such a scabby rascal whipped
on a gun."

A movement among the group of toadies shewed me how this burlesque of
my conduct was appreciated there, while Devinsky was grinning
boastfully.

"Did Major Devinsky tell you that?" I asked; my voice down at least two
tones in my excitement, while my pulses thrilled at the insult.  But
outwardly I was calm.

"Yes, I think that's a pretty fair description, isn't it, Devinsky?"
replied Durescq, turning coolly to the latter for confirmation.  Then
he turned again to me and asked:--"Why, do you recognise the
description, Lieutenant Petrovitch?"

"You have not heard the whole of the story," I answered, getting the
words out with difficulty between teeth I had to clench hard to keep my
passion under control.  "The man who was beaten in the duel left Moscow
in a panic and went to St Petersburg for a purpose--that you may
perhaps approve."  There was now dead silence in all the room and the
eyes of every man in it were rivetted on me.  "The first object of the
duel was that he might kill in it the man whose skill was thought to be
inferior to his own, so that he might persecute with his disgusting
attentions the sister of him on whom he had fixed the quarrel.
Failing, he went to fetch a cleverer sword than his own to do his dirty
work; and he fetched----"  I paused and then my rage burst out like a
volcano--"He fetched a butcher named Durescq to do butcher's work; and
I, by God! won't baulk him."

With this I lost all control, and springing upon him I seized his nose
and wrung it and twisted it, dragging his head from side to side in my
ungovernable fury, until I nearly broke my teeth with the straining
force with which I clenched them.  Then raising my hand I slapped his
face with a force and loudness that resounded right through the room
and made every man start and wonder what would come next.

"That is from the man you say dare not fight.  One last word.  Before I
meet the butcher, I insist on meeting the man who hired him.
Lieutenant Essaieff will act for me."

With that I left the room, feeling that although I was now all but
certain to be killed by Durescq I should at least die as became "that
devil Alexis."



CHAPTER XI.

DANGER FROM A FRESH SOURCE.

I walked home with a feeling of rare exhilaration.  Whatever happened,
this was my own quarrel, and I had so acted as to secure the sympathy
of all who knew the facts.  The quarrel had been fixed on me in public
in a manner peculiarly disgraceful to both my opponents, and if they
killed me, it would be murder.

If on the other hand I could kill either or both, the world would be
the sweeter and purer for their riddance.  Moreover I had so arranged
matters that I saw how I should have at least an equal chance of my
life.  I should have the choice of weapons and I would fight Devinsky
with swords and the "butcher" with pistols.

I thought much about Durescq's skill.  He had a huge reputation both as
a swordsman and a shot; but I was very confident in my own skill with
the sword, and inclined to doubt whether he could beat me even with
that.  In the end, however, I decided not to run that risk.  The issue
should be left to chance.  The duel should be fought with pistols.  One
should be loaded, and one unloaded; and a toss should settle which each
should have.  We would then stand at arm's length, the barrel of one
man's weapon touching the other's forehead.  The man to whom Fortune
gave the loaded weapon would thus be bound to blow the other's brains
out, whether he had any skill or not.  Both would stand equal before
Fortune.

About an hour later, Essaieff came to me and told me that the whole
regiment was in a state of excitement about the fight and that feeling
against Devinsky had reached a positively dangerous pitch, especially
when it was known that he had practically refused to meet me.  That
point was still unsettled, and Essaieff had come to get my final
decision.

"My advice is, stand firm," he said.  "You're in the right.  There
isn't an unprejudiced man in the whole army who wouldn't say you were
acting well within your rights; just as, I must say, my dear fellow,
you've acted splendidly throughout."

I told him what I had been thinking.

"It seems a ghastly thing to put a life in the spin of a coin," he
commented.

"Better than to have it ended without a chance, by the thrust of a
butcher's knife."

"That name will stick to Durescq for always," he said, with a slow
smile.  "It was splendid.  Do you know you made me hold my breath while
you were at him.  Damn him, so he is a butcher!"

"Do you say Devinsky won't meet me?" I asked.

"No, not that he won't; but he raises the excuse that as Durescq's
challenge was given first--as it was indeed--the order of the fight
must follow the order of the challenges.  But they arranged the
challenges purposely in that order."

"I shan't hold to the point," I said, after a moment's consideration.
"If they insist I shall give way and meet Durescq first.  But this will
only make it the more easy for us to insist on our plan of fighting.
Don't give way on that.  I am resolved that one of us shall fall: and
chance shall settle which."

Essaieff tried to persuade me to insist on meeting Devinsky first; but
I would not.

"No.  He shan't carry back to St Petersburg the tale that we in Moscow
are ready to bluster in words, and then daren't make them good in our
acts."

"I hope he'll carry back no tale at all to St Petersburg," answered my
friend, grimly: and then he left me.

I completed what few preparations I had to make in view of the very
probably fatal issue of the fight: wrote a letter to Olga and enclosed
one to Balestier as I had done before; and was just getting off to bed,
when Essaieff came back to report.

My message had added to the already great excitement and there had been
at first the most strenuous opposition to our plan of fighting.  But he
had forced his way, and the meetings--with the "butcher" first and, if
I did not fall, with Devinsky afterwards--were fixed for eight o'clock.
He promised to come for me half an hour before that time: and he urged
me to get to bed and to have as much sleep as possible to steady my
nerves.

They were steady enough already.  I gloated over the affair; and I
meant so to use it as to set the seal to my reputation as "that devil
Alexis," whether I lived or died.

But after all I was baulked.

I slept soundly enough till Borlas called me early in the morning and
told me strange news.  A file of soldiers were in my room, and the
sergeant had requested me to be called at once as he had an important
message.

I called the man into my bedroom and asked him what he wanted.

"You are to consider yourself under arrest, Lieutenant," he said
saluting, and drawing himself up stiffly.  "And in my charge."

"What for?"

"I don't know, Lieutenant.  I had my orders from the Colonel himself
first thing; and, if you please, I am to prevent you leaving the house.
You'll understand my position, sir.  Will you give me your word not to
attempt to leave?"

"Where are your written orders?"  I knew the man well and he liked me.

"My orders are verbal, Lieutenant; but very strict and imperative."

"Privately, do you know anything of the cause of this?"

"You'll have a letter from the Colonel, I think, Lieutenant, within an
hour, requiring you to go to him.  Major Devinsky is also confined to
his quarters, sir; and also, I think, Captain Durescq.  We've heard in
the regiment, sir, what happened at the officers' club last night."  A
certain look on his lined bearded face and in his eyes as he saluted me
when he said this, told me much.

I chafed at the interference, and cursed the Colonel for having
apparently taken a hand in the matter.  This butcher would now be able
to go back to St Petersburg with a lying garbled tale that we in Moscow
got out of quarrels by clinging to the coat tails of our commanding
officer; and it made me mad.  I tried to persuade the sergeant to let
me out to go to the place of meeting; promising to be back within an
hour; but he was immovable.

"I would, if I dared, Lieutenant; but I dare not.  I'm not the man to
stop a fair fight, and I hate this work.  But duty's duty."

When Essaieff came, he threw new light on the matter.  The affair had
caused a huge commotion.  In the early hours of the morning he had been
summoned to the Colonel, who had in some way got wind of the matter; a
very ugly version having been told him.  My friend had had to tell the
plain truth and there had been the devil to pay.  The wires to St
Petersburg had been kept going through the night; the whole thing had
been laid before Head-Quarters at the Ministry for War; and the arrest
of the three principals had been ordered from the capital.

Soon afterwards a peremptory summons came for me from the Colonel and
when I got to him I found both Devinsky and Durescq there, together
with two or three of the highest officers then stationed in Moscow.  A
sort of informal examination took place, out of which I am bound to say
both the other men came very badly; and in the end we were all three
ordered off to stay in our quarters under arrest.  I found that not
only were we not allowed to go out--sentries being posted in my rooms
all the time--but no one was permitted to enter: nor could I
communicate with a single individual for two days.

At the end of that time the order came for me to resume duty; and as
soon as the morning's drill was over, the Colonel sent for me and told
me what had happened.  The military authorities at St Petersburg had
taken the harshest view of the conduct of my two antagonists.  It was
regarded as a deliberate plot to kill.  Devinsky had been cashiered;
and only Durescq's great influence had prevented him from sharing the
same fate.  As it was, he had had all his seniority struck off, been
reduced to the rank of a subaltern, and sent off there and then under
quasi arrest with heavy military escort, to a regiment stationed right
away on the most southern Turkestan frontier.

"As for Devinsky, the regiment's well rid of him," said the Colonel,
with such emphasis and earnestness that I saw his own personal
animosity had had quite as much to do with the man's overthrow as the
latter's own conduct.  But it pleased the old man to put it all down to
me, and when we were parting, he shook hands cordially and said:--"The
Regiment owes you a vote of thanks, my boy; and I'll see that it's paid
in full."

"One question I should like to ask," said I.  "How did you get to hear
of it all?"

"The news was everybody's property, lad, and--don't ask questions," he
replied with dry inconsequence.  And would say no more.

But I was soon to learn, and the news surprised me as much as any part
of the whole strange incident.

The first use I made of my liberty was to go and see Olga and explain
my absence and all that had happened.  She had heard a somewhat garbled
account of it in which the part I played had been greatly exaggerated,
and she received me with the greatest tenderness and sympathy; and
tears of what seemed pleasure, but she explained as cold, glistened in
her eyes.  We had a long and closely confidential chat; and she made me
feel more by her trustful manner and gentle attitude than by her actual
words, how much she had missed me during the days of our separation and
how thankful she was to be free of Devinsky for good, and how much she
felt she owed to me on that account.

For myself I was sorry when I had to leave her.  She was the only
person in Moscow to whom I could speak without restraint; a fact that
made our interviews so welcome that I was loath to end this one.

It was getting dusk when I left and as I walked home I was thoughtful
and preoccupied.  The question of Olga's safety was pressing very
hardly on me and made me extremely anxious.  The more I saw of her the
more eager I was to get her out of harm's way; and the consciousness
that she must share the consequences of any disaster that might happen
to me, were I discovered, was pressing upon me with increasing
severity.  I was beginning to anticipate more vividly, moreover, the
coming of some such disaster.  The time was passing very quickly.  It
was getting on for nearly three weeks since the Nihilist meeting, and I
knew that my Nihilist "allies" would be growing anxious for a sign of
my zeal.  They were probably well aware that I was doing nothing to
redeem my pledge.

There was also the undeniable danger inseparably connected with the
distasteful intrigue with Paula Tueski.  I had so neglected her in my
character of lover that I was hourly expecting some proof of her
indignation.  I had only seen her twice in the three weeks; and each
time in public; and though Olga and she had interchanged visits, I knew
perfectly well that she was not the woman to take neglect passively.

I blamed myself warmly, too, for my own inactivity.  My whole policy
had been so to try and gain time, and yet I had made no use of it,
except to get into broils which had increased the already bewildering
complications.

That this would be the effect of my quarrel with Devinsky and Durescq,
I could not doubt when I came to think the matter over in cool blood.
I had been the means of both of them being ruined; and naturally every
friend they had in Russia would take part against me.  I knew that
Durescq had friends among the most powerful circles in Russia, and I
had nothing to oppose to their anger save the poor position of a
lieutenant in a marching regiment and a past that was full of
blackguardism and evil repute.  Personally this was all nothing to me;
but when I thought of the indirect results it might have for Olga it
troubled and worried me deeply.

Everything pointed to one conclusion--that Olga should leave Russia
while she could do so in safety.  I was meditating on these things when
a girl stopped me suddenly, asking if I were Lieutenant Petrovitch.
She then gave me a scrap of paper; and I glanced at and read it.

"_The old rendezvous, at once.  Urgent.  P.T._"

I questioned the girl as to who gave it to her, and where the person
was; but getting no satisfactory account, dismissed her with a few
kopecks.

It beat me.  Obviously it was from Paula Tueski.  Equally obviously it
was an appointment at which she had apparently something to say of
importance.  But where the deuce the "old rendezvous" was I knew no
more than the wind.

I am not one to waste time over the impossible; and as I certainly
could not go to a place I did not know of, I tore the letter into
shreds and went on home.

I let myself in and found that my servant was out--a most unusual thing
at that time of the day; but I had begun to fear that the man was below
rather than above the average of Russian servants and was already
contemplating his dismissal.  I did not attach much importance to his
present absence, however; and throwing myself into a chair sat and
thought or tried to think of some scheme by which I could induce Olga
to leave the country, and some means by which her departure could be
safely arranged.  She must go at once.  She had promised me to go when
I could tell her it was necessary for my safety; and I could truthfully
say that now.  If she would go, I would have a dash for liberty myself.

While I was thinking in this strain someone knocked at my outer door,
and when I opened it, to my surprise, Paula Tueski rushed in quickly.

A glance at her face shewed me she was in an exceedingly ill temper; as
indeed it appeared to me she generally was.

"Where is your servant?" was her first question hurriedly asked.

"I really don't know.  Out somewhere; but----"

"His absence means danger, Alexis.  Why didn't you come to me when I
sent a message to you just now.  You read it, questioned the girl, and
then tore it up and threw it in the gutter; and all this as
unconcernedly as if you did not know full well that from our window you
must be in full view of me.  Are you always going to scorn me?"

I took care to shew no surprise; but it was clear I had blundered
badly, and that the "rendezvous" was close to the spot where the paper
had been given to me.

"I could not come.  I had to hurry home.  I----"

"Bah!  Don't trifle with me like that.  Haven't you had enough of your
prison during the last two days?"

"You know the news, then?" said I, following her gladly off the track.

"It is you who do not know the news.  Ah, Alexis, you are giving me
more trouble in this new character of yours than ever you did in the
old one--much as you harassed me then.  But I do not mind if only...."
She stopped and looked at me with beaming eyes.  "You have not kissed
me; and here I am risking all again and even venturing right here into
your rooms."

"What do you mean about new character?" I asked.  Her phrase had
startled me.

"I like it better than the old.  Fifty thousand times better 'That
devil Alexis,' than 'That roué Petrovitch.'  But whenever I think of
the change, I can't understand it--I don't understand you.  I could
almost swear, sometimes, you are not the same man"--she came close up
to me and putting her hands on my shoulders, stared long and earnestly
right into my eyes--"and then I wonder how I can have been so blind as
not to have seen all that lay hidden in you: all that was noble and
brave and daring.  But I love you, Alexis, twenty thousand times more
than ever; and to have saved your life now is a thought of infinite
sweetness to me.  Kiss me, sweetheart."

I started back as if she had stung me.

"Do you mean you had anything to do with..."  I stopped, but she knew
what I meant.  She smiled and in a voice exquisitely sweet and tender,
though hateful to me, she answered:

"Your life is mine, Alexis?  Do you think I would let that butcher from
St Petersburg take it?  Let him keep to his own shambles.  Yes, I set
the wires in motion, and I did not stop until the one man was utterly
ruined and the other degraded in the eyes of all Russia.  Your life is
mine, Alexis"--she seemed to revel in this hateful phrase--"and those
who would strike at you, must reckon with me as well.  We are destined
for each other, you and I; and we live or die together."

"You have done me a foul wrong, then," I cried hotly.  "You have
disgraced me; made me out for a braggart that provokes a fight and then
shirks it by screening myself behind the law.  Do you suppose I thank
you for that?"  I spoke as sternly as I felt.  But she only smiled as
she answered,

"I did not think of your feelings.  This man would have killed you.
His hands are bloody to the armpits.  Do you think I would let him find
another victim in you when I could stop him and save you?  Did you not
reproach me, too when I did not interfere before, and tell me my love
was cold?  Would I suffer such a reproach again, think you?  No, no.
Your life is mine, I repeat, and for the future I will protect it
whether you will or no.  That is how I love; and so it shall be always.
I have come now to warn you.  Hush!  What is that?"

I listened and heard someone moving in the lobby of my rooms.

"It is Borlas returned," I said, and opening the door called him.
Getting no answer I called again loudly; and then my visitor whispered
to me to come back into the room.  But I paid no heed to her, and went
forward a few steps to go into my servant's room.  As I did so, a
desperate rush was made and three men disguised, dashed at me
violently.  They had gained an entrance somehow and were no doubt
making their way to attack me in my room or were going to lay in wait
for me, when my quick ears heard them and thus spoiled their plans.

I was unarmed, and saw instantly the foolishness of attempting to fight
three men, probably armed, while I had not so much as a stick.  Making
a feint of an attack upon the nearest, therefore, I jumped aside and
darted back into the room I had just left, closing the door instantly
behind me, while my companion and I held it shut until I had secured it.

Then I turned to her for an explanation.

"They are my husband's agents," she whispered.  "He suspects us, as you
know; and he arranged this attack, thinking that if you were killed,
the act just at this juncture would be set down to Devinsky's revenge.
I came on purpose to warn you.  If they catch me here now, we are both
ruined beyond hope."

"Then they shan't catch us," I replied.  "Or if they do, shan't live to
carry the tale outside the door:" and I proceeded to put in execution a
plan which had already occurred to me.



CHAPTER XII.

CHRISTIAN TUESKI.

While the men were straining and fighting to get admission into the
room, I loaded my revolver, seized a heavy stick that lay in a corner,
and opening the window noiselessly and with some little trouble and
agility, got into the street.  I let myself into the house and then I
thundered at the outer door of my own rooms as if seeking immediate
admission.

Instantly there was a great scuffling within, and I knew that the men
were making off by the back, in the probable belief that they had been
disturbed by some unexpected caller.  Judging the time as best I could,
so that I might perhaps catch one of them, I rushed in suddenly.  One
had fled, the second was in the act of dropping from a window, while a
third was just clambering out.

I struck this one a blow on the head which laid him down senseless in a
heap on the floor, and leaning out was in time to give the second a
whack that must have nearly broken his arm.  Then without wasting a
moment I bound the man I had knocked down and closely bandaged his eyes.

Telling Paula Tueski that I had scared the rascals away, I dragged the
fellow to the light, that she might recognise him.  She identified him
directly, and without a word being spoken except by me, I thrust him
into a dark closet and turned the key on him while I settled what to do
next.

"You knew him, I could see," I said, when I joined my visitor again.
"Is he a police spy?"

"No, not in the ordinary sense.  I have seen him with my husband: but
exactly what he is, I don't know.  I believe he is one of a small band
of really villainous men, used for especially ugly work."

"But why am I marked out for a visit from them?"

"I believe my husband has suspected you--on my account.  I know he
hates you cordially.  You remember that affair in the Opera lobby, when
you insulted him so grossly."  I nodded: but of course I had not the
remotest idea what she meant.  "He never forgives.  Since then he has
been accumulating every jot and tittle of fact against you--and you
have given him plenty, Alexis--and if he can work your overthrow, he
will."

"Yes: but why try to get me assassinated.  I'll go at once and ask
him," I said, readily and impulsively.

"Are you mad?" exclaimed my companion.

"On the contrary, I'll go and shew him the danger of interfering with
me.  Where is he to be found now?"

"At home.  He will not leave for an hour yet to make his evening visit
to the Bureau.  But he will never consent to see you."

"At any rate I'll try; and I'm much mistaken if I don't force him.  I
have a plan," I added, after a minute's thought.  "I will clear us both
at a stroke.  Go at once to my sister, and tell her from me that I wish
her to come back here with you and wait for me.  Mind, too, should
anyone come to fetch away that fellow I've locked up, let Olga say
enough in his presence to make it clear that she was here with us when
the attack was first made.  Be quick and careful: for much will depend
on all this being well done."

I drove rapidly to the place and sending in my card asked for an
immediate interview with the Chief of the Police, on urgent business.
The reply came back that M. Tueski could not see me; I was to call at
his office.  I sent the messenger back with a peremptory reply that I
must see him, as I had discovered an assassination plot.  I was still
refused admittance; though a longer wait shewed me he had considered
the matter carefully.

This time I wrote a brief note:--"One of your hired assassins, has been
identified, has confessed, and lies at this moment bound and in my
power.  If you do not see me now I shall communicate direct with the
Ministry of the Interior."

That proved the 'Open Sesame,' and in a few moments, I was ushered into
the presence of one of the most hated men in Russia,--the man I had
been commissioned to kill.

He was a small man with a face that would have been common looking but
for its extraordinarily hard and cold expression.  It was lined and
seamed in all directions: and each line might have been drawn by Nature
with the express object of marking him out as an absolutely merciless,
calculating, and emotionless man.

His eyes were very bright as they fixed on me, and his voice, harsh,
high pitched and tuneless.

"Men don't belie your new character when they call you daring," was his
greeting.

He was standing by the side of a long table with his black clothed
figure outlined against the colours of luxuriant tapestries with which
the walls were hung.  He motioned me to a chair, near enough to be
within the demands of courtesy to an officer bearing the Emperor's
commission, and far enough removed from him to be safe should the
visitor turn out to be dangerous.  I noticed, too, that an electric
bell button was well within reach.  "What do you wish with me,
Lieutenant?  This visit is unusual."

"I am not accustomed to bother about what is usual where my life is
concerned," I answered, firmly.  "I want an answer to a plain question.
Why do you send your bravoes to assassinate me?"

"I have sent no bravoes to assassinate you, Lieutenant.  I don't
understand you.  We don't hire assassins."  As though the whole thing
were ridiculous.

"Yet your wife recognised this man instantly."

"My wife!" he exclaimed, with a sufficient change to shew how this had
touched him.

"Yes.  Your wife.  She was in my rooms when these men came."

He drew in a deep breath while he looked at me with eyes of hate.  I
had got right between the joints of his armour of impassivity.  It was
a cruel thrust; but I had an ugly game to play, and was forced to hit
hard.

He seemed to struggle to repress his private feelings and to remain the
impassive official.  But human nature and his jealousy beat him, and
his next question came with a jerk that shewed the effort behind it.

"What was she doing there?"  His tone was the essence of harsh
bitterness.

"What was she doing there?" I echoed, as if in the greatest
astonishment.  "Why, what should she be doing but calling with my
sister?  They are there now, keeping guard over your--assistant."

He turned away for a moment to prevent my seeing in his face the relief
which I could hear in his voice as he answered:--

"You are an even bolder man than I thought."

"I don't understand you, of course; but I have need to be bold," I
retorted, "with you against me ready to plan my private execution.
They're heavy odds.  But now, perhaps, you'll answer my question--Why
do you do this?"

"There might be many reasons--if it were true," he answered in the same
curt tone he had first used.

"One's enough for me, if it's true," I replied, copying his sharp
manner.

He stood a minute looking at me in silence, and then sat down.

"I think I've been doing you an injustice, Lieutenant," he said,
presently.  "I thought when you forced your way into me you might be
coming to assassinate me.  But I see now you're not such a fool as to
try and do anything of that kind when you have left a broad trail
behind you that would lead to your certain detection.  You are young;
with all the weaknesses of youth strongly developed--rash, hotheaded,
sometimes tipsy, a fool with women, and when, necessary, a knave too,
loose in money matters and unscrupulous, a gambler, a dicer, and a
bankrupt in morals, religion, and honour.  But you are shrewd--for
you've deceived everyone about your sword-skill and your courage--and
under the garb of a worthless fellow you have a cool, calculating, and
yet dare-devil head that should make your fortune.  Others are more
right about you than I."

"Others?" I asked, interested and amused by this quiet enumeration of
the results of the analysis of two very different, but united
characters.  "Who are the others?"

A faint ghost of what in another man would have been a smile relaxed
the grim, hard, straight lips for an instant, in mockery of my attempt
to draw him.

"You are not unknown, Lieutenant, as you may find soon; but you are a
fool to mix yourself up with the Nihilists."

It was my turn now to be on the defensive.

"That is a charge which a child can make and the wisest man can
sometimes fail to rebut," I answered, sharply.  "I am not a Nihilist."

He waved his hand as if my repudiation were not worth a serious thought.

"I can make you a career, if you will.  If you will act under me...."

"Thank you," I returned, coldly.  "I know what you can do.  You can put
me first on the list for some task which will insure my being served as
you meant me to be served to-day.  One commission is enough for me, and
I prefer the Emperor's."

"You don't know what you say, nor what you refuse."

"All the more reason for not regretting my refusal," I retorted,
lightly.  "But this does not answer my question--Why do you seek to
have me assassinated?"

"Siberia is getting overpopulated," he returned, manifestly angry at my
refusal.

"You mean it's cheaper to kill than to exile."

"One must have some regard for its morals, too," he sneered, with a
contempt at which my rage took fire.

I looked at him with a light in my eyes which he could read plainly
enough.

"You are a coward, M. Tueski," said I, sternly: "because you presume
upon the office you hold to say things which without the protection
that guards you, you would not dare to let between your teeth."

"It is useless to talk in that strain to me," he said, shortly.  "I
know you."

"No--by Heaven, you don't--yet.  But I'll let you know something of me
now.  Men say you know no fear; that your loves, desires, emotions, are
all dead--all, save ambition.  I'll test that.  This plot you have laid
against my life is your own private revenge for some fancied wrong.
You have sought to carry it out even at the very moment when you had
had a hint to guard me.  It was cunningly laid, and nearly succeeded;
and then you would have set the blame down at Devinsky's door."

He listened without making a sign: quite impassively.  But the mere
fact that he did listen shewed me I was striking the right note, and
further that he wished to see what I meant to do.

"Go on," he said, contemptuously, when I paused.

"I can prove this: aye, and I will prove it, even if I go to the
Emperor himself: and prove it--by your own wife."  He could not wholly
conceal the effect of this.  He knew the strength of the threat.

"More than that," I cried then, quickening my speech and shewing much
more passion.  "You know what the world says about me and your wife.
You shewed me you knew it, when I told you just now that she was in my
rooms when your men came to try and take my life.  You have dared to
smirch my honour in regard to women: and you have lied.  So far as your
wife is concerned, there has never been a thought of mine toward her
tainted with dishonour.  So far as I am concerned she is virgin pure.
But, by God! beware how you taunt me.  It lies with you to say whether
I shall change; and if you drive me to it, I'll...."

I left the terrible sentence unfinished; and the change in the man's
manner shewed me how he was inwardly shrinking and wincing at my
desperate words.

"Go on.  What do you want?"  He spoke after a great effort and strove
to keep his voice at the dead level of official lifelessness.  But the
man was an inward fire of rage and jealousy.

"This duel is not my seeking, but yours, M. Tueski," I continued.  "And
for my part I would as soon have a truce.  But if we are to fight on, I
will use every weapon I can lay my hand on,--and use them desperately.
You can prove the truth of what I say.  Send round someone to my rooms
and fetch away the scoundrel who is there.  My sister will let him go.
Your wife, her friend, is staying with her to help in case of need.
And whatever else I may be, at least I should not give my mistress to
my sister for a friend."

"You are the devil!"  The words forced themselves through his teeth at
this word.  I used it deliberately: and it was the shrewdest thing I
could have done.  He left the room without another word, going through
a door behind him; and, calling to someone, he whispered some
instructions.

"You have sent?  You are right," I said, when he returned.  "And now,
call off these bloodhounds of yours; and so long as you play fair with
me, my sister and your wife can be friends.  And no longer.  One other
condition.  Give me two police permits to cross the frontier on special
business--one for me and one for my sister.  You may not be sorry if I
decide to take a holiday."

"I cannot give them, and you cannot leave," he answered.

"Write me the permits.  I'll see about using them."

"No; I cannot write them.  If I did, they would be cancelled to-morrow
by the Ministry of the Interior."

"Why?"

"The fact is what I say.  You cannot leave Russia."

"I care nothing for that.  Write them--or we resume this duel, M.
Tueski."

He was a changed man.  He was so accustomed to exact implicit obedience
to his will, and to ride roughshod over everyone about him, that now
being beaten, his collapse was utter and complete.  He was absolutely
overcome by the pressure I could threaten and he thought I was
blackguard enough to apply.

For once at least my old black character did me a good turn.  He acted
like a weak child now, entirely subjected by my will.  He wrote the
permits as I directed.

As he was writing it occurred to me there must be some influence behind
the scenes which told with him.  Else, why did he not forthwith write
out the order for my imprisonment?  He had done it hundreds of times
before in the case of men infinitely more influential than myself.  His
signature would open the door of any prison in Russia.  It suggested
itself that it was this reason which was at the bottom of the attempt
to get me killed.  He dared not follow out his own desire.

"One thing puzzles me," I said, coolly, as I took the permits.  "Why
haven't you, instead of writing these, written an order packing me off
to gaol?  What is this power behind you?"

"I may live in hope, perhaps," he returned.  "Your sword and your
shrewdness may carry you far: and some day as far as the gaol you speak
of.  I shan't fail to write it when the time comes."

I left him with that.

As I left the house a man pressed close to me, and I turned to see what
he wanted.  There was no one else about.

"Is it done?" he whispered.

I looked at him keenly; but I had never seen him before, I thought.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The night in the riverside wharf," he whispered back.

He was a Nihilist; here right in the very eye of the police web.

"The way is laid," I answered, equivocally, as I hurried away.

I had actually forgotten in my eagerness all about my charge to kill
the man with whom I had been closeted in conference.

But I saw instantly that the Nihilist would probably hold it for an act
of treachery that I had been in Tueski's house and yet had let him live.



CHAPTER XIII.

OLGA IN A NEW LIGHT.

I walked back to my rooms as I wished to cool my head and think.  The
interview with Christian Tueski had excited me, and what was of more
importance, had kindled a hope that after all I might be able to escape
the tremendous difficulties that encompassed me.

One thing in particular pleased me, for it was a double-edged knife
loosening two sets of the complications.  It was the promise I had
given to the man to respect his wife so long as he kept faith with me.
This gave me power over him, and what was of infinitely greater value
to me personally, it was a shrewd defence against the wife also.

I smiled as I thought of the ingenuity of this; but I little thought
what would be the actual result.  It seemed then the shrewdest and
cleverest, as well as the most daring thing I had done; but in the end
the consequences were such as might properly have followed an act of
the grossest stupidity and villainy possible.  For the moment it
pleased me, however, and I was in truth finding the keenest pleasure in
this parrying of the thrusts which the fates were making at me.

There was a problem I could not solve, however, in the question of the
power which seemed to be behind the Chief of the Police; the power
which made him apparently afraid to strike me openly though so willing
to trip me secretly.  I could not imagine what it could be, nor whence
it could come.

When I reached my rooms my sister and Paula Tueski were waiting for me
in the greatest anxiety; and both were overjoyed to see me safe and
apparently in high spirits.  The police agents had been for the fellow
I had left under lock and key; and Olga had taken care to carry out my
instructions to the letter.  Her quick instincts had warned her, and
she had made a parade of almost affectionate friendship for the other
woman during the time the men had been present.

After I arrived she could scarcely take her eyes off me, and I saw them
glistening as with tears.

"I will take you home, directly," I said, carelessly, as a brother
might speak.  "But I have something to say first to Madame Tueski; so
you must wait for a few minutes."

A look of reproach nearly found expression in hasty words, but
remembering herself she said hastily, acting the part to the life:--

"Oh, you're always so mysterious, Alexis.  I've no patience with you."

Then I led the other into my second sitting-room and told her much of
what had passed: and when I came to that part of the interview that
immediately concerned herself, she was very bitter and angry.

"You think I am a pawn to be moved where you like in your game; of no
account, and the meanest thing on the board.  You and he are both alike
in that--but wait.  Your life is mine, Alexis.  I have told you."

"But you must surely see that the first consideration must be all our
lives--to say nothing of our safety," I answered, rather roughly, I
fear, and very unsympathetically.  Her heroics rasped me.  "What the
deuce is the good of your loving me if your husband shuts me up in a
dungeon, or sends me dancing to Siberia, or causes a dagger to let out
my life blood?"

"You mean to keep the word you gave him?"

"Certainly, so long as he keeps his."

She fixed her large lustrous eyes on me and let them rest on me during
a long pause of silence.

"You and he together will drive me to some desperate deed," she said,
at length, very slowly.  "Then perhaps you will learn what a love like
mine will dare for your sake.  I cannot and will not bear this
separation."

She wearied me with these protests, but I said nothing and went on to
question her as to whether there was any power behind her husband
influencing him in regard to me.  She knew nothing, but admitted that
she had her suspicions.

I told her next that while he was trying to assassinate me, she might
find the tables turned on him, as there was a Nihilist plot on foot to
assassinate him.  She paid little heed to it at first, saying that
there had been many such schemes formed, all of which had proved
abortive, because he was most carefully and continuously guarded.  A
moment later, however, her manner changed a little, and she questioned
me somewhat closely concerning the matter.

"They don't choose their agents shrewdly in these things," she said,
"and we hear too soon of their designs.  They should choose a man like
you, Alexis."  She seemed to speak with a hidden meaning, and I was
doubtful whether she knew anything; but I kept my doubts to myself.

"If they had done that, I had a rare chance to-night," I answered.

"A bold man or a reckless woman makes the chance," she retorted in the
same manner.  "I am going, Alexis:" she added, and then forced on me
caresses which were vastly repulsive.  But I could not reveal my true
feelings until I had at any rate placed Olga in safety.  My
indifference and coldness were apparent to the woman, and she upbraided
me with a burst of angry passion, till I had to patch up a sort of
peace.

We went back to Olga and soon afterwards drove away, Olga and I setting
the other down at her door.

So long as Madame Tueski was with us, Olga maintained the part of the
impatient sister; but as soon as we were alone her manner changed
altogether.

"I had to send for you this evening," I said, "And you saved me from a
situation of great difficulty and hazard by coming so promptly.  I
thank you for having done so."

No reply.  I glanced at her in the gloomy light in the cab and saw the
profile set hard and immobile, with the lips pressed closely together.

"Storm signals out," thought I.

"I was saying I thanked you.  You acted with rare discretion and did me
a great service."

Not a word.

"You were not so silent just now."  I hazarded.

"I was acting--with discretion."  She repeated my word with that relish
and enjoyment which a well regulated mind always feels about a telling
sarcasm.

"And what sort of discretion is this?" I retorted, laughing.

She was silent again.

"I have a good deal to tell you in explanation."

"I have no wish to hear anything, thank you," she interposed.  "I can
trust your discretion"--much emphasis again on the word--"as completely
as you can mine.  I am glad to have been of _use_ to you and Madame
Tueski."  She threw the word "use" at me as if it had been a bomb to be
exploded in my face.

"What have I done that's wrong?  I'm very sorry," I said.

"I beg you not to apologise.  You never used to, and as you appear to
be slipping back into your old habits it would be out of character to
apologise--to me.  I am only to be used."

"I don't a bit understand you."

There was a moment's silence, and then she could contain her
indignation no longer and burst out with the cause of it.

"Why didn't you send me home immediately you returned?  You could
surely have given me your servant as an escort.  Then you would have
spared me the shame and humiliation of waiting during your private
interchange of confidences with that woman."

At that instant we stopped at her house.

"Please not to come in to-night," she said.  "I have had to keep
certain things waiting here while I was being of _use_ to you, and was
sitting alone in your rooms; and I have now very much to do."

"I am sorry to trouble you; but I am coming in.  This thing must be
cleared up at once;" and I followed my very angry sister into the house.

She led the way to a small drawing-room and turning to me said coldly:--

"I am ready to hear what you wish to say."

