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Title: Miss Hildreth: A Novel, Volume 2
Author: Stevens, Augusta de Grasse
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 "Miss Hildreth: A Novel, Volume 2" ***

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                            MISS HILDRETH.

                               A Novel.

                       BY A. DE GRASSE STEVENS,

              AUTHOR OF "OLD BOSTON," "THE LOST DAUPHIN,"
                    "WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE," ETC.


    In Three Volumes.
    VOL. II.

    LONDON:
    WARD AND DOWNEY,
    12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C.
    1888.

    [_All rights reserved._]

    _Copyright by_ A. de GRASSE STEVENS, 1888.



CONTENTS.


        CHAPTER I. A FACE FROM OUT A CRIME                 1

       CHAPTER II. "IT WAS NO DELUSION"                   21

      CHAPTER III. ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL                 34

       CHAPTER IV. SUSPICIONS                             52

        CHAPTER V. MIMI'S BIRTHDAY POSY                   79

       CHAPTER VI. "'TIS A SIREN"                         95

      CHAPTER VII. THE CANKER WORM OF DOUBT              116

     CHAPTER VIII. A SOCIETY DRAMA                       139

       CHAPTER IX. "IT IS HOPELESS"                      154

        CHAPTER X. THE SONG OF THE CIGALE                169

       CHAPTER XI. INTROSPECTION                         189

      CHAPTER XII. PLOTTING                              203

     CHAPTER XIII. THÉ ANGLAIS                           227

      CHAPTER XIV. "FIND ME THE WOMAN"                   239

       CHAPTER XV. "THIS LITTLE HAND"                    253

      CHAPTER XVI. ARRESTED!                             262



MISS HILDRETH.



CHAPTER I.

A FACE FROM OUT A CRIME.


The same dazzling and brilliant sunshine, that for so many weeks had
held sway in Petersburg, was still beautifying the Tsar's great capital,
and gilding all things with an illusory sheen, which had all the
appearance of true gold, but which fled away at the approach of
darkness, leaving bare the cankerous fever spots, the dry bones and
wasting disease of the most tyrannous, but most doomed phenomenon of
autocratic power.

During all the early hours of morning the sleeping city lay bathed in
this wonderful alchemy; the Neva resting tranquil beneath the spell,
even its cold grey waters catching reflections from the sun-god's rays.
From above its low bank rose a long grey stone wall, broken here and
there into sharp angles and protected by recurrent cannon, set at
regular intervals; beyond this a tall and slender spire shot up high
into the air, graceful and quivering with a thousand golden lights, that
seemed to break against it, and then fling the fragments broadcast with
careless prodigality; these in falling touched again the fluttering flag
on the white belfry, glanced athwart the Imperial mint, and awoke myriad
reflections in the façade of the Winter Palace.

This tall spire, shooting upwards like a lance, is the crowning glory of
Russia's great State prison, and Russia's Imperial tomb of kings, the
grim fortress of Petropavlovsk. It is a familiar sight to Petersburg's
populace, as they pass to and fro across the Troitski Bridge, or linger
in the spacious Boulevard-park, which is never empty, and through which
the dwellers on the Petersburg side go in and out to their homes.

Beneath its solid foundations lie the bones of Russia's greatest
sovereigns; within its granite walls languish many of Russia's truest
patriots; while without its precincts, separated only by a few rods,
lying almost within its shadow, rises the stately palace, within which
lives Russia's Tsar, conscious always of the everlasting surveillance of
Peter's prison, yet unable to cast it from him, or flee before it.

It was very early in the day, about a month after Olga Naundorff's
interview with Ivor Tolskoi, and as yet but few people were astir in the
city's streets, save those whose avocations called them forth in the
pursuance of itinerant trade. Now and then a mounted orderly would ride
past, leading an uncaparisoned horse by a long rein, the iron hoofs
clattering over the bridge, breaking clear and distinct across the sharp
morning air; presently they would disappear under the arched entrance to
the barracks, and then, perhaps, a dark, sombre figure would come next,
passing swiftly along, with secrecy written on every line of the face
and habiliments, to be swallowed up in the frowning doorway of the
Imperial Chancellerie; while those he passed on his way drew back
instinctively, the women crossing themselves furtively, the men cursing
below their breath. For was not this an emissary of that terrible secret
police, from whom no one was safe, whose inexorable will was as iron and
blood? And who could say who would be the next in turn to feel that
cruel hand upon his throat, and know, with helpless certainty, that
Petropavlovsk was his eternal destination?

Just as the clocks on tower and steeple struck seven, following the
single notes by the ecclesiastical melody of triumph, "How glorious is
our Lord in Sion," a young man appeared, walking quickly, and with long,
swinging steps, across the Troitski Bridge. He was tall and straight,
and though muffled in a long coat and profuse furs, the yellow tint of
his close-cut curls beneath his sable cap, his fresh complexion and
boyish gaiety of appearance, at once betrayed him to be Ivor Tolskoi.

He was humming lightly as he walked some half-remembered refrain from
last night's ball or opera, but as he reached the middle of the bridge
he halted, and folding his arms upon the parapet looked out across the
marshy delta of the river, to where the Finnish Gulf made an indistinct
grey line.

The gloomy fortress frowned heavily upon him, but the sun's shafts were
making merry with the Palace windows, and Ivor's thoughts had more just
then to do with hope and love, than with treachery and despair. The
opera melody died on his lips unfinished and he heeded it not; his fancy
had leapt the bounds of prosaic realism and was wandering as it listed
in the realms of conjecture.

It was of Olga he thought as he wondered with idle curiosity which might
be her casement among those that glittered and gleamed like jewels in a
crystal setting, across the great marble front of the Winter Palace. If
he waited long enough would he see the blind raised, the silken hangings
withdrawn, and the face of his lady-love look forth to greet the day?
Then would he, standing below her, bare his fair head and veil his bold
blue eyes, and pray the passing wind to carry to her his message of
fealty and true love.

But the windows remained hermetically sealed, the curtains undrawn, and
presently Ivor with a shrug of his shoulders, a laugh at his
sentimentality, and the fragment of song once more on his lips, passed
on his way, looking neither to the right nor the left, and vanished
within the heavy portals of the Imperial Chancellerie.

Mounting one flight of stairs with quick step, and passing along a short
corridor, Ivor knocked at a closed door, and hearing the sharp French
"_entrez_," opened it and stepped within that inner chamber where so few
weeks ago Vladimir Mellikoff had weighed his chances, and made his
choice.

Patouchki sat, as then, at the table writing; and without raising his
eyes from his occupation, bade the young secretary good-morning, signing
him to his place by a gesture of his left hand.

Ivor obeyed at once, and for some time only the rapid passing to and fro
of the quill pens upon the paper were the only sounds.

Ivor Tolskoi had removed his heavy outside wraps and thus revealed the
fact that he still wore evening-dress, and that a white rose-bud
lingered in his button-hole, its freshness somewhat tarnished, but its
perfume as sweet as ever.

After about half an hour's silence, Patouchki pushed back his chair and
laid down his pen, passing his hand rapidly across his forehead once or
twice, and looking keenly at his young companion as he did so. In the
cruelly frank and searching morning light the face seemed to lose
something of its pristine youth; the faint lines about the eyes and
mouth became accentuated, the pallor of the temples more noticeable, the
cruelty of lips and chin more pronounced. He did not look up however,
though aware of the chief's scrutiny, until Patouchki's harsh voice and
bullet-like sentences broke the silence.

"Burning the candle at both ends are you, Ivor? Pardon me if I remind
you that wilful waste will scarcely benefit yourself, or us. Let me also
remind you that that moderation in all things of which the apostle
speaks, has always produced far more lasting results than reckless
enthusiasm and imprudent zeal."

The young man flushed slightly as he replied: "If you would imply,
chief, that my present dress is scarcely suited to my present
occupation, I acknowledge the reproof with all promptitude. I was late
at the Court Ball last night, and had not time to return to my
apartments before making my journey across the bridge. I could not fail
in that, since it was undertaken by your orders, consequently I must beg
your pardon for appearing in such attire."

The words were apologetic enough, but the tone was slightly
antagonistic. Patouchki looked more closely at him; it was not usual for
his subordinates to use any but obsequious words and tones when
addressing him, and his quick ear caught the foreign ring in Ivor's
voice. He passed it by, however, without open comment, though inscribing
it on the tablets of his memory, and replied, calmly:

"And have you brought me confirmation of the business on which I sent
you?"

"Yes, chief," answered the young man, shortly. "I saw the man Mattalini,
who is a veritable specimen of Southern Italy intrigue and falsehood. He
would rather lie than tell the truth, I take it; but he will be faithful
enough to the Chancellerie if paid sufficiently. He had arrived only
last night from Paris, and brought news of Count Vladimir Mellikoff's
occupations and associates in gay Lutetia."

A slight sneer curled Ivor's lips as he spoke the Count's name, which
was no more lost upon the chief than the unusual ring in his voice a
moment before.

"Tolskoi grows restive," he mused, letting his keen black eyes rest
piercingly on the young man's face for several moments; "nor is he quite
frank with me. He keeps something back concerning Vladimir, whom I have
noticed he never mentions without a covert sneer. There is without doubt
a woman in the case. It is always so; Eve's daughters ruin our most
promising patriots, sapping their energy, their spirit, their wit, and
talent, by slow but sure degrees. And for what? A gleam of white teeth
in a dangerous smile, the pressure of a traitorous hand, the hypocrite
tears in melting eyes! Ah, bah! It's the old old story of the garden,
for ever repeating itself--'the woman tempted me and I did eat;' and
eating of the forbidden fruit, have become dead to all things save the
unsatisfied desire it creates but never satisfies."

Aloud he said: "Did Mattalini give you no packet or papers for me?"

"Yes, chief," replied Tolskoi, "here they are," taking from his inner
pocket a small sealed envelope, and holding it out to Patouchki. As the
latter's long fingers closed over it, Ivor continued, in a half-nervous,
half-jocular tone, and touching his fair moustache with his white
fingers: "Might one interested in the cause inquire, chief, what news
you have of Count Mellikoff and his mission? It is something of an open
secret _why_ he has gone in certain circles, and I, for one, should be
glad to know how far he has succeeded."

"To pass on the information to those of your friends who are so keenly
interested in and solicitous for the welfare of our father, the Tsar?"
answered the chief, sharply. "Why, Ivor, I did not know you were so much
of a gossip."

The young man bit his lip and frowned.

"You mistake me, chief," he said, and once again his voice had a ring of
antagonism in its tone, "and you misjudge me. My question was in some
sort a warning, and put forth that you might dictate such an answer as
best suits the interests of the Tsar and Chancellerie. There are those,
chief, who do not hesitate to assert that Stevan Lallovich's murder was
but an act of justice on the part of his repudiated wife; those, too,
who have the ear of our Empress, and who are never weary of instilling
dislike and distrust of the Chancellerie in her mind, and who insinuate
that Count Mellikoff's mission has more to do with secret and
treacherous intrigues against the Tsar, than with the finding of a
fugitive woman. And when the Chancellerie is struck at, you best know
for whom the blow is intended. This was my motive for my friendly
inquiries regarding Count Mellikoff."

He finished with a slight bow, and stood looking full into Patouchki's
face. For a moment the immobility of that sphinx-like countenance was
broken up, a wave of dull-red blood rose slowly in the sallow cheeks,
the black eyes flashed ominously, a sneer rested on the thin lips and
repeated itself in the frown that gathered on his forehead. When he
spoke his voice vibrated with greater distinctness and staccato emphasis
than ever.

"There will always be fools, Ivor, as long as time endures; even in
eternity we shall doubtless find similar spirits to vex our hard earned
rest. If I have misjudged you, it is enough, I beg your pardon. That
there are traitors on every side who can know so well as I, who hold my
life not worth the price of a rush-light! To be accused wrongly forms
the greater part of man's experience, but to know one's own rectitude is
sufficient compensation. The Chancellerie is for the moment secure in
the integrity of its members, I believe; though in this Petersburg of
ours, who can say how long even our institution will stand, or who
shall prove the first traitor to its system? Let it be known then, Ivor,
that Count Mellikoff has at present reached America, and that he is
working under our protection and our surveillance. Even he needs to
tread warily, for not even he is free from our suspicion, or our
watchful care. No one, Ivor, no one, in all our great machinery, but has
his double, whose duty it is to report to us every action, word, or
occupation. A traitor would find short mercy, he might think himself
fortunate had he time for a _pater_ or an _ave_, or a cry to our Lady of
Kazan. I need say no more, your warning will be remembered and acted
upon."

Ivor bowed again in silence and turned back to his desk, but before he
reached it Patouchki stopped him.

"I shall not require you longer, Tolskoi," he said, in his usual quiet
voice, "you had better get an hour or two of rest now; at twelve I shall
desire your attendance with me upon the Emperor and Empress, who will
make at that time a private visit of inspection to Petropavlovsk. Meet
me at the private entrance of the Palace, and now S'Bogorn: not
understood."

"I will be there, chief," replied Ivor, promptly, a little smile
creeping into his eyes and about the corners of his mouth. He drew on
his heavy furred coat and stood for a moment, holding his cap under his
arm, as he pulled on his long gloves, glancing now and then at
Patouchki, who had returned to his writing, and was apparently so
engrossed with it as to be oblivious of Ivor's presence, and forgetful
of Ivor's warning.

"Good morning, chief," said Tolskoi, again ignoring his elder's more
solemn salutation, "and thank you."

But Patouchki replied only by a gesture of his hand, and the next moment
the heavy door closed noiselessly on Ivor's retreating figure. As he ran
lightly down the short flight of stone stairs, and stepped out into the
brilliant sunshine, the smile deepened in his eyes and about his mouth,
and became a short gay laugh, that rang out clear and joyfully, cutting
the cold keen air like a bell, and causing an old woman creeping slowly
on her weary way, to turn and bless his youth and good looks in Our
Lady's name.

"_Hé!_ but 'tis good to be young, monsieur, and beautiful. Saint Peter
send you a fair lady-love, and a short shrift!"

Ivor laughed again, and tossed the old dame a small coin; but the mirth
died on his lips as he passed beneath the shadow of the great fortress,
and recalled the gruesome context of the blessing bestowed upon him. "A
fair lady-love, and a short shrift!" What a ghastly conclusion! What had
he or Olga to do with death and death's ceremonies? He made very sure of
winning his fair lady, but to take account with death, now in the full
vigour and strength of his youth, had not entered into his calculations.
A plague on all old women--evil prophets!--let them look after their own
souls; as for him, a long life and a merry one stretched before him.

Then he began to hum again the broken strain from the opera; and as he
did so, his thoughts travelled far ahead, and were on the whole
satisfactory. Vladimir Mellikoff well out of the way, suspicion raised
against him, no matter how faint, and the Italian, Mattalini, to dog his
footsteps--for Ivor knew the Italian was the one picked out to serve as
the Count's double--what might not he, Ivor Tolskoi, accomplish? Was not
the way opening clear and straight before him, with Olga--beautiful,
proud Olga--as his prize? What could be more opportune than the chief's
selection of him to act as aide during the Royal inspection of the
fortress; for well Ivor knew that Olga Naundorff would accompany the
Tsarina, and that of necessity she would fall to his escort, as they
passed from casemate to corridor of the giant prison.

Ivor was a firm believer in propinquity, and here would be a rare
occasion for him in the relaxation of the strict Court etiquette, that
usually hedged Mdlle. Naundorff about with a thousand barriers, for on
such ex-officio occasions it was well known that the Tsar and Tsarina
appeared with only a strong guard, and one lady and gentleman of their
suite.

The great chimes of the fortress cathedral were ringing out the mournful
cadences of the liturgy--"Have mercy, O Lord"--which in Petersburg mark
each quarter of the hour, as Ivor passed out of the Chancellerie. It was
close on eight o'clock, and already the streets and promenades were
showing signs of renewed life. The great doors of St. Isaac's stood
open, and into the vast misty building the devout of both sexes were
passing rapidly.

Ivor paused, went up the steps, and looked within. The lights on the
altar at the far end gleamed like so many tiny stars, through the
diaphanous incense clouds, that clung always about the holy of holies.
The dull gold on the massive ornaments and in the frescoes shone out
here and there, thrown into relief by the more sombre purples and blues
of their surroundings.

Before a statue of the Virgin and Child a woman had thrown herself in
the abandonment of grief and petition; two or three scarlet kaftans of
the Imperial Guard gave a touch of vivid colour, and contrasted
chromatically with the white alb and golden vestments of the officiating
priest. The low monotonous voices of the congregation rose and sank,
like the murmur of the ocean breaking on the sands, as they, wrapt in
private devotions, made known their petitions in low undertones, and
quite irresponsive of the priest's function; while he, standing at the
high altar, offered up the sacrifice of the mass.

As Ivor gazed half spell-bound, and half disbelieving, the woman who
knelt before the Virgin's statue got up and moved slowly towards the
door. She had thrown back her long veil, and her face against its
blackness stood out in cameo relief. As Tolskoi's glance fell upon it,
he started violently, and put out one hand involuntarily, as though to
bar her way. But the woman dropped her veil instantly, and pushing
rudely by him, walked rapidly down the steps and across the promenade;
disappearing from view even as Ivor, recovering from his amazement,
turned to follow her.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, standing for a moment uncertain what to do,
the look of horror still stamped upon his features, "as I am a living
man, that was the face of Adèle Lamien, the murderer of Stevan
Lallovich, and his repudiated wife!"



CHAPTER II.

"IT WAS NO DELUSION."


At twelve o'clock that day, just as the great fortress cathedral chimes
rang out the hour, repeating again the melody taken from the Eastern
liturgy, "How glorious is our Lord in Sion," Ivor Tolskoi reached the
side-entrance of the Palace court-yard, and, passing between the
saluting sentinels, made his way towards a small door in one side of the
building, before which marched constantly two of the Imperial Guard,
whose business it was to watch jealously all in-going or out-coming
traffic, and who, fully armed as they were, presented a sufficiently
terrifying appearance, even to the most peaceful-minded.

Before this door two open sleighs were standing, their magnificent black
horses handsomely decked out in gold-plated harness, and each wearing a
triangle of gold bells spanning its back, from which the slightest
movement evoked a shower of tinkling notes that fell melodiously, one
after the other, on the frost-bitten air, and were echoed back again by
the high walls of the court-yard. Sumptuous rugs and wraps of the
costliest furs were thrown across the velvet cushions, while the
coachmen and footmen were wrapped in mink-skin capes and tall,
conical-shaped hats.

A short distance ahead of the equipages a selected division of the
Imperial body-guard sat immovable upon their splendid chargers, the
scarlet of their kaftans contrasting finely with the glossy coats of
their steeds and the dazzling snow that lay as a pall of innocence upon
the great metropolis.

Ivor stopped only long enough to return the salute of the captain of the
guard, and to exchange a good-morning with one or two of the others,
who were all well known to him, and then, pressing quickly forward,
entered the Palace by the small door, and made his way to an
ante-chamber, where, as he expected, he found Patouchki already arrived.

The chief's face wore a somewhat troubled expression, which did not
lessen as the young man, shutting the door securely behind him, came up
hurriedly towards him, an answering look of anxiety upon his usually
fresh, insouciant countenance. Patouchki also noticed that his face was
very pale, and his eyes wore a restless, inquiring expression, which was
enhanced by the stern set of his lips. He made no comment until standing
close by Patouchki's side, when he said, abruptly, and almost
commandingly:

"Did you not say that Vladimir Mellikoff had gone upon this mission to
America to track and to arrest the cast-off wife of Stevan Lallovich,
for whose murder the Chancellerie holds her responsible?"