I had been thinking quickly during the interval, and now changed my
point of attack.

"I had a very serious thing to say.  You gave me your promise...."

"I would rather you would not remind me of any promises," she
interrupted.  This was said deliberately; but then she broke through
her cold formality, and with a little stamp of her foot finished
angrily:--"I won't keep them.  I won't be reminded of them.  Things are
altered--altogether altered."

"What I was going to say is..." I began, when she broke in again.

"I won't hear it.  I don't want to hear any more.  I wish you'd go
away."

"You must hear me," I said quietly, but with some authority in my tone.

"'Must!'  I don't understand you."

"Must--for your own safety."

"Thank you.  I can protect myself.  Your other cares and
responsibilities have a prior claim on you.  Will you please leave me
now?"

"No, I can't go, until I've told you...."

"I will not listen!  Didn't I tell you?"  She was vehemence itself.

I shrugged my shoulders in despair.

"This morning..." I began; but the moment I opened my lips she broke
out again with her vehement interruptions.

"Ah, things were different this morning.  I had not then been insulted.
Do you forget I am a Russian; and think you can treat me as you
will--keep me waiting while--bah! it is unbearable.  Will you go away?
Is there no sense of manliness in you that will make you leave me?
Must I call for assistance?  I will do that if you do not leave me.
You can write what you have to say.  But, please, spare me the pain of
seeing you again."

Her words cut me to the quick; but they roused me also.

"You had better call for assistance," I answered firmly.  Then I
crossed to the door, locked it, and put the key in my pocket.  "I will
spare you the pain of another interview; but now that I am here, I
decline to go until I have explained."

"You cannot explain," she burst in.  The word seemed to madden her.

"Cannot explain what?"

"That woman's kisses!"

The words appeared to leap from her lips involuntarily; and she
repented them as soon as uttered; and drawing herself up she tried to
appear cold and stolid.  But this attempt failed completely; and in her
anger at the thought behind the words and with herself for having given
it utterance, she stood looking at me, her bosom heaving and tossing
with agitation and her face and eyes aglow with an emotion, which with
a strange delight, I saw was jealousy.

There came a long pause, during which I recalled her manner and the way
she had played with my words, during one of our rides when we had
spoken of Devinsky's proposal to make her his wife.

I have always been slow to read women's hearts and have generally read
them wrong; but I began to study this with a sense of new and peculiar
pleasure.

She was getting very dear to me for a sister.

If my guess was right, my conduct with that infernal women, Paula
Tueski, must have been gall and wormwood to Olga.

How should I have relished it had the position been reversed, and
Devinsky been in Paula Tueski's place?

These thoughts which flashed across me in rapid succession produced a
peculiar frame of mind.  I had stood a minute in silence, not looking
at her, and when I raised my eyes again I was conscious of sensations
toward her, that were altogether different from anything I had felt
before.  She had become more beautiful than ever in my eyes; I, more
eagerly anxious to please and appease; while at bottom there was a
dormant fear that I might be mistaken in my new reading of her actions,
in which was mixed up another fear, not nearly so strong, that her
anger on account of Paula Tueski might really end in our being
separated.

My first act shewed the change in me.

I ceased to feel the freedom with which I had hitherto acted the part
of brother, and I immediately threw open the door and stood aside that
she might go out if she wished.  Then I said:--

"Perhaps you are right.  My conduct may be inexcusable even to save
your life."

Whether there was anything in my manner that touched her--I was
conscious of speaking with much less confidence than usual; or whether
it was the act of unfastening the door: or whether, again, some subtle
influence had set her thoughts moving in parallel columns to mine, I do
not know.  But her own manner changed quite as suddenly as mine; and
when she caught my eyes on her, she flushed and paled with effects that
made her radiantly beautiful to me.

She said not a word; and finding this, I continued:--

"I am sorry a cloud has come between us at the last, and through
something that was not less hateful to me because forced by the needs
of the case.  We have been such friends; but...." here I handed her the
permit--"you must use this at once."

She took it and read it slowly in silence, and then asked:--

"How did you get this?"

"Myself, personally, from the Chief of the Police."

"Why did you run the mad risk of going to him yourself?"

"There was no risk--not so much in going to him as in keeping away from
him.  He had tried to have me murdered, and I went to find out the
reason."

"I told you I would not leave."

"Unless--and the condition now applies--it was necessary for my safety."

"And you?"  The light of fear was in her eyes as she asked this.

"As soon as you are across the frontier I shall make a dash for my
liberty also.  I can't go before, because my absence would certainly
bring you under suspicion."

She looked at me again very intently, her head bent slightly forward
and her lips parted with the strain of a new thought; while suspicion
of my motive chased the fear for my safety from her face.

"Is this to get me out of the way?  I won't go!"

"Olga!"

All my honour for myself and my love for her were in that note of
reproach, and they appeared to waken an echo; for then this most
strange girl threw herself down on to a couch and burying her face in
her hands sobbed passionately.

I turned away from the sight of her emotion--the more painful because
of the strong self-reserve and force of character she had always
shewn--and paced up and down the room.  I forced back my own feelings
and the desire to tell her what those feelings were.  To do that would
be worse than madness.  Till we were out of Russia, we were brother and
sister and the bar between us was heavier than we could hope to move.

When the storm of her sobs ceased, she remained for some minutes quite
still: and I would not break the silence, knowing she was fighting her
way back to self-possession.

Presently, she got up and came to me, holding out her hand.

"I will go, Alexis--we are still firm friends?"--with a little smile of
wistful interrogation.  "Can you forgive my temper?  I was mad for the
moment, I think.  But I trust you.  I do indeed, absolutely.  I know
you had no thought of insulting me.  I know that.  I couldn't think so
meanly of you.  It's hard to leave--Russia--and--and everything.  And
you, too--at this time.  Must I really go?"  A half-beseeching glance
into my eyes and a pause for the answer I could not give.  "Very well.
I know what your silence means.  Come to-morrow morning--and say"--she
stopped again and bit her trembling lips to steady them as she framed
the word--"and say--goodbye to me.  And now, please, let me go--brother
and truest friend."

She wrung my hand, and then before I could prevent her or even guess
her intention, she pressed her lips to it and, with the tears again in
her eyes, she went quickly away, leaving me to stare after her like a
helpless fool, longing to call her back and tell her everything, and
yet afraid.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE DEED WHICH RANG THROUGH RUSSIA.

It was not destined that Olga should leave Russia yet.

A terrible event happened within the next few hours, the report of
which rang through Russia like a clap of thunder, convulsing the whole
nation, and shaking for the moment the entire social fabric to its
lowest foundations.  And one of its smaller consequences was to ruin my
plans and expose me to infinite personal peril.

Olga was to start at noon, and I proposed to see her an hour before
then, for what I knew would be a very trying ordeal.  But I was at that
hour in the midst of a very different kind of interview.

Outside official circles I was one of the first men to learn the news.
Just before ten o'clock a messenger came with a request for me to go at
once to the chief Police Bureau.  I started in the full conviction that
for some cause Tueski had changed his mind and meant to arrest me.  I
was of course helpless: and could do no more than scribble a hasty line
to Olga telling her of my appointment, asking her not to wait for me,
and bidding her good-bye.  But I did not send it.  The police agent
said with great politeness he would prefer my not doing anything then:
I could send the note equally well from the Bureau.  I knew what that
meant, and yielded.

The moment I arrived at the office I could see that some event of
altogether unusual importance and gravity had occurred.  The air was
laden with the suggestion of excitement.  There was an absence of that
orderly, business-like routine always characteristic of Russian public
offices.  The police agents were present in exceptionally large
numbers; hurrying through the corridors, thronging the rooms, and
standing in groups engaged in animated discussion.

I was kept waiting some time, perhaps half an hour, before a word was
spoken to me by anyone in authority; and then I was ushered into the
presence of a man I did not know.

"I am sorry to trouble you, Lieutenant Petrovitch, but there are one or
two questions you can answer--and I need not say that as a Russian
officer, bearing the Emperor's commission, we shall look to you to
reply very fully."

I bowed.  It was a fit preface to a conversation which should end as
such things generally did.  But at any rate I should learn what they
intended to do with me.  Before he spoke again I asked that the letter
I had written to Olga might be sent; but he put the question aside,
with a curt reply that it could wait until the Emperor's business was
finished; and again I bowed in acquiescence.  I could do nothing.

"Please to tell me exactly what passed between you and M. Tueski
yesterday," he said.  "And particularly how you obtained the permits
for yourself and sister.  I invite you to be particularly frank."

The question startled me.  I couldn't understand it.

"Your question surprises me," I replied, to gain a little time to
think.  "M. Tueski himself knows, and can surely tell you everything."

"I ask my questions in the name of the Emperor, sir," returned my
examiner, sternly.

"M. Tueski had done me the honour of trying to have me murdered, and I
went to see him to demand the reason.  He did not deny it.  I persuaded
him in the end to abandon his private malice and prevailed upon him to
give me the permits for myself and my sister to leave Russia for a
while.  When he had given them to me I left him."

"Where are they?"

"Here is one.  The other is with my sister, who leaves Moscow at
midday."

"You may stop her attempting to leave.  It will be useless.  What else
passed?"  And he then plunged into a close cross-examination of me, the
real object of which I could not guess, unless it meant that Tueski had
in some way got into a mess for letting me have the permits.  I
answered all the questions as fully as possible, taking care only to
avoid mentioning Paula Tueski's name in connection with the compact
with her husband.

To my surprise I seemed to satisfy the man for the time.  When he had
about turned me inside out, he sat for some minutes looking over my
answers and comparing them with some of his notes: after which he
remained thinking closely.

"What did you do after leaving M. Tueski?"

"I went straight to my rooms to my sister and Madame Tueski; together
we drove Madame Tueski to her house; I then went home with my sister,
remained there about an hour, or perhaps less; and went home and to
bed."

"You have told me all you know, Lieutenant?"

"You can ask M. Tueski," I returned.

He fixed his eyes steadily on me while I could have counted twenty, and
then said slowly and with deep emphasis:--

"M. Tueski is dead."

"Dead!" I repeated in the profoundest surprise.

"Murdered.  Found this morning in the lower part of his own house with
a dagger thrust through his heart."

"Murdered?"  I could scarcely believe my ears.

"Yes.  'For Freedom's sake'," said the man with a curl of the lip.  "At
least, so a message on the dagger said.  Now you can understand the
significance of my questions."

I understood it all well enough: far better than the man himself even
imagined; and I was completely beaten as to what the inner meaning of
this most terrible event could be.

One of my first reflections was that if any of the suspicions of my
Nihilism, which the dead man entertained, were chronicled anywhere, my
arrest and that of Olga would certainly follow; and we should both be
doomed.

"I can scarcely realise it," I said.  "It is horrible!"

"So these wretches will find," returned my interlocutor.  "These
carrion!  But now, in view of this--and I have told you because of the
candid manner in which you have answered my questions--is there
anything you noticed in your visit yesterday to help us."

Clearly, he did not suspect me; and no records had been found yet.

"No.  The place seemed alive with inmates--like a rabbit warren.
Enough to have held it against a regiment.  Good God, what villains!" I
cried in horror.  Mine was genuine feeling enough, for some of the
terrible effects to myself were fast crowding into my thoughts.  I
recalled my encounter with my Nihilist comrade on the very threshold of
the house.

"Of course, those permits will be withdrawn now, Lieutenant," said the
official as he dismissed me.  But his manner was much less severe and
curt than at the outset.  "As a matter of fact they ought never to have
been granted, though I cannot explain why just now.  But under the
circumstances you will probably feel personally unwilling to leave
Russia at such a juncture."

"I should feel myself a traitor," said I, grandiloquently; and in fact
I did feel very much like one as I left him, rejoicing that I still
breathed the fresh air of heaven instead of the foetid atmosphere of a
gaol.

One thing was certain now--neither Olga nor I could hope to escape yet.
Any attempt would be fatal.  The murder of such a man would mean that
the lurid search light of suspicion would fall in all directions, on
the guilty and guiltless alike.  The liberty certainly, and probably
the life, of every suspected Nihilist in Moscow at the moment were at
stake: and the slightest trip or false step on our part would amount to
a direct invitation to ruin.

As I walked back sadly and thoughtfully to my rooms, I had abundant
proofs of the terrible effects of the assassination.% The police agents
were everywhere, watching, raiding, arresting; and in my short walk I
met more than one gloomy party of them, each with its one or two
prisoners in their midst, hurrying on foot or in hired carriages to the
police stations.

It is not my business, however, to describe here the scenes that
followed the most daring, most secret, most thrilling, and save one,
most terrible assassination that ever convulsed Russia.  The murder of
the Czar stirred the surface of the world more, because it had more of
the pageantry of crime about it; but the death of the Chief of the
Secret Police caused a much deeper sense of insecurity, and spread a
far greater dread of the secret power of Nihilism.

Who had done it?  To me it was an inscrutable mystery; unless it had
been the man I had seen near the house.  But what I had to consider was
not whose hand had driven the dagger home, but rather what the effects
would be to me and to her for whose safety I now felt more fears and
concern than I had felt for myself in all my life.

One incident in the interview I had just had impressed me greatly: the
reference which the official had dropped as to the power behind Tueski
in dealing with me.  My questioner had seemed to know about it that
morning: and all this perplexed me.

As soon as I reached my rooms I had to hurry off to the barracks in
response to an urgent summons; and I joined readily in the excited
conversation of my comrades about this latest Nihilist stroke.  The
news was only beginning to leak out, and it assumed the wildest shapes;
nor did I feel at liberty to reduce the rumours to facts.

Before the morning's work was over orders came that the troops were to
be paraded for duty in the streets: and we were told off for patrol
work in different parts of the city to protect the railway stations,
and other public buildings.  All that day we were kept on duty; and as
other troops came pouring in from other centres the whole place seemed
under arms like a beleaguered town.

All day and all night the raids and surprise visits by the police were
in progress, and hundreds, if not thousands of men and women must have
been arrested, until the gaols were crowded to suffocation point, and
every spot where prisoners could be packed was crammed and choked with
suspects.

The cries and curses of men and the shrieks of women made the air
stifling.

We were not relieved until late at night, having been all day without
food; and even then we were kept in the barracks in readiness for any
disturbance.

The next day's programme was much the same; and I fretted at not being
able to either see or send to Olga.  Knowing of her brother's Nihilism
she would surely think I had been arrested; while I on my side was
afraid for her.

In the afternoon of the third day we got leave from duty and from
barracks for a few hours; and I went straight off to Olga.  Meanwhile
not a hint had been obtained as to the identity of the assassin.

I found Olga white and wan and ill on my account; and when we met I was
on my side almost too moved for speech.  At first I could do no more
than glance into her eyes as we clasped each the other's hand.

"You are looking frightfully ill, Olga," I said at length.

She returned my look without a word and then her brow contracted, she
breathed deeply as if in pain, and turning away wrung her hands with a
gesture of despair.

"What is the matter?  What has happened to you?  There must be
something..."  I stopped, or rather the sight of the white face all
drawn and quivering with pain stopped me.

"Oh, it is too horrible, too awful!  God have mercy on us!  God have
mercy on us!"

Bad as things were so far as I knew them, this dejection seemed
disproportionate and excessive.  She was like a mad woman distraught
with fear or grief; and she waved her hands about as if wrestling with
emotions she could not conquer.

"Oh, it can't be true; it can't be," she moaned; and then came suddenly
to me, turned my face to the light holding it between her white
trembling hands, and gazed at me with a look of mingled anguish, fear,
doubt, wildness, and--love; her lips parted and her bosom rising and
falling as if with the strain of her passionate feelings.

When her scrutiny was over, her hands seemed to slip down and she fell
on her knees close to me and I heard her muttering prayers with
vehement fervour.

"What does this mean, Olga?" I asked gently, bending down and laying my
hand on her shoulder.  She looked round and up at my touch, and tried
to smile.  Then she rose and standing opposite to me, put her hands on
my two shoulders so that her face was close beneath mine.  And all the
time she was muttering prayers.  Then, in a voice all broken and
tremulous, she said:--

"Brother, swear as you believe there is a God in Heaven, you will
answer truly what I ask."

"I will.  I swear it," I answered, wishing to quiet her.

"Did you really do this?"

"Do what?" I asked, not understanding.

"Kill Christian Tueski?"

"Did I kill him?  No, child, certainly not."  I spoke in the greatest
astonishment.

"Oaths may bind you to secrecy, I know.  But for God's sake, tell me
the truth--the truth.  You can tell me.  I am...."  I felt her shudder.

"Is it this which has been driving you distracted?  There is no cause.
I know no more by whose hand that man came by his death than a babe
unborn."

"Say that again, Alexis.  Say it again.  It is the sweetest music I
have heard in all my life."

I repeated the assurance, and a smile of genuine relief broke out over
her face.  Next she cried and laughed and cried again, and then sat
down as if completely overcome by the rush of relief from a too heavy
strain.

"What does all this mean?" I asked quietly, after a while.  "Try and
tell me."

"I have been like a mad thing for two days.  Let me wait awhile.  I
will tell you presently.  Oh, thank God, thank God for what you have
said.  It drove me mad to think you should have been driven to this by
me; and that perhaps for my sake you might have been urged to do such a
horrible thing.  Waking and sleeping alike I have thought of nothing
but of your suffering torture and death.  And all through me--through
me."  She covered her face in horror at the remembrance of her
thoughts: but a moment later took away her hands to smile at me.

"You have not told me yet what made you think anything of the sort."

"I will tell you.  As soon as I heard the news, I knew of course that
as I had been mixed up in some old Nihilist troubles, it would be
hopeless for me to think of leaving Moscow; and when the police agent
came I let him understand that I had given up all thought of travelling
yet.  Then I was all anxiety for news of you, and in the afternoon I
went to your rooms.  I found the door shut and could hear nothing.
Then I began to fear for you.  I am only a woman."

She stopped and smiled to me before resuming.  Then with a shudder she
continued:--

"Then a most strange thing happened, Borlas came to me just at dusk;
and he looked so strange that at first I thought he had been drinking.
Saying he had a message from you he waited until I had sent the servant
away.

"'What is it?' I asked.

"For answer he gave me a sign that made my heart sink.  I knew it too
well, and I looked at him with the keenest scrutiny.  Had the Nihilists
put a spy on you even in your own servant?  Then I saw--that it was not
Borlas, but a man so cleverly made up to resemble him that I had been
at first deceived.

"'What do you want here?' I asked, now with every nerve in my body at
full tension.

"'Do you know?' and the light in his eyes seemed to flash into mine.

"'Do I know what?'  I could see there was something behind all this.

"He bent close to me, though we were of course alone, and spoke his
reply in a fierce whisper.

"'Tell your brother that after this proof our hearts beat but for him;
our plans shall all wait on him; every man of us will go to his death
silently and cheerfully at his mere bidding.  He leads, we follow.  He
has nobly kept his pledge for the cause of God and Freedom.'

"As I heard this my heart seemed to stop in pain.  I had to hold to the
table to save myself from falling."

"'Do you mean,' I gasped, 'that Alexis has murdered....'

"'Silence, sister,' replied the man sternly.  'That is no word for you
to utter or for me to hear.  Your brother is as true a friend as
Russian Liberty ever had; and I thank my God that I have ever been
allowed to even touch the hand that has dealt this vigorous blow and
done this noble and righteous act.'

"'I will tell him,' I said.

"'Tell him also, he need have no fear.  Not a man who was at the
meeting is in the city now, save me; and not a single soul of the
thousands these hell dogs of tyranny can seize knows anything--save
only me.  And I would to the Almighty God they would take me and
torture me and tear my flesh off bit by bit with their cursed red-hot
pincers that I might use my last breath and my latest effort to taunt
them that I know the hero who has done it, and die with my knowledge a
secret.'

"Then this terrible man, you may not know his name, but I know him,
left me, telling me it was 'a glorious day for Russia, and that God
would smile for ever upon you for this deed.'  And I--I was plunged
into a maelstrom of agonising fears, racking doubts, and poisoned
thoughts about you and what I had led you to do."

What Olga said had also immense importance and significance for me.  It
shewed me a startling view of my situation.  It was clear the Nihilists
attributed the murder to me, and what effect that would have upon us I
was at a loss even to conjecture.

"The man's blood is not on my hands, Olga; but I cannot be surprised at
the mistake.  I will tell you everything;" and I told her then all that
had passed.

"Who can have done it then?" she asked, when I finished.

"It is as complete a mystery to me as to the police.  The man I saw
near the house might have done it; but then I suppose it must have been
the same man who came to you: and in that case he certainly wouldn't
have set it down to me.  I am beaten.  But I am likely to find the
wrongful inheritance embarrassing.  I must be more cautious than ever
to draw down no word of suspicion upon either of us.  We must both be
scrupulously careful.  And thus it will be impossible for you to think
of getting away."

"It's a leaden sky that has no silver streak," replied Olga.  "And that
impossibility is my streak."

I could not but understand this, and even while my judgment condemned
her, my heart was warmed by her words.  But my judgment spoke.

"If you were away my anxieties would be all but ended."

"If I were away my anxieties would be all but unendurable," she
retorted, following my words and smiling.  It was not possible to hear
this with anything but delight; but I had my feelings too well under
control now to let them be seen easily.

"That may be," I said.  "But my first and chief effort will be to get
you safe across the frontier."

She made no answer: but her manner told me she would not consent to go
until it had become a rank impossibility for her to stay.  Presently
she said with much feeling:--

"If I had been away and the news had come that you had done the thing
these men assert, how do you think I could have borne it?  I should
have either come rushing back here or have died of remorse and fear and
anxiety on your account.  It was through me you commenced all this."

"But of my own choice that I continued," I replied.  "And believe me,
if all were to come over again I should act in just the same way.  I
have never had such a glorious time before; and all I want now is to
see you safe."

Olga paused to look at me steadily.

"You've never told me all the reason why you were so ready to take all
these desperate risks.  Will you tell me now?"

"I had made a mess of things generally, as I told you before," I
answered, with a smile and a slight flush at the reminiscences thus
disturbed by her question.

"Was there a woman in it?" Her eyes were fixed on me as she put the
question.

"There's a woman in most things," I answered, equivocally.

"Yes, I suppose so."  She turned away and looked down, and asked next:--

"Were you very fond of her, Alexis?"

"Judging by the little ripple that remains on the surface now that
she's gone out of my life, no: judging by the splash the stone made at
first, yes.  But she's gone."

"Yet the waters of the pool may be left permanently clouded.  I am
sorry for you, Alexis: and if you were really my brother, I would try
and help you two together."

"That's not altogether a very proper thing to say."  I spoke lightly,
and she looked up to question me.  "Her husband might not thank you, I
mean: though I'm not quite sure about that;" and then having told her
so much, I told her the story of my last meeting with Sir Philip
Cargill and Edith.  But she did not take it as I wished.

"You must have loved her if you meant to kill her," she said.

"And ceased then, if I left her to live a miserable life."

"I should like to see the woman you have ceased to love," she said,
woman-like in curiosity--and something else.

"You may do that yet, if only Alexis Petrovitch can make a safe way for
his sister out of Russia;" and then I added, pausing and looking at her
with a meaning in my eyes which I wished her to understand though I
dared not put it in plain words:--"But we shall not be brother and
sister then."

She glanced up hurriedly, her face aglow with a sudden rush of
thought--pleasurable thought too--and then looked down again and smiled.

"In that case how should we two be together?" she asked.

"Do you mean that such a time as this will be likely to render us ready
to part?"

To that her only answer was another glance and a deeper blush.  Then I
made an effort and recovered myself on the very verge.

"But while we are here, we are brother and sister, Olga;" and feeling
that if I wished to keep other things unsaid I had better go away, I
left her.



CHAPTER XV.

A SHE DEVIL.

The more I contemplated the position the less I liked it, and the more
urgent appeared the reasons for hurrying Olga out of the country.

All my care was for her.  Before this new feeling of mine for her had
forced itself upon me, the situation had been really a game of wits
with my life as the stake; but now Olga's life, or at least her
liberty, was also at stake.  It was there the crisis pinched me till I
winced and writhed under it.  Fear had got hold of me at last and I
tugged restlessly at the chain.

That night and the next day, the day of Christian Tueski's funeral,
were occupied with heavy duties, because the authorities, both military
and civil, persisted in believing there was danger of an émeute.  I
could have counselled them differently if I had dared to open my lips.
At least I thought I could; although I did not then hold the key to the
mystery.

I got it from Paula Tueski.

In the afternoon of the day but one after the funeral, I had a brief
note asking me to call on her.

I went and found her surrounded by all the signs and trappings of the
deepest mourning.  She received me very gravely, and while there was
anyone in the room, she played the part of the sorrowing, disconsolate
widow: but the instant we were alone she shewed a most indecent and
revolting haste to let me know her mind.

"We are alone, now, Alexis," she said.

"I have called as you asked and because I wished to express my
sympathy...."

"Psh!  Don't let us be hypocrites, you and I," she exclaimed, half
angrily, and with great energy.  "I do not pretend to you that I am
sorry to be free, and don't you pretend to me either."

I didn't answer, and my silence irritated her.

"Would you have me weep, tear my hair, put ashes on my head and grovel
in the dust because the biggest villain and coward and beast that ever
lived in human shape is dead?  I hated him living; shall I love him
dead?"

"At least the dead are dead, and to revile them is mere empty
brutality," said I, somewhat harshly.

"Then I like empty brutality if it relieves my feelings.  God!  I have
been a hypocrite long enough.  I should hate myself if I did not speak
the truth to you."

I shrugged my shoulders.  I had no answer.

"Why didn't you send a wreath of pure white flowers as an emblem of
your regard?  Why not a message to swell the millions of lies that men
have uttered in their squalid fear of offending the Government by
silence?  Ugh!  It makes me sick when I think of it all;" and she
shuddered as if in disgust.  "He was a devil, and I won't call him by
any softer name merely because his power to harm is gone.  Didn't he
try to murder you?  And wasn't it jealousy?  Ah, we have much to be
thankful to the Nihilists for, you and I."  There was an indescribable
suggestion of a hidden meaning about this.

I hated the woman.

"You have no clue yet, I suppose?"

"Yes, I have a clue," she replied, with a laugh that sounded like a
threat.  "I can put my hand on the murderer when I will--and I will, if
he proves a traitor."

"You are in a dramatic mood," I answered.  "Who is the man?  Why not
denounce him?  Surely this act is what you must call treachery."

"There was a Nihilist plot to kill the man," she said, speaking with
contemptuous flippancy of accent of the dead.

"Yes, I told you that myself," I replied.

"It was because of that he died."

"So everybody thinks."

"And how do you account for it?" she asked, looking at me keenly.

"I have no more idea than yourself."

She laughed; and a hard forced laugh it was.  Then she got up from her
chair and walked twice up and down the room in dead silence.  She
stopped in front of me and stared down into my eyes.

"Alexis, do you really love me?"

The question was an exceedingly unpleasant one and filled me with
disgust.

"Surely this is no time for us to speak of such things," I said.

"Do you love me, Alexis," she repeated.

"I will not answer now," I said, rising.

"Why not?  Why should we not speak of love now--now, aye, and always?
Or is your passion so poor and sickly a thing that a puff from the wind
of propriety kills it?  Not speak of such things!  I would plight my
love to you across the very body of the dead man!"  She spoke with
passionate vehemence.  "Remember what I told you--your life is mine.
You cannot escape me.  Now, tell me, do you love me?"

"I have given my answer, and if you ask that question again to-day I
will not stop in the room," I said angrily: the woman's persistency
increasing my disgust.

She laughed--a half hysterical laugh of anger.

"So you will not stop in the room and will never, I suppose, return.
Be careful," she cried, with one of her quick passionate changes.  "Or
I will send you away and never let you come back except begging for
mercy on your knees for yourself and your sister."  She turned away and
stood by the window; and I could see by her movements that she was
struggling with violent emotions.

She came back at length, the face paler and the voice not so steady.

"I will ask you if you love me," she said.  "And I dare you to go away
from the room."

I accepted the challenge without an instant's hesitation.

"I am going.  I will see you when you are cooler," and I went to the
door.

With a quick rush she prevented my opening it, and putting her back to
it stared at me in the most violent passion, which thickened her voice
as she spoke.

"You shall go directly--if you wish to.  You will make me hate you, one
day, Alexis, and then--I will kill you."

"It will be far better for me to come some other time," I said, anxious
to leave.

"You will have plenty of opportunities, never fear," she retorted, with
a very angry sneering laugh.  "And what is more, you will not dare not
to use them.  Listen--it is love for you drives me to this--a love that
you can never escape now, Alexis, even if you had the will."

She paused; but I said nothing.  I had nothing to say.  All I wished
was to get away.

"Do you think there is anything I would not do for your love, Alexis?
I have told you there is nothing--told you so scores of times.  Now, I
have proved it.  Do you hear--proved it.  I proved it a few nights ago
when this hand plunged the dagger hilt deep into my husband's
heart--for your sake."

I started back and looked at the woman in horror.

"Yes, this hand"--she held it out--"so white, smooth, deft, and
shapely.  Don't start from it.  There is no blood shewing on it now.
And never was.  I know how to thrust a dagger home too cleverly to
leave a trace of either blood or guilt on me.  In all this Moscow of
ours the one person who is deemed above all others guiltless--is
myself.  Had it been in reality the Nihilist deadly secret stroke that
men deem it, it could not have been more cunningly contrived, more
secretly planned, more fatally executed.  Yet the motive was not hate
of a Government, but love for a man.  For you, Alexis: you and you
only.  Now do you wish to go?"

She moved away from the door; but I made no attempt to go.  The horror
of her story had fascinated me.

"There was a tinge of hate in it, too, mark you, and more than a tinge.
But I'll tell you all.  You ought to know, since you were in reality
the cause of all.  You gave me the motive, suggested the occasion, and
provoked that which led to it.  More than that, too, you can by a
single word from me be made to bear the brunt.  Now, will you go?"

Was the woman mad that she spoke in this way?  If so, there was a
devilish method in her madness, as the story she told quickly shewed me.

"I knew the day would come when either I should kill him or he would
kill me; for he was a devil.  Well, you roused all that was most evil,
vicious, and fiendish in him in that interview; and when I saw him he
was like a man bereft of his wits.  Every form of reproach he could
heap on me in cold, contemptuous, galling sneers he uttered with all
the calculated aggravation that could make a taunt unbearable.  He
threatened me in every tone of menace: and when I answered, turned
suddenly furious and struck me violent blows and vowed to kill me.  It
was then I recalled your words, that there was a Nihilist plot against
his life; and I vowed I would be the means of carrying it out; for I
knew I could easily put suspicion away from me.  I lured him cunningly
to that part of the house where he was found, plunged the dagger into
his breast, put into his pocket the forged warning of a Nihilist
attack, opened the house at a point where a man could have entered,
fastened to the dagger the Nihilist watchword, and then crept away to
my own rooms."

"It was a hellish plot," I exclaimed, hotly.

"It was inspired by love for you, Alexis.  It was truly 'For Freedom's
sake.'  Freedom that should unite us for ever."

"Do you think I could ever be anything to a woman whose hand is red
with murder?" I cried, in indignant horror.

"It was done for you--for love of you, Alexis."

"Love has no kin with murder," I exclaimed, bitterly.

"Your life is mine, remember," she answered, firmly.  Her determination
and strength were inexhaustible.  "This makes you ten thousand times
more surely mine than ever.  I told you you were the cause--and also,
that you could be made to bear the brunt.  Listen!  You know well
enough what chance a Nihilist has on whom the fangs of suspicion have
fastened.  You are a Nihilist.  Your sister is one also.  I know this.
Well, what chance, think you, would that Nihilist have of his life
whose dagger it was that found its way between my husband's ribs.  What
then, if I had found the sheath of it and secreted it to save the man?
Suppose too, that I had kept back the discovery because of my guilty
love for him.  And further that he had come at the time to tempt my
honour and that he was leaving the house when my husband, roused by the
noise I made, met him; and that I saw the deed done?"  She paused and
changed her tone to one of fierce directness, as she continued:--"The
dagger that killed Christian Tueski is your own weapon, known by its
sheath to a hundred people: and that sheath, with your name on it, is
in my possession.  What chance of life would there be for you and yours
if these things were made known.  Now, do you wish to go?"

A hot and passionate reply rose to my lips, but was checked before
uttered.  I thought of Olga, and I knew that every word this woman said
was true--that no power in Russia could save my life or Olga's liberty
if the tale were told now.

Delay I must have at any cost.  Time in which to meet this woman's
horrible cunning and daring plot.  If I had hated her before, she was
now loathsome; while the fears she had stirred on Olga's account
intensified and embittered a thousandfold my resentment.  Yet hateful
as the task was, I was prepared to continue my part with her.

"You think this love?" I said, after a pause in which she had been
waiting breathlessly for me to speak.  "Do women love the men they hold
to them by the tether rope of threats?"

"Do women kill for the sake of men they do not love?"

"Do you think to keep my love by threatening me with death?"

"Have I not inflicted death to keep you?  Why do you wish to bandy
phrases?  My deeds speak for themselves.  They shew you well enough
what I will dare to keep you true to me.  You are mine, Alexis, and no
power shall ever part us.  I have told you this often before.  It was
you who sought me, who proffered me your love, who poured on me your
caresses and roused the love in me, and roused it never to cease.  Do
you think me a silly simple fool to be wooed and won and, when
deserted, willing to do no more than wring my feeble hands and shed
silly tears, and prate and maunder between my stupid sobs, that my
heart is broken and that I fain would die--Bah!  I am not of that sort.
I am a woman who can will and act, and fashion my own ends in my own
way.  It is not the stream that carries me, but I who turn the stream
even though it be mingled with blood.  No, no.  If you play me false,
Alexis, it is you, and not I, who shall die because my heart is broken."

She shewed this determination in every line of her beautiful face and
movement of her magnificent figure, as she stood before me a lovely
hateful type of a vengeful woman.  She changed her mood, however, with
astonishing suddenness and turned all softness and tenderness.

"But under all this lies my love," she said.  "It was love drove me to
everything.  Your pledge, too, that made me feel, as nothing else could
have done, the wall of separation between us while he lived; and my
love could not endure it.  Ah, how I love you!" and then in words
burning with the fever of passion, she spoke of her love for me,
lingering over the terms as if the mere utterance of them were an
ecstatic delight.  She laid all to the account of this love, and then
went on to name her terms--that I must marry her.

While she was speaking, I was thinking; trying to see some flaw in the
devilish coil she had spread round me.  But I could see none.  Time
might find a way: but even time she grudged, and did not mean to give.

"But we can't be married now at the moment when your husband is
scarcely lying cold in his grave," I said, aghast at her cold-blooded
proposition.  "Every man and woman in Moscow would immediately think we
had murdered him together in order to marry."

"Every man and woman will not know," she answered calmly.  "Do you
think there is no such thing as a secret marriage possible in this Holy
Russia of ours, or that gold cannot buy silence here just as anywhere
else in the world?"

"I know that a secret marriage under these circumstances would put the
lives of us both into the keeping of anyone who knew of it, however
well you paid them.  The more you paid, indeed, the more certain the
inference."

"I care nothing for that; nor will you if you love me as you have often
sworn you do."  She uttered this with the energy and passion which
always were shewn when she was crossed.  But in this I was naturally as
resolute as she.

"I will not do it," I said very firmly.  "Understand me.  I will not do
it.  It is nothing to do with love in any way at all: but simply
self-protection.  It would be sheer suicide, and that I can do much
more simply in other ways.  I refuse absolutely to put both our lives
into the keeping of any man in Russia, however holy and however well
bribed.  When we are married, it must be openly, in the light of day
and before men's faces; and that most certainly cannot be until all
this excitement about your husband's death has died down, and the
marriage can take place without causing suspicion.  That must be at
least six months hence--and probably a year or even two years."

"I won't wait," she cried instantly and angrily.  "You want to break
with me.  I am no fool."

"As you will.  Then instead of marrying me you can denounce me and come
and see me beheaded or strangled.  If you threaten me much longer," I
said bitterly, "you will make me prefer one of the latter fates."

She bent close to me, trying to read my thoughts.

"And meanwhile?" she asked,

"Are you such a mad woman that you would have us placard the walls of
the city with our secrets?  Haven't we all Russia to hoodwink?  Do you
suppose your police agents and secret agents are all fools, to see
nothing, think nothing, infer nothing?  It may be hard for us to be
apart, but what else is possible?  Even this visit is fool-hardiness
itself and may set a thousand tongues clacking.  Heaven knows, if ever
a pair of lovers had need of caution we have now!  Have you dared so
much for our marriage only to toss it all away now just for the lack of
a little self-control?  We must see very little of one another.  That
is the only possible course."

"I'll not consent," she cried again, vehemently, and broke out into a
fresh storm of protests and reproaches.  But I held to my decision,
confident that she would see she must give way.

We parted without coming to any definite decision; and I was glad,
because it spared me the infliction of those outward signs of affection
in which she delighted to indulge and which now would have been more
than ever repulsive.

But the knowledge of the increased peril and embarrassment overwhelmed
me with a feeling of anxious doubt and most painful and galling
impotence.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE NEXT NIHILIST PLOT.

It seemed to me when I thought over my interview with Paula Tueski,
that the complications which surrounded me could not possibly be
increased.  It was of course hopeless to think of leaving Russia except
by some stratagem, or in disguise; and this would be all the more
difficult because Olga must leave first, and her flight would
undoubtedly turn attention on me.

A positively baffling set of conditions faced me therefore, whichever
way I turned.  If I stayed on, Paula Tueski would insist on the
marriage, and the crisis would come that way.  If I attempted to go,
she herself would join with the police in following me, and the mere
endeavour to fly would give just that colour to her story which would
make all the world ready to believe it.

Again, if I tried the remaining alternative of proclaiming my identity,
I had so egregiously compromised myself that I could not hope to escape
heavy punishment of some kind; while it would certainly implicate Olga
and at the same time have no effect against the direct lies Paula
Tueski was ready to swear.

Above all, a great change had come over me.  I wished to live and keep
my freedom.  The old indifference and apathy were gone.  My object now
was to get both Olga and myself out of the country in safety; and thus
I took diametrically opposite views of difficulties which a few days
previously--before I had made the discovery of my love for Olga--would
have caused me little more than a laugh of amused perplexity.

Baffling as the puzzle was, however, it became infinitely more involved
and perilous a few days later.  Two fresh complications came to kill
even every forlorn hope.

My Nihilist friends were responsible for the first.

The belief that I had struck down the Chief of the Secret Police and
had done it in a manner so secret, mysterious, and impenetrable that it
staggered the most ingenious police spies and defied the efforts of the
astutest detectives, surrounded me with a glamour of wholly undeserved
and undesired reputation.

The first intimation of this had reached me through Olga, and was
followed by several others; and I received clear proof that I was now
regarded as a sort of leader of the forlorn hopes of these wild and
desperate men.  A man who could alone and unaided achieve what I was
believed to have accomplished was held capable of the greatest deeds.
So they appeared to argue; and I was accordingly picked out next for a
task of infinite danger and hazard in a plot of even more tremendous
consequences than that of the recent murder.

It was nothing less than the assassination of the Czar.

It was resolved, by whom and in what centre of the Empire I never knew,
to follow up the murder of Christian Tueski by the greater blow, and to
strike this with the utmost possible despatch: as a proof of the
desperate courage and daring of the Nihilists.

I was chosen to play one of the chief parts.  I had no option to
refuse.  There was no choice given me.  The task was committed to me;
just as a command might have been given me by my military superior
officer.  When I attempted to decline, I was given to understand that
refusal meant death.

I was thus placed in a position of cruel difficulty and I pondered with
close self-searching what I ought to do.  Looking back I think I made a
blunder in not disclosing all I knew to the authorities, leaving them
to take what steps they pleased; but in forming my decision at the time
I was swayed by a number of considerations most difficult to weigh.

One of my chief reasons for holding my tongue was that as the plot
followed so soon after the Tueski murder--for the plans were all made
within a week--the fact that I knew so much of Nihilist plots at such a
time, would bring both Olga and myself under suspicion of having been
privy to the former one.  In such a case everything I wished to win
would be jeopardised.  A single breath of suspicion would have been
enough to sweep us both into a gaol; and once there, no one could say
when, if ever, we should come out; for the whole country was red-hot
against the Nihilists, and men of the highest rank and wealth were
rotting in gaol side by side with the most abject and destitute paupers.

I was also much concerned as to my supposed past.  I knew that the old
Alexis was gravely compromised; but what he had actually done, I did
not know.  If any old offences were raked up I should be certain to be
called to account for them now, while Olga would inevitably suffer with
me.

For those reasons I decided to hold my tongue and to seek my own means
for causing the infernal scheme to miss its aim.  I reckoned that, as I
was to have a principal part assigned to me, I could by my own effort,
either through apparent stupidity or by wilful design, wreck the whole
project; and with this object I thought carefully over every detail of
it which was entrusted to me.

The scheme was ingenious and, save in one respect, simple enough.  A
fortnight later the Emperor was to pay a visit to Moscow, and already
preparations had commenced for his reception.  At one time it was
thought he would refuse to come because of the Tueski murder; but with
that unerring accuracy that always made me marvel, till I ascertained
the cause, the Nihilist leaders learnt the Imperial intentions before
they were known in some of even the closest official circles.

What the Czar decided to do was to have all the preparations continued
as though the original arrangements for the visit were to be carried
out; but at the last moment to make a change which would baffle any
plots.  He meant to alter the arrangement of the train by which he
would travel: and this at the very last moment.

The object of this was, of course, to thwart any plot that might be
laid to attack the train in which he travelled, so that thus the
plotters might be discovered.

But the double cunning of the Nihilists was quite equal to this change:
and the plot was indeed exactly what the officials had anticipated--to
wreck the train in which the Czar travelled--and I think it was chosen
for the very reason of its apparent obviousness.  Given precise
information of the Imperial movements and a little double cunning in
the plans, it was likely enough that the authorities would be
especially vulnerable in just that spot in which they believed they had
most effectively guarded themselves.

The official reasoning was that if the train in which the Czar was
publicly but erroneously believed to be travelling could pass safely,
then that in which His Majesty would actually be, would be sure to get
by without mishap.  The Nihilist plans were laid in full knowledge of
the official theory.

A part of the line about ten miles from the city where the rails ran in
a dead straight course over a comparatively flat country for some five
or six miles was chosen for the attack; and it was chosen because it
was that which the authorities would the least suspect, since it was
most easy to watch and guard.  A man standing at either end of the
long, flat, straight stretch could with a glass watch, not only the
line itself, but also the land adjoining the line.  Of all the spots
the train would pass this was by far the unlikeliest to be selected for
any Nihilist attack.

The most prominent and conspicuous spot of all was that, moreover,
which was picked out for the actual attempt.  At that particular point
a shallow dip in the fields caused the line to be embanked to a height
of some ten or twelve feet; and the key of the plan was to fix levers
to two of the rails so that they could be moved at the very last
moment, just when the train was within a few yards of them.  In this
way the train would be turned off the metals and sent over the
embankment into the field.

The levers, worked by electric motive power, were of course out of
sight under the wooden sleepers: and the wires were trailed in tubes
down inside the embankment and away through field-drains to a house
more than half a mile distant from the line, where the operators were
to remain until after the "accident."

Personally, I did not dislike the scheme: because I thought I could see
several ways in which I could prevent any fatal outcome; should I have
to remain in the country long enough to compel me to take part in it.
It would be easy enough for me to appear to lose my head at the last
moment, for instance, and so bungle matters that the men who were to
kill the Emperor would be in fact prevented from approaching him.

But there was also in this a desperate personal risk to myself.  I knew
that these men would be picked from among the most reckless and daring
spirits in the Empire; men suffering under the grossest personal wrongs
as well as motived by wild political fanaticism.  To them the blood of
either friend or foe was as nothing if it stood in the way of what
their unbalanced minds deemed justice and right.

It was thus a perilous and slippery eminence to which I had been
thrust, and it increased infinitely the hazard of my course.

My thoughts returned to the idea of flight with redoubled incentive,
therefore; and a circumstance occurred which seemed to promise me some
help in this direction.

A letter came to me from "Hamylton Tregethner."  Olga's brother had
escaped, as we knew, and had made his way to Paris.  He was going on,
he said, to America as soon as he had enjoyed himself: and when he
found himself in New York, he purposed to change his name and
nationality once more and be a Pole.

"I have not had many adventures," he wrote; "nor do I seem to have met
many men who know me.  But I had one encounter that was rather amusing.
I was at breakfast and saw a man staring hard at me from the other side
of the room.  I thought he might be a friend, and so I did not look at
him.  But he would not let his eyes move from me, and when I left the
table he followed and spoke to me.  'Hamylton, old man, I did not know
you at first.  You're looking frightfully ill and altered.  You're not
going to cut me.'  This gave me a cue, though I did not understand all
he said, when he added something about 'on account of somebody's
conduct.'  I did cut him, however; looked him hard in the face and
curling my lip as if in profound contempt, I turned on my heel.  I had
the curiosity to ask afterwards who he was, and they gave me his name
as the Hon. Rupert Balestier.  I suppose I know him, but I thought the
best way was not to speak.  I did not shake him off, however: for that
night he saw me again just when I was speaking English to some other
men.  I saw him listening as if he could not believe his ears; and as
soon as I was alone he came up and asked me who I was and what right I
had to masquerade as his old friend, Hamylton Tregethner.  For answer I
gave him another stare and got away.  Then I changed my hotel and am
going away from Paris for a few days.  I do not intend to be bothered
by the man."

My first impression of this incident was that it boded further danger.
I knew Balestier.  He was a man of great resolution and if he imagined
that anyone was masquerading in my name in Paris, he would think
nothing of rousing both the English and Russian Embassies; or of coming
on to Moscow himself to probe the thing to the bottom.  He loved
mysteries; was most active, energetic, and enterprising; and nothing
would suit him better than to have imported into his rather purposeless
life some such task as a search for me half over Europe.  He was quite
capable, too, of jumping to the conclusion that the man he had met had
murdered and was personating me; and in a belief of the kind he was
just the man to raise the hue and cry in every police office on the
Continent.

What the real Alexis called "speaking English" was of course bad enough
to brand him anywhere as an impostor, should he try to pass himself off
as an Englishman.  Balestier had no doubt listened in amazement to the
strange jargon coming from lips that looked like mine; and the
extraordinary likeness and "my" peculiar conduct would quite complete
his perplexity.

Probably I should hear more of the matter; and this set me considering
whether I could not manage in some way to communicate with Balestier
and get him to help in smuggling Olga across the frontier.  He would
revel in the work if I could only find him.

I turned to "Tregethner's" letter therefore to find the name of the
hotel, and to my infinite annoyance the fool had not mentioned it;
while his intention to run away from Paris and Balestier would cause
more delay.  The fellow was not only a coward but an idiot as well; and
I could have kicked him liberally, if my foot would only have reached
from Moscow to Paris.

As it was, Balestier, with the best will in the world, would probably
be blundering about and plunging me still deeper into the mud, when he
not only could, but would, have given me valuable help if I could have
got at him to tell him what to do.

I felt like Tantalus, when I thought of it.



CHAPTER XVII.

AN EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE.

The second complication was a much bigger matter; and it was of so
strange a description and fraught with consequences of such critical
importance to Olga and myself that of all my experiences of that time
it deserves to be classed as the most remarkable.  Like all else at
that time, it came quite unsought by me, and as the direct and
unavoidable consequence of the first step in my new life--the duel with
Devinsky and my subsequent repute as a swordsman.

A day or two after Tueski's funeral, and while the city was still
quivering and staggering under the effects of the supposed Nihilist
blow, a great ball took place at the Valniski Palace.

Count Valniski was among the richest men in Moscow, bidding hard for
power and courting popularity right and left among all classes.  To
this ball all the officers of my regiment were invited, together with
many of their friends.  Amongst the latter Olga had a card; and
although we were certainly in a poor mood for a function of the kind,
we felt it expedient to do what all the world was doing, go to it; lest
by remaining away we should attract attention to ourselves.

It was a very brilliant affair, as these big Russian balls always are,
and the crowd included many of the best and smartest people in Moscow.
I moved about the rooms, not dancing much, but exchanging a word now
and then with my brother officers and with other people who claimed
acquaintance with me.

Olga had plenty of partners among my comrades, and as she was dancing
with one of them I stood watching her and thinking how completely I had
dropped into the new social grooves of this Moscow life and how quickly
my first feelings of strangeness had worn off, when my friend Essaieff
came up to me.

"Alexis, I have a commission that concerns you," he said.

"Well?"

"You're in luck.  Try and guess."

"Can't," I replied, shaking my head.  "Unless the war's broken out and
I'm to have a step.  What is it?"

"There's a woman in it.  High up, too."  There were only two women in
Moscow I ever thought about; and one of them I wished to see safe out
of Russia, and the other at the devil, or anywhere out of my way.

"Give it up," I said, with a smile.

"It's that smile of yours fetches 'em, I believe," said Essaieff,
smiling in his turn.  "It makes your face one of the pleasantest things
in the world to look at."  He had ripened quickly into a very familiar
friend and we were great chums now.

"What is there you want me to do, old man?  You wouldn't waste that
flower of speech for nothing."

"Well, something's done it.  I have been asked to present you to one of
the wealthiest, most beautiful, and most influential women in
Moscow--the Princess Weletsky; and asked in terms which seemed to imply
that the honour of the introduction would be conferred on her."

"The Princess Weletsky, who is she?" I asked in absolute ignorance.

"That's just like you, Alexis.  I'm getting to know that sweet
innocence of yours.  Whenever I mention a name that all Russia knows,
you make the same lame show and ask, Who's he? or, Who's she?  You've
heard of her a thousand times.  You can't help hearing of her.  You
couldn't if you tried."

"All right," I laughed, to turn my mistake.  "Have you been talking
about me?"  He laughed at the idea.

"Why, man where are your wits?  Do you think the Princess and I are on
gossiping terms?  I'm only the fly on the wheel in this.  She wishes to
know you; I do know you; she once sent me a card for one of her
assemblies and snubbed me in a high bred manner; now she can use me,
and accordingly I am paraded for duty--to introduce you.  Come along or
she'll be getting some Court executioner to cut my throat for
loitering."

I followed him, wondering what it could mean; and half a minute later
was presented to one of the most lovely and stately women I have ever
seen.  A queenly woman, indeed, and I should have been an icicle if I
had not admired her.  She was radiantly fair in both hair and
complexion, but her eyes were dark and languishing like a Spaniard's:
while the faultless regularity of her features in no way marred the
exquisite suggestion of womanly sympathy and mental power which spoke
in her voice and manner and glances.

I have seen many lovely women of all types, but in all my life none to
compare with the exquisite magnificence of this Russian beauty.

Her reception of me could not have been more cordial, moreover, had I
been one of the greatest of Russia's nobles, or had she begun to
entertain some strong favour for me.  I am not a coxcomb where women
are concerned, I hope, and certainly nothing in their treatment of me
in my life had led me to conceit myself that such a woman as this would
fall in love with me; but her conduct to me that night might well have
turned my head, had it not been full of other matters.

I asked for the honour of a dance and she gave me her programme,
telling me I might write my name where I would.  As it was empty, this
seemed a generous invitation; but I scribbled my initials against two
dances, and was then going to move off.

She glanced at the programme and smiled.  I cannot describe the effect
which a smile produced on her face.

"I had purposely kept the next dance for you, Lieutenant," she said.
"But I see your reputation has somewhat belied you."

"My reputation?"

"Yes.  But I have much I should like to say to you.  I have heard of
you often; as a daring man even among Russia's most daring; and not
always as modest as brave."

"Rumour is often an unreliable witness," said I.

"She has not always spoken kindly of you, Lieutenant.  But to see you
is enough to test the truth of her tales."  She accompanied this with a
glance of especially subtle flattery, as she made place for me to sit
by her, and then drew me to talk by questioning me, always giving in
her answer a suggestion of keen personal interest in me.

We danced that next dance, and she declared that I waltzed better than
any man in the room; and at the close of the dance she asked me to take
her to one of the conservatories, under the pretext that she was
heated.  We sat there during two dances, until the first that I had
initialled came, and then we danced again.

All the time she fascinated me with her manner and the infinite
subtlety with which she implied the admiration she felt for my bravery,
my skill as a soldier and a swordsman, my strength--everything in
short: while she was loud in the expression of the interest with which
she said she should take in my future.

At the close of the dance she sent me to fetch my sister; and when I
presented her she made Olga sit down at her side and presently sent me
away, saying that women's friendship ripened much more quickly when
they were alone--especially if they were interested in the same man.
All of which would no doubt have been very sound philosophy--had Olga
been my sister in reality.

Essaieff had been watching me, and now chaffed me a good deal about my
conquest, and grew enthusiastic about my future.

"By Gad, man, she's as rich as a Grand Duke: and there is no limit to
the height her husband may climb.  Play your cards well now: and you've
got all the pluck, aye, and the brains too, if you like to use them:
and you'll be War Minister before I apply for my Colonelcy."

I laughed lightly; but I thought to myself that if he only knew the
skeletons in my cupboard that were gibbering and rattling their bones
in mockery of me, he wouldn't tell quite such an enthusiastic fortune
for me.

When I went back for my next dance with the princess, Olga was just
being led away by a handsome young partner whom the Princess had found
for her.

"Olga is most delightful," she said, with one of her smiles.  "She is
worthy of--anyone; and a most enthusiastic sister.  She is the most
genuine soul I ever knew.  She will be my dear friend, when her reserve
has worn off."  I thought I knew the cause of the "reserve," but I kept
the thought to myself.

After the dance she let me take her back to the same place, and
glancing at her programme let it fall on her lap with half a sigh.

"You were very moderate," she said, tapping the programme with her fan.

"Do you know the fable of the hungry mouse?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" This with a glance.

"Only that a poor little starveling found himself in a full granary one
day, when a fairy bade him eat.  He took a few grains and munched them
and stopped.  'Why stop there, mouse?' asked the fairy.  The little
thing glanced about him and looking at the crowd of fatted pets that
were watching him suspiciously from a distance, replied:--'If I take
more than these gentry think belong to me, they will fall on me; and
though I might enjoy the meal at the time, it will prove a dear one and
hard to digest.'"

"A shrewd mouse, but too timorsome," said the Princess, laughing, and
handing me her programme again.  "Take other two grains, mouse.  Though
I'm not quite sure by the way, whether you intended me to be the good
fairy or the bag of grain.  Fables are often tricksy things."

[Illustration: "Take another two grains, mouse."]

"And fairies also.  But at least mice are harmless."

"Except to frighten silly women.  But I am not afraid of
mice--especially when they are so moderate in permitted pilfering."

"The touch of a fairy's wand can change even a mouse to a lion," said
I; and when she met my gaze she dropped her eyes and coloured.  The
dance came then and we danced it almost in silence.

After it I went to look for Olga; but she had gone home; and then I
waited impatiently for my next dance with my most fascinating partner.

There is no flattery in the world half so telling on a man as a lovely
woman's admiration, undisguised yet not flaunted; and expressed in the
thousand subtle ways which her nimble wits can find when inspired by
resolve to please.

I did not think that at such a time any woman on earth could have
exercised so strong an influence over me in the course of no more than
an hour or two; and when we sat together after our last dance for a few
minutes before she left, I felt I would have done almost anything on
earth that she asked to serve her.  Something that she said drew from
me a rather random protestation to this effect, and she reddened and
started, and then after a rapid searching glance shot into my face, she
sat silent, fingering her fan, restlessly.  While doing this her
programme caught her attention.

She looked at it and held it so that I could read it.

"No name but yours," she said, almost in a whisper.  I saw this was so.
Then she broke the silken cord by which it was fastened to her wrist,
and with another glance at me put it away into her bosom.

It was a little action: but from such a woman what did it not mean?  I
was amazed.

Another long pause followed.

Then she laid her hand in mine and looked straight at me.

"Are you really a brave man?" she asked.  I seemed to take fire under
her touch and look.

"That is not a question a man can answer for himself.  Test me."

"If your sister were insulted, would you fight for her?"  She little
knew the cord she had touched, or guessed how the reference cooled me.

"I have already done so," I returned.

"In days of old men fought for any woman who was wronged.  Would you?"

"I have done it before now," I answered, still thinking of Olga, and my
thoughts for some reason slipped back to the first meeting on the
Moscow platform.

She paused and looked away from me for a moment as if hesitating; and
then leaning so close to me that I could feel her warm breath on my
cheek as she spoke, while her grasp tightened on my arm, she said in a
tone of deep feeling:--

"I have been wronged.  You see me here as I am and what I am; but save
for the happiness you have made me feel in being with you, I am the
most wretched woman in all Russia.  Will you help me?  Dare you?"  And
she seemed to hang on my words as she waited for my reply, her eyes
searching mine as if to read my answer there.

I was about to reply with a pledge inspired by the enthusiasm with
which she had fired me, when my instinctive caution restrained me.  She
was quick to see my moment's hesitation and not willing to risk a
refusal, she added hastily:--

"We cannot talk of this here.  I ought not to have spoken of it now:
but you seem to have drawn my very soul from me.  Come to me to-morrow
to my house.  I will be alone at three.  You will come--my friend?"  An
indescribable solicitude spoke through her last two words, all
suggestive of infinite trust in me.

"Certainly," I cried.  "And certainly your friend, if I dare."

She answered with a glance; and then seemed to cast aside her
excitement.  Rising she let me lead her back to the ball-room.

When I left her there were others round us, but as she bowed I caught a
glance and the whispered words:--

"I trust you."

I turned away half bewildered, and went home at once, pondering what
was to be the upshot of this new development.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE REASON OF THE INTRIGUE.

When I was alone and the strange charm of the Princess Weletsky's
presence had given way to calm reflection, my doubts began to grow.  I
was naturally a cautious man under ordinary circumstances; and now my
suspicions were the keener because my caution had been momentarily
lulled to sleep.

I was all inclined to disbelieve the story which the Princess had told,
or rather had suggested; and I began to look behind all she had said
for some motive or intrigue.  I thought she might wish for the help of
my sword for some altogether different purpose than she had suggested:
but I could think of nothing.  Nor could Olga, with whom I spoke very
freely on the subject.

She said she could see no more than appeared on the surface; and what
that was it was superfluous to ask; especially when she told me that
the Princess could, or would talk of nothing else to her but my
bravery, my good looks, my courtesy, my chivalry, and so on at great
length.

"It is agreeable to have my brother praised," said Olga once, laughing.
"But there are limits."

During the next four or five days Olga had ample opportunities of
hearing these praises, moreover, as the Princess would scarcely let her
out of her sight.  When I called on the day following the ball I found
the two together, and the Princess in a few words we had together out
of my sister's hearing would say nothing at all about the subject of
her wrongs.  She enlarged on the suggestion of the previous night that
she had been led by her impulses and her instinctive trust in me to
speak too fully.

For some days she maintained the same attitude of reserve, and then
quite suddenly when we were alone, she changed again, and in words
which I could not fail to understand she let me know indirectly that if
I would avenge her wrongs, her hand would be my reward.

I have never in my life had to face a more awkward crisis than that.
What reply she expected I cannot tell: whether she looked for some
eager passionate protestations of love, or some strong pledge of
defence, or what.  Whether she really cared for me and the confusion
she shewed was the sign of it, or whether the whole part was assumed
and everything mere acting, I cannot say.  But I know that I on my part
felt indescribably embarrassed and scarcely knew how to answer her.

I knew, too, the danger to Olga and myself of offending a woman so
highly placed, so influential, and powerful as the Princess.  We had
enough troubles as it was: and if they were to be multiplied and
aggravated in this way, we should be overwhelmed.  It was certain that
I must find some way of temporising.

"Princess, I am your devoted servant to do with as you will," I
answered.  "And if my sword can be of service, tell me how."  She
started and flushed with pleasure as I said this.

"I knew I should not count on you in vain.

"The Grand Duke Servanieff will now learn that a more stalwart arm than
his protects me from his insults."  Her eyes seemed to glitter as she
watched the effect of this name on me.

"Do you mean that that is the man you wish me to fight?" I cried in the
deepest astonishment.  He was all but on the very steps of the Throne,
and if I had approached him he would have brushed me away into a gaol
with no more concern or difficulty than he would have whisked a fly off
his hand.

The woman was mad.

"He persists in forcing his attentions on me, and I will not have
them," she said.

All my suspicions had been stung into activity by the mention of the
name of the Grand Duke; and as I looked at the Princess she appeared to
be watching me with quite suspicious vigilance as she added:--"He
cannot refuse to meet anyone to whom I give the right to protect me
from him."

It was an intrigue.  I was sure of it; and this lovely woman was making
me her tool.

I answered guardedly.

"A lieutenant in a marching regiment who should presume to challenge
that man would stand a better chance of being whipped at the cart's
tail than of meeting him."

"He is a great swordsman, I know," she said, as if to pour suspicion on
my courage.  But I was not a fool to be tripped by a gibe.  If I had
wished to marry the woman I would have consented readily enough there
and then, and risked all; but my object was to get out of Russia and to
get Olga out with me.

"I should not fear him were he twice as skilful; but this is no mere
matter of sword fence."

"Easy words, Lieutenant."

"I will make them good, Princess," replied I, quietly.  "But I must
first see the course clearer for the meeting.  What say your friends?
Can I depend on their influence?"

"Won't you do this for me, then?  Am I mistaken in you?"  There was a
sharp accent of irritation in her tone that I noticed now.

"Princess, it does not best become a beautiful woman to doubt a man's
courage until he is proved a craven.  Here is no matter of personal
courage only; but I should be loosing upon me all the waters of
bitterest political intrigue.  Alone I should be absolutely powerless
to stem the torrents that would sweep me to certain ruin.  Alone,
therefore I cannot do what you ask.  But understand me, give me the
powerful support of your family, and I will meet the man, were he fifty
times the Highness that he is--if we can arrange the meeting."

She seemed disappointed at this; quite unreasonably so; and tried to
move me.  But I stood firm, and then with evident reluctance, she told
me her brother was with her in the matter, and that if I would see him
all would be simple.

"My brother, Prince Bilbassoff, is, as you know, Minister of the
Interior, and is now in Moscow in connection with the visit of the
Emperor."  I had not known who her brother was; but when she gave me
the name and told me where I could see him, a rapid conclusion leapt
into my thoughts.

Prince Bilbassoff was the real power behind the Police, and I was
probably going to find now why Christian Tueski had had to hold his
hand against me.

I went at once to see him.

I found him the very opposite of the popular ideal of a bureaucrat--a
short, grey, close-haired, spare man, with the air of a man of the
world, and a pleasant cheery manner that suggested nothing formidable
or even powerful.  Yet without doubt the man was in many respects the
most powerful and the most feared in all Russia.

He appeared to be expecting me; for the instant I was announced, he got
up and welcomed me with a hearty shake of the hand and said:---

"I thought my sister would have to make us acquainted, Lieutenant
Petrovitch.  She said she wouldn't; but I expected you.  Women think
beauty will do everything; and somehow are always calculating without
the effects of self-interest.  Don't you think so?"  He spoke with a
sort of easy club mannerism, and just let his eyes rest a moment on my
face.

"Of course you know the drift of what has passed then?"

"Of course I do.  As well as I know that your coming to me means that
my sister's method has failed.  I from the first disagreed with it.  I
know a great deal about you, Lieutenant Petrovitch; and I think I could
have saved time.  But my sister was attracted to you--women always like
you handsome young fire-eaters, especially women like my sister--and as
she is to take a rather large hand in the matter, she wanted to play it
her own way.  She appealed to your feelings, Lieutenant.  I should have
gone straight to your interest: and really it will be to your interest
to do this."

"Will you tell me plainly what is wanted?"

"Certainly.  The death of the man whose name has no doubt been
mentioned to you."

"Why?"

"Not because he has insulted my sister: though that is fortunately a
plausible pretext: but because he is a menace to the Empire."

His bluntness astounded me.

"Do you take me for an assassin?"

"No.  I take you for a very resolute young man, with a great skill of
fence, a large desire to push your fortunes high, and not too much
scruple to act like a sword scabbard between your legs and trip you up.
If you weren't that, you'd be no use to me.  As you are, I open before
you a career such as lies before no other man in the Emperor's wide
dominions at the present moment.  Do this, and you win a woman as rich
and beautiful and, as women go, as good as any in Russia for a wife;
and you can ask and have almost what place you like, either in or out
of the army."

"And if I refuse?"

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"You won't refuse," he said, shaking his head.  "If you do, you will be
a young fool--too foolish to be trusted at large."

I knew what he meant; and when I looked at him next, I understood why
men feared him.  That laugh of his would usher a man to the knout or
the gallows.

I thought rapidly.

"I like the project," I replied.  "But can you arrange the meeting?"

He was as quick as the devil, and detected the false note in my voice.

"Lieutenant, there are two courses open to you," he said in a tone so
sharp, stern and ringing that the change surprised me.  "You can accept
or refuse the offer--but don't try to fool me."

"Well, then, I'm not a murderer," I rapped out, angered by his words.

"That's better," he said, with a return to his light clubbish manner.
"But this is no murder.  The man is a traitor: and no juster act could
be compassed than his death."

"Then why not do it openly?"

He smiled and threw up his hands.

"Is justice always done openly?  Of course we might do that: but he
would laugh at our efforts.  We might get him assassinated; but he is
too powerful and the noise of the act would defeat the very object we
have.  He is a swordsman worthy of your skill.  He has insulted, and
will again insult my sister, your betrothed--for what is not an insult
when you wish to make it one?--and he would delight to meet you.  He
will think he can kill you.  Perhaps he can: may be, probably; for he
is a very devil with the weapon.  That is your risk.  Will you take it?
It's no light one.  But you are a young fellow with all to gain in
winning and nothing to lose but your life.  You will do it, I know.
I'm only surprised you hesitate."

I sat thinking: but not in the groove he guessed.

"We'll make your sister's fortune as well," he said, raising the terms.
"She shall make a marriage into one of the best families in Russia, and
found a family of the highest distinction.  Think, Lieutenant."

I was thinking about as hard as I could: but no opening offered itself.

"I must have time to determine," I said.  "It seems to me that I run
the chance of playing the cat's paw with all the flame for my share.
What guarantee have I that if I do this and am successful I shall not
then be deemed--too foolish to be trusted at large, as you say?"

"First, my honour; secondly, your betrothal to my sister; and thirdly,
her feeling for yourself."

"And if I refuse, Siberia, I suppose?"

"No, not so far as that," he replied, lightly.

"But what if I feign to consent and carry the story to the man you
threaten?"

"There is that chance of course.  But in the first place he would not
believe you, Lieutenant; and in the second, if he did, neither you nor
he could do any harm; and in the third, you would have me for an enemy.
And I am pleasanter and safer as a friend.  I have discounted that
risk, and it is nothing."

"How long will you give me to decide?"

"A week.  We can then announce the betrothal just before the Emperor's
visit here, and gain the Imperial blessing on so righteous a marriage
between a brave man and a beautiful woman, each motived by the highest
patriotic feelings for Russia."

With this half sneer ringing in my ears, he sent me away.



CHAPTER XIX.

OLGA'S ABDUCTION.

I went home in a very unenviable frame of mind, and my temper was not
improved by my meeting my old opponent, Devinsky, near my rooms.

For the moment I was powerless to think of any possible means of
relief.  My helplessness was so complete as to be almost ludicrous: and
if it had not been for Olga, I would have just let myself be dragged
along by the singular chain of events which had coiled themselves round
me.

I must rouse myself to some sort of effort for her sake.  I saw that,
of course.  But the result of a couple of hours' thinking was only to
increase my utter perplexity; and I went off to bed to try if sleep
would clear my wits.

I resolved to see Olga the next day as soon as possible after my
regimental duties were over.  There was but one thing possible.  She
must go at once and we must try to hit on some plan by which she could
escape at any hazard.  But my regimental work was heavier than usual,
and when it was over a meeting of the officers was called in reference
to the impending visit of the Czar to Moscow.  It was thus late in the
afternoon before I could get to Olga.

At the house, astounding news awaited me.

The Countess Palitzin met me with the question where Olga was.  I
looked at her in astonishment; and then she told me a message had come
from me early in the forenoon, asking Olga to go round at once to my
rooms.  She had gone, promising to return soon or send word.  She had
done neither; and a six hours' absence had made the old lady anxious.

"She should have been back before this," I said, quietly, not wishing
to add to her alarm.  "Who do you say came for her?"

"Your servant, Borlas, Olga told me."

I tried to reassure her that all was right, though I did not at all
like the look of things, and I hurried back to my rooms to question
Borlas.  He had not been there on my return from barracks, and he was
not there now; and there was nothing to shew that he had not been
absent for some hours.

Did this mean treachery?  Or had Olga been arrested?  Could she be in
the hands of the Nihilists?  Or what?  A thousand wild thoughts flashed
through my mind as I stood for a minute thinking what I ought to do
first, and where to look for her.

Then I recalled my meeting with Devinsky near my rooms.

I dashed out and ran to Essaieff's rooms to find out all he knew about
Borlas, as he had recommended the man to me; and to learn whether he
would be likely to be bribed to do such an act of treachery as now
seemed possible.  But my friend was out.  Leaving word for him to come
at once to me I went on to Madame Tueski and questioned her.  She
equivocated, suggesting that I was feeling her power; and with the
utmost difficulty I drew from her that despite all her hints she knew
nothing.

I ran then to the Prince Bilbassoff; but he was away.  I hurried next
to the Princess; she knew nothing, but was full of sympathy and offers
of help.

I wanted news, however, not offers of help; and I rushed back to my
rooms, on my way to the police, on the off-chance that Borlas had
returned.

He had not: but in his place there was something much more important.
A rough, wild looking country-man was standing at my door, holding the
bridle of a shaggy pony that bore signs of heavy travelling; and the
man had been trying vainly to get into my house.  He addressed me,
asking where he could find Lieutenant Petrovitch; and then gave me a
slip of paper from Olga.