Patouchki, for once taken off his guard, started at this unexpected
address, and turning sharply round so that he faced Tolskoi, looked at
him keenly before he answered. But Ivor never flinched nor faltered; his
cold, light-blue eyes met the chief's black ones full as boldly as they
had ever rested on Olga Naundorff's fair proud face, and something in
their hard cruel light warned Patouchki that the question was no idle
one, but that behind it lay some disturbance unknown at their morning
meeting. He replied in his most repellent manner:

"You have forgotten, Ivor, it seems, that the Chancellerie never makes
decisive affirmations in words. Among us it is unnecessary to name names
or publish identities. Your own rather too vivid imagination has outrun
itself, Ivor, and accredited to Count Mellikoff's absence in the United
States a more sinister motive than could be found in the records of the
Chancellerie. Murder and arrest are two ugly words and have an ugly
sound to ears unaccustomed to them, especially when applied to a
woman."

"Nevertheless, chief," answered Ivor, impatiently, the frown deepening
on his brow, "though you may choose to call Count Mellikoff's mission by
every name under heaven save the right one, you cannot disguise its true
motive. The Chancellerie may wrap itself about with all possible or
impossible plausibilities of expression, there are those who can read
between the lines, and who follow its machinations. Let me beg of you,
chief, by all the months of faithful service I have given you--and they
are many now--to be frank with me in this. Much--you cannot know how
much--depends upon your answer to my question. Can you not yet believe
in my fidelity and trust to my loyalty? Have I proved myself so poor a
Russian? Answer me this, I beg; is it to track and to find Stevan
Lallovich's forsaken wife that Vladimir Mellikoff has gone to America? I
will not press you further as to her share in the murder, or why you
suppose her to have sought refuge there, if you will give me a frank yes
or no to my question; only be quick, I entreat you, our very moments are
numbered!"

Patouchki, who, during Tolskoi's impassioned address, had remained
immovable, his eyes downcast, the lights and shadows on his
strongly-marked face alone revealing his interest and irresolution,
looked up as Ivor's voice dropped into silence, and again fixing his
piercing black eyes on the young man's face, he replied slowly, and with
a hesitancy that sat strangely on his usually assured manner:

"Your words are imperious, Ivor; but it is the imperiousness of youth,
not arrogance, therefore I pass them by unrebuked. As to answering your
question with a short yes or no, that is impossible. There are too many
motives and too many interests mixed up in Count Vladimir's mission for
me to give to you, or any one, so unequivocal a rejoinder. However,
since I do believe in your honesty of purpose, Ivor, and trust your
integrity of action, I will say this much, that one of Count Mellikoff's
objects--the most important if you will have it so--was to seek and to
find the woman who calls herself Count Stevan Lallovich's wife. What
then?"

"Then he will never find her, chief," broke in Tolskoi, "and you and the
Chancellerie are being tricked by him for your pains. Vladimir Mellikoff
may have his own game to play, and his own ends to serve, but finding
and securing Stevan Lallovich's pseudo wife will not be one of them."

He laughed slightly as he finished, and his voice grew scornful again at
the mention of Mellikoff's name.

"What do you mean, Ivor?" exclaimed Patouchki, now thoroughly roused.

"What I say," returned Tolskoi, doggedly, "Vladimir Mellikoff is
deceiving all of you when he pretends to be on the track of that
wretched woman, and you, chief, are blinded by his specious words."

"Have a care, Ivor," cried Patouchki, sternly, "the Chancellerie can
hold you accountable for those words. What proof have you of what you
affirm?"

"The proof of my own eyes," replied Ivor, hotly, "I tell you, chief,
Mellikoff is deceiving you for reasons of his own, for I, this very
morning, since I parted with you, have stood face to face with Adèle
Lamien, who calls herself Adèle Lallovich!"

"You, Ivor, impossible!" cried Patouchki, "you have seen her, and here
in Petersburg, in broad daylight! And where?"

"As I stood within the door of St. Isaac's this morning," answered
Tolskoi, "the mass was just begun, and she had been kneeling--prostrated
I should say--before the statue of our Lady of Kazan. Something familiar
in the lines of her figure struck me even then, and presently as the
_miserere_ bells rang the quarter, she arose and came towards me, her
veil thrown back, the whiteness of her face and the distinctness of her
features thrown out vividly against her black apparel. She passed me
rapidly, pulling down her veil impetuously, as she fled out and down the
steps before I could put out my hand to stop her, and when I reached the
pavement she had disappeared. But I tell you, chief, as I hope to be
saved at the hour of my death, it was the face of Adèle Lallovich into
which I looked for that brief interval."

"Impossible!" again ejaculated Patouchki. "Impossible that she should be
here, in Petersburg, and the Chancellerie remain ignorant of her
arrival. She is a marked woman to all our emissaries, how could she come
and go, without disguise even, and we remain in ignorance? No, no, my
good Ivor, your eyes mislead you this time; with all her arrogant
bravery Adèle Lamien knows better than to put her head in the lion's
jaws, or herself in the power of the Chancellerie."

"I tell you I saw her," repeated Tolskoi, obstinately, "believe me or
not, chief, I saw her, and no other."

"But my dear Ivor," began Patouchki, persuasively, when a groom of the
chambers entered hurriedly, and bidding them make haste, as their
Majesties were even then descending the staircase, cut short the chief's
oratory, and caused both him and Tolskoi to hasten their footsteps
towards the side door, which now stood open with footmen and lacqueys on
either side, holding the fur robes, foot-muffs and wraps of the Imperial
party.

As Ivor and Tolskoi emerged from the side corridor, the Tsarina reached
the entrance and paused a moment for her attendants to clasp the
magnificent cloak of sables about her slight figure. Very sweet and
delicate, and somewhat sad was the face that looked out from the
clinging furs, with a touch of the same melancholy that at times rests
on her English sister's brow, and with more than a similitude of her
gentleness and sympathy. As she crossed the threshold the slightest
possible shrinking or timidity caused her to hesitate for one brief
moment, then she took her place in the Royal equipage, and her face, as
she turned it towards her husband, wore a brave courageous smile.

Poor Tsarina! though wrapped about on every side with all luxury, yet
never to realise the happiness of confidence; never to feel secure, even
in your strictest seclusion; never to know when the cruel bullet, sent
with a fatally true aim, may end your tenure of greatness, and send you
back to your magnificent palace, a heart-broken, lonely widow!

Behind the Empress came the Tsar, dressed, as was often his pleasure, in
the scarlet kaftan of his own guard, and by which he signified his
desire to remain incognito. Following him were Olga Naundorff and the
Emperor's equerry, who, with Patouchki and Ivor, formed the Royal
suite.

The Tsarina in passing had acknowledged Tolskoi's presence by a gracious
recognition, which sent the young man's blood running hotly through his
veins, flushing his face and brightening his eyes. Ivor was every inch
an Imperialist, and he loved his gentle Tsarina Dagmar with a real and
chivalrous devotion; the latent sadness in her eyes and the pathos of
her smile touched the most responsive chords of his cold and selfish
nature, and awoke in him the purest sentiment of his heart.

Olga had caught the Empress's friendly bow to Ivor, and she too relaxed
somewhat the frigid demeanour she had evinced towards him, since their
conversation regarding Count Mellikoff, and flashed upon him one of her
most lovely smiles, as he put out his arm and almost lifted her to her
place in the second sleigh. The Tsar and Tsarina drove alone in the
foremost equipage, preceded and protected on either side by the guard,
while in the second were seated Olga, the equerry, Patouchki, and Ivor.

The gates were flung wide apart, and thus, with the horses prancing, the
bells ringing, to which the clanking swords made a monotonous echo, and
the sun shining, the Royal party crossed the gay boulevard now thronged
with people, and drew up at the grim and frowning archway of Peter's
gloomy fortress.



CHAPTER III.

ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL.


Petropavlovsk is in itself a giant fastness, covering, as it does,
three-quarters of a square mile, and divided into so many rambling
corridors, barracks, ravelins, bastions, curtains, and store-houses, as
to be for the most part unknown even to the officials who form its
_ménage_, and who, having certain portions of the immense structure set
apart for their duties, live out their lives without exploring, or being
permitted to explore beyond their individual domains.

The boulevard and the canal intersect the building, and separate the
citadel proper from what is known as the "crown work," which lies to
the rear.

Dreary indeed is the outlook for the unfortunate political suspect who
is hurried by night, blindfolded and closely guarded, into this living
tomb. To him, hastened along through unfamiliar passages and by echoing
walls, conveyed hither and thither through succeeding gates and vaulted
corridors, no possible effort of memory, or mathematical calculation,
can ever aid him to determine which one of the many courts, bastions, or
redoubts is that selected for his incarceration.

Nor, indeed, will he ever know, for when at last the _gendarmes_ halt,
and he is allowed the use of his eyes, he finds himself in a small
court-yard completely enclosed by high walls, above which only a limited
sky line is visible. And where this court-yard is situated, to what
bastion it appertains, whether it faces the river or lies back from it,
what is its relation to the door of egress, or its connection with the
other casemates of the prison, not the wildest conjecture can
establish, or the keenest intuition demonstrate.

The part of the fortress, however, which the Tsar had selected for his
inspection, was that known as the Trubetskoi bastion, one of the largest
and most impregnable, projecting as it does well on to the river side,
in the direction of the Bourse. The shape of this bastion resembles as
much as possible a bishop's mitre, as worn by the Western Church; it is
built, in two storeys of stone and brick, around a court-yard of its
own, which extends beyond the building proper and terminates in high
thick walls, that completely shut it out and in from all communication
save that afforded by a narrow vaulted passage, always strongly guarded.
The interior consists of two tiers of casemates, opening on to narrow
corridors, two dark punishment cells, overseers' rooms, kitchen and
soldiers' quarters. In the court-yard are a bath house and one or two
stunted shrubs.

Nothing more gloomy and horrible can be imagined than imprisonment
within one of these casemates, of which the Trubetskoi bastion boasts
seventy-two, thirty-six on each tier. As they were originally designed
for cannon they are considerably larger than an ordinary prison cell,
but size is no mitigation of their horrors. Each casemate has a window,
but it opens upon the baffling stone walls of the narrow outer
court-yard, and is moreover set nine feet above the floor, in a deep
arched recess, and guarded by heavy iron bars. The massive wooden door
is equally disappointing, giving as it does on to the stone corridor
that lies between the cells and inner court-yard; in the centre of each
is a square aperture, which can be opened or closed at the will of the
jailer, by a swinging panel, acting like a miniature portcullis, and
which, when horizontal, serves as a shelf for the prisoner's food.