"_Am suspicious and sending this back.  If anything wrong, follow me.
O._"

I then questioned the man closely and he said that his wife was called
to the window of a carriage to a young lady who was ill.  When she had
recovered, she gave his wife a handkerchief.  In it was the message and
a sum of money and a request that it--the paper--should be brought to
me at once.  This had occurred at Praxoff, about ten miles out on the
north road.

In less than a quarter of an hour I was armed and mounted; and a few
minutes saw me free of the city and flying at full gallop in pursuit.
I knew the road well enough, owing to my long residence as a boy in
Moscow; and I now put my horse to its utmost speed and made straight
for the house where Olga had seen the peasant woman.

I found it without the least difficulty and got a description of the
carriage, horses, and postilion; and I  questioned the woman as to
every word Olga had said to her and who was in the carriage.

From what she said, I judged it was Borlas, and that the two were alone.

I stayed no longer than was necessary to hear all the woman had to say,
and then I rode on still at full speed, asking right and left as I went
for tidings of the carriage.  The trail was broad enough for anyone to
follow for some miles and then I came upon information that gave me a
complete clue to the whole matter.

Reining up at a wayside inn, I put the usual questions; adding that the
lady was my sister and that I was an officer in the Moscow Infantry
Regiment.  The landlord came to me instantly.

"You are Lieutenant Petrovitch?" he asked.

"Yes," and I told him my errand.

"Have you been engaged in a duel this morning?"

I stared at the man and asked him what he meant.  His answer shewed
what story had been concocted to trick Olga.

"A gentleman engaged two rooms here this morning, saying they would be
wanted in connection with a duel in the neighbourhood.  One of the
combatants was Lieutenant Petrovitch; and the latter's sister was
coming to be near at hand in case of her brother being hurt.  She was
coming out with the brother's servant and when she arrived was to be
shewn at once to the room engaged for her.  As a fact the duel had
already been fought in the early hours: Lieutenant Petrovitch had been
badly wounded and lay at a private house a few miles further on, too
ill to be moved.  The sister was to be told this; the news being broken
gradually; and she was not to be allowed to leave the inn, unless she
insisted very much, in which case the servant would know where to take
her; and fresh horses were to be supplied.  I told her gently,"
continued the landlord; "and she insisted on going on at once without
even stopping for food.  Fresh horses were put in accordingly, and the
carriage proceeded with less than half an hour's halt here, all told."

I saw the ruse in a moment.  It was to get fresh horses without Olga
being suspicious; and to draw in the landlord so as to appear to give
the story corroboration.

"What was the man like who came to you?" I asked impatiently, ordering
a horse to be saddled instantly.  In reply the landlord described
Devinsky accurately.

I saw it all now; and when the man had given me a valuable clue to the
road which the carriage had taken--it had been met by some returning
postboys--I set off again in pursuit in the now gathering dusk, as fast
as I could make the new horse move.

I rode on till the dark fell: and still on till the moon rose and
flooded the land with her thin light; and it was not until ten at night
that I reached the end of my journey.  Some peasants gave me the final
clue.  They had met the carriage and a question had been asked of them
as to the whereabouts of a certain house.  They told me now where this
was, and a few minutes later I reached the place.

It was an old ramshackle house, once the seat of a family of good
position but now fallen upon evil days.  It made three sides of a
square and the courtyard in the middle was all weed-grown, moss-covered
and uneven, with one large yew tree standing dark and gloomy in the
centre.  The main entrance was in the middle portion; and there were
two small gothic arched doors in the wings.  But these seemed very
stout as I examined them; and all the windows were latticed with stout
ironwork.

Just the spot for such a venture as this, I thought, as I stole about
the place to reconnoitre, treading softly, and keeping as much as
possible in the dark shadows which the walls made.

There was not a sound to be heard, nor a light to be seen; while the
look of the place made it certain that I should have a hard task to
force my way inside.  The same unpromising look of things met me when I
left the front and crept round to the back and when I had seen all
round the house I could not make up my mind what was the best thing to
do.

There are times, however, when any kind of action is better than doing
nothing.  There was everything to be gained and nothing to be lost by
Devinsky learning that I had followed him and knew his hiding-place.  I
resolved on a pretty bold course, therefore, and drawing my revolver I
stepped out into the full moonlight and walked quickly to the main
entrance.

I had reached to within ten yards of the door when a voice called to
me:--

"Who goes there?  What do you want?  Stop, or I fire."

Looking up I saw the gleam of a rifle barrel levelled dead at me.  I
did not stop to answer but leaping aside, I darted forward into the
doorway, where the man could not cover me with his weapon, because of a
shallow porch which intervened to protect me.

[Illustration: I darted forward into the doorway.]

The incident shewed me the sort of welcome I was to expect.

There was an old and heavy knocker on the door, and a huge bell-pull.
I seized both these and set up first a knocking that might have roused
the dead and then a clanging of the bell equally furious and dinning.
Presently the bell ceased to sound and I gathered either that someone
within had cut the wires or that I had broken them in my energy.  The
great knocker suited me equally well, however--perhaps better, as the
noise rang out on the still night air, making a fearful din--and if
there did chance to be anyone within half a mile of the place they
would hear it and might hasten to learn the cause.

Those inside took the same view of the matter, apparently; for suddenly
and without my knowing the cause, I found the big heavy door give way
before one of my lusty attacks with the knocker; and as I pushed, it
swung slowly open.

Everything within was as dark as pitch; and the contrast between the
row I had been making and the dead silence that followed was so
profound as to make me stand a minute that my ears should get
accustomed to the change.

Then drawing my sword and holding my revolver in my left hand, I
stepped in and tried to peer about me.

The light of the moon gave a faint reflection within, but not enough
for me to be able to make out anything distinctly; nor, when I strained
my ears could I detect the slightest sound anywhere.

My first thought was that as I stood in the doorway, I should be an
excellent mark for anyone caring to shoot, and I slipped aside
therefore, into the heavy shadow of the big door.  It was full five
minutes before my eyes, keen as they are, could distinguish anything;
and then I seemed to make out two doorways, one on each side of a large
hall into which the big door opened, and beyond them in the middle a
broad stairway.

I groped my way warily a few steps, feeling along the wall, when I
stopped and began to reflect that I was making a fool of myself in
attempting single-handed and in pitch darkness to find my way about the
place.  I must wait for a light of some sort.  I had no idea how many
men there might be in the house.  I did not know a square foot of the
plans.  While I was blundering about in the dark I should be an easy
prey for men whom I could as easily fight in the daylight.  Moreover I
argued that the knowledge that I had tracked him would keep Devinsky
from attempting any devilment as yet.

I was in the house; and I resolved therefore to wait patiently where I
was in the hall until I had light enough to guide me in my search for
Olga.

But I could not keep to the resolution.

Scarcely had I formed the plan when the stillness was broken by a
woman's scream, shrill and piercing, and a cry for help that made my
heart leap into my throat with wrath as I thought I could recognise
Olga's voice.

Without another moment's hesitation, and uttering a loud shout in
reply, I dashed forward to where I could see the outline of the
stairway, and rushed up in the direction of the cries for help.

Idiot that I was!  Of course I rushed straight into the trap that had
been laid for me.  As I reached the top and turned to dart along a
corridor, my feet were tripped and I fell sprawling headlong with a
clatter and a dozen oaths to the ground, my sword flying one way and my
revolver another; and before I could help myself three or four fellows
were upon me, and though I fought and struggled with them and nearly
choked one on to whose throat I fastened my grip, I was overpowered and
bound securely hand and foot.  Then I was blindfolded and gagged, and
in this absolutely helpless state, carried down the stairs again,
getting on the way two or three hearty kicks from the men I had
pummelled.  They threw me down on the floor of an empty room and left
me.

I cursed my folly bitterly when I heard the fellows' footsteps as they
left the room and locked the door behind them.  I had spoilt all for
the lack of a little caution.  I was an idiot, a fool, a numskull, a
jackass, to have been caught by a trick which a child might have
anticipated; and I rolled about the floor, cursing myself and tearing
and pulling at my bonds in my passion, till I had torn the flesh in a
dozen places.  But I could not loosen a single strand of all the cords
that bound me; and I gnashed my teeth and could almost have shed tears
in my baffled rage and fury.

I lay thus some hours till the light must have come, for even through
the heavy bandages on my eyes, the darkness seemed tinged with grey.
As I thought of the use I might have made of the light, my
self-reproaches welled up again till I felt almost like a madman.

Later on I heard the door unlocked and two or three men entered.  They
came and turned me over and holding me firmly, cut the ropes that bound
my arms, and then tied my hands behind me in iron handcuffs, drawing
them so tightly that I could not move them without pain.  When I was so
far secured they cut the ropes from my legs and bade me stand up.  I
tried; but the rush of the released blood brought with it too much
pain, and I was just as helpless as a baby for some minutes.  When at
length I managed to scramble to my feet, they unfastened the bandage
from my eyes and as soon as my dazed sight could focus itself, I saw
that brute Devinsky looking at me with a sneering laugh.

"So it's you, is it?" he cried, as if in surprise.  "Turned robber, eh,
breaking into men's houses in the dead of night?  And what the devil
are you doing here?  My men told me there was a thief here, but I
didn't expect you."

"Don't lie to me," I cried sternly.  "You know well enough why I'm
here.  Where's my sister.  If you're not too damned a coward, get me my
sword and let's settle this thing together and at once."

He winced at the taunt, but he didn't mean to fight that way.

"Thank you.  I don't fight with burglars.  I hand them over to the
police--when it suits me.  I always thought there was something secret
about you; now I know what it is.  You've been living by this sort of
work I suppose.  Officer by day, and footpad by night.  I'm glad my men
have caught you at last."  Then he sent them away; and as soon as we
were alone he asked me:--"Do you value you life?"

"Yes, for one reason.  To take yours."

"Well, you can have it--if you like to be reasonable."

"I make no terms with a villain like you."

"More fool you," he laughed.  "You may as well face the position.  You
are in my power.  This house is big enough and strong enough to hide a
regiment, let alone one man.  You can't stop me now from carrying out
my intention in regard to your sister, by fair means or otherwise; and
you may as well make the best of a bad business, and own that I've got
the whip hand of you, partly by my luck and partly by your own damned
stupidity.  I'd rather have you on my side in this matter than against
me; but with me or against me you can't stop me.  What do you say?"

"This.  That the first use I'll make of my hands when they're free
shall be to try and choke the life out of you.  And by God, I'll try
and do it now."  In my rage I rushed upon him, but like the cowardly
cur he was, he struck me, bound and defenceless as I was, with all his
force in the face, and then with a cry brought in the other men.  These
threw themselves upon me and bore me to the ground, and bound my legs
again, so that I was once more absolutely helpless.

"You saw that attack the villain made on me," said Devinsky to the men.
"I was offering to release him.  You'll bear witness to that.  As for
you," turning to me, "you can stay here for a few hours more to cool
your murderous fever; and I will send back orders for your release,
when I am at a safe distance.  And, remember, there are strong cellars
below; and if there are any more attempts at violence, I'll have you
put there."

He went out then with the men and in a moment later returned alone and
said in a voice full of rage and hate:--"I'm going through with this,
Petrovitch, at any cost--if I have to shut you up here till the flesh
rots off your bones.  Your sister and I are going further on shortly:
and I'll see you once more before I start, and give you one more chance
of listening to reason."  And with this he left me.

My plight was worse than ever.  So far, Olga was safe.  That was the
only glimpse of comfort in all the miserable situation.  It was clear,
too, that she was in the house; and though she was still in the man's
power, I might yet find some means of helping her.

But how?  That was the question.  And when I thought of his words that
he was going to carry her still further away, I turned sick with rage
and loathing.



CHAPTER XX.

THE RESCUE.

I felt as though the heat of hell were burning in my veins as I lay on
the floor with the remembrance of Devinsky's blow and his words turning
my blood to fire.  If ever I were free again, I swore to myself over
and over again, I would have his life for that blow.  My anguish and
rage that he should have Olga in his power were infinite tortures, and
all the less endurable because of my abject helplessness.

The one chance I had of deliverance was that someone, perhaps Essaieff,
should hear of the matter and follow me.  But the hope was so feeble as
to be little more than tantalising; fool-like, I had rushed off without
leaving any intimation of what had happened.  If he did follow me,
indeed, it would be only after a long interval, and not until Devinsky
would have had time either to get far away or to carry out his purpose.

Then I began speculating as to what he meant to do.  He would scarcely
dare to try and make Olga his wife against her will and consent; though
he was evidently villain enough to go to great lengths.  In this way my
thoughts ran over the ground trying to ferret out a means of escape as
well as seeking a key to the man's motives; and thus another hour or
two slipped away without my hearing a sound or getting a sign of anyone.

The strain of suspense was enough to turn one's brain.

But a wholly unexpected and most welcome interruption came to break in
upon my reverie.  Outside I heard the tramp of horses being ridden at a
sharp trot into the courtyard of the house, with a jingling of arms and
accoutrements that told me the riders were either soldiers or mounted
police.  A sharp word of command brought them to the halt; and as soon
as that happened, I let out such a lusty yell for help as made the
walls ring again and again.  Then my door was opened and two men rushed
in and ordered me to be silent, under pain of instant death, and
clapped revolvers to my head.  But I knew they dared not fire with such
visitors at the door and I continued to yell with all my lung power
until, throwing down their weapons, they first clapped their hands on
my mouth and then thrust a gag into my jaws.

Some five minutes passed and the tension of my impatience was
unendurable.  Meanwhile the two men held me and cut the bonds from my
legs and got ready to slip the gyves from my wrists.

Presently the tramp of feet approached the door of my room and when it
was opened an officer of the mounted police entered with a file of men
at his heels.  Devinsky was shewing the way and speaking as they all
came in.

"As I have told you, he made an attack on the house in the night; my
men secured him.  When I saw him, I recognised him, of course, and
should have released him, but he tried to murder me--angry, I presume,
at having been discovered and recognised at such work.  I then had him
bound again and was going to send to-day into the city for the police,
when you came.  If you'll take him away, that's all I want."

The man in command of the police listened to this in silence and with a
face that shewed no more expression than a stone gargoyle.

"Release him," he said to his men, and in another moment I was at
liberty.  As soon as I was free, I began to edge my way inch by inch
toward where Devinsky stood.  I would have him down, police or no
police, thought I, even if it were my last act before entering a gaol.
I guessed of course that some Nihilist blabber had told the facts, and
that I was bound for Siberia, or worse.

"Lieutenant Petrovitch, you are to accompany me, if you please," said
the leader; and a sign to his men set two of them at each side of me.

"I have first one word to say to that--gentleman," I said, pointing to
Devinsky.

"Excuse me.  My instructions are peremptory.  I must ask you to go with
me at once--without a minute's delay."

I saw Devinsky's face brighten at the thought of thus getting rid of
me: and my fingers itched and tingled to be at his throat.

"Am I arrested?" I asked.  "For what?"

"I can say nothing, Lieutenant," replied the man.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

"If you please, we must go, and at once," was the stolid reply.

I saw Devinsky grin again at this.

"This man has carried off my sister," I cried.  "She is in his power
now, and it was when I came to find her that he tricked me and then had
me bound as you see.  Send your men to find her.  She must return with
us."

"I have no instructions to that effect," replied the man curtly.

"Damn your instructions," I burst out hotly.  "Are you a man--to leave
a young girl in this plight?"  My reply stirred only anger.

"I cannot do what I am not ordered to do," said the officer again
curtly.

"Then I won't go without her.  Go back and--or better, send one of your
men for permission to do this and stay here and keep guard over me and
my sister at the same time."

"It is impossible.  My instructions are peremptory and nothing will let
me swerve from them."

I began to lose all self-command, and only by the most strenuous
efforts did I prevent myself from heaping reproaches upon him for his
cold-blooded officialism.

"Will you leave a couple of men here then, to protect her?"

"I can say no more, Lieutenant, and do no more than I have said.  And
now, we must go."

It maddened me beyond all telling to think that I was to be carried
away in this ruthless, heartless, implacable fashion at the very moment
when the rescue of the girl I loved more than my life was but a matter
of walking into another room and bringing her out.  I was staggered by
the blow.

"Do you know that I would ten thousand times rather that you had left
me here bound and helpless as I was than take me away in this fashion.
I must see my sister.  I must save her--why man, are you lost to every
sense of feeling?  Take her away first--make her safe; and then I swear
to Heaven, you or this man can do with me what you please."

The stolid stony impassiveness of the man's face crushed every hope out
of me.  I could have struck him in my baffled rage.

"I have twenty men in the troop here, Lieutenant My instructions are to
take you at once to Moscow.  I prefer to use no force; but I have it
here, if necessary."

I wrung my hands in despair; and then with a wild dash I rushed to the
door to try and find Olga for myself.  It was useless.  They closed on
me in an instant, and I was helpless.  Then they marched me out to the
horses, venting as I went bitter reproaches and unavailing protests,
mingled with loud curses, laments, and revilings.

"Will you give me your parole to go quietly, Lieutenant?" asked the
leader.

"On one condition.  That we ride at full speed all the way."

"I can make no condition," replied this block of official stolidity;
"but my instructions are to act with all haste.  One question--have you
been illtreated here?"

"Only as I told you."

Then he went back into the house for a moment, saying he would speak to
Devinsky about it.  I saw the latter change colour when he received the
police report and he made a gesture of seeming repudiation, lifting his
hands and shrugging his shoulders.  After that he threw me a malicious
look from his angry evil face that almost made me clamber down from the
saddle to try and have a reckoning with him there and then.

"When I'm out of this, I'll hunt you out," I cried, between my teeth.

"When!" he answered: and the sneer in which he shewed his teeth as he
uttered the word, was in my eyes for half that long, wild ride.

The police leader kept his word; and we rode at a hard gallop nearly
all the way, the whole country side turning out as we thundered by.

The man would not say a word to me on the journey, except that he had
been ordered to hold no communication at all with me; and thus I did
not know where they were taking me, or whether I was arrested or
rescued, until we drew rein at the Police head-quarters in Moscow and I
was ushered straight into the presence of Prince Bilbassoff, all dirty,
dishevelled, bruised, and travel-stained as I was.

He rose and met me, holding out his hand.

"My dear Lieutenant, you are really giving me an unconscionable amount
of trouble.  As much, indeed, as if you were already a member of my
family."

"What does all this mean?" I asked.  "Am I arrested?"

"What an impatient fellow you are!  It will all come in time," he
returned, with an indescribable blending of good nature and suggestive
threat.  "Is this all the thanks one gets for rescuing you from what,
judging by your appearance, has been a very ugly mess.  This
harum-scarum business will really have to stop--when you marry."  He
seemed almost to laugh behind his grizzled moustache in the pause that
emphasised the last three words.

"Will you tell me the real meaning of this?  I have already asked you."

"Sit down;" and he sat down himself, and lounged back easily in his
chair.  "By the way, have you lunched?"

"For God's sake man, don't trifle in this way.  If you know the facts,
as I suppose you do, you'll know I'm in no mood for bantering courtesy.
Why am I torn away by your men by force at the very moment when my
sister is in danger at the hands of the brute who has carried her off.
I suppose you know all this.  What does it mean, I repeat."

"You can understand, perhaps, Lieutenant, that as it is two days since
my sister referred you to me, and you had left Moscow hastily, she was
growing a little anxious.  You know something of women in love and
their insistent moods."

"To hell with all these plots and intrigues," I cried, furiously.  "If
you mean that that devil Devinsky is to have my sister in his power and
I am to sit down coolly and bear it while you talk to me about
marriage, you don't know me.  I'll think of nothing, talk of nothing,
do nothing, till I have either saved her and killed that villain, or am
killed myself."

"Do you mean that you will set me at defiance?" cried the Prince, in
stern ringing tones, his eyes flashing at me.  "That you dare to flout
the offers we have made you, and have the hardihood to set the needs of
the country below your own little petty personal feelings and wishes?
Do you know what that means, sir?"

"I care not what it means," I answered, recklessly.  "I tell you this
to your face.  If my sister be not saved at once, I'll never set eyes
on you or your sister again, unless it be that you make me grin at you
from behind the bars of some one of your cursed gaols.  That is my last
word, if it costs me my life."

He rose and looked at me so sternly that I could almost have flinched
before him if my stake in the matter had not been so great.  I never
met such a look of concentrated power before.

"If you dare to repeat that, Lieutenant Petrovitch, I will send you
straight to the Mallovitch," he said, with positively deadly intensity
of tone, pointing his finger through the window to where the gloomy
frowning tower of the great prison was visible.

"I care not if you send me to hell," I cried.  "Save my sister, or my
hand shall rot at the wrist before I lift it in your service."

We stood staring intently dead into each other's eyes; and he stretched
forward a hand to summon those who would carry out his threat.

Then he breathed deeply, smiled, and offered me his hand instead.

"By God, you're the man we want, in all truth.  Now, I'll tell you what
you ask."

He had only been testing me after all, and my wits were so blunt in my
agitation that I had not seen through him.

"Have no fear for your sister," he continued.  "She is quite safe.  My
man gave that Devinsky a message when he was leaving that puts all
doubt on that score aside.  She is part of our bargain, and the arm of
the State is over her.  If you accept my offer at once, your sister
herself shall decide that man's punishment.  My object in all this is
twofold--to let you feel something of the substance of power that will
be yours when you have consented; and secondly to test a little more
thoroughly your staunchness.  I am satisfied, Lieutenant.  And I hope
you are."

"Where is my sister now?" I asked, after a moment's consideration.

"Where you left her, of course.  Decide how you wish her to come to
Moscow.  Shall my men fetch her?  Shall that man bring her back
himself?  Or will you ride out.  It is a matter of the merest form--but
as yet, of course, you are unaccustomed to your influence and power."

He was the devil at tempting; and though he had told me his motive, and
I knew the rank impossibility of doing what he wanted--I could not help
a little thrill of pleasure at the consciousness that this power lay
within my grasp.

"I will ride out and bring her in myself," I said, with a flush of
pleasant anticipation at the thought.

"As you will.  This will do everything," he said, as he wrote me an
order in the name of the Emperor.  I knew its power well enough.  "One
condition, by the by.  You must not fight this Devinsky; nor do
anything to provoke a fight."

"I won't promise," I answered.

"Then I give no order.  Your life is ours, not yours to play with.
That is the essence of the matter."

"I will promise," I said, changing suddenly as I thought of Olga and
the delight of seeing her under the circumstances.  "My word on it.  I
do nothing except in self-defence, or in defence of my sister."

"Well, be off with you then," he said, rising and shaking hands, and
speaking as lightly as if I were a schoolboy being sent off for a ride;
and as though there were not between us a jot or tittle of a plan in
which life and death, fortune and marriage were the stakes.

I hurried back to make preparations for riding back at once; and half
an hour later I had had my first meal for twenty-four hours and was
again in the saddle, pricking at top speed along the northern road,
followed by one of the Prince's confidential servants, sent as the
former said to me, with especial instructions to look after the welfare
of one who was soon to be a member of the family.

There is no need to describe with what different emotions and thoughts
I made that journey.  It is enough to say that I dashed along at top
speed, haunted by half a fear that something might yet go wrong with
the plans and that Olga might still be in some danger; while a desire
more keen than words can express came upon me to have her once more
under my own care.

At the same time the sense of power to which the appeal had been so
astutely made was roused, and I was conscious of an unusual glow of
pride.

When I reached the house where I had had the ugly experience of the
previous night I looked out for any sign of hostility.  But there was
none.  A man came immediately in answer to my summons, and Devinsky was
waiting for me in the large hall, which I scanned curiously after my
night's experience in it.

The sight of Devinsky roused me, but I put the curb on my temper.

I handed him the order in silence.  He read it and sneered.

"It is a good and safe thing to shelter behind Government powers," he
said.  "Your sister is upstairs.  This way."  He led and I followed, my
heart beating fast.

We passed up the stairs and then turned along a corridor to the right,
and after turning again to the right, and entering, as I thought the
right wing of the rambling old house, we went up another short and very
narrow flight of stairs.  Then he opened the door of a room in
silence--indeed we had not spoken a word all the time--and stood aside
for me to pass.

Olga was sitting at the far end of the room looking out of the window,
which was on the side away from the courtyard, with a woman attendant
near her; and she did not even turn round when the door opened.

But when I uttered her name and she saw me, she sprang up, speaking
mine in reply with such a glad cry, and ran to me with a look of such
rare delight on her face that I think she was going to throw herself
into my arms and I was certainly going to let her, oblivious of all but
the rush of love that moved our hearts simultaneously.

When she was close to me, she checked herself, however, and put her
hands in mine, as a sister might.  But the glances from her eyes told
me all I cared to know at that moment, while her gaze roamed over me as
if in bewilderment.

"How is it you are better--and out?  Where is your wound?  What is that
mark on your face?  I don't understand.  They told me you were lying
dangerously wounded and that you wished me to remain here until you
could bear to see me."

"There is a good deal you don't understand yet, Olga," I said.  "The
story of the duel was a lie from start to finish."

"Then you're not wounded?  Oh, I'm so glad, Alexis" and, moving her
hands up my arm after a timid glance at the woman, she looked her
thankfulness and solicitude into my eyes.

The look made me speechless.  Had I tried to answer it in words, I must
have told her my love.

"You are to come with me, Olga," I said, presently, recovering myself.
"The aunt is all impatience to have you back again."

"Why?  I explained all to her in my messages."

"Your messages got lost on the way," I answered, and she saw by my tone
how things were.  She got ready to come with me without another word;
and I could feel my heart thumping and lurching against my side as I
watched her and caught her turn now and again to look at me and send me
a little smile of trust and pleasure.

There was no need for us to speak much; we were beginning to understand
each other well enough without words.

We went out of the room together, and I was surprised and glad to see
on a chair close by the door the sword which I had dropped the previous
night.  I took it up, and as I did so Olga cried out in great and
sudden fear.

I looked up and saw Devinsky at the narrow head of the short stairway.

"I've complied with the order," he said, his voice vibrating with
anger.  "And I've given your sister freely into your hands.  You are at
liberty to pass--alone."  He said this to her and then turned to me:
"But not you, till you and I have settled our old score."

"As you will," replied I, readily.  "Nothing will please me more.  But
stay," I cried, remembering my promise.  "I cannot now.  I have passed
my word.  Stand aside, please, and let us pass."

"Not if you were the Czar himself," he answered, hotly.  "And I'm not
going to let you shield yourself either behind the Government--you
spy!--or behind your sister's petticoats.  If she doesn't choose to go
when she has the chance, let her stop and see the consequence."

"Olga, you had better go on," I whispered.  "This may be an ugly
business, and not fit for you to be here."

"Where you are, I stop--come what may!" she answered, firmly.

"I've not come here to fight now," I said to Devinsky.  "I'll meet you
willingly enough another time, God knows.  But now, I've passed my
word;" and with that I raised my voice and shouted with all my strength
to Prince Bilbassoff's servant, who was below, to come to my assistance.

For answer Devinsky called on a couple of men who until then had been
hidden, and with drawn swords and a loud shout the three rushed forward
to throw themselves upon me.



CHAPTER XXI.

THREE TO ONE.

A glance round told me the attack had been shrewdly planned indeed.
The spot in which we all were was a large square anteroom or landing
place, lighted from above.  Four or five doors opened from it into the
rooms on either side, and the narrow stairway was the only means of
communication with the rest of the house.  I was caught like a rat in a
trap, anti unless I could beat off the men who were thus attacking me
at such dangerous odds, I was as good as a dead man.

I whipped out my sword and pushed Olga back into the room we had left,
just in time to parry the first wild lunges Devinsky made at me; and at
the first touch of the steel all my coolness came to me.

Everything must turn on the first minute or two; and knowing my man I
set all my skill to work to keep him so engaged as to hamper the
attempts of the other two to get to close quarters with me.

I worked back into a corner of the place, close to the door of the
room, and then as I darted out lunge after lunge with the swiftest
dexterity, my three opponents were compelled to get into each other's
way in their hurried manoeuvres to avoid my strokes.  By this means I
hampered their fighting strength and lessened it by at least one man,
since all three could not possibly get to strike at me at the same
time.  But even thus the odds were too heavy.

Devinsky was nothing like my equal with the sword, and his rage and mad
hate now rendered him less deadly than usual: but with two others to
help him, I could hardly hope to win in the end.  For this reason as I
fought I uttered shout after shout to the man below to come to my
assistance.

These cries had also the effect of disconcerting my opponents.

Then a lucky chance happened.

One of the men in jumping back out of the way of one of my thrusts
stumbled over the second, and sent this one for a moment into
Devinsky's way.  I saw my chance and seized it in an instant.  In a
trice I rushed at the half prostrate man and disdaining to kill him
when his guard was down, I kicked him with my heavy riding boot with
all my force in the face, and sent him reeling back, groaning and half
choked with the blood that came gushing out of his nose and mouth,
while his sword, went rattling across the floor to where Olga stood,
looking on aghast, breathless and open mouthed in her fear.

But the chance nearly cost me dear, for the man's companion turned on
me and thrust at me with such directness and rapidity as all but ended
the fight; for his sword went through the fleshy part of my arm, just
above the elbow.  An inch or so nearer the body would have sent it
right through my heart.  It was the last thrust he ever made, however.
The next instant my blade had found his heart, and with a groan he
dropped.

Before I could withdraw it, however, Devinsky uttered a cry of hate,
and dashing at me thrust at my heart with all his strength.

He must have killed me but for Olga.

That splendid girl had picked up the fallen man's sword and now, seeing
my plight, she sprang forward, at the hazard of her life, crying out
"Coward!" and struck down Devinsky's sword with all her force.

"Good," I cried; and the next instant, I had wrenched my weapon free
and held the man.

"Take care.  Back to the room, or behind me, child," I cried, when I
heard my opponent curse in his foiled attempt to kill me and saw him
turn as if to attack Olga.  "Now, you butcher, it's you and I alone;
and you or I, to live."

"As you will," he said, and I saw him clench his teeth and set his face
in the way men do who know that they are face to face with a risk where
failure means death.

My blood was up now, and I meant death too.  He had given up all right
to expect anything else, and I had no mind to let him off.  If ever a
man had earned death he had.  He had heaped on me every indignity that
one man could put on another, and to crown it all he had just tried to
murder me.  I would kill him with less compunction than one kills a
dog; and I set about the task with the coolest deliberation and purpose.

The scene was a grim and ghastly one enough.  The floor was all
slippery in places with the blood of the man I had killed, whose body
lay huddled up against the wall, as well as of the other who sat on the
ground still spitting and coughing and mumbling and cursing from the
fearful effects of my kick.  In the middle we two stood fighting to the
death, watching one another with the fire of hate and blood lust in our
eyes and on our set faces: while Olga, all eagerness excitement and
tension, stood in the doorway watching us with white drawn face and
dilated eyes; the deeply drawn breath coming in spasms through her
distended nostrils and slightly parted lips.

I forced the fight with all my power, and my blade flashed about my
antagonist until all his skill was useless even to defend himself
against my point, while any offensive tactic was out of the question.
I wounded him three times, once so close to the heart that Olga cried
out: and at length recalling the knack with which I had disarmed him in
our former encounter, I used it now; and after a few more swift and
cunning passes I whipped his sword from his grasp and sent it rattling
to the other end of the place.

My eye flashed as I drew back my arm for the death thrust.

"Ah, don't, Alexis," cried Olga, in a sort of whisper of horror.
"Don't kill him!"

It stopped me instantly, and my arm fell.

"As you will," I answered readily; "but he doesn't deserve it.  You owe
your life to the woman you've tried to wrong, not to me," I said to
him, shortly.  "Stand out of the way and let us pass."

He moved aside doggedly, eyeing us with surly sullen hate, as Olga,
trembling violently now that the excitement was over, went on first,
and I followed her through the stairway and down and out of the house.

When we reached the courtyard, the postchaise which I had ordered to
follow us from the inn had arrived, and Olga and I entered it at once.

"Thank God, we are out of the house," was my companion's fervent
exclamation, as the carriage turned into the road and we left the
gloomy place behind us.

"Would to God we were out of Russia!" said I, speaking from my heart.
"Then..."  I paused and looked into her face.

"All may yet come right," answered Olga, meeting my eyes and putting
her hand in mine.  My clasp closed on it, and we sat thus for some
moments, just hand in hand, each silently happy in the knowledge of the
other's love.

Then I bent toward her and gradually drew her to me, my eyes all the
time lighted with the light from hers.

"It is love, Olga; lovers' love?" I asked in a passionate whisper.

For answer she smiled and whispered back:

"It has always been, Alexis;" and she met my betrothal kisses with
warmth equal to mine.  And after that we did not care to say a word,
but leant back in the carriage as it flew through the country in the
gathering gloom of the evening, bumping, jolting, rolling, and
creaking.  What cared we for that?  Olga was fast in my arms her head
on my breast and her face close to mine, so close that we were tempted
ever and again to let the story of our love tell itself over and over
again in our kisses; and neither Olga nor I had a thought of resisting
the temptation.

This would have gone on for hours, so far as I was concerned; I was in
a veritable Palace of Delight with freshly avowed love as my one
thought.  But Olga roused herself suddenly with a start and a little
cry.

"Oh, Alexis, what have you made me do?  Your wound."

I had forgotten all about it, but now when she mentioned it my left arm
felt a little stiff.

"I am ashamed of myself," she cried.  "What a love must mine be, that I
want to dream of it with selfish pleasure when you are wounded.  You
make me drink oblivion with your kisses."

"Love is a fine narcotic," replied I, laughing.  "I felt no wound while
you looked at me.  But now that you bring me down to earth with a rush,
I begin to remember it.  But it is nothing much, and will best wait
till we are in Moscow."

"Do you think I will let anyone see that wound before I do?  Why, it
was gained for my sake.  And you love me?  And now"--"now" was a long
loving kiss and a lingering look into my face as she held it between
her hands, while her eyes were radiant with delight.  Then she
sighed--"Now, I am all sister again."

I was looking my doubts of this and meant to test them, shaking my head
in strong disbelief, when the carriage stopped suddenly.  Looking out I
saw that we were at the inn, and must therefore have been driving long
over two hours.  It had seemed scarce a minute.

"Will you get out while we change horses, sir?" asked the Prince's
servant, who had come with the carriage on horseback.

"My brother is wounded and must have attendance at once," said Olga, in
so self-possessed a tone that I smiled.

"Only a scratch," said I, as if impatiently.  "But my sister is always
fidgety."

We went into the house then, and Olga insisted upon examining the
wound, and when she saw the blood I had lost, not much, but making
brave shew on my white linen, she was all solicitude, and anxiety.  She
sent the maids flying this way and that, one to fetch hot water,
another bandages, a third lint, and altogether made such a commotion in
the place that one would have thought I had been brought there to die.

She bathed the little spot so tenderly and delicately too, asking every
moment if her touch hurt me; and she washed it and then covered it, and
bandaged it and bound it up, and did everything with such infinite care
that I was almost glad I had been wounded.

And the whole process she accompanied with a running fire of would-be
scolding comment upon the trouble that brothers gave, the obstinate
creatures they were, the rash and foolish things they did, how much
more bother they were than sisters, and a great deal more to the same
effect--till I thought the people would see through the acting as
clearly as I did, assisted as I was by the thousand little glints and
glances she threw to me when the others were not looking our way.