Directly above this panel is that horrible contrivance--more loathed and
detested by the incarcerated wretch than any other of the diabolical
arrangements--the "Judas" hagioscope or Squint, and which resembles a
slit for letters more than anything else, with a nicely adjusted strip
of wood that can be noiselessly raised or lowered from the outside, and
through which the eyes of the guard can spy at any moment upon the
occupant of the cell.

Only those who have tasted of this unending inevitable surveillance can
appreciate its horrors. To be never free, never for one moment, whether
in grief, or pain, or despair, from the espionage of unsympathetic eyes.
To throw oneself upon one's knees before the image of Our Lady, with
which each cell is supplied, to pour out all the woe and misery of one's
breaking heart in the abandonment of desolation, and then, to hear the
faint click of the revolving slide, and starting back, find the argus
eyes of one's jailer peering through the detestable "Judas;" and to know
the very words of supplication and invocation will be used against one
to condemnation.

What wonder then that many who have entered Petropavlovsk bravely and
with a good courage, believing their imprisonment to be but an affair of
days, are never seen again, never emerge alive from its terrible
dungeons; or lose mind and reason waiting for the day of deliverance
that never comes?

No words can paint the growing horror and despair of a prisoner thus
incarcerated. Day by day his terror expands and magnifies as hope dies
in his heart, and the inexorable hand of Russia crushes out his very
life.

Within the casemates there are, for furniture, an iron bedstead and
table bolted into the wall, an iron oven of the commonest description, a
stationary iron wash-hand basin and a statue of the Virgin, beneath
which hangs a tin cup for catching the dripping moisture that exudes
constantly from the stone walls.

On entering his cell for the first time, the poor victim is stripped of
his clothes and given in exchange a loose blue linen dressing-gown, grey
linen trousers and shirt, and a pair of soft noiseless list slippers.
The guard, after making a minute personal examination, in search of some
possible criminal matter, withdraws; the heavy door swings to with a
dull echo, the bolts slip into the padlock, and the prisoner is left
alone, in the midst of a stillness and silence like that of death.

Gloomy, forbidding, sombre, the walls and vaulted ceiling rise about and
above him, the air is heavy and lifeless, the silence is profound; not
even an echoing footstep in the corridor makes a welcome noise, for the
guards creep about in felt slippers as noiseless and as muffled as his
own. And thus the purgatory of his sentence begins; and who, save
Almighty God, can say when it shall end! While hour by hour the chimes
of the fortress-cathedral ring out their triumphant notes--a mockery of
the poor soul in torment--or toll the _miserere_, that sounds a knell to
all his hopes.

It was at the entrance to the Trubetskoi bastion that the Imperial party
alighted. Extraordinary reports as to the violence and cruelty practised
within the walls of Petropavlovsk had lately become so widely
disseminated throughout Petersburg, mingled with such threats of summary
justice to be shortly meted out to the officials by the hands of the
enraged populace, and such sinister warnings of personal vengeance, that
the press of all parties called upon the Tsar to prove himself Emperor
in his own domains, by investigating and abolishing the scandals.

It was a time of grave anxiety; but he, listening to the counsels of
those who had in past difficulties proved their loyalty and
disinterestedness, yielded at last to their persuasions, and resolved to
adopt the extreme measure of a personal inspection of the maligned
fortress. The Empress, on hearing this decision, and who, despite her
gentle looks and quiet manner, owned the courage and high spirit of her
Danish ancestors, at once determined to accompany her husband.

The populace should see that their Tsar and Tsarina neither feared to
trust themselves to the people, nor shrank from redressing wrong when
brought before their notice, though indeed none knew better than she how
purely perfunctory and ceremonious would be the inspection and its
results.

The governor of Petropavlovsk and the lieutenant of the Trubetskoi
bastion received the distinguished guests, and welcomed them with
apparent relief and pleasure, throwing open the doors of the casemates
one by one, and standing back deferentially, with more of sorrow than of
anger on their official countenances; for was not theirs a sad example
of unrequited and misjudged zeal, since even they could be regarded
with suspicion and doubted in their humanity?

Most of the casemates were found to be unoccupied, and Patouchki, who
walked beside the Emperor, never failed on each such occasion to draw
his Imperial Highness's attention to the fact.

"I believe, sir," he said, as they entered the last of the lower range
of cells, and found it like its predecessors, empty, swept, and
garnished, "that one of the most formidable counts in the public
indictment against Petropavlovsk, is the over-crowding of its cells, and
their uncleanly condition. Your Majesty has now visited thirty-five of
these casemates, the greater number of which have been found unoccupied,
and all of them in perfect sanitary order. I think, sir, this answers
that complaint."

The Tsar sighed, but made no reply. Perhaps he, like Patouchki, wished
to make the best of everything and see only the brightest side; but
even he could not still the premonitions of evil that arose thick and
fast in his mind, as he comprehended the immensity and power of this
Imperial prison house of Russia.

Of the few victims found in the cells none recognised the Royal party.
They were for the most part political offenders from the interior
provinces, who had never before been in Petersburg, and to whom the face
of their new Tsar was not as yet sufficiently familiar to make
recognition possible, especially as his dress differed in no respect
from that of the officers accompanying him. Little did the poor victims
imagine, as they were hurriedly changed, early that morning, from one
part of the fortress to another, that it was to avoid any accidental
recognition on the part of those, who, being the last to enter the
prison, still retained memories of the outer world, and sentiments of
Imperial justice--believing that their Tsar, once convinced of their
innocent incarceration, would order their instant release--that this
transfer was made. Any possible outbreak was to be avoided at all
hazards, since any such _émeute_ could not but end awkwardly for the
Imperial inspectors, and disastrously for the officials.

Had these poor wretches but suspected that the tall, soldierly man,
wearing a scarlet kaftan, without ribbon or order, and who looked gloomy
and thoughtful beneath the military helmet, was their Tsar--their little
father, the great Emperor of all the Russias--how they would have fallen
at his feet, praying his interference; protesting their loyalty, and
maintaining their innocence! Or had the faintest doubt crossed their
minds, that the slight upright woman, clad in those closely-clinging,
sombre robes, whose eyes looked so pitifully forth, and whose face was
so wan and pale, might perchance be their Tsarina, what tears and sobs,
what pleadings and supplications would have rent the air, as they kissed
her hands, or grasped wildly at her garments!

But fate was against them; their opportunity came to them unsought, and
they passed it by unknowing. How should they know, poor souls, to whom
even a word of ordinary greeting from their jailers was denied, and to
whom no echo of news ever penetrated, how should they know, that at the
very moment, as they were praying passionately for some means of
communication with their Emperor, he himself stood before them, and that
had they but put out their hands they could have touched him?

It was the cruel irony of fate; the bitter obligation of destiny.

As the guards threw open the massive casemate doors in silence, most of
the inmates did not so much as raise their heads or change their
attitudes. Why should they? It was only another of those many
interruptions in their day's vacuity, in which the jailer played the
part of inspector with maddening sameness. What call had they to look
more often on his hated face than was needful?

Scarce a word passed between the Tsar and Tsarina, or their suite; the
pall of absolute silence which enfolds great Petropavlovsk in the dark
mantle of submission, had descended also upon them, and so held them
captive as to kill any outward expression of inward emotion. Sometimes
it was the "Judas" only that was lifted, and then the Tsarina would turn
away her eyes and refuse to look, standing apart with anxiety and
sadness written on her pale face; and when this happened, Olga would
separate herself from Ivor, and waiting silently by her Royal mistress,
watch her every motion with the sympathy of comprehension.

And so the weary task dragged on its heavy chain; there remained but one
more cell, and then this horrible nightmare of duty, this travesty of
inspection, would be over, and they might hurry away from out this gloom
and depression, and seek once more the brilliant sunshine, the
gaily-thronged streets, where at least the grim spectres of despair and
desperation, if they stalked among the careless mummers, were
out-balanced by the laughter and jesting of the merry-makers.

At length they reached the last casemate of all, and as the door was
unbolted and thrown open, the Emperor and Patouchki stepped across the
threshold. Seated on the iron pallet, his arms thrown out across the
table, was an old man, whose head was white with the snows of many
winters. He neither moved nor spoke as those without came towards him;
his hands were waxen in colour, nerveless, and attenuated; the blue
dressing-gown hung loosely upon his emaciated form; his face was hidden
on his arm. Something in the intense stillness and rigidity of the
attitude, in the absolute rest that had fallen upon him, startled the
beholders with a vague sense of fear.

At a word from the Tsar, Patouchki crossed the cell and laid his hand
upon the bowed shoulders. A shudder passed over the form, followed by a
long and weary sigh, and then the head was lifted, and two feverish,
bright eyes gazed out of the hollow sockets. For a moment he looked at
them bewildered, and then, with a sudden, thrilling cry, he flung
himself forward and fell at the feet of the Tsar, exclaiming in broken,
feeble tones:

"Blessed be God in Sion; He has heard my prayer! Blessed be our Lady of
Kazan! It is the face of my Tsarawich I see once more; it is the face of
my little father--my Tsar! Oh, my Emperor, I am Alexis--Alexis of
Battenkoff. I am an old man of over four-score, who, for fifty long
years, served your father--my Tsar Alexander--and who, after all that
time of faithful love and devotion, have been left to rot in this
terrible pest-house for two long weary years. Pardon me, little father,
pardon me! I have done no wrong, believe me. I have never plotted
against my sovereigns; I have loved them always, and served them to the
extent of my poor abilities. I had no hand in that bloody murder; I was
innocent of all participation in it. I would have given my life's blood
to save my Emperor. Why should I seek his death! Pardon me, my little
father, as your sire, whose soul sees me now, would have pardoned me!"

As the last words passed from his lips the old man sank back, his hands
twitched convulsively, and he fell on the floor in a swoon. So sudden
had been his movement forward and so rapid his utterance, neither the
officials nor Patouchki had time to interpose, but the latter now
stepped quickly forward, as the Tsar, with a gesture, motioned to him to
approach, and after giving him some directions, speaking earnestly and
decisively, turned abruptly and left the cell. Neither the Tsarina nor
Olga Naundorff had entered this casemate, the Empress's tender heart had
therefore been spared the harrowing scene.