Then she held a long consultation with the landlady--a large woman who
seemed as kindly in heart as she was portly in body--whether it would
be safe for me to go on to the city that night, or whether a doctor had
not better be brought out to me there: and it took the persuasion and
assurances of us all to win her consent to my going on.

I tried to punish her for this when we were in the carriage again, by
telling her I supposed she was unwilling to travel on with me.  But I
wasted my breath and my effort, as she was all the way in the highest
spirits.

"I don't quite know which I like best," she said, laughing.  "Being
sister with a knowledge of--of something else, as I was just now at the
inn, or--or..."

"Or what?"

"Or riding with Hamylton Tregethner," she answered, laughing again,
gleefully.  "Do you notice how easily I can say that dreadful name?"

"I notice I like it better from your lips than from any others."

"I've practised it--and it was so difficult.  But I might even get to
like it in time, you know."

"By the way, I remember you once told me you didn't like Hamylton
Tregethner."

"Ah, yes.  That was my brother's old friend.  A very disagreeable
person.  He wanted to take my brother away from Moscow.  A person must
be very unpleasant who wishes to divide brother and sister.  Don't you
think so?"

"That depends on the rate of exchange," said I.

"Perhaps; but at that time there was no talk of exchange at all."

"And no thought of it?"

"Ah!"  And for answer she nestled to me again and merged the sister in
the lover with a readiness and pleasure that shewed what she thought of
that particular exchange.

And with these little intervals of particularly sweet and pleasant
light and shade we travelled the miles to Moscow, in what seemed to us
both an incredibly short time.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

It was not until a night's rest had somewhat redressed the balance of
my emotions and had rendered me again subject to the pressure of
actualities that I fully realised how the avowal of my love had rather
increased than diminished the difficulties of our position.

Despite my fatigue and wound I was stirring in good time, and had had
the doctor's report and seen the Colonel to get leave from regimental
work, in time to get round to see Olga pretty early.  I wished to see
her and discuss the whole position before going to report to Prince
Bilbassoff the result of things with Devinsky.

The manner in which Olga met me was one of the sweetest things
imaginable and the presence of the good aunt, Countess Palitzin, added
to its effect.  They were sitting together when I entered.

"It is Alexis, aunt," said Olga rising.  She was a mixture of laughing
love and sisterly indifference.

"Alexis, you are a good lad, a dear lad," said the old lady, usually
very stately and punctilious.  "Come here, boy, and kiss me and let me
kiss you.  You have done splendidly and bravely in this matter of Olga.
She has told me all about it."

"All?" I echoed, looking at Olga, who tried to keep the smile that was
dancing in her eyes from travelling to her lips.

"All that a sister need tell," she said.

"Olga, I have no patience with you," exclaimed the aunt.  "You have a
brother in a thousand--in ten thousand, and yet you speak in that way.
And I see you never kiss him now.  I should like to know why.  Are you
ashamed of him?  Here he has saved you from all this trouble, and you
give him the points of your finger nails to touch.  Yet you are not
cold and feelingless in other things."

"I am glad that you speak to her like this," I said, gravely.  "She
seems to think that a sister should never kiss such a brother as I am."

"Do you mean to say you think I have given you no reason to believe I
am thankful for what you have done?" she retorted, fencing cleverly.

"I don't echo our aunt's words, that you are cold and feelingless,
Olga--she is not that, Aunt Palitzin.  But I do find that as a sister
she places a strong reserve on her feelings."

"To hear you speak," said Olga, laughing lightly, "one might think I
had two characters: in one of which I was all warmth and affection; in
the other all coldness and reserve."

"And I believe that would be about right, child," said the Countess.
"For when the boy is not here your tongue never tires of praising him;
and yet the moment he comes, he might be a stranger instead of your own
nearest and dearest."

Olga blushed crimson at this.

"Brothers have to be treated judiciously," she said.

"'Judiciously,' Olga.  Why, what on earth do you mean?  How could you
love a brave fellow like Alexis injudiciously?"

"Love is often best when it is most injudicious," said I,
sententiously, coming to Olga's rescue; but she betrayed me shamefully.
Looking innocently at me she asked:--

"Would you like us to be a pair of injudicious lovers, then, Alexis?"

"If I never shew more lack of judgment than in my love for you, I shall
get well through life, Olga," I retorted.

"You are certainly a most unusual brother, I can tell you," she said,
smiling slily.

"If every brother had such a sister, the tie that binds us two would be
a much more usual one," I answered.

"You are incorrigible," she laughed and turned away.

"I am glad you speak so seriously, Alexis," said my aunt.  "I'll be no
party to any deception.  She does love you, boy, however much she may
try to hide it when you are here;" and with this, which set us both
laughing again, the old lady went away.

"Does she?" I asked; and the question brought Olga with a happy look
into my arms.

But I had not come to make love, sweet though it was to have the girl's
arms about me; and as soon as I could, I began in talk seriously about
the position.

In the first place I told her everything that had happened; and there
was one thing that amused her, despite the tremendously critical state
of our affairs.  It was about the great suitor the Prince had promised
for her.

"What, another?" she said, with a comical crinkling of her forehead.
"Upon my word what with brothers and lovers, I am sorely plagued.  This
makes the..." she stopped.

"How many?"

"I don't think I know.  Either two or three, according as we reckon
you.  While you're my brother, two I suppose.  Otherwise three."

"'Otherwise' is a good deal shaky, I'm afraid," said I, shaking my
head.  "And I begin to question whether he'll ever count."

"He may not; but in that case no other ever will," returned Olga
earnestly.  "Did you say that on purpose to get another assurance from
me?"

"No, indeed.  I only spoke out of the reality of my doubts;" and then
we went on threshing the thing out.

"There is but one possible chance," said I, after I had told her all.
"It's a remote one, perhaps, but such as it is, we must use it.  You
must go...."

"I won't leave Moscow unless you go," she broke in.  "I wouldn't have
done it before when you wanted, but now...." she paused and blushed and
her eyes brightened--"wild horses shan't tear me away."

"There are stronger things than wild horses, child; and I shall appeal
to one in your case.  You must go in order to try and get me out of the
muddle here."

"Yes, I'll go for that, if it's necessary," she declared as readily as
a moment before she had declined.

"It is necessary.  Shortly, my idea is this.  We can't get away
together at the same time.  We are shut in here in the very centre of
Russia; and if we left together we could not hope to reach the frontier
for many hours after we had been missed from here; while if we were
missed only ten minutes before we got to the barrier, it would be long
enough for us to be stopped.  Besides, there are ten thousand things
that come in the way.  But that doesn't apply to your travelling alone;
and if I can get a passport or a permit for you, I believe you will be
able to get across the frontier before anyone has an idea that you have
even left the city.  In my case that would be impossible.  There are
three separate sets of lynx eyes on me.  The Prince's police--the most
vigilant of all; the Nihilists--the most dangerous; and Paula
Tueski's--the most vengeful.  I shall have the most difficult task to
evade them, and I believe it will be only possible, if at all, by a
sort of double cunning.  But there is one way you can help."

"What is that?" asked Olga, whose interest was breathless.

"I have a friend, Balestier; you've heard of him--the Hon. Rupert
Balestier.  He saw your brother in Paris and believes that some
devilment is on foot.  If you can find him and tell him all that has
happened and the mess that things are in, I believe, in fact I know,
that he would exhaust every possible means of helping me.  It is
possible that our Foreign Office might be moved by the influence he
could bring to bear; and I know that in such a task he'd stir up every
friend and relative he has in the world.  My plan is simply this.  You
must go with all possible speed to Paris: find him, tell him all, and
get him to do what he thinks best and use what efforts he can.  In the
meantime if I can't escape I shall either have to feign consent with
this wretched duel and marriage business and wait on events: or if I
get a chance of leaving, slip off in an altogether different direction."

"It is a terrible trouble I have brought you to, Alexis," said the girl
sadly.

"I would pay a far bigger price for this trouble," I answered, taking
her hand and kissing it.  "And when we are once out of this too
hospitable land of yours, we shall laugh at it all together."

"Yes, when?" she said; and her tone suggested a hopelessness which
responded only too well with that which I felt secretly.

While we were together, however, it was impossible for us to feel
downcast for long.  There was such infinite pleasure in mere
companionship, that the grim troubles which surrounded us were shut out
of our thoughts.  The present was so bright that it seemed impossible
the gloom could soon close in on us.

But when I had left her and was alone in my rooms, I was gloomy enough;
and my spirits were certainly not raised when my new servant ushered in
Paula Tueski.

"You would not come to me, Alexis, so I have to come to you," was her
greeting.  "You neglect me.  I suppose because of the great friends you
have made."

"Great friends?"  For the moment not understanding her.

"Yes.  I hear that you are finding great pleasure in the society of a
certain great lady."

"Oh, you mean the Princess Weletsky?" I laughed as I spoke.

"It does not make me laugh," she said, frowning.

"You are in mourning, and laughter sounds ill with tears," I returned.
I hated the woman worse every time I saw her.

"If I am in mourning it is you who are the cause," she cried, stamping
her foot, angrily.  "I want to know what this new--new friendship,
shall I call it?--means."

"You may call it what you like.  The Princess is nothing to me," said
I, thinking more of my affections than of the facts.

"And never will be?" said my companion abruptly.

"And never will be, I hope," I agreed, with the accents of unmistakable
sincerity.

But my visitor was suspicious and did not believe me.  She got up and
came close to me, and stared hard into my eyes as if searching there
for the truth.

"Then why are you so cold to me?  Not a kindly word, not a gesture, not
a glance that you mightn't have thrown to the veriest beggar in the
street have you given me.  You, who used always to brighten when I came
near you.  I have seen your eyes light up a hundred times, Alexis, when
you have let them rest on me, praising, pleasing, and loving me.  And
now you are as cold as a tombstone.  Will you swear to me you have no
love for this other woman--this Princess?"

"Most certainly I will."

"Ah, what is the use of an oath in which there is no fire, no life,
nothing but dead cold ashes!  What has changed you?  Are you thinking
of marrying this woman?"

"If she waits till I wish to marry her, she'll die unmated," I returned.

"Why can't you say yes or no to my questions?" she cried, stamping her
foot again, irritated by the little evasion.  "Are you thinking of
marrying her?"

"No.  Is that answer blunt enough for you?"

"It sounds like a forced lie more than anything else.  Do you know what
I would do, Alexis, if I thought you meant to try and deceive me?"

"I can pretty well guess," I answered, calmly.  "Probably go round and
have afternoon tea with her and tell her that little fable which you
told me the other day.  You weary me with these constant threats,
Paula.  They get like a musket that's held so long at one's head that
it rusts at the lock and the trigger can't be pulled.  It would be so
much more interesting if you'd go and do something."

With that I turned away and lighted a cigarette, almost wishing in my
heart that I could offend her sufficiently to drive her away; and yet
sick at the knowledge of her power over Olga and me.

"I like that tone better," she said, with a laugh.  "At least it shews
some kind of feeling.  I hate a log.  You will find I can 'do
something,' as you say, when the time comes, if you drive me.  My
muskets don't miss fire."

"No, nor your daggers blunt their points.  I admit you can be deadly
enough where you hate."

"Don't make me hate you, then," she retorted, quickly.

"Is that possible, Paula?" I replied, turning to her with a smile.

The instant change in this most remarkable woman at this one slight
touch of tenderness was wonderful.  She was hungering for the love I
could no more give her than I could have given her the Crown of Russia,
and at this little accent of kindness she turned all softness and
smiling love.

"Ah, God!  You can do as you like with me, Alexis," she cried,
excitedly.  "Just then you were rousing all the devil there is in me;
and now no more than a smile drives out of my heart every thought save
of my love for you.  If it is so easy to make me happy why kill me with
your coldness?  Kiss me, Alexis."  She came to throw her arms round me
but wishing to avoid this caress, I remembered my wound and stepping
back, kept her off.

"Mind, I have a little hurt here;" and I pointed to the place.

Little did I think of the consequences of that most simple action, or
of the price I should have to pay for shirking a few distasteful
kisses.  She was at once all anxiety.

"A hurt?  A wound?  Tell me what it is.  Have you--was it in
consequence of rescuing your sister?  Have you had some fight or other?"

I told her in as few words as I could, glad to turn her thoughts from
the wish to caress me.  When I had to admit that it was a slight sword
thrust, however, she insisted upon seeing the wound as well as the
places where I had torn my arm in the efforts to get rid of my bonds.

No one could fail to see her care was prompted by deep feeling.

I took off my coat and just turned up my sleeve to satisfy her
curiosity, and held out my arm for her to see, laughing half
shamefacedly as I did so, to assure her there was no cause for real
anxiety, and that she was making much of nothing.

But the effect it had on her was startling indeed.

After glancing at the marks which were fast dying away, for my skin
always heals very rapidly, she smoothed them gently and kissed them.

"It is the left arm, Alexis, always the left arm," she said, glancing
up with a smile, and speaking as if there were some special
significance in the fact--though what that could be I could not even
guess, of course.

The chief mark was on the lower part of the upper arm, just above the
elbow, and when she had kissed it and had turned it round so that the
front part of the forearm, where the muscles are broadest was in full
view, I felt her start violently, and heard her catch her breath
quickly, as if with a gasp of surprise.

She stared at it for fully a minute without raising her eyes, her only
gesture being to pass her fingers across the muscles twice.

When she raised her eyes and looked at me, there was an astounding
change in her face.  She was as white as death, and trembled so
violently that even her face quivered, while her eyes were fixed on me
with an expression of wildness and mingled emotions such as I could not
read or even guess at.

"Are you ill?" I asked.

She started again as I spoke; and her lips merely moved very slightly
as she moistened them with her tongue.

And all the time she kept the same staring, strained, frowning,
questioning look fixed on me.

"What's the matter?" I cried again.  "Are you ill?"  I thought she was
in for a fit of some kind.

But all she did was to continue to stare with the same indescribable
intensity, the heavy brows closing together as the frown deepened on
her forehead.

"My God!"

The exclamation seemed to be wrung from her in sheer pain of thought.

She took hold of my arm again and examined the same place once more
with briefer but no less fierce scrutiny.

Then looking up again into my face she let the arm fall.  She seemed to
shrink from me as she drew in one long deep shivering breath that
sounded between her teeth.  Next she turned away and sat down, pressing
both her hands to her face.

Every vestige of feeling and passion had passed, leaving only the
close, concentrated, strained tension.  The colour had left her cheeks:
and the roundness and beauty of her face appeared to have been
transformed in a moment into a veritable presentment of lean, haggard,
vigilant doubt.

Many minutes passed before either of us spoke.  Then she got up and
again came quite close to me and staring right into my eyes, asked in a
voice all changed and unmusical--a sort of keen piercing whisper, that
seemed to send a chill through me--while she pointed to my arm:--

"What does it mean?  Who are you?"

I returned the look steadily, but bit my lip nearly through as I
guessed well enough the discovery she had made.  I answered lightly:--

"Excellently acted.  But what is it all about?"

"Who are you?  That tells me who you are not."  She spoke in the same
hard discordant whisper, and pointed to my arm again.

"Are you mad?" I cried sternly.  "What do you mean by this pretence?"

Her only answer was to stare with the same stony intensity right into
my eyes.

"Shall I send for my own sister to identify me?" I cried, with what I
intended as sarcastic emphasis.  But the effect of my question quite
disconcerted me.

It broke her down and with a cry that was almost a scream, she threw
herself into a chair and gave vent to emotions that were no longer
controllable.

For an hour she was in this semi-hysterical condition; and I could
guess the leading thought of her frenzy.  If I was not the man she had
believed, she would jump to the thought that Olga and I were lovers,
and not brother and sister.  Her jealousy made her a madwoman.

By the time she had recovered from her frenzy I had resolved on my
course.  The only thing possible was to hold strenuously to the old
deception.  What had shaken her belief in me, I could not, of course,
even guess.  If by any means she could make her words good, it was
clear she carried my life in her hands.  Strong as the story which she
had concocted as to my supposed crime would have been against the real
Alexis, it was a hundred times stronger as told against someone
impersonating Alexis for what she would of course declare were Nihilist
purposes.  The mere fact of the impersonation would be accepted as
proof of guilt in everything: while Olga's share in the conspiracy
would render her liable to a punishment only less in extent than mine.

As I thought of all this, my rage against the woman passed almost
beyond control; but I forced it back and listened when she
spoke--telling me of all the things which had made me seem so
different.  My conduct to her; my manner; my lack of love; the
difference in looks, in gestures, and in what I said and the way I said
it; the thousand things that had set her wondering at the change in me.

Then she spoke of the change in my sister's conduct; how a word from me
had made her friendly where a thousand words before had failed.  And
when she spoke and thought of Olga, she seemed to lose again all
self-control; declaring she had been made a tool and a dupe of for some
purposes of our own.

My protestations were of no avail.  She brushed them aside with abrupt
contempt, and when I tried to find out indirectly what her proof was,
she laughed angrily and would not tell me.

"I will tell you when I bid you good-bye for Siberia, or see you for
the last time in the condemned cell.  You shall not die in ignorance,"
she said: and then she went on to dwell with horrible detail upon the
punishments that were in store for both Olga and myself.

But she overdid it all; and shewed me her weak point.  She thus gave me
a clue to my best tactics.  Her feeling was not hate of me, but
jealousy of Olga.  This strange and most impulsive woman had had her
love tricked as well as her judgment; and the love which she had had
for Olga's brother was now transferred to me.  Her chief fear was lest
Olga was really to come between us.  When she stopped, I tested her.

"You have found a ridiculous mare's nest," I said, with a short laugh.
"And I have something more important to do than to listen to your
fictions.  If you think there is any truth in the thing, by all means
tell all you know.  But I warn you beforehand you will fail--fail
ignominiously: and what is more, lose all you have said you wish to
gain.  My great object now is to get Olga out of the country, so that I
may be free to carry out my plans."

She looked up as I spoke, and I saw the light of hope in her eyes.

"That you may follow her, I suppose you mean?"

"You can suppose what you please," I answered, shortly.  "If you wish
to break off all between us by this ridiculous story, do so.  But bear
in mind, it is your act, not mine; and when once done, done
irrevocably."

She wrung her hands in indecision.

"Can I trust you?"

"Can you get me a permit for Olga to leave the country?  That's more to
the point."

"Yes--alone."  There was a world of meaning in that single word.

"Then get it; and as soon as a railway engine can drag her across the
frontier, she will be out of Russia, and out of my way, much to my
relief."

She sat silent in perplexity.

"You can't go!  You shan't go!" she cried.  "You have made me do these
things, whoever you are, and you must stay--for me."

I smiled.  I had won.  Then I changed as it were to a rather fanatical
Nihilist, and cried warmly:--

"The ties that keep me here, Paula, are ties of death and blood; and
such as no woman's hand can either fashion or destroy."

She looked at me long and intently and put her hands on my arms and her
face close up to mine and said in a soft seductive tone:--

"If I get that permit, all shall be as it was?"

"All shall be as it was, Paula," I answered, adopting her equivocal
phrase, and bent and kissed her on the forehead.  But I was playing for
a big stake: Olga's life probably, and my own certainly: and I could
not afford the luxury of absolute candour at that crisis of the game.

But I did not win without conditions.

"I will get it," she said; "but you remember what I told you before.  I
repeat it now.  You are more surely mine than ever; more surely than
ever in my power, Alexis."  She emphasized the word and a glance shewed
me her meaning.  "And we must be married secretly within three days
from now.  I will make the arrangements."

"As you will," I replied; and I felt glad that in a measure her resort
to this compulsion gave me a sort of justification for misleading her.

In less than three days' the Czar's visit would be over and I should
either be dead or out of Russia.

But Olga would be saved; and that would be much.



CHAPTER XXIII.

CHECKMATE!

As soon as Paula Tueski left me I went round to Olga to endeavour to
solve the riddle of the woman's discovery.  Olga was out and would not
return for an hour.  Leaving word that I wished to see her particularly
and that she was to wait for me, I went for a walk to try and order my
thoughts.

Finding myself near the Princess Weletsky's house, and knowing that I
had to keep up the semblance of attentions there, I called.  She
received me with marks of the most warm regard and welcome.

"I have heard much of what happened at that wretched Devinsky's house.
Old Fedor who went with you told me much and my brother much also; but
I would rather hear all from you.  Where is Olga?  You were wounded, I
hear.  What was it?  Tell me--tell me.  I have been dying with anxiety
for you."

I told her shortly what had happened; and then it occurred to me to try
and get her help in regard to Olga.  I drew a fancy picture of Olga's
shattered nerves; that Moscow had become a place of terror to her; and
that even Russia itself was distasteful to her for a time on Devinsky's
account.

"Do you think that a man like Devinsky would dare to lay so much as a
finger on one of our family?" she asked, checkmating me quietly with a
single pronoun.

"It's not what Devinsky dares, but what Olga fears."

"She did not strike me as a girl of nervous fears."

"No; she does not shew it even to me."

"Then we can do better than drive the poor child away from home--punish
Devinsky.  Tell her that he is already under arrest."

"Is that so, indeed?" I asked, in some astonishment.

"Certainly; his murderous attack on you when you were on the Emperor's
special duty is a crime that will cost him dear.  Those who play us
false, Lieutenant Petrovitch, must beware of us.  But our friends find
the ways made easy for them.  Did not my brother tell you that Olga was
to be protected as one of us, and therefore avenged, if wronged?"

"She will be glad to feel safe," I replied quietly.  I knew what she
meant; and with a look that seemed to imply much, I added:--"I am glad
to be one of your friends."  I was getting such an adept in the
suggestion of a lie, that much more practice would make it difficult
for me to tell the plain truth.

My companion flushed with pleasure.

"I always felt I should not count on you in vain," she said.

"No woman has ever done that, I trust," was my answer.  "No woman ever
could for whom I felt as I feel for you."  And with that, and a little
more to the same effect, I left her.

I went round to Olga's at once.  It was a blessing that with her there
need be no secret meanings and insinuations.

She received me, of course, with a smile.

"Is this a pretence to see me, or really something?" she asked with a
laugh.

"I think it is really something or I should not have dared to be back
so quickly.  Even brothers may be bores."

Her answer was a pretty one, such as might be expected from a lover,
but I need not repeat it.

"First, I will tell you the news," I said, after a pause; and I told
her about the arrest of Devinsky.

"These people strike swiftly and secretly, Alexis," she said,
thoughtfully.  "They frighten me.  Their power is almost limitless.
How hard they will hit and how far the blow will reach, if they ever
find we are fooling them!"  She sighed.

"The frontier is their limit: and we must pass it."

"I have been out to-day to make the preparations for flight.  I suppose
I must go?"--she smiled a sad little note of interrogation at me--"and
if so, the sooner the better.  I have a disguise, and shall start
to-night.  My difficulty will be of course at the frontier.  I am going
to stop short of that by one station, and then as a peasant girl try to
get over on foot.  It will take a little longer: but it is the only
chance."

"No, I have good news for you so far as that is concerned.  Madame
Tueski will get you a permit in some name or other and then you can
cross in the train.  Far better."

"You have seen her then to-day?"  A shadow of her old feelings crossed
Olga's face as she asked this.

"Yes, I have seen her, and she is eager now that you shall get out of
the country."

She was very quickwitted and read my meaning instantly from my words
and tone.

"Tell me everything.  There is more bad news yet to be told.  Has she
guessed? ... Ah, I always feared that woman."

"Tell me, Olga, ought I to have any special mark on either of my arms.
Any birth-mark, or anything of that sort?"

She went white instantly.

"I had forgotten.  That wretched woman's initials were tattooed in
small letters just there"--she put her finger on the place--"I saw it
once and Alexis was wild with me.  Has she seen your arm bare?"

"My wound," I said, in explanation.

"Oh dear, through me again; through me again," cried the girl in
distress.  I took her in my arms to soothe her, and tried to make her
understand that after all it was really a good thing that had happened
and not a bad one, inasmuch as the woman's jealousy was urging her to
help in getting Olga away.  I told her everything frankly.

But this was not all a clear course, as may be imagined.  Olga loved me
very dearly and trusted me, I believe, as implicitly as any woman could
trust the man she loved.  But she was a woman and not a goddess: and
she could not bring herself to like the necessity which took her out of
the country and left me behind in the clutches of such a woman as Paula
Tueski.  She was a very reasonable little soul, however, as well as a
brave one; and before I left her I had talked her into a condition of
compulsory resignation.

I did not attempt to disguise from myself, though I did from Olga, the
fact that her flight after my conversation with the Princess would
certainly tend to bring suspicion upon me, if it should be discovered.
Any secret step at such a juncture would do that.  I thought I had
better see the Prince himself, therefore, lest my neglect to do so
should rouse his suspicions prematurely.

I went to him from Olga's house, and when I was admitted, after a
little delay which I did not quite like, I found him as gracious as
ever.

"I am very busy," he said, shaking hands with me; "but have time to
hear that you have resolved to join us, Lieutenant."

"I have come now only to thank you...."

"I haven't time to listen to that.  Your sister is again in Moscow; her
persecutor is in the care of my men; you have only to say a word for
her to be his judge.  Do you say it?"

Seeing me hesitate, he paused only a moment.

"When a man like you doesn't say Yes, directly, he means, No.  I
understand.  But--time is beginning to press with much force.  Make up
your mind; and don't come again till you have decided.  Understand what
that means.  I can't see you again until you are ready to say Yes or
No, finally--finally.  Then come, and if you decide no, make it
convenient before you come, to arrange any little matters that can best
be put right personally.  You may find obstacles afterwards.  You
understand?" and the look which accompanied the words shewed me that he
meant all this as a pretty strong turn of the screw.  "Oh, and by the
by," he added, just as I was leaving the room--"of course you won't
attempt to get away.  You may if you like, you know, but you'll be
wiser not to; because I have certain information about you, and any
attempt at flight at such a juncture as this would give me an excellent
excuse for dealing very summarily.  Understand--I shall only see you
again when you are ready to give me your decision."

My anxiety for Olga was making me like a silly frightened boy; and I
went away from the man now with a chilled feeling of fear that set me
doubting and speculating and anticipating a thousand forms of trouble
which he could inflict upon her.  I should not have a moment's peace of
mind while Olga remained in Russia.  That was certain.

I went back to my rooms and sat there thinking out moodily the
particulars of the journey which the girl had to take alone, and my
fears for her multiplied with almost every turn of my thoughts.  Every
detail of the position seemed to teem with additional menace and cause
for alarm.

I had my own escape to think of too.  I resolved, let the risks be what
they might, that the instant Olga's telegram came telling me she had
crossed the frontier, I should bolt; and the manner and direction of my
flight had cost me many an anxious hour.

I had been looking forward to the possible necessity for a hurried
flight ever since I had started the venture, and I had had time thus to
make my plans fairly complete.  For this purpose I had used my Nihilist
connection, though I had of course kept my whole plans to myself, since
I had contemplated running away from the Nihilists as much as from
anyone else.

The chief difficulty was the geographical position of Moscow: the very
kernel of Russia, and at tremendous distances from all the frontiers.
My escape must be obviously a matter of the most careful planning,
seeing that I should probably be many weeks, and perhaps months,
carrying it out.  From the first I abandoned all thought of making a
dash straight for the frontier by train.  Every outlet of the kind
would be watched most jealously, alike by the police and the Nihilists:
while the fact of Olga slipping through would increase a thousandfold
the vigilance to prevent my following.

If Paula Tueski managed to get the permit, Olga would make her escape
quickly by train, going either north-west to St. Petersburg and away by
steamer: or west across the German frontier: or south-west down into
Austria.  Two days would do the business.

My escape was to be a very different affair.

I meant to leave Moscow on foot or pony back, disguised as a peasant
woman, and as soon as I was well clear of the city, some 20 or 30 miles
out, I intended to change that disguise and play the part of a
horse-dealer, making for the two big horse fairs that were coming on
soon at Rostov and Jaroslav--about 100 and 150 miles north
respectively.  For this purpose I proposed to buy up enough horses and
ponies on my way to divert suspicion and sustain my part.

At Jaroslav I should sell these for what they would fetch and in the
confusion of the fair time, change my character again.  There I should
strike the Volga: and my plan was to escape by river; working my way on
the boats down to Tsaritsin and thence across by train to the Don.  At
the mouth of the Don, or at Taganrog, I calculated to be able to ship
on a steamer across the Sea of Azov, and thence across the Black Sea,
and out through the Bosphorus.

This was the outline, subject of course to any changes which necessity
or expediency should suggest; and I preferred it, because if I could
cut the trail between Moscow and the river, that was about the very
last place in which I should be looked for; while the time that must be
occupied on the river would give me the necessary opportunity for
obtaining such papers as I should require to get away.

I had perfected the plan, thought out many of its details and
discounted its risks, and had laid in many of the necessary disguises.
But I was not destined to use them; for the direction of matters was
wrested out of my hands by a stroke that checkmated me completely.

In the afternoon a letter came to me from Olga, vaguely worded, to the
effect that Paula Tueski had sent for her and had given her what had
been promised, and that all matters were now complete.  She wished me
to see her at seven o'clock.

I scribbled a line saying I would be there at the time.

The messenger, Olga's maid, went off with it: and almost before I
thought she could have had time to get home and back again, she came
hurrying in again breathless and excited, and all white with fear.

I thought at first she had been molested in some way in the
streets--Moscow is not Eden--and I asked her what was the matter.

The reply, uttered in gasps and jerks of terror and with spasmodic sobs
filled me in my turn with consternation.

Olga had been arrested during the girl's absence, and my aunt, the
Countess Palitzin was like a mad-woman in her fear.  She was all
anxiety to see me.

"Arrested!" I cried, scarcely believing my own ears.  "By whom?  For
what?"

"By the police; I don't know for what," wailed the girl.  "But the
Countess----"

"I'll go to her at once," I cried, interrupting her; and without
another word I set off at once for Olga's house, with the greatest
haste.

What could it all mean?

Whose blow was this?  Coming at such a moment, it shattered all my
plans to fragments.



CHAPTER XXIV.

CRISIS.

I found matters just as Olga's maid had told me.  The Countess was in
the deepest distress, and was wringing her hands and crying herself
blind in agitation and alarm.

Olga had been out in the afternoon, she told me, and had come back
considerably excited.  She had stayed some time in her room, and the
maid now said she had been turning over her clothes.  I knew what this
meant.  Then she had written the letter to me and sent the girl with
it; but the latter had scarcely left the house before the police had
arrived, had asked for Olga, and had arrested her, refusing to say a
single word as to the cause.

Olga had of course gone with them, protesting to the Countess that
there must be some mistake and that no doubt she would soon be again at
liberty and return home.  When kissing her aunt the girl had whispered
to her to tell me at once, with an assurance that she was not in the
least frightened.

Knowing what I knew about the system of imprisonment in Russia and how
common a thing it was for a prisoner to be arrested on the flimsiest
suspicion, to enter a gaol and be kept from all communication with
friends and family, I did not by any means share the calmness she had
professed.  The suddenness of the arrest combined with the complete
overthrow of all my plans incensed me beyond measure.  I put to the two
women all the questions that occurred to me, but got no further light.
I could not hide my concern, but I did my best to make the Countess
Palitzin believe that it would be in my power to help Olga.

I hurried from the house to Paula Tueski.  I reckoned to get from her
the best hints as to where my exertions could be most usefully exerted.
But I did not find her and the news at her house was disconcerting
somewhat.  She had been called for suddenly and had gone out, leaving
no word where she was to be found nor when she would return.  All quite
contrary to her usual custom.

I went on then to the chief police office.  I was in uniform of course,
and was received with the greatest politeness, but no information was
given to me.  The man who gave me an interview was complacency itself.

"I am grieved to be able to give you no information, Lieutenant," he
said, politely.  "But you know how our hands are tied and how one's
lips are sealed in this office.  In anything but that matter I am your
most obedient servant: indeed, if in that very affair you can suggest
how I can be of service, I pray you to command me."

"My sister was arrested by your men?" I asked.

"Most arrests are carried out by our men," was the reply.

"What is the charge against her?"

"I have not an idea."

"By whose orders was the arrest made?"

"By those of my superiors.  I have but to obey."

"Where is she now?"

For answer he shrugged his shoulders, smiled blandly, and shook his
head slowly.

"Can I see her?"

"Yes, of course--with an order."

"Whose order?"

"Anyone who is my superior."

"Can you give me an order?"  He repeated his gesture, murmuring an
expression of regret.

"You have not told me much," I said, and he smiled deprecatingly.  "But
it is enough to tell me where I must look for information."

His smile changed to one of congratulation, and, rising, he gave me his
hand.

"Lieutenant, a brave man like you shall always command my sympathies
and services so far as my duty permits," and with that official
reservation he bowed me out with the most profuse of polite gestures.

I thought I saw from where the stroke came, and without any longer
delay I hurried to the Prince Bilbassoff.

He was at first said to be out; and for some half hour I cooled my
heels and warmed my temper and impatience striding up and down in front
of the building.  Then he was denied to me on the ground that he was
very busily engaged; and only when I insisted that my business was
exceptionally urgent and personal, was I admitted to an antechamber and
left waiting there with some half dozen other.

The servant took my message, but instead of returning instantly, as had
been my previous experience, to lead me at once to the Prince's room, I
was left to fume in my impatience for several minutes.

I rang the bell angrily and when the servant came ordered him to shew
me to the Prince instantly.  But he would not, saying he dared not
without orders from his master, and that he had given my message and
could do no more.

I augured ill from this reception, but was in no mood to brook delay.
I had nothing to lose now by boldness, and as soon as the fellow had
turned his back I went to the door which I knew to be that of the
Prince's room, and pushing aside the man who stood on guard outside,
knocked, opened it, and marched in unceremoniously.

The Prince was in close conference with a couple of men and when he saw
me he jumped up and asked me how I dared to intrude in that way.

"I have something urgent and private to say to you," said I, coolly.
"If these gentlemen will give us five minutes it will be enough."

A moment's reflection sufficed to change his anger to equanimity,
forced or genuine, I didn't care which, and he dismissed the men.

"There can be only one reason why you come here," he said, as soon as
we were alone, speaking in a very sharp tone.

"On the contrary there may be two," I replied, copying his sharpness.

"The only condition on which I can receive you, Lieutenant, is the one
I told you some hours since.  Have you come to comply with it?"

"I have come to ask you why you have arrested my sister and where she
is."

"Arrested whom?" he asked, with a sharp look I didn't understand.

"My sister."

"Who is that?"  This with a smile of indescribable meaning.

"You knew well enough when I was here this afternoon."

"On the contrary, I knew no more than I know now.  I don't even know
that you have a sister.  Have you?"

Either the man was a lunatic, or he knew everything.  Here was
obviously the reason of the altered reception.  But I would not betray
myself by a single word or gesture.

"I am speaking of my sister, Olga Petrovitch, whom you rescued from the
hands of Major Devinsky.  Now, do you know what I mean?"

"No," he answered stolidly.

"Well, do you know whom I mean?"

"I know of Olga Petrovitch."

"Then what the devil do you mean?" I cried angrily.  "You have arrested
her, haven't you?"

"She has been arrested," he answered quietly.