As the Imperial party drove away from the terrible fortress, and the
brilliant sunshine caught at the glittering harness and bright
trappings of the guard, a cry arose on the boulevard: "It is the Tsar,
and our Tsarina! Long live the little father! Long live the Tsar!" But
neither God's sunshine, nor the loyal shouts of his people could bring
back the colour to the Emperor's face, or banish the look of care and
anxiety that rested so heavily upon it.

The next morning an Imperial pardon was sent to Petropavlovsk for Alexis
Battenkoff, but it came too late. The weary spirit and sorely wounded
heart were at rest in eternity; the old man's soul had passed beyond all
earthly pardon, into the Almighty hands of justice and recompense.



CHAPTER IV.

SUSPICIONS.


For many days the Petersburg Imperial press rang the changes unceasingly
on this last benignant and forgiving act of the Tsar's.

It called upon all malcontents and revolutionists to say, if in this
pardon were not displayed the utmost leniency and mercy. For was it not
well known that Alexis Battenkoff was taken almost red-handed at the
assassination of the late Tsar? And, indeed, who but one familiar,
through long habit and confidence, with the movements of the Emperor,
could have supplied the knowledge which assured the grim success of the
dastardly attack? Was not Alexis always to be found, under suspicious
circumstances, consorting with the most pronounced of the Nihilist
faction; and could he be there save for one purpose only? Could one
touch pitch and not be defiled?

Where then, in modern history, could another such act of condonation be
pointed out, as this by which the Tsar had pardoned a participator in
his father's murder? Was not that answer sufficient to all the
treacherous suggestions, the menacing innuendoes, that had been ripe and
bursting for so long in Petersburg? Perhaps now the organs of the
opposition would cease their importunate blating, since the Tsar's
inspection of Petropavlovsk had resulted in such a redress of imaginary
wrongs, as not even their wildest dreams could have supposed possible.
And was not the hand of Almighty justice made plainly visible, in that
Alexis of Battenkoff was not permitted to taste again of liberty, but
was stricken by death before the news of the Tsar's generosity could
reach him? Let those who would, read well the lesson thus openly
delivered to them.

Paul Patouchki read the enthusiastic laudations and pious thanksgivings
in the silence of his apartments in the Chancellerie, and, as he did so,
a slow, inscrutable smile crept over his face and lingered there.

It was not often that the chief recognised any direct interposition of
Divine Providence in the political turmoils of Russia; indeed, in his
own heart, he scoffed at all such superstitions, and acknowledged
frankly that the Imperial Government neither desired, nor would
appreciate, any such interference with its autocratic despotism.

But certainly, for once, he saw in the Battenkoff incident and death a
most opportune intervention, whether Divine or otherwise, since by it
the hands of the Imperial party could be strengthened, and for a time,
at least, their policy be freed from too suspicious and too true
aspersions. To his mind, like the last of the Stuart Pretenders,
nothing in life so well became poor Alexis of Battenkoff as his leaving
it, how and when he did. It was the one touch needful to stamp the
Imperial inspection of Petropavlovsk with triumphant success, and to
prove a satisfying sop even to so hydra-mouthed a Cerberus as the
disaffected party; and therefore he was thankful, though none knew
better than he that no actual improvement had been effected, no evils
redressed, no reforms instituted in the governmental department of
Petropavlovsk. The giant fortress closed its jaws just as tyrannically
upon its victims, and abated not one jot or tittle of its iron-handed
authority.

Patouchki, however, had too many anxieties pressing upon him to spend
over much time in complaisant reading of political trumpet notes; he
laid aside the _Petersburg Messenger_ and turned toward his desk, on
which lay a heavy correspondence not yet disposed of. As he sat down in
his familiar place, the grim smile faded from his lips, to be replaced
by a dark frown that knit together the black eyebrows, and accentuated
the strong lines about the eyes and mouth. In truth, the chief was more
concerned than he liked to admit, even to himself, at Ivor Tolskoi's
news; and though at the time he endeavoured to treat it with cavalier
disbelief, he nevertheless had an inner consciousness, of its truth, and
a presentiment of complications to follow in consequence.

That Adèle Lamien should be in Petersburg, and the Chancellerie have
neither warning of her intentions, nor knowledge of her presence,
seemed, as he had said to Tolskoi, impossible; and yet, even as the word
fell from his lips, he knew himself to be wrong, and Ivor to be right.
The great spy system had failed for once, imperceptibly almost, and so
far without damaging results, but it had, nevertheless, proved itself
vulnerable, and had found its match in the quick wits and ready
ingenuity of a woman. Even all the elaborate machinery of the
Chancellerie had not been sufficient, when pitted against the devices of
one weak, fugitive woman.

Yes, that was where the shoe pinched; to be duped by the very criminal
they were pursuing, and to hear her laugh in their ears, as she slipped
out of their fingers! And then, what a bad precedent was even this
slight dereliction on the part of the Chancellerie; and how could the
discipline of fear be kept up in the minds of the younger members of the
great body, if such a defection became known? And the woman, Adèle
Lamien, was brazen enough and clever enough, smarting as she was under
her own wrongs, to circulate their blindness and failure, just where it
would most redound to their discredit.

"It is impossible!" again muttered Patouchki, as his fingers rested idly
on his desk, and his eyes wandered over the familiar trifles of his
daily avocations. "It is impossible; and yet I know it is true. Some
one of our emissaries has been asleep at his post, some one has connived
at this woman's plotting, or been blind to her schemes, and deaf to her
plans; some one, as at Balaklava, has blundered, and it remains for me
to find the culprit, and to administer chastisement. A winter in
Siberia, or in the Nartchinsk mines, will teach that some one the price
of treachery, and the weight of the Chancellerie's wrath. Meantime the
woman must be found and watched; the time is not ripe yet for her
arrest, I must wait Vladimir Mellikoff's next report first; and by
heaven, should he prove false, as Tolskoi would insinuate, he shall work
out his retribution, side by side with the wretched victim of Count
Stevan's licentiousness. But first of all, the woman must be found."

He drew a deep sigh, and with almost an expression of weariness took up
one of the many despatches before him, and broke the seal.

Meantime, Ivor Tolskoi had prospered but slowly in his suit. Despite all
his anticipations of numerous opportunities occurring during the
inspection of the fortress, in which he should be able to command Olga's
attention, and by deftly-turned compliment, or ingenious flattery, urge
his pretensions, even as with subtle innuendo and covert sneer he
touched upon Count Mellikoff's absence, and the character of his
mission.

But Olga was more than indifferent, she was impatient with him; the
influence of the time and place oppressed her peculiarly impressionable
nature, as the sight of the pale sorrow on her Tsarina's face set
vibrating the chords of her quick and passionate sympathy. She accorded
Ivor but a half-hearted attention, scarcely hearing his soft pleadings,
and while retaining unconsciously a memory of his insinuations against
Vladimir, it was not until the Royal _cortège_ turned down the gay
boulevard that a full realisation of his meaning came to her. She
turned then sharply to him, as he sat beside her, and, with her
favourite imperious upward movement of her head, said abruptly, though
in a low voice, inaudible to the other occupants of the sleigh:

"What is it, Ivor, you have been hinting to me all this morning,
concerning my cousin Mellikoff? If you have news of him, why not give it
me without so much useless circumambulation? I do not like mysteries."

"Mdlle. Naundorff has surely mistaken my meaning," answered Tolskoi,
coolly, looking straight at her, and smiling a little. "I had no
intention of insinuating anything detrimental of Count Vladimir; my
remarks were but general, though to be sure any one is welcome to wear
the cap, if it fits him."

"_Les absents ont toujours tort_," replied Olga, still impatient; "my
cousin Mellikoff but shares the fate of all who have achieved even a
limited greatness; jealousy and envy go hand in hand with those who, not
so fortunate, only stand and look on."

Her words were sharp, and her manner pointed. Ivor knew both were
intended to sting, and though he could not control the sudden wave of
hot blood that dyed his face crimson, he could control his temper and
his voice; he answered her, therefore, with another cold little laugh,
as he said:

"Surely it is grace enough to be so defended by Mdlle. Naundorff? Even
Count Vladimir could scarcely ask a greater favour, accustomed as he is
to all devotion--where women are concerned."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Olga, imperiously. "I insist, Ivor, on
your explaining your very equivocal suggestions."

Tolskoi shrugged his shoulders, and replied under apparent protest:

"It is, I think, well known how successful Count Mellikoff has always
been in any _affaire du coeur_, though such details are better suited
for men's ears than for yours, mademoiselle. It can, however, be no
detriment to him, even in your estimation, to acknowledge that his past
is not written upon an absolutely white page, since you are the only one
who has definitely subdued him, and bid fair to turn the brave Lothario
into a Benedict. I have yet to meet the woman to whom the reputation of
a certain kind of success in a man proves anything but a
recommendation."

As Ivor finished, a silence of several moments fell between them. Olga
turned her fair face from him and looked out, with unseeing eyes, upon
the gay, moving pageant about her. Tolskoi watched her intently but
furtively, and saw with inward satisfaction that his barb had gone home
and was rankling, and would rankle for days to come, in her heart.

Well he knew Olga Naundorff's character, with its complex mingling of
cruelty and softness; its nicely balanced elements of revenge and
generosity; its preponderance of pride, its insatiable demand of
absolute submission to her will, and its imperious arrogation of
supremacy, not only over the present and future of her suitors, but over
their past as well. Like her great ancestress, the Empress Catherine,
her favours were tyrannies; and woe unto the luckless recipient of them
should she find him faithless in the smallest degree! Even his past must
be forgotten and forsworn; his existence could only begin with the
bestowal of her first smile.

Without knowing it, a true and absolute belief in her cousin Vladimir
Mellikoff's integrity had gradually grown up within her; she had come to
regard him as the one faithfully sincere lover out of all her admirers,
whose very sternness and power of repression spoke more eloquently to
her than all the more emotional pleadings of her other suitors. She had
believed herself to be the first and only woman on whom he had expended
even the smallest measure of love; and to be the object of so unique and
chivalrous a devotion, had not been the least among her reasons for
yielding to his solicitations.

Ivor's insinuations, therefore, coming as they did, disturbed her more
than she cared to realise, and awoke at once that latent suspicion and
distrust that forms so pronounced a factor in the Russian character, and
caused her to accept his words as positive and final evidence of
Vladimir's perfidy and deceit. She never stopped to weigh his actions
against Ivor's words; hers was not a nature of sufficiently generous
tendencies to turn instinctively from ignominious slander; rather it
leapt to conclusions, and from its own attributes pronounced its
condemnatory sentence.

In her eyes Vladimir Mellikoff had been tried and sentenced, with Ivor
Tolskoi as judge and jury. She could never trust him again, and she
would endeavour by every means in her power to unravel his past; holding
the threads of it in her slender hand until the hour should come when
she could wound deepest, and play with most sinister effect the part of
Atropos. What though she stabbed her own heart as well with the sharp
scissors of fate? She must bear that, and hers would be the satisfaction
of beholding her victim's misery first.

Meantime the Imperial procession flew swiftly along the boulevard,
saluted on every side by the shouts of the populace, and the cries of
the people: "Long live the Tsar! Long live our little father! Long live
the Tsarina!" And the bells rang, and the sun shone, and all was gaiety,
and mirth, and mocking optimism.

The crimson blush that had dyed Olga's cheeks so deeply, as the meaning
of Ivor's last words became clear to her, had faded and left them
colourless when she again turned to him, and her voice had an additional
ring of hardness when she next spoke.

"My dear Ivor, we have, I think, always been sufficiently good friends
for us not to doubt each other's sincerity of motive, even when we feel
forced to speak upon subjects whose very nature precludes any
possibility of agreeableness. I do not forget my very singular position
in the world; alone as I am, though apparently protected by Imperial
power, I owe obedience to no one in matters that concern myself alone.
And it is because of this peculiar position that I am about to appeal to
your friendship, or whatever sentiment does duty for that obsolete
emotion, and beg you to be quite frank with me, and tell me all you can
of Count Vladimir Mellikoff's past. Since, as rumour asserts, I am to
become his wife, it certainly befits me to inform myself of his
antecedents, in order that I may be a true and sustaining helpmate to
him. Tell me, then, my dear Ivor, all you know, or all you will reveal
concerning my cousin."

There was something so finely bitter and yet so commanding in her voice,
and she had subdued her countenance to such an expression of simple
friendliness, Tolskoi looked at her with genuine admiration during the
half-moment that elapsed before he answered her. When he did reply, it
was scarcely in the way she anticipated.

"Mdlle. Naundorff," he said, his cold, hard blue eyes studying her face
intently, "you may remember that some weeks ago, when we spoke on this
subject one evening at the Palace, you asked me a question, to which I
gave you no answer. You asked me then what was my opinion as to the
share of a certain woman--known as Count Stevan Lallovich's cast-off
wife--in the murder of that same Count Stevan? I told you then I had no
opinion upon the matter, and from that the conversation wandered to more
personal matters. Mademoiselle, what I said then was not true. I had,
and have, a very strong opinion as to the culprit, or culprits; but we
will let that rest for the time being. Shall I continue? Are you
interested sufficiently in this wretched woman's story to wish to hear
more?"

She replied by a quick and decisive gesture of her hand, and an almost
inaudible, "Yes."

Ivor smiled again, and drew the fur robe more closely about her,
glancing keenly across towards Patouchki, who, however, was absorbed in
conversation with the equerry and paid no attention to his companions;
seeing which, Tolskoi continued:

"Mademoiselle, that woman is now in Petersburg, and I have seen her.
This is probably not such a matter of surprise to you as it is to--some
other people; but when I tell you that Count Mellikoff's hurried journey
to America was undertaken ostensibly to track, to find, and to arrest
that woman, and that his continuing there is for the same reason, you
will understand why my meeting with her here is pregnant with such grave
complications."

Olga was gazing at him earnestly, following his every word and gesture
with her eyes; the violet iris had grown black and enlarged from
suppressed excitement.

"I will not go into the details, mademoiselle," Ivor went on, "of that
unfortunate woman's wrongs, or the succession of cruel circumstances
that led up to the murder of Count Stevan. Doubtless, she had a share
and part in that murder; but hers was not the only brain that conceived
the crime, or the only hand that struck the blow. There was a stronger
and more important power behind; one who knew the terrible risk that was
run in slaying a member of the Imperial blood, no matter how slight the
consanguinity, and who had private ends to serve in seeing Count Stevan
removed for ever from Imperial favour; one who, though hesitating to
become a murderer in deed, did not hesitate to use this half frenzied
woman as his accomplice and tool. Hers, indeed, should be the hand to
hold the knife and strike the blow, but guided by a far more powerful
coadjutor."

Ivor stopped again, and again Olga motioned to him to continue, by the
same quick movement of her hand.

"There was but one man in Petersburg, mademoiselle, who could boast of
any apparent intimacy with Count Stevan Lallovich, and who, if any one
at any time, might have been his confidant. That man was Vladimir
Mellikoff."

Again he stopped, and Olga, without taking her eyes from his face, felt,
as she gazed on its youthful freshness, a great and terrible wave of
doubt and uncertainty rush up and over her, wrapping her round and
round, and sweeping away all lesser sensations in this awful one of
impending calamity; but such calamity as should break not only upon her,
but on one whom she dared not name, and out of which she could see no
lift of light or hope. Tolskoi's words had been too well chosen not to
carry with them the significance he intended, and she felt their full
force even as she realised their full meaning. She drew her tongue
across her lips, and tried to smile in answer to the cold light in
Ivor's blue eyes, but the effort was feeble and abortive.

"Have you any more to tell me?" she asked at last, in a voice that was
almost a whisper; "if so, continue, I beg. I find the story very
interesting, and--instructive."

Ivor replied by one of his coldest little laughs, and then resumed his
narrative.

"You, mademoiselle, were not in Petersburg when the murder was
committed, the Court being then at Gatschina, consequently you could not
know how great was the excitement here, or how freely Count Mellikoff
mingled his regrets and desires for summary justice to be meted out to
the criminal, with the public expressions heard on every side. No one
had known Count Stevan better than he; and no one had a better right to
mourn his untimely fate. Unfortunately, Count Vladimir had not been in
Petersburg during the night of the murder, nor indeed for a day or two
before; consequently, he could throw no light upon Stevan Lallovich's
movements at that time, and his regrets could only take the more passive
form of words. You will see therefore, mademoiselle, why, when the
Government discovered that Count Stevan's repudiated wife had fled the
country--aided and abetted by some powerful political friends--and was
heard of in America, it took prompt and decisive measures for her
capture. And who could have been better chosen for this work than Count
Mellikoff, since he had been Stevan Lallovich's best friend? I must
remind you here, mademoiselle, that my confidences must be held secret
between you and me; I am, as it is, overstepping my boundaries in
speaking thus frankly of the Government's share in this business; but I
do so deliberately, and am willing to bear the consequences."

"I shall be silent," replied Olga, simply, and Tolskoi continued:

"You know, mademoiselle, how and when Count Mellikoff started on this
mission, though at the time of his departure you little suspected it
was in the interests of a woman that he undertook so long a journey. You
knew only that there was work to be done on behalf of the Government,
and that he had been selected for that work. It is now two months since
he left Russia; granting him all necessary time for easy travelling and
stoppages, he must have reached the United States close on to a month
ago, which would leave him this last month to lay his train, if not to
find the woman. I have said, mademoiselle, that this woman calling
herself Adèle Lallovich, was assisted through Russia, and over the
frontier, by the influence of some strong political agent, one whose
word and whose name carried the weight of coercion. Very well, this
happened early in December; in January Count Vladimir leaves Petersburg,
and reaches America early in February. A month goes by, and within the
first week of March I meet Adèle Lallovich face to face here. Ah, I see
you have followed my reasoning. The same powerful influence that got her
out of Russia, when danger menaced her here, has now sent her back to
Petersburg, where she is for the time being more secure from arrest than
in the States. And the brain and the hand that have twice protected and
saved her--a fugitive from justice--are the same brain and hand that
planned and executed Count Stevan's murder, and that used _her_ as their
instrument. I think, mademoiselle, that Count Mellikoff will somewhat
disappoint the expectations and shake the confidence of his Government,
when he returns without any definite intelligence or any important
information regarding the movements and condition of Adèle Lallovich."

Olga heard him throughout without word or sign, though not one detail of
the terrible suspicion he so boldly advanced was lost upon her. Slowly
but surely she followed his every gesture, his every sentence, never
taking her eyes that had grown so strangely dark from his face. Every
vestige of colour ebbed from her cheeks and lips, leaving her face white
as alabaster beneath the dark furs of her close cap; a waving ripple of
golden-lighted hair seemed the only sentient thing about her. She spoke
at last, and her voice had a faint far-away echo in its whisper.

"What you would suggest, Ivor, is horrible, unnatural. What could be the
motive for such a crime, and such a shielding of the criminal? If, as
you say, it were possible for one brain to plot and plan it all, and
another to fulfil it, still where would be the object, what would be the
motive? I know whom it is you suspect, but his motive, Ivor, his
motive?"

She bent forward eagerly, clasping her hands and looking into the very
depths of his eyes. Ivor Tolskoi saw his advantage, and pressed it home.
His opportunity had come, he was not one to lose it for lack of courage
to deal one more swift sure blow. Meeting Olga's strained violet eyes
with his, in which the steel-blue light flamed out, he said slowly and
with distinct emphasis:

"Adèle Lamien, or Lallovich, is a rarely beautiful woman, Olga, and
beauty such as hers is a dangerous attribute. Count Mellikoff is a
worshipper of woman's loveliness, and the story goes that when Adèle
Lamien became the wife of Stevan Lallovich, she cast off a former lover
whose chains had begun to gall. Who that lover was, Olga, I leave to
your imagination. But when Stevan Lallovich repudiated and threw aside
the woman, and an Imperial ukase released him from his obligations, is
it unlikely that she sought her former friend and protector, or that he,
maddened by her beauty and her wrongs, determined to avenge them?