"What for?"

"You seem very anxious on her account."

"Would you have a man indifferent when his sister is whisked off to
gaol by the police devils of yours?"

"Indifferent?  No, indeed; certainly not.  Even I am not indifferent
about it.  It has been of the utmost use to me, in fact."

"How long are you going to keep up these riddles, Prince?  I don't
pretend to be your equal at that kind of fence, and as it's perfectly
evident to me you think you have a knotted whip for my back I'll wait
till you're ready to lay it on."

He laughed at that.

"Are you going to accept my conditions?" he asked.

"It will depend absolutely on the result of this interview."

He paused half a minute and then taking a paper from his pocket tossed
it to me with a laugh.

"Here's the key.  How do you read it?" he asked, lightly.

It was indeed the key, and the instant my eyes fell on it I saw
everything.

It was the permit found on Olga.

The game was up; but I wouldn't play the craven.

I tossed it back to him and laughed, a more natural and mirthful laugh
than his, though I scented death in the air.

"I understand it pretty well," I said, as lightly as he had spoken.
"But if you don't mind I think I'll keep my own counsel."

"You know what it means?" he asked.

"To me?"  He nodded.  "I can guess," I said.

"And to her?"

"No, I don't know that.  But I know your law is damned hard on women."

"And this Tueski woman--why did she get this permit for--your sister?"
He paused on the word.

"Wanted her out of the way, that's all."

"Is what she says true--all true?"

"That depends on what she says."

"It's a strange tale.  That you're not what you call yourself; that
you've taken the place of Lieutenant Alexis Petrovitch; that you're a
Nihilist of the Nihilists; that you murdered her husband; and that she
has the proofs of all this."

"Why did you arrest her?" I asked, as an idea occurred to me.

"That," he said, pointing to the permit.

"Did she volunteer her statement?"

A laugh of diabolical cunning spread over his face.

"Yes--when she believed you had deceived her and had fled with--your
sister.  Boy, no one can guard himself against a jealous Russian woman."

"Now, I see a little more clearly.  But why did you arrest Olga
Petrovitch?"

"Your visit to my sister this afternoon.  You were too solicitous for
the poor girl's nerves, and we thought it might be better for you to
know that she was in safe guardianship until you had made your
decision.  There would at any rate be no pressing need for you to think
of her leaving the country; or feel it desirable to go with her to take
care of her in her shattered condition.  And we were right.  But even I
did not expect a tithe of all that has come from the step.  It is
indeed seldom that I get so genuine a surprise."

"And what are you going to do--now?"

"How much of this woman's tale is true?"

"One third of it.  I am not Alexis Petrovitch; but neither am I a
Nihilist, nor a murderer."

"Who are you!"

"An Englishman--Hamylton Tregethner."

"But your speech--your accent--your Russian?"

"I was brought up in Moscow for the first sixteen years of my life."

"Tregethner, Hamylton Tregethner," he murmured, repeating the name as
if it were not wholly unfamiliar to him.  Then after a pause he asked
me where the real Lieutenant Petrovitch was; and questioned me
searchingly and very shrewdly as to the whole details of my change of
identity.  I concealed nothing.

"You English are devils," he said, when his questions were nearly
exhausted.  "I hate the lot of you--except you.  And you're as big a
devil as any of them.  But you have the pluck of a hundred."

I shrugged my shoulders, laughed, lolled back in my chair and lighted a
cigarette.

"I've enjoyed it," I said, "and that's the plain truth.  I didn't like
the lies I had to tell; but then I never had any training in the
diplomatic service, and that makes the difference.  But all the same
I've enjoyed it; and what's more, if it had been possible, I'd have
fought for the Little Father as keenly as any born Russ in the ranks.
But it's over, and so far as I'm concerned, you can do what you like
with me.  I should like to save that girl.  She's one in ten thousand
for pluck.  And you owe her something too, as she saved my life from a
treacherous thrust of Devinsky's sword for you to take it.  You might
let her have her liberty in its place.  It's infernally hard on the
girl that her cowardly brute of a brother should let her in for all
this mess; and then that I, with all the good will in the world, should
thrust her deeper into the mud.  It's damned hard!"

The Prince was watching me closely and thinking hard.

"Why did you hesitate to accept my proposal?" he asked, sharply.

"For a very plain reason.  While I appreciated the honour and advantage
of an alliance with your sister, I loved Olga Petrovitch, and preferred
to marry her."

"I won't tell my sister that," he said, laughing sardonically.  After a
pause he added:--"How much does--your sister know of our matter?"

"Everything."

"Names?" and he stared as if to penetrate right into my brain.

"No--not of the man to be fought."

"On your honour?"

"On my honour."

"If she is released, will you go on with it?"

"If she is put across the frontier," I returned grimly.

"Don't you trust me?"

"You, yes; but your agents, no."  He smiled.

"You should go far with the daring with which you push your fortunes."

"Probably I shall go on till my head falls by the wayside," I answered.
I was utterly reckless now.  But my tactics succeeded when nothing else
could have won.

He took a form and wrote.

"Here is the permit for her to leave the country.  It is yours--on
conditions."

"What are they?  Never mind what they are," I added, quickly.  "I
accept them in advance.  Save that girl, who is innocent, and do what
you like with me."

"Do you know what I ought to do with you?" he asked.

"Yes; better than you do.  Write me a permit also and have me conducted
to the frontier at the same time.  But I don't know what you think you
should do."

"I ought to write out a very different order and have you both sent
straight to the Mallovitch yonder; and let things take their course."

"Well, it's fortunate for me then," I replied, with a laugh, "that your
interest and your judgment pull different ways.  You won't do that,
Prince."

"How do I know that you are not a Nihilist?"

"Instinct, judgment, knowledge of men, knowledge of me--everything.
Besides, if you want proof, no one knows better than yourself that a
cipher telegram sent to London, and inquiries made in half a dozen
places that I can mention, will put ample proofs in your hands to shew
who I am.  So far as I know there's one man in Russia at the present
moment and actually coming to Moscow, who'll stir up the British
Legation and every British consulate in the country to the search for
Hamylton Tregethner.  That's the Hon. Rupert Balestier."  Then I told
him what had happened in Paris.  At first he smiled, but soon grew
thoughtful again.

"I warn you, too," I added, when he made no answer, "that if you chop
my head off or stifle me in one of your infernal prisons, or send me
packing to Siberia, Balestier is just the man to raise a devil of a
clatter.  And you don't want a row with our Foreign Office just at the
moment when things are so ticklish with the Sick Man."

He waved his hand as if to put all such considerations away from him.

"If the girl you call your sister had got away, did you mean to try to
escape?"

"Certainly I did," replied I, frankly, and I told him the scheme I had
formed.

"And now?"

"If I give my word I shall keep it.  You Russians never seem to think a
man will keep his parole to his own disadvantage.  We English think
differently--and act as we think."

"If we postpone this talk till to-morrow, have I your word that you'll
make no attempt to escape?"

"No, indeed, you haven't.  Let this girl go at once; then you can have
it and welcome."

"You seem to forget that I can keep you under guard?"

"I forget nothing of the kind.  Clap me into a prison and you may
whistle for anyone to carry out--to do what you wish.  You can decide
now, or lose the option.  That's in the rules of a game like this."

"You carry things with a high hand," he cried angrily.

"Most probably I shouldn't be here if I didn't," said I, with a laugh.
"It's my advantage to force the pace at this juncture; and the risk's
too big to throw away a single chance."

He made no reply, but pushing back his chair got up and walked about
the room, in a state of indecision absolutely foreign to his character
and habits.

I knew how momentous the decision was.  If I were the dangerous
Nihilist that Paula Tueski had declared, the risk of letting me free
and entrusting to me such a task as that we had discussed was critical
and deadly.  The Russian instinct was to clap me into a gaol and be
done with me; but the personal feeling pulled him in the other
direction--to use me for a tool in the project that was all in all to
him.  With the Grand Duke once out of his path there was nothing
between him and almost absolute rule.

I watched him with an anxiety he little suspected, for my manner was
studiously careless, indifferent, and reckless.

"Did you give this girl any particular task if she escaped?" he asked,
stopping suddenly in his walk close to me.

"Certainly; to find Rupert Balestier, tell him of my position, and get
him to try and smooth away the difficulties.  I had also arranged how
she could communicate with and find me if I managed to get away."

He took the answer as I gave it with perfect frankness, and it seemed
to help his decision.  He resumed his pacing backwards and forwards.

Two or three minutes later he stopped his walk and taking the permit he
had written held it out to me.

"Will you give me your word as an English gentleman that if I give you
this and allow the girl to leave Russia, you will make no attempt to
escape, and will go on with the proposal we have discussed?"

It was my turn to hesitate now.

"No, I cannot," I said after a moment's thought.  "An Englishman cannot
lend himself out as an assassin, Prince Bilbassoff.  I will do this.  I
will give you my word of honour not to attempt to leave Russia, and if
a meeting between the Grand Duke and myself can be arranged without
dishonour to me, I pledge myself to meet him.  I will never take that
word back unless you release me; but more I cannot do.  Let Olga
Petrovitch go, and you shall do as you will with me."

"I take your word," he said, quietly.  "Your identity will remain
unknown.  Your sister will leave for the frontier under escort at
midnight.  You can take the news to her, and she can leave with you to
make her arrangements for departure.  I hold you responsible for her;
and you will explain only what is necessary to her.  You remain a
Russian."

And with the permit and the order for her instant release in my hand I
left him, conscious that I had been brushing my back against a dungeon
door the whole time and had only just escaped finding myself on the
wrong side of it.



CHAPTER XXV.

COILS THAT NO MAN COULD BREAK.

Poor Olga!  I shall not easily forget the effect the news had on her.

I went out from the interview impregnated with the conviction that I
was now indeed hopelessly baffled.  I saw how completely the whole
position had been changed.  The very axis had shifted.  And the
knowledge that I had to make Olga understand it all before she left
Russia was more unpalatable and depressing than I can describe.

Up to the present moment there had indeed been the slight off-chance
that we should both escape, and the knowledge that if we could only do
so, we might find happiness in another country.  But that hope was as
dead as a coffin nail.  I was bound to Moscow by a shackle more
powerful than iron fetters.  I had pledged myself not to attempt to go
until the Prince himself had given me permission; and I knew that he
would never think of doing this until the duel had been in some way
arranged.  On the other hand the Nihilist attack on the Emperor was to
be made in two days' time.  If it succeeded an ignominious death at the
hands of the law could be the only result for me; while if it failed,
death was almost as certain at the hands of the Nihilists who would
adjudge me their betrayer.

Between the upper and nether millstones I was helpless; certain only of
being crushed by them.  Thus nothing could make me believe that I
should ever again set eyes on the woman whose release I had thus
secured and whom I now loved with all my heart.

Nor could I part from her without allowing her to see something of this.

She was indeed so quick to appreciate the meaning of what I told her,
that all the sweet pleasure and gladness she shewed when welcoming me
changed in a moment to sadness.

"I would ten thousand times rather not go," she said.  "I do not care
what they do to me.  I have brought you into this, and it is me they
should punish," she said more than once.

"But you can't do what this man wants, Olga," said I with a smile, to
reassure her.  "If you could, he would probably let me go and hold on
to you.  If I couldn't, he would hold on to us both.  But you must go
for this reason.  You must find Balestier and tell him to come here.
He must stop making a fuss about Hamylton Tregethner, and just come on
here and see me and let us try together to find out some solution of
the puzzle.  But he must hold his tongue unless talking to the right
pair of ears."

"I shall know no rest till I find him," replied Olga instantly.  "And
if I do not, I shall come back here.  I will not leave you like this."

I kissed her; but did not tell her that so far as I was concerned her
return would be useless, for the cogent reason that I should not be
alive.  It was impossible that I could survive by many hours the
Imperial visit.  This I kept from her, however, for the farewell was
already more than sufficiently sad and trying; and I doubt if any
consideration on earth would have induced her to leave if she had
really known how imminent was my danger.

I talked much indeed of the help Balestier might be able to render, and
thus impressed on her strongly the need for her to find him, however
long it might take her.  This giving her a task and connecting it with
the work of helping me, kept her hope alive and tended to reconcile her
to the parting, so that in the end she shook off much of her
depression.  I could see also she was battling with her feelings to
distress me as little as possible.

I loved her the more as I saw this, but the parting was such pain for
us both, that I was glad when it was over.  I stood and watched the
train steam out of the station and saw her leaning from the carriage
window to catch the last glimpse of me.  And I was sad indeed, as I
turned away with a positively choking sense of loneliness such as I had
never felt before in all my life.

The departure of my brave little sister, clever-witted counsellor, and
dearest companion seemed to leave such a void in my life that in the
first hours which followed her departure I mourned for her as one
grieves for the dead.  And in truth she was dead to me.

But the events of the day following left me little time for meditation.
It was Sunday and a day of brisk action.  Early in the morning there
were special regimental duties; and on my return to my rooms for
breakfast I found waiting for me a stranger, whose card, given to my
servant, described him as "J. W. Junker, St Petersburg Gazette."

He rose at my entrance and said in a very pleasant voice:--

"Excuse a journalist's liberty in coming to you.  I am the special
correspondent of the St Petersburg Gazette and have come to do the
Czar's visit, and I should very much like a word with you on the
matter."

"I don't see where I can be of any help, but if there's anything I can
tell you, fire away," I said.  "I've had a couple of hours' drill this
morning, however, and I have to be on the parade ground in less than an
hour, so you must excuse me if I have my breakfast while we chat.  But
perhaps you'll join me?"

"With the greatest pleasure," and down he sat, and while the servant
was in the room for the first few minutes, he chatted away like the
bright and pleasant fellow he appeared to be.  But as soon as my man
had left the room, his manner changed suddenly and his voice took a
direct earnest tone that made me look at him in some astonishment.

"Don't have that fellow back again.  Is it all acting, or don't you
really recognise me?  I knew you in a moment."

"Did you?  Well, I certainly don't know you.  I never met a
journalist----"  He broke in with a short laugh and waved his hand with
a quick gesture of imperative impatience as he stared at me hard.  His
manner annoyed me.

"Well, if you're not what you said you were, what the devil are you
doing here?  What do you want?" I felt like pitching him out of the
place.

"Didn't you expect me?"

"Expect you?  No; how should I?"

"Instructions were sent to prepare you."

"I can only say I haven't the ghost of a notion what you want."

"To complete the arrangements for to-morrow's glorious event," and his
face lighted with a momentary enthusiasm.

"How am I to know you?" I asked, suspiciously.

"I am Gorvas Lassthum; and I saw you twelve months ago when the other
plan was laid, as you will remember, and failed.  Your memory is
treacherous, my friend."

"There are some things I train it to forget," I answered, equivocally.

I was in a fix.  I guessed the man was a Nihilist agent, of course, and
his air of self-importance suggested that he was high up in the
leadership.  But on the other hand Moscow was at the moment swarming
with spies of all kinds; and this might be one.  I assumed an air of
extreme caution therefore, and after a flash of thought added: "And
some that I prefer not to know at all.  It pleases me now to hold that
from my side you and I are strangers.  You know me well; say then just
what you wish to say.  I on my side don't know you, and prefer to say
nothing."

"Good," he cried; and reaching out offered me his hand and when I gave
him mine, he pressed it and said earnestly:--"Would God we had more men
like you--so ready in act and so cautious in word."

I bowed and made no other sign.

"You have the orders for the disposition of the troops to-morrow, and
at the last minute the whole of them, or the most of them, will be
changed.  You yourself will be detailed to guard that part of the line
which runs over the flat stretch by the river on the further side of
the Vsatesk station.  Guard it well; for a greater life than that of
the Emperor depends on your vigilance--the life of the People."

As he said this another of those little flashes of light that seemed to
transform him from a pleasant man of the world into an enthusiast leapt
into his eyes.  A pause followed in which I said nothing.

"Your orders will be to station your men at set distances on either
side of the line--it being an easy place to guard--and you will have
some three miles of the line under your command.  It is good.  Now,
take thought.  At one point in about the centre of your section, the
land dips and the line is embanked to a height of some ten feet, for a
length of about half a mile.  At that spot there are four alder
trees--three to the left of the line, and one to the right.  These
three form an irregular triangle, one side of which is much shorter
than the others; and if you follow the short line which those two trees
make, you will find that they form a comparatively straight line with
the fourth tree on the other side of the railway embankment.  Do you
follow me?"

He made a rough model on the table-cloth, using some of the breakfast
things for the purpose of shewing the positions of the railway and the
trees.

"No one can mistake that," I said.

"Well, you are to take up your position here, you yourself, I mean,
here, in a dead straight line between these two trees"--demonstrating
them on the table-cloth--"for this is where there will be an accident.
And now, pay close heed to this.  You will go out by train; and when
your men are paraded at the station they will be joined by five of
ours.  These will mingle with yours at the very last moment; and if any
questions are asked they will produce the necessary authority.  These
five men you will arrange carefully to take the next five positions to
you on your right hand.  When the train leaves the line, they will
instantly close round and guard the Emperor's carriage; and you will
see that nothing prevents them.  That is all you have to do; and if you
act discreetly you will run no risk.  You will not fail.  They know
their duties and will do them; and will let no one come between them
and their noble task.  Five bolder men do not breathe in all Russia.
Remember, they are to be stationed next to you on your right.  You
understand?"

"Every item."

"It is a great day for you, friend," he said.

"It is a great day for Russia," I returned; and soon after he left me.

I was filled with the most anxious doubt as to what course I ought to
take to checkmate this horrible plot, of which I was the most unwilling
depository and was marked out as the forced agent.

During the whole day I was turning the problem over and over in my
thoughts: and I could see no course that would be at all effective in
thwarting the plot without at the same time exposing myself to all the
hazard of being punished as a Nihilist.  I could, of course, tell the
police or Prince Bilbassoff, but this meant a double danger for me.
They would take measures to alter the arrangements as to the visit; the
reason for this would have to be told to the Czar; it would certainly
leak out to the Nihilists, and I should be a mark for their assassins
at once.  On the other hand the story told by Paula Tueski would seem
to have the corroboration which my acquaintance with Nihilist matters
would give to it, and I should be in peril there.

One consideration there was that gave some reassurance.  I had already
had the orders for the distribution of the troops, and I knew that I
was to be miles away from those cursed alder trees at the moment when
the Czar would be passing.  I knew too that if the plot went wrong in
that main feature, it would fail altogether.

The Nihilists were not such fools as to draw down on themselves all the
sensational punishments which would inevitably follow the discovery of
an organised attempt on the life of the Czar, for the mere empty
purpose of sending the Imperial train off the line.  Unless therefore,
they had some emissary so highly placed as to be in possession of the
information long before any of us in Moscow knew about it, the whole
machinery was likely to be stopped for the one flaw.  And though I had
had some proofs of the extraordinary accuracy of their information, I
could not believe their power to be such as this necessitated.

But in the afternoon, when according to arrangement I went again to the
Prince Bilbassoff, startling news awaited me, that redoubled all these
doubts and difficulties, and set them buzzing and rushing through my
brain, threatening to muddle my wits altogether.

There was a distinct change in the manner of his reception of me, and
it pleased me to set this down to the fact that his opinion of me was
raised by the knowledge that the black past of Alexis Petrovitch was
mine only by adoption, and that in reality I had the clean antecedents
of an English gentleman.

"I can't give you more than a few minutes," he said, "and I must
therefore squeeze as much as possible into them.  I have taken your
suggestion and have wired to London to find out about you.  The result
is what I am bound to say I hoped; and the consequences are I am going
to trust you."

"That's as you please," said I, quietly.

"It does please me, because I don't want this duel to fall through.
Now you want some cause for fighting that will satisfy your honour.
Will you fight this man if he insults you?"

"I'll fight any man who does that," I replied.

"Now, whose officer are you?"

"The Czar's, while I am in Russia."

"Will you risk your life in his service?"

"My sword is absolutely at his service."

"If you should hear His Majesty insulted in your presence would you
face the man who did it?"

"As surely as effect follows cause."

"Then this man's whole life is an insult to the Czar."

"In what way?"

"He is a Nihilist to his finger-tips.  His presence near the throne is
a standing menace to the Emperor; his hand is ever raised to seek his
Majesty's life; and his whole life is that of a traitor who learns the
highest secrets only to betray them to these enemies of God and the
Emperor."

"What proof have you?" I asked in the profoundest astonishment.  I
began to see now how the most secret information leaked out.

"None, boy.  Or do you think he would be where he is for an hour?"

"Then how do you know it?"

"If a secret is known to three people, two of whom you know to be as
staunch as steel, and yet it gets out--how do you think it happens?  If
this happens not only once but two or three times, what do you think of
the man?  This man is a traitor; and as surely as there is a God in
Heaven, the Crown is not firmly on my master's head while the man
remains alive.  Now, will you fight him?"

"The matter is a public, not personal, one: Russian not English.  My
sword is not a bravo's to be hired for that sort of work."

He swore a deep oath under his breath at this, and then changed it to a
laugh with an ugly ring in it.

"If you mean to climb, my young cockerel, we must see more of your
spurs and hear less of your scruples.  Personal!  Good God, what more
do you want?  Aren't you the Emperor's own property?  Isn't the Little
Father in danger?  Isn't that enough?  Personal!  Ugh.  Well, is this
personal enough for you?  His Highness has already done you the honour
to pick you out for the favour of his ill will.  This is a letter which
by one of those little accidents that do sometimes happen in my office,
has fallen into my hands.  He is writing to an agent of his here in
Moscow.  Listen: 'There is a young lieutenant of the Moscow Infantry
Regiment, named Petrovitch, about whom I want all the possible
information.  He is a dishonourable scoundrel, I understand--a dicing,
gambling, drinking fellow, who thinks he can crow and strut on the
crest of his dunghill with impunity because he had the luck to beat a
better man than himself in a duel, and the insolence to insult another
officer--one of my friends--and then hide himself under official
protection.  I hear now that he is meditating another and a greater
coup.  I know much about him, but want you to get me as much more
information as possible.  Such swash-buckling knaves are a disgrace and
danger to everything they touch.  He is not to be trusted in anything
and all reasons make his overthrow necessary.'"

As he finished reading the extract, the Prince paused and lowering the
letter looked at me over the top.  Then without giving me time to
answer, he continued:--

"Your 'butcher Durescq' was this man's close friend and tool--doing his
work for him.  It was through this patron's influence that Durescq
escaped being turned out of the army altogether.  Now, you can see two
things--why this man hates you, and how it was I heard of you.  Is that
personal enough, Lieutenant?"

"By God, I should think it is," cried I, on fire with rage.  "What does
he dare to interfere with me for?"  As I asked the question the reason
flashed upon me as by inspiration.  He had heard of my being associated
with Prince Bilbassoff and was afraid that as I knew so much about
Nihilism, I should get to learn of his connection with it, and he thus
deemed it best to have me put out of the way.  He meant to have me
"removed."  When I looked up, the Prince's keen subtle eyes were fixed
on me with calculating intentness.

"It is curious that this man should fix on you as the object of his
resentment--even though he is a Nihilist.  Take care, my friend.  I
know you have inherited a Nihilist black cloak and dagger with your
other undesirable possessions; beware how you use them."

"I believe the real Alexis had dealings with them," I said.

"If this Tueski woman manages to let them understand the truth, then,
you will need the wariest wits in the world to avoid stumbling."

"You have maddened me," I cried, as if impetuously, and in the highest
excitement.  "Get me a meeting with that villain and were he twenty
times the swordsman he is, and covered in iron mail from head to foot,
my sword should find a chink to let the life out of him.  I am on fire."

Then I rushed away; for in truth I dared not stay to be any longer
questioned about my relations with the Nihilists.

It all seemed clear to me now.  They meant to use me for the horrible
business of the following day; and then under some pretext get rid of
me--murder me if necessary--or denounce me.  This man held that I knew
too much for his safety.

All this was supposing, of course, that I escaped the danger of the
plot itself.



CHAPTER XXVI.

MY DECISION.

The news I heard from Prince Bilbassoff wrought me to a higher pitch of
excitement than anything that had ever happened in my life.  I was in a
very highly strung condition, and my nerves were no doubt greatly
wrought upon as the result of the stirring events of the previous few
days.  That may have rendered me unduly susceptible to this new
development.

Be that as it may, I went out of the Prince's presence filled with a
spurring desire to kill the man who as it seemed to me was planning my
ruin in this most treacherous manner.

The view I took was that this Grand Duke was moved by the double motive
of personal anger on the score of my affair with Alexandre Durescq and
of a feeling of insecurity on account of the knowledge I had of his
Nihilism.  I knew too much to be trusted.  The issues were so
tremendous, the decision I had to make so full of moment, and the time
for me to choose my course so short, that my wits had need to be at
their sharpest.

I had out my horse and went for a hard gallop--one of the best
prescriptions I know of to clear a tangled judgment.  It acted now.  As
I rode at hot speed my thoughts began to settle; and then gradually a
scheme occurred to me, wild, desperate, and hazardous at best, and
fraught with fearful risks to others beside myself; but yet if
successful, offering me what I wanted above all--complete deliverance
from the whole of my present difficulties.

My first thought in all was for myself.  Not for the Emperor, nor the
army, nor Russia, nor any big interests--for myself and for my escape
from the country whose most unwilling guest and compulsory servant I
was.  Had I been a Russian officer in reality, I could have taken but
one course--disclosed the Nihilist plot, or so much of it as I knew,
and thus have checkmated the whole devilish business at once.  Had I
ever received any particular mark of favour at the hands of the
Government or the country, gratitude would have urged me to take the
same course.

But I owed nothing to a soul in all Russia.  Everyone had tried to use
me as a tool.  The Colonel of the regiment had begun by making use of
my quarrel with Durescq to humiliate Devinsky.  The officers, almost
without exception, had swaggered over me contemptuously until my skill
as a swordsman shewed them the price of contempt might be death.  The
Nihilists had first tried to assassinate me, and only when I had seemed
to serve their ends with more daring and secrecy than any other man
among them, had they turned with a demand for more sacrifices; while
this Grand Duke, apparently one of the chief of them, was even now
planning to get rid of me.  Prince Bilbassoff was in the same list; and
without a doubt would have shut up both Olga and myself on Paula
Tueski's accusation, had he not wished to hire me as an assassin.
Everywhere I turned it was the same.

What then did I owe to Russia that I should think of any single
consideration except my own safety and welfare?

The question which I asked myself therefore, was whether I could plunge
my hand into this seething cauldron of intrigue and murder and pluck
out my own safety.

A word from me would foil the whole Nihilist plot, and the Czar would
make his entry into Moscow in due form and time.  But how should I
profit?  Supposing the Nihilist calculations were correct, and I was
appointed to the section of the line where the "accident" was to
happen, I should have to contrive obstacles and make difficulties which
would in all probability draw down on me the suspicions of the whole
Nihilist crew.  Add that element of suspicion to the feeling which the
Grand Duke already entertained and was inculcating into others, and
what chance was there of my escaping either open ruin or assassination?

Assuming that I did escape even, what should I gain?  I was tied to
Russia by the word I had passed to the Prince, and could not hope to be
set free from it until I had either fought the Grand Duke, or until the
Prince was convinced that the duel was impossible.  But as the Duke
looked on me as nothing less than a pestilential traitor to the
Nihilist cause, was it likely that he would consent to meet me?
Certainly not.  Even if we added the cause which the Prince had
suggested--the spurious betrothal to the Princess--I should get no
benefit.  The Grand Duke would merely regard that as an additional
reason for having me removed secretly from his path.

All this meant therefore, that even if I thwarted the plot in this way,
I should be kept in Russia and apart from Olga, until the Grand Duke
consented to fight me; or, in other words, until his emissaries had
convinced themselves that they could not manage to assassinate me.  Nor
was it probable that that conviction would come until they had made a
series of unsuccessful efforts.

A pleasant prospect, truly!

On the other hand, if I did nothing and allowed the infernal plot to be
carried through and the Emperor murdered, it would mean death to me;
certain death.  As the officer placed in charge of the section of the
line where the deed would be done, who had allowed the murderers
disguised as soldiers to mix with my troops; who had actually posted
them at the very spot where the train was to be derailed; and who above
all was already suspected of Nihilist intrigue; I was certain of
conviction, even without the Grand Duke's special animosity.  Add that,
however, and the result was as dead certain as that night alternates
with day.

If I was to escape, therefore, it must be by a shrewd stroke dealt by
myself alone and for myself alone.  And such a stroke it was that
suggested itself in the course of that ride.

Briefly, it was to allow everything to go forward right to the very
supreme moment, and then by personal effort to save the Emperor's life
by my own hand in such a way as to draw the Imperial attention directly
on myself.

I thought I saw how it could be done: and when I turned my horse's head
homeward I rode at a slower pace, meditating all the details of the
plan with the closest attention.  The Nihilists had told me enough to
shew me how to act; and my sense of fair play urged me to use the
knowledge for my sole advantage, and without involving a single
Nihilist in danger by open denunciation.  I was a Nihilist against my
will; and though I had been forced into the plot, I was altogether
opposed to telling what had been told to me in this spirit of
confidence.  At the same time I was a Russian officer, almost equally
against my own seeking, and so long as I preserved the Emperor's life I
need not regard other matters as a Russian officer would.

By the time I reached my rooms I had my plans shaped, and my scheme
developed; and my accustomed mood of calm, wary self-possession had
returned.

I changed and went to the club.  The place was crammed with the
officers stationed in Moscow and their friends who had been sent into
the city on special duty in connection with the Czar's visit on the
following day.  Everyone was in the noisiest spirits.  Good news had
come of the prospects of war.  All believed that on the next day the
Little Father would make a ringing war speech that would render peace
impossible; and many of the men were talking as though the sword had
already leapt from the scabbard, and a million men, tramping warwards,
were already driving the scared Turks before them, like husks before
the winnowing fan.

I lounged about the place, exchanging a word now and then with one or
another of my acquaintances, and I saw some of the youngsters stop
their war babble as I passed and whisper to their companions, and the
latter would turn and look in my direction.  I was fool enough to be
pleased at these little indications of the changed feelings with which
in scarcely more than a month I had made my fellow-officers think and
speak of "that devil Alexis."

More than once I smiled to myself as I thought what a bomb-shell would
be exploded in the room if they were all told the hazardous secret
which filled my thoughts just at that moment.

"To hell with the Turk, Alexis," cried Essaieff, catching sight of me
and stopping me as I moved past.

"May the Sick Man never recover!" I returned, answering in the form
that was then in vogue with us all.

"Drink, man, drink," he cried, excitedly, thrusting a glass of some
kind of liquor to me.  It was evident he had been toasting the war
pretty freely.  "Sit here with us.  Take it easy, man, now while we
can.  We've a long march ahead before we catch a glimpse of the
minarets of Constantinople.  Gentlemen, here is a Russian of whom you
will hear much when the war comes.  Lieutenant Petrovitch of ours,
gentlemen, my particular friend, and as good a fellow as ever held a
commission.  You can do anything with him, except quarrel; then, damme,
you must look out for yourself, for there isn't a man in Moscow, nor I
believe in Russia, can get through his guard; and as for shooting, God!
I believe if a single devil of a Turk shews only the shadow of an
eyelash round the corner of a fortification, he'll hit him with a
ricochet.  'That devil Alexis,' he is to us; and if the devil's only
half as good a fellow as this, I'll be content for one to serve him."

"I've heard of Lieutenant Petrovitch," said one of the men, as he bowed
to me ceremoniously and lifted his glass in response to Essaieff's
toast.

"Then you will know how to discount the exaggerations of my good friend
Essaieff," said I, quietly.

"On the contrary, I knew Durescq."

"Is Lieutenant Petrovitch the officer who was in that matter?" asked
another, shewing great interest in me at once.

"I should think he is," cried Essaieff, noisily enthusiastic.  "It was
in this very room that the thing occurred.  I'll tell you...."

"Essaieff, my dear fellow, I'd much rather not," I interrupted; and
turning to one of the officers I asked:--"Do you really think the war
will come now?"  But Essaieff would not let me change the subject.

"War come? of course it will; but this is something much better than
war just now," he burst in.  "Several of us thought there was mischief
in the air when we saw Devinsky and Durescq together, and I was
standing there, waiting for...."

"Excuse me," I interrupted, rising.  "I wish to speak to a man I see
over there; and really I can't stand Essaieff when he gets on this
theme," and with that excuse I left.

Wherever I went there were the same signs of revelry, excitement and
pleasure.  All were anticipating a really splendid gala day on the
morrow, with gaieties, festivities, balls, receptions, concerts,
levees, everything that society deems life worth living for to follow.

I went away very early.  I had to keep my nerves as firm as cold steel,
and the noisy ruffled atmosphere of this place with its crowd of
gesticulating, laughing, excited men, and the drink that was
circulating so freely, formed the worst of all preparations for such a
day as the morrow would be for me and the task I had to perform.

Before going home I strolled through one or two of the broader streets;
and everywhere I went I could not fail to observe that while the
unusual throngs of people in the streets reflected the feelings of
rejoicing that had animated the officers whom I had just left, and that
all Moscow was slowly going mad with anticipative excitement, the
number of police agents was multiplied many times over.  The leaven of
suspicion embittered everything; and, as no one knew better than I,
with what terrible cause.  As I mingled with the great, jostling,
bantering crowd I found myself speculating how the majority of them
would decide such an issue as that which had been bewildering me; and
the wild task I had for the morrow made me feel like a thing apart from
everyone of them--an alien not only in race, but in every attribute and
aspiration.

The contact with the crowd helped in a way to strengthen the decision I
had made.  I was one against all these thousands; fighting by myself
for my own hand against desperate odds, and with none to help me in a
single detail.

When I reached my rooms I went at once to bed, knowing that every
minute of rest had its value as a preparation for the work of the
following day.  I had made my resolution, formed my plans, thought out
even the details.  I had gauged the risk and knew full well that the
probabilities were all against my being alive on the following night.

But this at least was equally certain--if I lived and was free I would
have won my way out of Russia.

These were the thoughts that filled me; and so occupied was I with them
that it was not until I purposely put them away from me in order to get
to sleep, that I recalled how little I had thought of Olga during the
whole of that eventful day.

She was in my thoughts when I fell asleep, however: and her face
cheered me in my dreams.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE FOUR ALDER TREES.

I was up very early on the morning of the Czar's visit.  We had a
parade at 6.30 to receive final instructions; and as I walked to the
barracks I was in high spirits, buoyant, self-confident, and
alert--much as I had felt on the morning of my duel with Devinsky.  I
could not have been in better tone.

The morning air was very fresh and clear and the sunlight fell
everywhere upon flags, decorations, triumphal arches, and the rest of
the festal preparations for the great holiday to which work people were
busy putting the final touches.

Everybody seemed in the highest spirits.  Laughter and jest and a
pleasant interchange of greetings rang on the air on all sides of me;
and the whole city seemed to be already wreathed in smiles.

My brother officers came straggling up after I had reached the ground,
and more than one of them shewed abundant signs of the previous night's
carouse; looking as though a couple more hours' sleep were sadly
wanted.  Headaches abounded among them, and more than one regarded me
with a sort of comical envy because I was not dull-eyed, pale, nor
unrested.  They took it for granted that I had drunk as deeply as they,
and set down my steady head as one more proof of my prowess.  Some men
can always see something of a hero in the man who can drink heavily and
yet shew no signs of his dissipation.