"That is the story, mademoiselle, and you now know why I swore to you
that sooner than see you Vladimir Mellikoff's wife I would kill him with
my own hand."

But Olga made no reply. Silent, impassive, stricken through and through,
she sat with blanched face and tightly clasped hands; and the sun shone,
and the bells rang, and the populace shouted: "Long live the Tsar! Long
live our little father!" but she neither saw nor heard any of it. All
her heart and soul were in revolt and turmoil; all she had trusted to
had gone down before her eyes, she was shipwrecked upon an ocean of
deception and despair.

Presently the shouts and cries grew fainter, and the horses slackened
speed as they turned into the Palace gates and were drawn up sharply at
the side entrance, out of which she had passed so long ago--was it
months or years, or alas! only hours? Should she ever again know what it
was to feel light-hearted and joyous? Would this terrible burden of
knowledge ever be lifted from her heart?

Ivor Tolskoi sprang down even as the threshold was reached and put out
his arm to help her; she barely touched it with her gloved hand, and
passed by him with but one burning look from her haunted eyes. For days
after, the light pressure of her fingers rested there like iron, and the
misery of her glance accompanied him as that of a lost spirit.



CHAPTER V.

MIMI'S BIRTHDAY POSY.


George Newbold's birthday fell within the first week of May, and
certainly no more ideal spring morning could have dawned than that which
Esther had set apart to be especially celebrated in honour of her
spouse.

Mr. Newbold should, indeed, for the fitness of things, have been a young
and blooming maiden--rather than a man verging towards middle age, and
more or less disillusionised--to correspond with the rare loveliness and
freshness of creation, that sprang afresh to life as Aurora, with
blushing finger-tips, drew back the curtains of the night, and ushered
in the roseate dawn. Even as the surroundings belonged more to that
"garden of fair delights," consecrated by the Egyptians to Daphne, into
which naught but harmony and sensuous peace and pleasure was allowed to
enter, rather than to

              "This live, throbbing age,
    That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
    And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
    Between the mirrors of its drawing-rooms
    Than Roland with his knights at Roncevalles."

But Nature is ever prodigal and unreasoning; she stops not to consider
on whom to spend her largesse, she has no calculation in her giving, and
she seeks no return, since, with her keen perceptiveness, she knows we
mortals possess nothing of our own, no gift of jewel or of price, of
intellect or of beauty, that can compare with the least of those
benefits she pours with such lavish hand upon us.

Does not all creation join with the angelic choirs to hymn her praises?
What song of mortal measure, sung by mortal tongue, can equal in
strength and melody that heavenly canticle? Nay, let us stand rather
with bowed head and reverent mien, lifting our hearts in silent ecstasy,
thankful if we may so much as catch a distant echo of those "divine
praises," borne to us maybe on the wings of the far west wind; or a
reflection of the golden glory of that paradise, ensnared in the
luminous fragility of a sunset cloud.

It is all we can hope for on this lower earth, and who of us dare count
on ever realising the terrible sublimity, the awful purity, of "the
beatific vision"?

It was very early in the morning when little Marianne came running down
the broad terrace steps, and stood alone amidst the varied riches of
Esther's flower garden. Her sunny hair was all unbound, and lay upon her
shoulders and about her forehead, still damp from the morning's bath,
glistening like threads of gold washed in a wavelet of sunshine. Her
white frock glanced in and out against the tender background of early
green foliage, as she ran from flower to flower, plucking here a
blossom, and there a bud, studying each attentively before adding them
to the bouquet in her hand, with the gravity of childhood, which invests
every action with a separate importance.

And as she flew about rejoicing, as only children and animals can
rejoice, in the mere pleasure of being, she sang from time to time the
rhyming measure of a nursery song, which fell unheeded from her lips,
and that had no sense or meaning, but sprang as spontaneously from her
heart as did the song of the little brown thrush, who was pouring out
his weight of thanksgiving, with such overwhelming rapture as to shake
his very soul, and cause the quivering cat-kin on which he perched to
bend and sway beneath its vibrations.

The windows of the Folly were still closed and curtained. Its inmates
were as yet scarce turning on their couches of down, or realising that
another day had begun for them, another day opened out full of sublime
opportunities for good or evil. With the passing of another hour they
would perforce be roused from their dreams by the inevitable early cup
of tea, without which species of dram-drinking no woman of fashion can
support the fatigues of her toilette, or the embarrassments of the
morning post. But that is sixty minutes off yet--sixty long
minutes--three thousand, six hundred seconds--and in the meantime,
before the inevitable overtakes us, let us follow the preacher's advice
and make the most of it. "Yet a little more sleep, and a little more
slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep."

Time enough to take up the burden of living when that burden is
ruthlessly thrust upon us, and we bow our shoulders with accustomed
habit to receive its weight.

But little Marianne entertained no such pessimistic views; to her the
joy of life was simply in the act of living, and its triumph in escaping
from the tyranny of Sarah, and being absolutely free to tear her frock
or rumple her golden hair without the visible personality of that
Nemesis. Presently Trim, her beloved Skye terrier, came leaping out to
her as fast as his very short legs and corpulent body would allow him to
travel; and then began a series of romps in which it was difficult to
say which took the most satisfaction--the dog or the child. Trim,
however, was the first to give up and retire on his laurels, selecting a
particularly green spot of turf beneath a lilac-tree in full bloom, and
after solemnly turning round and round in an unsuccessful race with his
own tail, settled himself comfortably thereon, and with the tip of his
red tongue showing between his teeth, watched the child with a benign
and patronising expression. Marianne, thus deserted, returned to her
flower-gathering, apostrophising Trim as she did so.

"You are a lazy dog, Trim. I'm 'shamed of you! It's perfectly redic'lous
your pretending to be tired; you can't be; it's only putting on shapes,
just as Miss Dick says, and shapes isn't very nice manners in such a wee
little doggie as you!"

Trim snapped at an intruding fly, and yawned for answer, then settled
his nose on his paws and went to sleep, and Marianne, thus left
companionless, grew a little weary of solitude.

"I guess I've got enough flowers now for Popsey's buffday," she said,
regarding critically the glowing mass of blossoms held very tightly in
her hot little hand. "I guess I'll go in and put 'em on his
dressing-table, and cry 'boo' very loud in his ear. Then he'll have to
get up!"

And fired with this most laudable device, Mimi trotted away very fast,
without so much as a backward look at the recreant Trim. Little recked
George Newbold of the awful fate in store for him at the hands, or
rather in the shrill voice of his small daughter! But surely, could he
have foreseen her advent in the character of a red Indian, he would
have devoutly thanked chance for his timely delivery.

As Marianne tripped along, a dark shadow fell suddenly across her path
and stopped her further advance. Pushing back the fringe of golden hair,
that fell almost into her sapphire blue eyes, the child halted and
looked up a little bewildered.

It was Vladimir Mellikoff who stood before her, looking very tall and
dark against the brilliant green of the sun-swept lawn behind him. The
child gazed up at him gravely and without speaking. This was not a
familiar figure in her little world; she would have greeted Jack Howard,
or Freddy Wylde, or even old Sir Piers Tracey with her accustomed quaint
mingling of condescension and intimacy; but this tall, dark stranger,
with his sombre face and deep black eyes, was unknown to her, and
because unknown was not to be put on the same footing with her old
companions.

However, Esther Newbold's small daughter was sufficiently a little
worldling in training to recognise in this stranger one of "papa's men,"
as she called them, classifying all unknown masculine visitors under one
head; she did not, therefore, run away, but stood quietly silent, her
eyes raised frankly to his, and the sunlight turning to living gold each
tendril of her fair hair.

Vladimir Mellikoff could be very gentle and winning to children; they
touched that inner chord of tenderness that vibrated so passionately to
Olga Naundorff's lightest word, and something in the fair child's face,
with its deep blue eyes, recalled to him that other proud Russian face,
with the violet eyes and scornful, curved lips. He bent down and spoke
to Mimi in his softest voice.

"You are little Marianne, are you not?" he said.

"I am Marianne Newbold," replied the child, with grave directness.

"I wonder if you could say my name," continued Mellikoff, persuasively.
"It is not so pretty as yours, but then I am a man, you see."

"Men's is never so pitty," remarked the child, didactically. "What is
your name?"

"Vladimir," replied Count Mellikoff, gravely, and repeating each
syllable distinctly: "Vla--di--mir. Do you think you can say it? Try."

But Marianne shook her golden mane in positive negation.

"I couldn't," she said, "not possibly. But I'll call you Mr. Val, if you
like; it's pittier than your real name."

"Very well, then, Mr. Val it shall be," answered the Count, smiling
broadly at the very English sobriquet bestowed upon him. "Who have you
been gathering all those flowers for?"

"They's for my Popsey; it's his buffday. Do you know how old he is, Mr.
Val? I guess he must be most a hundred."

To which Mr. Val replied with a laugh; but Marianne was no whit
abashed.

"I think so," she went on, seating herself on a low garden bench that
stood under a spreading ash-tree, and beginning to sort out the flowers
as they lay upon her lap. "I think so, 'cause he's got so many grey
hairs, more than I can count. When I was a _little_ girl"--with great
disdain--"I used to pull 'em out, till Sarah said ten new ones came to
each old one's funeral. Then I asked Lammy the other day if she thought
Popsey was nearly a hundred; but she only laughed. Does you know Lammy,
Mr. Val?" she queried, abruptly.

"Oh, but that isn't a real name, you know," protested Vladimir,
diplomatically; "that might be any creature's name--a dog's, or a
cat's."

"Oh, no, it couldn't," cried the child, eagerly, "'cause it's a
person's--a grown up's, you see. It isn't her very own, own name; but
that's too long, so I just calls her Lammy."

"And what is her very own own name?" asked Mellikoff, idly, taking up a
large white marguerite from Mimi's store, and carelessly stripping off
its petals, his mind unconsciously repeating the old formula, "she loves
me--she loves me not." The child's voice fell with startling
distinctness across the morning stillness, and shattered Vladimir's
sentiment with a straight, keen blow.