When the Colonel came and we fell in, there was a disappointment for
me.  My new plan was based on the correctness of the Nihilist
information--that I should have the command of the troops guarding the
section of the line where were four alder trees; and I reckoned
confidently upon hearing from the Colonel of the alteration in the
original plans.

But no announcement of the sort was made.  On the contrary, as soon as
the troops had fallen in, the arrangements which had been announced on
the previous day were repeated; and I found that instead of being told
off to take charge of the railway to the north of the city, I had to
pass the whole day in guarding the Western Gate and the road for some
distance on either side of it.  I was ordered to parade my men at eight
o'clock and to march straight to the place of guard.

I went home to breakfast, disappointed and disgusted.  I didn't care a
jot about missing the sightseeing, but I was angry that the plan on
which I had now set my heart had failed; and that instead of being able
to strike a vigorous blow for my own freedom I should have to pass the
hours dawdling about doing nothing more than a sort of police work in
keeping order among a crowd of gaping, staring, gawky, country yokels.

I was in an exceedingly ill temper therefore when I returned to the
parade ground to start on my most unwelcome and unpalatable task.

But I found the whole place in complete confusion and uproar, and the
first words I heard were that the whole plan of the day's work had been
altered; that the troops had been changed and interchanged in a most
perplexing manner; that regiments and companies and even odd files of
men had been mixed up in the greatest apparent confusion; and that not
one of the original commands remained unaltered.

I hurried to the Colonel for my orders, and found him cursing volubly
and with tremendous energy at the infinite confusion the alterations
had caused.  But he found me my orders readily--he was a splendid
disciplinarian--and when I read them I marvelled indeed at the
extraordinary exactness with which the Nihilists had been able to
anticipate matters.

My command was changed to the guarding of the three mile stretch of
line outside the Vsatesk station, commencing a thousand yards to the
north of that point.  I was to train out at once; post my men at 25
yards distance; and allow no one to approach the line for two hours
before the coming of the Imperial train, and until half an hour after
it had passed; the time of its passing being given confidentially as
2.45--two hours later than had been originally fixed for the actual
arrival in Moscow.  More than that, the men under my command were not
to be drawn solely from my own regiment, but from no less than three
others, all specified, who were to meet me at the station.

As I read these instructions I saw in them the influence of someone who
must be both near to the Throne and intimately acquainted with the
whole Nihilist plot.  The object of classing together under one command
men taken suddenly from different regiments was a master-stroke of
treachery for this particular work.  Apparently it prevented any
collusion among any disaffected regiments, but in reality it opened the
way for the five assassins to get into the ranks without the least
suspicion; while the meeting at the railway station, probably urged as
a necessity to save time at the moment when the plans had been all
changed, must have been in fact designed solely for the purpose of the
plot.

He who was secretly behind all this was no ordinary man.  That was
clear.  And I saw that in pitting my wits against his, seeing that he
already had the Imperial ear, I should have to be wary indeed, if I
wished to avoid a fall.  But I did not shirk the contest: and now that
I knew I was really to have the chance, I clenched my teeth in
desperate resolve.

After incalculable trouble and much irritating delay, I got together
the small company that came from my own regiment and marched them to
the railway station.  I halted them and looked round for the
detachments that were to join me.  I posted my men in a place that
would lend itself well to the Nihilists joining them.  The three
detachments of men reported soon after my arrival, each in charge of a
sergeant; and when I had ascertained the train by which we were to
travel--a matter of no small difficulty in the indescribable confusion
that prevailed, I moved the whole two hundred to the platforms.

I had seen nothing of the Nihilists, so far, and this caused me some
surprise.  But on the platforms the order of the ranks could not be
maintained and when about half of my command were entrained, I was
addressed by one of a file of five men who reported that he and his
comrades had been told off to accompany me; and he produced written
instructions to that effect.

I glanced at the order and saw that it was sufficiently in form to
enable me to take the men with me, and while pretending to study the
paper I looked searchingly at each of the men.  They were a daredevil
set, in all truth, but they stood in their uniforms with as much
military air as the average Russian rankers.

I assumed an air of great vexation, and rapping out an oath, loud
enough for all about me to hear, I called up the sergeant of my own
regiment and telling him the men had been sent to join me, and cursing
them and everybody in general for the interruption, told him to find
places in the train for them.  In this way everything went smoothly,
and we were soon gliding out of Moscow for the short run, while I sat
back alone in the first-class compartment which I had had reserved for
myself.

I had still some slight preparations to make, and wished to be alone to
think.  First I examined my arms carefully.  I looked to every chamber
of my revolver.  Each bullet might mean a life before the day was three
hours older.  Next, I looked to my sword.  It was the same that had
seen me through my trouble with Devinsky and I knew it as a man learns
to know the feel of his walking stick.  Lastly, I had a long deadly
looking dagger; the sheath fastened to the right hip of my trousers
where it could be drawn with the greatest ease.  As a final reserve I
had in a small secret pocket a couple of pills--poison enough to kill
half a dozen men.  I meant to make a quick end of things if they went
wrong with me.

Satisfied that everything was in order, I lay back and mapped out again
the exact disposition of the men in my charge: and the precise course I
meant to take at the critical moment.  I was still occupied in this
when the train drew up at the little station, Vsatesk; and in less than
half an hour later, I had reached my section and begun to post my men
and was looking about me for the four alder trees and the exact spot
where I had been warned to take my post.

Knowing what I did about the Nihilist intentions, it was obviously
unnecessary to pay much heed to any part of the line except that where
I knew the "accident" would happen.  So I sent out a couple of
sergeants to dispose the men on that part of the line which lay to the
north of the four trees.

These were easily found, and I carried out to the letter the Nihilist
instructions to post the five men who were to kill the Czar,
immediately to the right, or south, of the line formed by the three
trees as described to me.

I did this for the simple reason that it was my cue to deceive everyone
right up to the last moment.  Had I altered the disposition of these
men they would have known that I meant treachery to them and to the
cause; and what the consequences would have been it was impossible to
foresee.  As it was they took their places with a grim readiness, and a
significant glance that spoke to me eloquently.

As soon as all the troops were placed I took my own position and,
girding up my patience to wait for the coming of the Imperial train and
with it my opportunity, I scanned every inch of the line for some
evidence of the Nihilists' preparations.  I could not detect a sign of
any change in the road or of any preparation of any kind.  The track
was not very well laid, and in several spots it bore signs of recent
repairs; but beyond that there was nothing.  This fact may have helped
to conceal the work of the Nihilists, of course; but although I knew
almost the very spot where it had been carried out, I could detect
nothing.

The suspense was trying indeed; and while I was waiting, it was natural
enough, perhaps, that my imagination should be chiefly busy in
suggesting many reasons why I was almost bound to fail in my desperate
venture.

I did not know in which train the Emperor would travel.  I knew of
course that there would be first the pilot engine; there would also be
the baggage train; probably also a special train for the suite and
servants; and the Imperial train.  But this might be first, second, or
third of the three.  I had not been told as to this.  So far as my
Nihilist work was concerned, it was not necessary that I should know
it.  That work began when the train had left the line; and I had been
posted near where that must happen.  I concluded therefore, that I had
not been trusted with a single jot more of information than it was
deemed necessary for me to have.

I should have to depend upon the Nihilists who were to move the lever
being accurately informed on this point.  But this troubled me.  If the
worst happened, of course the "accident" must take place and the train
be sent off the line, and I must use my opportunity then.  What I
wished to do was to stop the train in which the Emperor would travel;
but if I did not know which that was, I might easily make an ugly
blunder that would expose me to danger from the Nihilists and not only
do me no good with the Court, but mark me out as an object for ridicule
and suspicion.

This uncertainty did not present itself to disturb me until I was
actually on the line waiting for the coming of the trains, and face to
face with the necessity for action.

The point where I stood was about a mile and a half to the north of the
station and the line was so dead straight, that it could be watched for
five or six miles farther north, and I should thus have ample notice of
the approach of the trains.  It was a very clear day moreover; and as
my sight was exceedingly keen and good, I knew I should be able to
catch the earliest glimpse of the trains whose passing meant so much to
me.

I managed to get the whole of the company under my command posted more
than two hours before the Emperor was timed to pass; and after I had
made a show of inspecting those who were guarding that part of the
section which I knew to be outside the sphere of danger, I did the work
very thoroughly with those who were in that part where the grim,
hazardous drama was to be played.

I had been careful to keep the men of my own regiment close to me and
on both sides of the five Nihilist spies; and I was glad to see that
many of them were among my staunchest admirers.  They would have
followed me to death without a word; and the sergeant, whose name was
Grostef, the most athletic fellow in the ranks, was my sworn champion,
on the ground that I was the only man in the regiment who could outrun,
and outjump him, and beat him with any weapon he liked to pick.  I
believe the fellow loved me for my strength and skill.

The time dragged a bit for the patient fellows on guard who were not
near enough to exchange a word without the sergeants being pretty sure
to hear it; and the eyes of all soon began to be cast longingly
northward in impatient desire to catch a glimpse of the trains.  Almost
the only men who shewed no signs of feeling were the five to whom the
coming of the train meant, as they knew and were content to know, the
coming of death also.  They stood like stone figures: impassive,
immovable and stern: the type of men to whom death in the cause of duty
is welcome.

An hour before the time, I took up my position finally exactly in the
line of the three alder trees, and resolved not to move again nor to
have my attention drawn away from the rails until the work was over;
and I only lifted my eyes now and then from the track to send a sharp,
quick glance along the line to see if the train were yet in sight.

The first intimation I had that the trains were getting near came from
the opposite direction.  Between us and the Vsatesk station about half
a mile distant, was a signal box, and the light wind which was blowing
from the south carried to my ears the sharp smack of the signal arm as
it fell from the danger point, and signalled the line all clear.

I knew then it was a matter of minutes.  My pulse began to quicken up
slightly; and my scrutiny of the track and rails increased in
intentness.  But the minutes dragged on and the announced time came and
passed.  I knew of the Czar's passion for punctuality, and after this
delay had lasted some time I began to think a genuine accident must
have caused it.  In this weary suspense, a quarter of an hour, half an
hour, three quarters passed, and my watch shewed 3.30, and still not a
sign of even the pilot engine was visible.

Then a tiny black speck in the far straight distance, topped by a small
white steam cloud told me the pilot engine was coming at last; and in
the swift glances spared from my scrutiny of the rails, I saw it grow
larger and blacker as it covered the intervening space, until it
thundered up, and crashed and lumbered by us and began to fade in the
opposite direction disappearing round the slight curve which was
between us and Vsatesk station.

What the interval would be between the pilot engine and the first
train, and what that first train would be, I did not know.  The
intervals always differed; sometimes five minutes, sometimes ten,
sometimes as much as twenty minutes were allowed to elapse.  But the
interval was nothing compared with the question--which train would
follow.  On that might turn the whole result of the affair.

All the men had now straightened up, and even the five on my right
shewed signs of being interested.  I saw them looking up with stealthy,
longing, deadly fixedness for the coming of their prey.

But on the line itself there was no sign of change.

I had understood that at some point the rails would be shifted so as to
throw the train off the line.  But search as closely as I would, I
could not detect the least sign of any preparation for this.  The
uncertainty which this circumstance caused added to my excitement and
the suspense became doubly trying.  It quickened up to a climax when I
saw once again in the distance the growing black speck with the white
crown, that told me the second train was at hand.

I kept my eyes glued to the rails and my ears strained to catch the
first notification either by sight or sound that the trap had been
laid.  Without such a sign, I dared not do anything.

Yet nothing happened; and the black speck in the distance developed
into a distinct shape, and increased quickly in size, and a slight hum
came vibrating along the rails.  The hum grew into the sound of muffled
drums; then swelled to a heavy threatening rumble; and rapidly climaxed
to a crashing, rattling, reverberating roar, as the clattering clanging
jolting baggage train lurched heavily by, and roared away southward.

It passed safely every point on the line; and the old question which
would be next recurred with greater strain than before, and drummed
itself in on my brain like a sharp throbbing shoot of pain.

When for the third time the little warning speck in the distance told
me that either the Czar or his suite must now be coming, my excitement
waxed well nigh out of control; my hand stole on to the hilt of my
sword and loosened it in the scabbard, my fingers played on the stock
of my revolver, and my eyes never for an instant left the rails, but
ran up and down them with swift eager searching glances, hungry for a
sign.

As the distance between me and the on-coming train lessened, the
tension increased and my sense of baffled impotence, when I detected no
sign anywhere on the rails, was staggering.  By a great effort only
could I prevent myself from doing something to stop the approach of the
train and my eagerness was multiplied infinitely when, in a glance
which I could not keep from straying to the murderous gang on my right,
I saw them one and all making ready stealthily for their deadly work.

But no sign on the track gave me my cue for action, and I could only
wait, full of my resolve to do all that had to be done should this be
the train to be thrown off the line.

It came thundering up and passed me without my being able to take a
step of any sort.  Like the other it passed along the whole section of
the line in safety, though I saw, with an astonishment that for the
moment bewildered me, that the Imperial saloon was the central carriage.

Obviously the Czar had passed in safety.  And I jumped instantly to the
conclusion that for some reason the mechanism, which was to have
derailed the train, had failed to act.

But an incident which occurred almost as soon as the train had passed,
shewed me the falseness of this conclusion.

I was still staring fixedly at the track, when at a point that was
exactly opposite me, and thus in a direct line with the three alder
trees, I saw the two rails swing aside from the track, just enough to
turn a train off the rails that was travelling over the place.  There
was scarcely a click of sound: and, after a moment they swung back as
silently into position.

I read the whole thing in a moment.

The operator knew that the moment had come for action and wished to
make quite sure that the mechanism was in due order.  The sight
increased infinitely the oppressive weight and strain of the suspense.
I knew now that the Czar was in the third train, and that the Imperial
carriage had been sent on with the second as a ruse.

I knew too, that the supreme hour of my struggle was at hand, in all
grim reality.

I could now relieve my eyes from the straining task of watching the
track, and I looked about me.  The five men to my right were also on
the alert.  They had not been misled by the ruse of the empty court
carriage, and were waiting in deadly readiness to strike the blow which
they had come out to deal.

Then I turned my eyes northward along the straight level track, and
just as I did so I caught in the distance the first glimpse of the
third train, in which I knew, as certainly as if I could already see
him, that the Czar was travelling.

As the train loomed nearer and the moment for action approached, my
spirits rose also.  Uncertainty was at an end.  A few minutes would
decide whether I was to live or die.

I braced myself for the biggest effort of my life.

I was like a man whose nostrils expand as they breathe in the scent of
deadly fight.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE ATTACK ON THE CZAR.

Though I did not now care whether the rails were disturbed again or
not, seeing that I knew where the mechanism was and could point to my
having discovered, as the reason for what I was about to do, I kept
glancing at the spot, while I let the train approach unchecked near
enough to have all eyes drawn to my actions.

I guessed the distance which the brakes would take to act and when the
train had reached a point such as I judged necessary, I sprang on the
track between the rails and waving my arms excitedly, thundered out at
the top of my voice a warning to stop the train.

This was taken up by the soldiers who repeated the shouts and cries,
and a moment later the shrieking whistle of the engine told us the
warning had been heeded and that the brakes were on at full pressure.

With a succession of whirring, grating, rasping, grinding jerks the
train slackened quickly, and in a moment everything was plunged in
indescribable commotion.  The soldiers on both sides began to close in
on the fast stopping train.

"Close ranks round the whole train," I shouted to Sergeant Grostef: and
ordered him away to bring up the men as quickly as possible.

But I had made one miscalculation that was nearly proving fatal to
everything.  When I sprang on the line to stop the train, the rails had
not been moved, and even now for some reason they remained in position.
I had calculated to cause the train to be stopped so that it would
reach the false points at a slow pace, and thus be derailed close to
where I stood.  I judged that the jerk with which the train would leave
the line would be sufficient to bring it to a standstill, but not
enough to overturn it; and I should thus be able to get at once to the
presence of the Emperor, and tell my story in person at the moment when
he would be most affected by the occurrence.  But as the rails remained
in position--owing probably to the fact that the man operating them had
seen that the train had been stopped and deemed it best to do
nothing--there was nothing to stay the train's progress, except the
brakes.

To my horror I saw it pass me with just about sufficient speed to carry
it right into the middle of the five men who were waiting there to
murder the Emperor.

With a loud shout to the men nearest to me to follow I dashed after it,
making sure as I ran in which carriage was the Emperor.

The first of the five men planted himself right in my path, and fired
his revolver point-blank at me when I was only three or four paces from
him.  He missed and then drew his sword to engage me.  With scarcely a
second's delay I cut down his sword arm and a second slash at his neck
as I ran past, sent him reeling down the embankment, all but headless,
with the blood spurting from the fearful wounds I had inflicted.

My one thought was now the Emperor; and I saw that the other assassins
had discovered him in the train as quickly as I.

One of them stood with a bomb, ready poised in his hand, intending to
hurl it right into the carriage.  I tore it from him and threw it with
all my force over the embankment and then plunged my sword into the
villain's heart.

[Illustration: I tore it from him.]

The bomb exploded the instant it touched the ground below, and the
effects were perfectly awesome.  There was a prodigious roar; the earth
reeled as if under a heavy blow, and a number of the soldiers were
thrown to the ground; the train seemed to be shaken bodily: and before
the reverberation of the explosion ceased, the splintering of wood and
the crashing of glass, told of desperate injuries to some of the
carriages.

The saloon carriage in which the Czar travelled suffered most, and it
was so violently shaken that the windows were broken, the sides split,
and the doors jammed.

It was a moment for strong heads; and, thank God, I was able to keep
mine.

The three surviving Nihilists were among the first to shake off the
effects of the shock, and two of them made instantly for the door of
the Czar's carriage.

His Majesty had been at the window and must have seen me tear the bomb
from the man's hand; but the shock had driven him away now.  Glancing
round I saw Sergeant Grostef and one or two more of my men had
recovered themselves and were running towards us.  Seconds meant lives
now; and I dashed forward and sprang upon the steps of the carriage
after the two who were striving with might and main to tear the door of
the saloon open.  It was partly jammed by the effects of the explosion,
and was being defended by two men, who to my surprise were His
Majesty's only companions in the saloon.  I learnt the reason for this
afterwards; another instance of the damnable treachery which hedged the
Emperor round.

Those inside were like children before the maddened Nihilists; and the
door was wrenched open and the Czar's companions shot down but not
killed, just as I reached the carriage platform.  I shot one of the
Nihilists instantly, but I believe the other would have succeeded in
his deadly purpose had it not been for Sergeant Grostef who entered the
carriage on my heels.  He dashed forward and threw himself on the
second man and both went to the ground in a fearful struggle.

The Emperor, though as brave as a man could be, was for a moment in
complete bewilderment.  Caught weaponless and menaced by what seemed
certain death, his nerves all unhinged by the explosion, his companions
struck down before his face, he had rushed away in an effort to escape
from what looked like a hellish snare, and was seeking to fly by the
other door, when the fifth of the murderous crew attacked him with
drawn sword.  Seeing the man in uniform, the Czar believed that the
whole of the guard had mutinied and meant to murder him.

"Is there no one to help me?" he cried, looking round.

"Yes, to hell," growled the man, with a grim quip, as he rushed upon
him.

I had dropped my sword in entering the saloon, and my revolver had been
dashed out of my hands, so that I could do nothing but fling myself
before the Emperor, and give my body to save his.

I dashed in between them, uttering a loud and violent shout, in the
hope of attracting the man's attention to me.  But he was too grim a
devil to be turned from his work; and the only effect of my
interference was to impel him to greater efforts.

But he was too late.

Taking a liberty with his Imperial Majesty, which at another time might
have cost me my freedom and perhaps my life, I pushed the Emperor
violently on one side, and threw myself upon his murderer.

The thrust that was meant for the Emperor, passed through my neck, and
I rejoiced as I felt the man's steel run into my flesh.  I had saved
the Emperor's life, even if I had lost my own.  Then I called to
Grostef as I felt the villain draw out the steel and saw the light of
unsated murder lust redden his eyes.

With a desperate effort I seized his blade, and though it cut and
gashed my hands through and through as the man tugged and twisted it to
wrest it from me, I held on till the villain put his foot against my
chest and dragged the weapon away, despite my most desperate effort.
Then he drew it back to plunge it into the Czar's heart.  But at that
moment I saw Grostef's great blade swing in the air with tremendous
force, and sever the miscreant's head from his body.

But the Czar was safe: and as I rolled over near his feet, I rallied
all my strength for a last effort and cried:----

"God save your Majesty."

After that I had a dim feeling that good old Grostef and the Emperor
were both bending over me trying to staunch the blood that came flowing
from my throat and mouth, choking me, from the wound which the villain
had meant for the Emperor.  But I had saved him and he had seen I had
saved him.

"Who is it?" I heard the Czar ask.

"Lieutenant Petrovitch, your Majesty, of the Moscow Infantry Regiment,"
answered the old soldier.

"Your Majesty, I implore you, take care.  You are in an ambush of
Nihilist villains," cried some one stepping forward hastily.  "I know
that man"--pointing to me--"he is the most dare-devil rebel of them
all, and has planned this business for your assassination.  For God's
sake have a care.  This is the most devilish snare that was ever vainly
laid."

The Emperor moved away from me quickly and looked in the deepest
perplexity from one to another of the group who had now crowded into
the carriage.

"That is a strange thing to hear," said His Majesty.  "The man has just
saved my life at the infinite hazard of his own.  You see him.  But for
him and for this good fellow"--waving a hand toward old Grostef--"the
thrust you see there would have been in my heart."

"Yet I pledge myself to prove what I say.  You know I do not speak at
random.  They are probably together in this."

Old Grostef growled out a stiff oath that was lost in his beard and
then without releasing my head which was supported on his knee, he
brought his hand to the salute and said gruffly:----

"Nihilist or no Nihilist, your Majesty, the lieutenant will soon be a
dead man, choked by his own blood if his wounds are not dressed."

"There will be one traitor the less, then," said the man who had
accused me, accompanying the words with a brutal sneer.

"Oh the contrary, Grand Duke," said the Emperor angrily, "his life is
my special care.  If he be a traitor it seems to me I should pray to
God to grant me thousands of such traitors in my army."

"God save your Majesty, and Amen to that," cried old Grostef, unable to
keep his tongue between his teeth at that, and positively trembling in
his excitement.

"Silence," said the Emperor.  "And now let all haste be made to get on
to the city."

"As your Majesty pleases," said the man whom I guessed was the Grand
Duke against whom Prince Bilbassoff had warned me.  "I will make good
my words, and we will save the life to take it."



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE TRUTH OUT AT LAST.

While an examination of the train was made to see how much of it could
proceed, my wounds were roughly dressed, and as soon as it was
ascertained that only one of the saloons could go on, the Emperor said
that I should travel in it with himself and his immediate party, and
instructions were wired to Moscow that a doctor should be sent out to
the small station just outside the city, where it had been arranged
already that the Emperor should change into the Imperial train that had
passed empty.  The object of this was that the entry into the city
should be made from the royal train, and thus no comment be raised.

As I was being moved into the other carriage an incident happened which
I knew might have a very sinister effect upon my fortunes.  My men
cheered lustily as soon as they caught sight of me; but when the cheers
had died away a wild and vehement curse greeted me from the only one of
the five Nihilists who had life enough left in him to grind his teeth
and hiss out an imprecation.

"He was our leader, damn him," cried the man, "and betrayed us.  To
hell with such a traitor!" and he poured out his curses with tremendous
volubility, till a soldier standing by, clapped his hand on his mouth
and silenced him.

"Your Majesty hears that?" said the Grand Duke, and I saw the Emperor
was greatly impressed and looked at me doubtingly.

I could not speak then, but I had sense enough left to understand my
peril; and during the short journey I was thinking busily.

All the time the Emperor was in close consultation with the Grand Duke,
and it was easy to see that poison was being poured into the Imperial
ear to prejudice me.  But I could do nothing until my wounds had been
properly dressed and the power to speak freely restored.  At present I
could not utter a word without bringing the blood into my mouth: and I
lay chafing and fretting and fevering myself, as I watched what I read
to be the conviction of my treachery stealing over the face of the Czar.

I knew his character well enough to appreciate my danger fully.  The
one subject on which his mind was warped and morbid in its
sensitiveness was the fear of assassination: and under its influence he
would believe almost anything that was told to him.  The personal
influence of the Grand Duke was, moreover, enormous.

As we were nearing the little station where the change of trains was to
be made, the Emperor crossed the saloon and spoke to me.

"Lieutenant Petrovitch, can you hear me?"

I looked at him and tried to raise my bandaged, mangled hand to the
salute, but could not.

"Don't move," he said, hastily, seeing the attempt.  "The charges made
against you are of the most terrible kind and there certainly seems to
be much more ground than I at first thought.  But my own eyes saw what
you did, and you will have the fullest opportunity of explaining
everything.  For the time you are under arrest, necessarily; but it
will be my personal charge to see that everything is done for you that
surgical skill can do.  A few hours and proper treatment will, I hope,
render you able to give the necessary explanation, and in the mean time
you will see no one but the doctors.  I myself shall then see and
question you."

He was turning to leave me then, when I made a sign that I wished to
answer, and he bent forward to listen.

"Your Majesty will have a care," cried the Grand Duke, who had heard
and watched everything closely.

"Do you think the man breathes poison that I should be afraid of him,
maimed and bleeding and helpless as he is?" was the reply.

I made a great effort to speak, but it nearly killed me, and with all
my struggle I could get only a word at a time, and that with tremendous
difficulty.

"Your--Majesty--keep--my--men--watching--line--where--I--stood--by--
alder--trees."

"It shall be done," he said; and I saw him exchange looks with the
Grand Duke and then shrug his shoulders and lift his eyebrows as he
left the saloon.

Directly he had left, the doctors came round me, and I resigned myself
cheerfully and completely into their hands.  But the Czar had given me
the tonic that had done more than all the doctor's efforts to pull me
round quickly.  I was to have a private audience; and it would not be
my fault, if I did not win my way to freedom and Olga.

Some three or four hours after the Czar had left me I was moved on to
Moscow in the saloon where I lay; and my reception there was most
mingled.  Some garbled accounts of the attempt on the Emperor's life
had got about, and when I was carried from the saloon and placed in a
State carriage and then driven away in the midst of a large military
escort, the people were at a loss to know who I was, and whether I was
a Nihilist to be hooted or a hero to be cheered.  They were in a noisy
mood that day, and did both therefore, until the party neared the
Palace and it was clear I was being taken there.  This decided that I
must be a hero and the hooting ceased and the cheering shouts rang out
with a deafening roar.

I was glad to be done with that part of the business.  I knew well that
the same throats that had been stretched in shouts of acclamation were
quite as ready to be strained in yelling for my death.  The populace
wanted an excuse for a noise; and it was all one to them, so far as
personal gratification went, whether they yelled in a man's honour, or
roared for his death.

The day's round of festivities was a particularly full one for the
Emperor, and it was many hours before he could possibly be at liberty;
but every hour added to my strength.  The doctors soon ascertained that
the wound in the neck was not a very dangerous one, though it had been
a ghastly one enough to look upon.  The thrust had been within an ace
of killing me; but the man's weapon had missed the arteries and the
vertebrae, though it had sliced an ugly wound in the windpipe, having
let the blood into it, and thus nearly choked me.  My hands were badly
cut, very badly mangled indeed; and the doctors thought more seriously
of them than of the wound in the neck, so far as after-consequences
were concerned.  But they soon patched me up sufficiently to enable me
to speak if necessary.

With this knowledge I awaited the Emperor's coming with such patience
as I could command.

It was past midnight before he came; and then only to ask as to my
condition.  He seemed pleased that I was so much better: and closely
questioned the doctor who had remained in constant attendance on me as
to the exact nature of my wounds and when I should be able to undertake
the fatigue of a long conversation.  I might do it at once with care,
was the doctor's report; but it would be better after a night's rest.

"Then it shall be to-morrow evening.  Certain matters have yet to be
investigated," said the Czar, turning to me, "and you will have full
opportunity of answering all that may be said."  His manner had ceased
to shew the kindliness I thought I had detected in the earlier
questions about my condition, and I judged that his mind had received
further prejudice against me.

I felt that delay was dangerous to me; but I could not help myself.  I
said I should prefer to answer all his questions at once and tell him
all I had to say; but he turned from me somewhat peremptorily with a
short reply that he had made his decision.  And with that he left the
room.

I augured ill from the Emperor's demeanour; but as any change in him
would only increase my need for the greatest possible amount of
strength, I thrust all my troubles resolutely out of my thoughts and
went to sleep.  I slept into the next day when the doctor's report was
altogether favourable.  My head, too, was clear and my wits vigorous
for the ordeal that was in store for me.

In the morning, the Emperor sent to inquire my condition, instead of
coming in person, and I interpreted this as a sign that the thermometer
of favour was still going down.

When he came in the evening the Grand Duke was with him, and I saw by
the expression of the latter's face that he at any rate was
anticipating a triumph and my downfall.

"Now, Lieutenant, you are well enough to answer questions, tell the
truth.  I warn you it must be the whole truth; for I have had many
surprising facts brought to my knowledge, and all your answers can be
at once tested--and will be."

"Your Majesty, I pledge myself to answer every question.  But before I
do that there is one communication I should like to make to yourself
alone."

"You can make any statement you like afterwards.  Now, tell me, are you
a Nihilist?"

"I am not," I answered firmly.

"Well, what have been--Stay, you acted bravely yesterday, you are
charged with this: that you are and have been a Nihilist for years and
that your sister is one also; that you were concerned twelve months ago
in the attack upon the Governor of Moscow; that before and since then
you have been in constant communication with the Nihilist leaders; that
with your own hand you assassinated Christian Tueski, after having
yourself volunteered for the work; that you proposed the plot which by
the mercy of God failed yesterday; that you were privy to the whole
matter and went out to assist in the deadly work."

"Who are my accusers, Sire?"

"It is the accusation, not the accuser you have to answer," replied the
Emperor, sternly.  "You are to answer, not question."

"I have a complete answer, which happily I can support with ample
proof.  Until less than two months ago, I had never exchanged a word
with a Nihilist..."

"He is a liar," burst out the Grand Duke, vehemently.

A hot answer rose to my lips, but I checked it.

"Then, Sire, a band of them set upon me in the street and would have
assassinated me, had I not beaten them off with my sword.  One of them
I took prisoner to my rooms, and from him I learnt that I was supposed
to have...."

"Supposed!" exclaimed the Grand Duke.

"Supposed to have incurred their wrath.  They had sentenced me to
death, it appeared, and that was the first attempt at my execution.  I
then took a course which I am well aware will seem peculiar.  I went to
a meeting at which the death of Christian Tueski was resolved, and I
was selected to kill him."

"You confess this?" cried the Emperor, harshly.  "You, my officer?"

"Sire, I beg your patience.  I did this because I did not think I
should be in Russia many hours; and because I thought I could gain the
time I needed by pretending to be at the head of the conspiracy.  Not
for a moment did I intend to lay a finger on him.  I am no assassin."

"But he was assassinated by you Nihilists," cried the Emperor, with
bitter indignation.  "The whole land has rung with the news."

"The man is a madman, or takes us for fools," said the Grand Duke.

"I am as innocent of his death, Sire, as a child, except, I fear,
indirectly.  He died by the hand of his wife, whom on the very day of
his death I had warned of the plot to kill him."

"Your proofs, man, your proofs," cried the Emperor impatiently.

"That most unfortunate woman had been under the impression that there
had been an intrigue between myself and her and...."

"Half Moscow knew of it," interrupted the Duke.

"Until less than two months ago, I had never seen her in all my life,"
I returned.  "She thought by this deed to coil such a web round me that
I could not escape from marrying her.  Had I wished to kill the man, I
had ample opportunity on the very afternoon of the day he was murdered,
for I was closeted alone with him for two hours.  He, too, had set his
bullies on to me and I went to settle things with him and to get
permits to leave the country for myself and Olga Petrovitch.  I got
them, and that night his wife thrust into his heart a dagger she
believed was mine, added the Nihilist motto, and then hid the sheath,
with the name 'Alexis Petrovitch' on it, intending to use it as a means
to force me to marry her under the threat of charging me with the
crime."

"Your repute does not belie you," growled the Duke.  "You're the most
callous dare-devil I ever heard of to tell a tale of that kind.  To
choose a woman's petticoats!"

The Emperor turned to him and held up a hand in protest.

"In that way I got the credit for that crime; and I was then approached
about the attempt of yesterday."

"Ah!"  The Emperor drew in a sharp breath.

"I listened to what was said, believing still that I should be out of
the country before the time, and intending in any event to make the
success of the scheme impossible.  A series of extraordinary events
prevented my leaving, and when more details were told me, I saw there
must be someone in the matter very near your Majesty's throne.  I
thought I could perhaps discover who that was and thus, by remaining,
serve your Majesty most effectively.  I think I know now who it is, or
at least have the means of obtaining proof.  Up to nine o'clock
yesterday morning the pivot on which everything was to turn was yet
unsettled.  A part was assigned to me days ago, on the understanding
that certain military duties would be confided to me; that a change in
the whole plans would be made at the very last moment; that all the
commands would be altered; and that I should find myself in charge of a
certain section of the line.  I was told this in general terms more
than a week ago; and everything was confirmed to me in detail on Sunday
morning--twenty-four hours before the change was announced by the
Colonel of the regiment."

"'Fore God, Sir, what are you saying?" cried the Emperor in a loud
voice.  He had turned white and was pressing his hand to his forehead
with every sign of great agitation.  "Do you hear this?" he asked the
man who had been so loud in accusing me, and who himself was now
fighting hard for self-possession.

I had struck home indeed.

A dead silence followed, lasting more than a minute; and to give it
full weight I affected to be unable to speak.

"I'm not surprised such a tale overcomes him in the telling.  It is
wild enough to listen to, let alone to invent," said the Grand Duke,
recovering himself with a sneer.

"Proceed, when you can, Lieutenant," said the Emperor, shortly.

"I have nearly finished, Sire," I answered weakly.  "But there is one
point where I can give you the highest corroboration of the key to all
this seeming mystery.  Will your Majesty send for Prince Bilbassoff?"

The Duke started as I mentioned the name and glanced keenly at me as it
seemed to me in much discomposure.

"I was told, Sire," I resumed, when the Emperor had complied with my
request.  "That there was one, or at most two persons beside your
Majesty who knew the real order of matters for yesterday; and that it
was from that one, or from one of those two persons, that the
information was given to the Nihilists which formed the basis of this
plot.  I did not believe it possible, Sire, and I did not think
therefore that any attempt could be made.  But yesterday morning to my
intense astonishment, I found myself appointed to command exactly the
section of the line of which I had been told by the Nihilists, many
hours, indeed days in advance."

The consternation of both my hearers as I dwelt on this was so great
that I emphasized it; and I saw then that I could safely slur over the
only point that I really feared in the whole story--the episode of the
five men whom I had posted in accordance with the Nihilist orders.

I had struck such a blow at the Grand Duke that he said no more; and he
was much more busy thinking of how to defend himself than of how to
accuse me.

I next told of the secret mechanism; how I had seen it work; how it
proved that the operator must have had exact knowledge of the train in
which the Emperor would travel, and then how I had sprung on the line
to stop the train.  I left my actions after that to speak for
themselves.

The impression created by my story was profound; due of course to the
terrible and daring accusation I had levelled at the man who had
accused me.

The Emperor remained wrapped in deep thought; and in the silence that
followed, Prince Bilbassoff entered.  I could tell by the quick glance
he gave round the room and particularly at me, that he did not at all
like the look of matters.  He had heard something of the facts about
me, and I believe he thought I had perhaps denounced him in the matter
of the proposed duel with the Grand Duke.

"Lieutenant Petrovitch has asked for you to be present, Prince, to
support some part of the explanation he has given of certain charges
brought against him."

"As your Majesty pleases," replied the Prince bowing.

The Emperor resumed his attitude of intense thought, and then after
some moments, he regarded me with a heavy frown and said very sternly
and harshly:

"The story you tell is incredible, sir.  It is a mass of
contradictions.  You say the Nihilists attempted to kill you, having
decreed your death; and yet that you had never spoken to one until the
night of the attempt.  You say this woman whom you accuse of the murder
of her husband did this horrible deed for your sake as the result of an
intrigue--and yet that you had never seen her until almost the very
hour when she sinned thus for your sake.  You say that you listened to
these Nihilist intrigues in the belief that you would be out of the
country--yet you hold and have held for years a commission in my army.
It is monstrous, incredible, impossible."

"There is another contradiction which your Majesty has forgotten," said
I daringly.  "That I, being as my enemies tell your Majesty, a Nihilist
of the Nihilists and a leader among them, should yet have slain three
of them with my own hand in defence of your Majesty's life and have
turned the sword of the fourth into my own body.  As your Majesty said
yesterday, traitors of that kind should rather be welcome.  But if your
Majesty thinks that that is an additional proof of my guilt, my life is
at your service still."

He looked at me as if in doubt whether to rebuke me for this daring
presumption, or to admit his own doubt.  But I did not give him time to
speak.

"I have deceived your Majesty, however, though I wished to speak openly
at the outset.  I told you there was a key to all this of a most
extraordinary fashion.  There is; and I throw myself humbly on your
mercy, Sire.  The tales you have been told about me are all true to a
point, and false afterwards.  To a point all these horrible charges
against Alexis Petrovitch are true; but what I have told you is true
also.  The key is--that I have only been Alexis Petrovitch for seven
weeks.  I am not a Russian, Sire, but an Englishman; and Prince
Bilbassoff here has within the last few hours had proof of this."

"An Englishman!" exclaimed the Czar, in a tone that revealed his
complete bewilderment.  "I don't understand."

"I wish to tell your Majesty everything," and then I told him almost
everything as I have set it down here.

As I told the story, ending with my wish to be allowed to leave the
country at once, I saw his interest deepening and quickening, and
perceived that he was coming round to my side.  He listened with
scarcely a break or interruption, and at the close remained thinking
most earnestly.

"What confirmation have you, Prince?"

Prince Bilbassoff was so relieved to find that I had said nothing
indiscreet about him that he spoke in the strongest way for me.

"I know much of this to be true, your Majesty.  I have had telegrams
from England confirming Mr. Tregethner's story; and there is now in
Moscow a certain Hon. Rupert Balestier, who has been making the most
energetic inquiries for him; and--the weirdest of all--the wretched
woman, Paula Tueski, has killed herself and left a confession of her
crime."

The Emperor's decision was taken at once.

"I owe you deep reparation, Mr. Tregethner.  I ought to have trusted my
instinct and my eyesight, and have known that no man would have done
what you did yesterday to save my life, and be anything but my firm
friend.  May God never send Russia or me a greater enemy than you.  May
you never lack as firm a friend as I will be to you.  God bless you!"

My heart was too full for speech, and I could only falter out the words:

"I would die for your Majesty."

"You will do better than that--you will live for me; and when you are
well, we will speak of your future."

With that he turned to leave the room and said to the Grand Duke, who
was quite broken and unstrung:--

"Now, we will find that strange leakage."

As soon as they had left, Prince Bilbassoff questioned me closely, and
when he heard about the accusation I had by inference brought against
the man who had tried to ruin me and had so nearly succeeded, words
could not express his delight.



CHAPTER XXX.

AFTERWARDS.

It was nearly a month before the doctors would consent to my being
moved, and even then they grudged their permission.  All the time I lay
like a Royal Prince in the Palace with all the world ready to do my
lightest wish.  Had I been in a hospital, I believe the doctors would
have sent me packing a full fortnight earlier; but wounds heal slowly
when the State has to pay the doctors' fees.

The time was pleasant enough, however, save for one thing.  I was full
of anxiety on Olga's account.  Prince Bilbassoff brought my friend
Balestier to me and he stayed all the time, and used all his efforts to
find some trace of her whereabouts.  The Emperor, too, promised that
all in his power should be done to find her; and whenever I saw Prince
Bilbassoff I importuned him also on the same quest; and his promises
were as ripe as the Czar's.

She was not found, however, and I fretted and worried until Balestier
drove home the conviction that the best thing I could do was to hurry
and get well, and then set out to search for her myself.  This pacified
me, and I did all that was possible to help the doctors.

But this failure to find her was a never-ending subject of thought, as
well as of somewhat angry satire when the opportunity offered.  One day
when the Prince came I rallied him strongly on the matter, thinking to
gibe him into greater activity.

"Your agents are poor hounds, Prince," I said.  "They bay loudly enough
on the trail, but they don't find."

"They have found the brother," he answered quietly.  "And the girl
can't be far off."

"The brother be hanged," cried I.

"Not by the Russian hangman.  He doesn't mean to return here; but he
has dropped your name and probably by this time has left Paris
altogether.  He knows the facts--or some of them; our agent told him
them; and he means to put as great a distance between himself and
Russia as the limitations of the globe will permit."

"He's a poor creature.  How was he found?"

"As usual--a woman."

"Well, I owe him no grudge.  He has given me a better part than I ever
thought to play in life.  And a good wife too--if we can only find her."

"We shall find her.  The woman's not born that can hide herself from
us, when we are in earnest."

"Well, I wish you'd be thoroughly in earnest now.  If you were only as
much in earnest as you were about that duel...."

"I am; for I owe you more than if you had fought the duel."  I looked
at him in some astonishment.  "I have only to-day heard the definite
decision," he continued.  "You gave me the clue, and I did not fail to
follow it up.  You say my men are not sleuth hounds.  Give them a blood
scent like that and try."

"All of which is unintelligible to me," I replied, noting with surprise
his excitement and exultation.

"Heavens, lad, I'm more sorry than ever you're not going to join us.
And now that that hindrance is out of the path, the path is brighter
than ever.  What fools you young fellows are to go tumbling into what
you call love, and playing the devil with a career for the sake of
muslin and silks and pretty cheeks.  I suppose..." he looked
questioningly, and waited as if for me to speak.

"Suppose what?"  I knew what he meant well enough, but liked to make
him speak out.

"That you've really made up your mind or whatever you call it, not to
stop in Russia?"

"Absolutely.  I'm going to commit social suicide and marry for
love--that is, if I can only find my sweetheart; or rather if you can
find her for me."

"I wish I couldn't," he returned; and then fearing I should
misunderstand him, added:--"I don't mean that.  I mean, I'm sorry I'm
not to have your help."

"At one time it looked as though you were going to have it whether I
would or no, and I'm afraid I may have misled you and--and others
somewhat.  I'm sorry for this."

"Save your vanity, youngster," he said with a short laugh,
understanding me.  "My sister is no love-sick maiden with her head full
of a silly fancy that any one man is necessary to her."

I flushed a little at the rebuke; and bit my lip.

"We wanted you for Russia, not for ourselves," he added, after a pause.
"You have already done the Empire a splendid service; and that's why
you're regretted.  Though, mark me, I don't say, now that things have
turned out as they have, I should not have been a bit proud of you as a
member of my family."

"What service do you mean?  Saving my own skin?"

"No.  Overthrowing the Grand Duke.  He is completely broken.  No trap
could have snared him half so well.  It has now come out that the
disposition of the troops was his sole work; he himself arranged the
very order of the trains; and the minute details which he executed were
known to him alone.  He laid his plans splendidly for his infernal
purpose, and had you been the man he anticipated--the dare-devil who
had killed Tueski--nothing could have saved the Emperor's life.  But
God in His mercy willed the overthrow of as clever a villain as was
ever shielded by high rank.  That particular slip no man could have
possibly foreseen; but he made another which surprised me.  Only a
little thing, but enough.  When I came to look closely into the
business I found that he had worked out in the greatest detail all the
arrangements for the last journey and the disposition of the troops,
and had committed them to paper in a number of sealed orders.  These he
dated back to the previous Saturday; but only gave them out the last
thing on Sunday night.  His object was of course that when inquiries
came to be made the dates on the papers should tell their own story and
prove, apparently, that, as they had been given out on the Saturday,
there would have been plenty of time for it to have leaked out to the
Nihilists through some one of the many officials who would be in
possession of it, at the time you proved it was known to the Nihilists.
On that supposition there were a hundred channels through which it
would have got out, and the Duke would have been only one among many in
a position to divulge the secret.  Like a fool he thus drew the coil
close round his own body; and as soon as the Emperor knew that, my men
made a search.  That did the rest effectually."

"And what has happened to him?"

"What should happen to such a man?" answered the Prince, sternly.

"Death."

"Right.  But the Emperor would not.  He's as soft as a pudding.  The
man is imprisoned, that's all.  For life, of course.  But rats have an
ugly trick of slipping out as well as into a dungeon.  And if he ever
does get out, boy, you will have one enemy powerful enough to make even
you cautious."

"Keep him safe, then," I laughed.  "For when I leave Russia, I want to
leave all this behind me."

"You may look for trouble of some kind from the Nihilists, however."

"They are not taken very seriously by us English, Prince," I replied.

"Maybe; but remember you have been a Russian for a couple of months,
and have dealt them a stroke that they will never forget."

He left me soon after that, but I did not pay any serious heed to his
warning.  I pondered his news, however.  I was glad that Alexis
Petrovitch had ceased to masquerade in my name; but I could not
understand how it was that if the Russian agents could so easily find
the brother, they should be baffled in their search for Olga.  But it
spurred my anxiety to go a-hunting on my own account; and I was
heartily glad therefore, when the doctors agreed to release me, and my
marching orders for St. Petersburg came.

By the Emperor's commands I was taken straight to his Palace; and his
Majesty's reception could not have been more gracious than it was.

He loaded me with signs of his favour; with his own hands pinned to my
breast the highest Order he could confer on a foreigner; and did
everything except press me to enter his service.

"Your sojourn in Russia is associated in my mind with so painful and
terrible an event, and you are personally connected with it so closely,
that in my service you would always serve to keep open a wound that
bleeds at the mere reference.  I am like a man who has given
unrestrainedly the kisses of love and received in return the poison of
the asp.  Moreover, Prince Bilbassoff tells me that you have made up
your mind to go to your own country; and while you will, I hope, always
be my friend, and I, with God's help, will always be yours, I shall not
seek to detain you."

"I am even now impatient to be away, your Majesty," I replied, "and
crave your leave to go at once.  I hope to leave St Petersburg
immediately."  I spoke with the eagerness of a lover; and his reply
surprised, and indeed, dismayed me.

"No, Mr. Tregethner, that I cannot suffer.  I should feel an ingrate if
I permitted you to leave without accepting my hospitality.  I do not
like an unwilling guest; but for a fortnight more at least you must
remain here."

I looked at him quickly in my amazement, and then with a bow said:--

"Your Majesty has promised me the gracious distinction of your
friendship; and as a friend I appeal to you to permit me to be your
guest at another time.  The matter I have in hand is very urgent."

"I am not accustomed to have my wishes in these matters questioned,"
returned the Emperor; and at that moment I wished the Imperial
friendship at the bottom of the Baltic.

It meant that just when I was well and strong, and in every way able to
start on the task that was more to me than anything else on earth, I
had to cool my heels dangling attendance on this well meaning Imperial
Marplot in this prison-palace of his.  But I smothered my feelings like
a courtier and murmured an assent--that compliance with his wishes
would be a pleasure.

He laughed, and then in a most un-Emperor-like manner clapped me on the
shoulder and said:--

"You'd soon learn the humbug of the courtier, friend.  But you must not
put all this down to me.  You stay by the special desire of the Prince
Bilbassoff's beautiful but rather imperious sister, in whose favour you
stand high--though you have not always treated her very well, it seems.
She has now a great desire for some more of your company, and has set
her heart on your remaining to be present at a Court marriage which she
has planned."

"I shall know how to thank the Princess when I see her," I answered,
drily enough to make my meaning clear; for the Emperor laughed and said
that might be true and that the Princess was even now anxious to see me
to thank me for past services.

My gratitude to the latter may be imagined; and when the Emperor
dismissed me, I thought of the pleasure it would afford me to express
it to her.

The opportunity came at once, for I was shewn straight to a saloon
where she appeared to have been awaiting me.

"We meet, under changed circumstances, Mr. Tregethner--my inclination
to call you Lieutenant is almost irresistible."

"His Majesty has told me, Princess, that it is to you I owe the
pleasure of being compelled to stay here at the present time."

"I am glad to have been able to secure you so high a mark of the
Imperial favour," she answered, her eyes laughing at me, but the rest
of her features serious.  "I am always glad to help those who are
candid and frank with me."

"As glad as you are to be candid and frank with those you help,
Princess?  Is there another duel in prospect?  Or more wrongs to be
avenged?  In connection with this marriage I hear of, for instance?"

"A fair question," she answered, smiling.  She was certainly a very
beautiful woman when she smiled.  "There is--but only very indirectly.
By the way, do you not wonder that I content myself with giving you no
more than a fortnight's imprisonment?"

"If you knew the punishment it is likely to be to me you would not wish
to inflict a heavier."

"You mean, you are so eager to be searching for this girl who
masqueraded as your sister, that you cannot spare a fortnight for the
Russian Court.  Excuse me; I cannot think that even Englishmen can be
so impolite and phlegmatic."

"My 'sister' is very dear to me, Princess," I said, emphasizing the
word.

"Oh, yes, we know the value of a lover's sighs and a lover's vows and a
lover's impatience and a lover's constancy and a lover's everything
else.  And you Englishmen are but like other men in these things."

I didn't understand her, so I held my tongue.

"I dare believe that though you are now so eager to be away on this
romantic search of yours, and are fretting and fuming at the delay
which I have caused, so that you may have the opportunity of witnessing
the grandeur of the Court marriage I have arranged, you will cool in
your ardour long before the fortnight is out.  There are women about
the Russian Court, Sir, to the full as fair and witching and sweet as
Olga Petrovitch."

"I have the evidence of that before my eyes, Princess," I said, looking
at her and bowing to hide my chagrin at her words.

"You are angry that I hold you fickle.  You should not be," she said,
with a swift glance reading my mood.

"I have confidence in my faith."

"And I confidence in your lack of it," she retorted, with a touch of
irritation in her tone.  "I dare wager heavily that we have here many a
young girl in whose smiles the fire of your eagerness to leave Russia
in this search would be quickly quenched.  Nay, I will do more, for I
love a challenge, and love especially to see a man who vaunts himself
on his strength of purpose and strong will and fidelity overthrown and
proved a braggart--but perhaps you dare not be put to a test?"  She
asked this in a tone that made every fibre of purpose in my body thrill
with loyalty to Olga in reply to the taunt.

"Name your test," I answered, shortly.

"I wager you that I will find one among my maidens here who will turn
you from your purpose of leaving us; lure you into more than content to
abandon your search; and make you pour into her own pretty ears a
confession that you are glad I caused you to dally here--and all this
within three days."

"It is not possible, Princess.  I take up your challenge readily, if
only to while away the hanging time."

She looked at me as if triumphantly.

"You dare say that?  Then you are half conquered already.  Now I know
you will----What is it?" she broke off to a servant who came in.

Then after hearing the servant's message, she made an excuse and left
me.

I was more than angry with her.  The jest which had for its foundation
the possibility that I should change in half a week and, instead of
fretting and fuming to begin my search, be reconciled to this mummery
of a flirtation with some Court hack or other, annoyed and disturbed
me; and I turned away and gazed out of one of the tall bayed windows
into the wide courtyard below, and felt ready to consign the whole
world to destruction, with the exception of that part where Olga might
be and such a strip as might be necessary for me to get to her.

Against the Princess I was particularly enraged.  To hold me for an
empty whirligig fool to turn like a magnetised needle in any direction
that any chance magnet might choose to draw me!  Stop contentedly?
Bosh!  Give up the search?  Rot!  I was so angry when I heard her come
back into the room, that I affected not to know that she was present.
And I stared resolutely out of the window pretending to be vastly
interested in the antics of a couple of big young hounds that were
gambolling together.  I laughed hugely, and uttered a few exclamations
to myself but loud enough for the Princess to hear.

The Princess took it very coolly, however.  She said nothing, and for a
couple of minutes the farce went on.

I expected a tirade at my rudeness; but instead I heard the frou-frou
of her dress as she crossed the room toward me.

I increased my affected gestures and muttered exclamations, and had a
mind to let fly an oath, just a little one, to shock her, when she put
her face so close to mine that I could feel its warmth, and she
whispered right into my ear:--

"Bad acting.  Too self-conscious, Alexis!"

The Princess had won easily.  I surrendered without an effort; gave up
all thought of the search and was suddenly filled with a glad content
to stop.  For the voice was Olga's, and the merry laugh was hers, and
the blush was hers, and the love light was hers too; and the next
moment I held her in my arms close pressed to my heart.

The Princess had indeed won anyhow, and in much less than three days;
and I stopped for that wedding with all the delight in the world--in
fact nothing could have induced me to miss it.

For the bride was Olga, and the bridegroom myself, once--"that devil
Alexis!"



THE END.



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campaigns are covered by this period, during which Captain Von Moltke,
known only as the author of the "Letters from the East," grew into the
greatest director of war since Napoleon.  These most interesting
volumes contain the record of a life singularly pure and noble,
unspoiled by dazzling successes.--The Times (London).

This book will be chiefly valued on account of the insight it affords
into the real disposition of Moltke.  Indeed, it will surprise many,
for it shows that the eminent soldier was very different from what he
was ordinarily conceived to be.  He is supposed to have been dry and
stern, reticent, almost devoid of human sympathies, and little better
than a strategical machine.  As a matter of fact, such an estimate is
somewhat of a caricature.  To the public and strangers Moltke was cold
and silent, but to his family and friends he was affectionate, open,
and full of kindly forethought...  As he was a keen and minute
observer, his opinion of the people, countries, and sights which in the
course of his life he saw, is of interest and value.--The Athenaeum
(London).



Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson

An Historical Biography based on letters and other documents in the
Morrison collection.  By JOHN CORDY JEAFFRESON, author of "The Real
Lord Byron," etc.  New and Revised Edition, containing additional
facts, letters, and other material.  Large crown 8vo, cloth, $2.25; 3/4
calf, $5.00; 3/4 levant,$6.50.



Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign

A Book of Appreciations.  By MRS. OLIPHANT, MRS. LYNN LINTON, MRS.
ALEXANDER, MRS. MACQUOID, MRS. PARR, MRS. MARSHALL, CHARLOTTE M. YONGE,
ADELINE SERGEANT, AND EDNA LYALL.  Square 4to, cloth, $3,50.

Contents: The Sisters Bronte, George Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Crowe,
Mrs. Archer Clive, Mrs. Henry Wood, Lady Georgiana Fullerton, Mrs.
Stretton, Anne Manning, Dinah Mulock (Mrs. Craik), Julia Kavanagh,
Amelia Blandford Edwards, Mrs Norton, "A.L.O.E." (Miss Tucker), and
Mrs. Ewing.



Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley

By PROF. EDWARD DOWDEN, author of "Studies in Literature," "Shakspere:
His Mind and Art," etc.  New and cheaper edition.  With Portrait.  One
vol., post 8vo, $4.50; 3/4 calf, $9.00; 3/4 levant, $10.00.

This, the standard Life of Shelley, is now presented in a form
convenient to the individual student.  It has been revised by the
author, and contains an exhaustive index.



The Crimean Diary of the Late General Sir Charles A. Windham, K.C.B.

With an Introduction by SIR W. H. RUSSELL.

Edited by MAJOR HUGH PEARSE.  With an added chapter on the Defence of
Cawnpore, by LIEUT-COL. JOHN ADYE, C.B.  Demy 8vo, $3.00.

This interesting diary, supported and amplified by a number of intimate
letters, will be found to reveal much that has hitherto been hidden
concerning the mismanagement of the Crimean campaign.



From "The Bells" to "King Arthur"

By CLEMENT SCOTT.  Fully illustrated, with portraits of Mr. Irving in
character, scenes from several plays, and copies of the play-bills.
Demy 8vo, $3.50.

From the memorable, never-to-be-forgotten evening when Irving startled
all London with his Mathias, in "The Bells," down to his latest play,
"King Arthur."  A critical record of the first-night productions at the
Lyceum Theatre, London.  Not the least interesting feature of this book
is the superb frontispiece--a photograph of Mr. Irving, with autograph
in fac-simile.



Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist

By the late WILLIAM CRAWFORD WILLIAMSON, LL.D., F.R.S., Professor of
Botany in Owens College, Manchester.  Edited by his Wife.  Crown 8vo.
Cloth, gilt top, $2.25 net.

This autobiography gives us an epitome of the advance of scientific
thought during the present century, with the added charm and freshness
of a personal history of the almost ideal scientific career of a
genuine naturalist.--Nature (London).



Anna Kingsford

Her Life, Letters, Diary, and Work.  By her Collaborator, EDWARD
MAITLAND.  Illustrated with Portraits, Views, and Fac-similes.  Two
volumes.  Demy 8vo, 896 pp.  Cloth, $15.00 net.  Second Edition.
(Scarce).

Reviewed as "The Book of the Month" in Mr. Stead's Review of Reviews.
The notice occupies ten pages of the Review, and is entitled "Mr.
Maitland's Life of Anna Kingsford, Apostle and Avenger."  Mr. Stead
concludes as follows: "Here I must conclude my notice of one of the
weirdest and most bewildering books that I have read for many a long
day."



My Reminiscences

By LORD RONALD GOWER.  With Etched Portrait.  New Edition.  Post 8vo.
$2.50.



Rupert of the Rhine

A Biographical Sketch of the Life of Prince Rupert, by LORD RONALD
GOWER.  With three Portraits in photogravure.  Crown 8vo, buckram,
$1.75.



Major General, the Earl of Stirling

An Essay in Biography by LUDWIG SCHUMACHER.  _Edition limited to 130
copies_.  Cloth, $1.00.

A book so pretty that it might be welcomed, even if it were not as
carefully done as it is.--Book Buyer (New York).



Four Generations of a Literary Family

By W. CAREW HAZLITT.  With photogravure portraits, facsimiles, &c.  2
vols., Demy 8vo.  (Scarce.)

These volumes deal with the Hazlitts in England, Ireland, and America,
and give a picture of Ireland in 1780 and of America in 1783-7.  They
contain a store of theatrical anecdotes, sketches of celebrated book
collectors, an account of old Brompton, and a good deal of matter
relating to auction rooms and sales by auction.  The history of the
origin of "Our Club," founded by Douglas Jerrold, is also given.

Note.--This work was suppressed in England, the author having been
threatened with libel suits by the relatives of many persons mentioned
in the text.  A limited American edition was secured by the New
Amsterdam Book Company, and the work now ranks among scarce books.



Gordon in China and the Soudan

By E. EGMONT HOKE.  Demy 8vo, cloth, $2.25.

This work is practically a reprint of "The Story of Chinese Gordon,"
which ran through twelve editions within eighteen months of its
appearance.  The book has been out of print for a considerable time,
but in view of recent events, it is now greatly in demand.  To meet
that demand, it has been decided to re-issue it with such minor changes
as were necessary.



Bibliography

A Bibliography of Gilbert White of Selborne

By EDWARD A. MARTIN, F.G.S., author of "Amidst Nature's Realms," "The
Story of a Piece of Coal," Etc.  $1.50.

Gilbert White's remarkable book, "The Natural History of Selborne," has
perhaps been published in a greater number of editions than any other
book of the kind in the world.  The work mentioned above gives a very
interesting account of both the man and his book, and as an essay in
bibliography, ranks with the very best works of its class.



Fiction

The Devil-Tree of El Dorado

By FRANK AUBREY.  With Illustrations by LEIGH ELLIS AND FRED HYLAND.
Thick 12mo, cloth, stamped in fire bronze and gold, $1.50.

The book should find as many readers as "King Solomon's Mines."--New
York Sun.  (2/3 column review.)

We have often wondered why the famous legend of El Dorado had never
found its way into romance.  Though the novel of adventure is once more
in vogue, and although the cry is general that all possible themes have
long ago been exhausted this still was left untouched; the story
tellers seemed to have thought the quest as hopeless as the adventurers
found it.  The omission has now been made good; the hidden city has
been found.--Macmillan's Magazine, London.--(Extract from a
thirteen-page review.)

Is an exceptionally fascinating book. * * * We know well that the
scenes and characters are all ideal--nay, we feel that some are utterly
impossible--but none the less they enthrall us.--New York Herald,
(3/4-column review.)

The book is recommended to the perusal of all.--Boston Times.

Here we have a book that is deserving of success.--Waverley Magazine,
(Boston.)

This is one of the best books of adventure that has appeared in the
last year or so.--Hartford Post.

_The first edition in England was sold in advance of publication!  The
second did not last a week!_



Mr. Paul's Translation of Huysmans' last great novel.

En Route

By J. K. HUYSMANS.  Translated, with a prefatory note, by C. KEGAN
PAUL.  Second edition.  Crown 8vo, $1.50.

We are inclined to think it not only the greatest novel of the day, but
one of the most important books of our quarter of the century.--The
Bookman (extract from five-page review).

The Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone, in a letter to the translator, says: "It
places the claim of the 'Route' through mysticism higher, I think, than
any other book I have read; and by this fact alone it imposes modesty
and reserve upon all critics from outside and from a distance."



Opals From a Mexican Mine

By GEORGE DE VALLIÈRE.  i2mo, cloth, richly bound, $1.25.

Are indeed literary gems. * * * We are glad to have found these Mexican
opals; they are to us gems of value and we thank the author.--Boston
Times.

Now and then a tale flames like a field of poppies in windless
sunshine--such, for instance, as these Mexican tales which have just
appeared bearing an unfamiliar name.--The Bookman, New York.

In them all, no worse local solecism than the dropping of a few
accents.  The like hardly happens twice in a decade.  * * * Are
unmistakably interesting.--Critic (New York).



The Lure of Fame

By CLIVE HOLLAND, author of "My Japanese Wife," etc., etc.  With a
drawing and decoration by GEORGE WHARTON EDWARDS.  Large l6mo, square,
handsomely embossed cover, $1.00; paper, 50c.

Charles Dexter Allen writes as follows in the Hartford Post: "Before
one gets to the story itself, he must stop and admire the handsome
setting the book has received.  Bound in dark blue, with a bold cover
design in gold, it has an especially designed title page by George
Wharton Edwards, and an excellent frontispiece by the same artist.  Its
title, 'The Lure of Fame,' will suggest something of the thread of the
story, but one is not thereby prepared for so tender and sympathetic a
picture as those pages reveal, or so close an analysis of human
feelings and experiences."



Nephelé

A Novel.  By FRANCIS WILLIAM BOURDILLON.  12mo, artistically bound,
$1.00.

We urge so rare a treat as its pages impart on the attention of our
readers.--The Bookman (New York).

At the very first sentence the reader realizes that he is breathing a
rarer air than usually emanates from the printed page, and at the very
last sentence he realizes how he has kept on the heights. * * *
Whatever the cause, the achievement is the sort that revives one's
faith in that quality which, for want of a better word, we know as
inspiration.--New York Sun.

The story is so delightful that to attempt to describe it seems to
indicate a lack of appreciation.  It must be read to be
understood.--Hartford Post.



Pacific Tales

By LOUIS BECKE, author of "By Reef and Palm," etc.  With frontispiece
photogravure Portrait of the Author and several illustrations.  Crown
8vo, green cloth, gilt top, $1.50.

The volume consists of the following: An Island Memory, The South Sea
Savant, In the Old Beach-Combing Days, Miss Malleson's Rival, Prescott
of Naura, Chester's "Cross," Hollis's Debt: a tale of the Northwest
Pacific, The Arm of Luno Capal, In a Samoan Village, the
"Black-Birdes," In the Evening, The Great Crushing at Mount Sugar-Bag:
a Queensland Mining Tale, The Shadows of the Dead, "For we were Friends
Always," Nikoa, The Strange White Woman of Maduro, The Obstinacy of
Mrs. Tatton, The Treasure of Don Bruno.



Animal Episodes and Studies in Sensation

By G. H. POWELL.  8vo, cloth, $1.50 net.

The reader, if he be in sorrow, or even in suspense, is taken out of
himself and knows nothing of what is going on save what the author
tells him--James Payn, in "Illustrated London News."

Thrilling to the point of intensity--Westminster Gazette.

Breathlessly interesting--Pall Mall Gazette.



A Stable for Nightmares

Or, Weird Tales.  By J. SHERIDAN LE FANU, author of "Uncle Silas,"
"House by the Churchyard," etc.; SIR CHARLES YOUNG, Bart., and others.
Bound in brimstone yellow cloth, and appropriately illustrated, 75
cents.

The Commercial Advertiser, New York, under the title of "A Revel in
Spookdom," writes in part as follows: "What is there better for a real,
clammy, irresponsible thrill than a volume of ghost stories?  You open
the book anywhere and the breath of chilly, graveyard air that comes
from the pages prepares you at once for the refreshing horrors you are
about to enjoy.  At least that was my experience when I opened 'A
Stable for Nightmares,' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.  The cover is of the
hue of cold 'Welsh rabbit,' suggestive of awful indigestion and gaunt
nightmares that serve to make any ghost stories probable.  The tales
are of various complexions, but all imbued with the 'pobbiness' of
new-made corpses that it so useful an element in making effective
preternatural narratives... Everyone of the eleven stories is a
splendid example of weirdness...  If you want ghost stories fresh from
the charnel house, buy this book for 75 cents and you will find it a
profitable investment."



The XIth Commandment

By HALLIWELL SUTCLIFFE.  Handsomely bound in cloth, gilt top, $1.25.

Full of deep thought, tempered with a bright appreciation of the
ridiculous and invested with delicate sarcasm, is the new novel of
Halliwell Sutcliffe, called "The XIth Commandment."  Mr. Sutcliffe's
theme is the diplomatic attitude of a north-country vicar in the Church
of England, who seeks to maintain an equilibrium in his ministrations
to the rich and poor in his parish, while favoring the rich.  In
striking contrast to this attitude, the work of a young curate,
sincere, broadminded and convincing, is refreshingly shown.--Buffalo
Express.

It is full of stress and emphasis, vibrant and thrilling in places,
and, for a novel of its character, it holds the interest of the reader
to a surprising degree.--Commercial Advertiser (New York).

As the story progresses one's interest grows continually and the book
may be called not merely readable, but genuinely interesting.--Hartford
Post.



Seven Frozen Sailors

By GEORGE MANVILLE FENN, assisted by COMPTON READE, F. ARCHER, and
others.  Illustrated by A. BURNHAM SHUTE.  Square i6mo, cloth.  75
cents.

"Seven Frozen Sailors" is certainly a title possessing enough
originality to arouse one's curiosity.  The idea is unique, and the
seven stories, each by a different author, form an interesting mosaic
of imaginative literature...  The reading public seems to crave
something new, and here is a volume, not cumbersome, but of modest
size, that will, no doubt, prove attractive.--Every Saturday (Elgin,
Ill.).

The old saying, "too many cooks spoil the broth," does not hold true in
this instance, for the little book is really enjoyable.--Boston
Transcript.



The Copsford Mystery

(_Eighth edition, completing seventeenth thousand_).  By W. CLARK
RUSSELL, author of "An Ocean Free Lance," "The Wreck of the Grosvenor,"
etc.  Handsomely illustrated by A. BURNHAM SHUTE, and others.  Cloth,
$1.25; paper, 50 cents.

"The Copsford Mystery; or, Is He the Man?" is by W. Clark Russell,
whose name at once suggests rolling billows and dashing spray.  But
this is not a sea tale and is the only story not of the sea that he has
written.  Save in the first chapter, when we are introduced to a girl
who is in the habit of rowing, off Broadstairs, and who gets carried
out to sea by the tide, and is rescued by a dark-browed, sunburnt, but
handsome man, there is nothing of the sea in it.  The construction of
the story is more like Doyle than Russell, but it resembles the
latter's sea stories in its careful attention to detail.  There is also
careful delineation of character.  In an introduction is an interesting
sketch of Russell and his writings, and the book has full page
illustrations by A. Burnham Shute and others.



An Ocean Free Lance

(_Fifth edition, completing thirteenth thousand_).  By W. CLARK
RUSSELL.  New edition, illustrated by HARRY L. V. PARKHURST.  Cloth,
superbly bound, $1.25; paper, 50 cents.

This dashing romance of the sea is held by some readers to contain Mr.
Russell's best work.  In it will be found the oft-quoted description of
a naval engagement.



A Noble Haul

By W. CLARK RUSSELL, author of "The Wreck of the Grosvenor," "The
Copsford Mystery," "An Ocean Free Lance," etc.  _5th thousand_.  Cloth,
50 cents.

Of this work, we need only say that it is an old-fashioned "Clark
Russell story."



A Sailor's Sweetheart

By W. CLARK RUSSELL, author of "An Ocean Free Lance," etc.  Illustrated
by J. STEEPLE DAVIS.  12mo, cloth, $1.25; paper, 50 cents.

We have given this superb sea classic a handsome dress, in keeping with
its character, and recommend it to the public as an unusually
interesting story.



Basile the Jester

(_Second Edition_).  A Romance of the Days of Mary Queen of Scots.
12mo, Netherland Library, paper, 50 cents; cloth, $1.25.  By J. E.
MUDDOCK, author of "The Dead Man's Secret," "Maid Marian and Robin
Hood," "For God and The Czar," "Lochinvar," etc.  Illustrations by
STANLEY WOOD and others.

The author has taken pains to represent truthfully and effectively the
life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Court intrigues of the
period, the plots and counterplots of the nobles.  The book is not a
prosy history with a little conversation added, but a stirring novel
full of action, and will undoubtedly rank as one of Mr. Muddock's most
popular works.



A Bride's Experiment

(Second edition).  By CHAS. J. MANSFORD, author of "Shafts from an
Eastern Quiver," "Bully, Fag and Hero," etc.  Holland Library, paper,
50 cents; cloth, $1.00.

This strong story will prove to be a welcome addition to our dainty
Holland Library.  Mr. Mansford is one of the best known contributors to
the Strand Magazine.





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