"Her very own name," said Marianne, slowly, and taking great pains with
her syllables, "is Mademoiselle Lamien--Mademoiselle Adèle Lamien."

The stripped daisy-head fell from Count Mellikoff's fingers, and lay at
his feet amidst its snow-flake petals unheeded. He started violently at
this positive answer to his negligent question, and the blood rushed for
one moment to his face. He, who was never known to show emotion even
when confronting death, trembled now before the unconscious words of a
little child. His dark eyes seemed to grow larger in their hollow
settings, the fine veins about his temples throbbed visibly.

Mimi, however, was ignorant of the agitation she had awakened; her
golden head was bent over her flowers, while with one little foot she
kept off the repentant Trim, who, having awakened from his slumbers, was
endeavouring with slavish abjection to reinstate himself in his little
mistress's favour.

When Count Mellikoff next spoke, any one save a child would have noticed
the forced lightness of his voice; as it was, even Mimi looked up
surprised by the change in it.

"And is it, then, Mademoiselle Lamien--Adèle Lamien--that you call by
the _petit-nom_ of Lammy?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the child, a little startled and impressed by his manner.
"Mumsey calls her Mam'zelle Lamien; but I don't--not always--I call her
Lammy. Is you sorry? Why does your eyes look so black?"

"Do they look black, Marianne?" Mellikoff asked, stupidly; then
recovering himself with a laugh, and returning to his old manner: "No,
I am not sorry. Why should I be? I've never seen your Mademoiselle
Lamien."

"She's gone away," answered the child, quickly. "She had to; she said
she must, 'cause she and Miss Hildreth couldn't possibly be here
together.' But when I asked Mumsey about it, she only said: 'Nonsense,
and don't bother.'"

"And has she been a long time with you?" asked Vladimir, putting the
question indifferently.

Mimi shook all her golden curls. "Not _very_ long; she came on Sarah's
buffday, and that isn't very long ago."

"But _how_ long?" queried Mellikoff. "A month, a year, a week? Try and
think, Mimi; was it one Sunday ago, or two, or three? You know when
Sunday comes, don't you?"

"Yes," replied the child, "it's the day after Saturday, and I always
have my best pudding for dinner. What's your best pudding, Mr. Val?"

But Mr. Val was spared answering this embarrassing question by the
advent of Sarah, who bore down upon them, her cap-strings flying, and
whisked Marianne off, in a whirlwind of yellow hair and white
petticoats, before he could even protest. She waved one little hand to
him as she tripped away, holding on to her flowers with the other, and
Trim barking at her heels; then the terrace door closed upon them, and
Vladimir was left alone.

Mechanically he stooped and picked up one of the stray blossoms that had
fallen from Mimi's lap; he turned it idly in his fingers, looking at it
with unseeing eyes, while his busy brain went on thinking, planning,
scheming.

Was he wrong after all? Had she escaped him; nay, had she ever been here
at all? Why had she gone away? When would she come back? How could he
piece out his welcome a little longer at the Folly? Was he altogether
wrong in his suspicions? Had the woman tricked him again; fighting him
with his own weapons, had she out-matched him and escaped?

And thus, as he stood lost in his self-questionings--a sombre, dark
figure in the glowing beauty and sunlight of the fair May morning,
twisting the drooping flower round and round in his fingers, and the
song of the birds echoing ceaselessly in his ears--a sudden light broke
over the gloom of his countenance, a half-formed exclamation rose to his
lips; he dropped the flower suddenly, and took a step forward.

"No, I am not wrong," he said, in answer to himself. "Let Adèle Lamien
beware, or I may turn her own arms against her." Then he turned abruptly
and walked towards the house; and only the sunshine, and the birds, and
Mimi's faded blossoms remained.



CHAPTER VI.

"'TIS A SIREN."


And so the long golden morning hours rolled on, and the garden remained
untenanted. The sweet spring flowers--than which none are more beautiful
and fragrant, because so redolent of promise--wasted their perfume on
the gentle breezes that swayed their yielding blossoms; the birds' song
grew hushed and lapsed into silence as the repose of noontide settled
down upon them.

The sun fell in straight, level rays that were warm with a foretaste of
tropical heat; far away in the distance a faint silver line marked the
sea's limits, across which now and then a white sail flashed and was
gone. All nature lay hushed and stilled in that strange peace that
comes at the day's meridian, when the only sounds are those of the
under-world, the drowsy humming of an early humble-bee, the impatient
buzzing of a giant-fly, the bu-bu of multitudinous insects, the
chip-chip of the grasshopper, broken sharply across by the monotonous
hammer of the woodpecker.

Within the Folly all the lower rooms were alike deserted, not a ripple
of laughter or an echo of voices was to be heard; even the billiard hall
was void, the men, in the absence of the feminine element, having taken
themselves off to the stables, or down to the club-house, where lay the
yachts moored in harbour, curtsying gracefully to each succeeding
wavelet as it broke against the sharp outline of stem or stern.

But up in Mrs. Newbold's boudoir however, there were life and action
enough and to spare, for here were gathered Esther and her women guests,
while each pair of feminine lips were eager to contribute their share
to the general conversation.

Patricia Hildreth lay full length upon a couch pulled close to the
hearth, on which a fire of fragrant hemlock burned, in mockery of the
open window and in defiance of the dancing sunbeams. Miss Hildreth was
in all things luxurious, and revelled with almost barbaric delight in
warmth of atmosphere and colour.

Her slight but perfect figure was wrapped in a long loose cashmere robe
of softest azure, about which the dark bands of Russian sables swept in
classic lines, nestling closely about the firm white throat with
caressing touch, and falling back from the white arms and rounded
wrists. In her hand she held a dainty vellum-bound book, a collection of
sonnets much in vogue, and from which she read aloud at intervals some
special _jeu d'esprit_.

At her feet, on a low, luxurious pile of cushions, sat Dick Darling,
doing nothing, her hands clasped around her knees, her eyes feasting,
in true hero-worship, on the face of her divinity.

Before a large Psyche-glass stood Baby Leonard, absorbed in a row of
suggestive little porcelain pots, and breathlessly engaged in the
exciting process of "making up" in daylight, _à propos_ of the evening's
requirements.

Esther was resting in a lounging-chair with Mimi on her lap, the golden
curls falling about the pretty face bent down over a new picture-book;
and at the open window, on a low ottoman, sat Miss James, her hands
clasped idly upon her lap, her thin face pale and tired, her dark,
restless eyes fixed intently upon Miss Hildreth. Something in the
attitude bespoke mental depression and dread, that even the alert
watching of eyes and mouth could not disguise.

Dick's glib tongue had been running on aimlessly from topic to topic,
taking in a wide range of subjects, from the races at Jerome Park, to
the coming international yacht contest for the America Cup; and though
the remarks of her auditors were few and far between, Dick was perfectly
contented and asked nothing better than to listen to the sound of her
own voice.

She was interrupted before long, however, by Miss James's sharp and
rather high voice addressing no one in particular:

"Dick is certainly a living personation of Tennyson's 'Brook,' isn't
she? 'for men may come, and men may go, but she goes on for ever!'"

To which Dick, arrested in mid-career, retorted sharply: "I can't say
that I see any men about anywhere, either coming or going. The wish must
be first cousin to Rosalie's thought. Good gracious, Baby! how much more
rouge do you mean to annex? You're blushing like a peony now, and one
eyebrow is half a mile longer than the other. You make me think of Jack
Howard's story of Miss Grantham, the American beauty of London, you
know."

"No, we _don't_ know," broke in Esther, languidly; "perhaps you'll be so
good as to enlighten us."

"_Town Optics_ cribbed it from him," continued Dick, once more in her
element, "and positively quoted it as true. It appears some magnificent
masher asked Cecilia Grantham if she didn't find her abnormally long
eye-lashes rather inconvenient at times? To which Cis replied, smiling
sweetly, 'Why, certainly; I am always obliged to have them borne in
front of me when I go upstairs, for fear I shall trip upon them!' And
will you believe me," went on Miss Darling, when the laugh evoked had
died out, "that brainless masher has gone about ever since getting it
off as a double extra specimen of American repartee, and all the time it
never took place at all except in Jack Howard's budding intellect. I
think _Town Optics_ owes him one for that."

"I can cap your story by a better, Dick," retorted Esther, rousing
herself and sitting up very straight, "and mine is absolutely true, for
it happened to George's sister, when she was in London, oh, ever so long
ago, before the war."

"Ancient history!" groaned Miss Darling, resignedly. "Drive ahead,
Esther, only you are awfully behind the age."

"A story's a story, no matter when it happened," replied Mrs. Newbold, a
little confused in her grammar, "and you are not obliged to listen,
Dick."

"Oh, yes, but I shall," remarked that young person--"listen and
remember, and get it off with effect as first-hand, at my next big
spread. Go on, Esther, do, like a daisy."

"Well, you must know, my dears, that George's sister was a very pretty
girl----"

"Oh!" interpolated Miss Darling, making tragic efforts to control her
astonishment.

"Yes, very pretty," went on Esther, severely, "and when she was in
London she was presented at Court, and went out a great deal, and that's
when old Sir Piers first saw her and wanted to make her Lady Tracey."

"For her sins! I am sure there could be no other reason for such a
punishment," again interjected Miss Darling, piously.

"Ah, but Sir Piers was a gay young baronet in those days," said Esther,
with decision. "_Any_ girl might have hesitated before she gave him his
_congé_. However, that's neither here nor there. Margaret Newbold was a
very great favourite; and one evening, at a big dinner party at a
tremendously swell house, she was given a proportionately great grandee
as a cavalier. This very high-bred personage began by staring at her, up
and down and round and about, through his eye-glasses and over them; and
when he found this was not in the least discomposing to the young woman,
but that she talked on glibly to her left-hand neighbour, he gave a
loud 'ahem!' and said, so that all the company might hear:
'Ah--miss--ah--I perceive, though you are an American, you speak English
quite fluently--ah----' Margaret eyed him for a moment over the rim of
her wine-glass, and then replied, with calm distinctness and an air of
inward satisfaction: 'Well--yes--ah--Mr.--I do. You see, the missionary
who converted our tribe was an Englishman, and he taught us the
language.' Then she went on eating her fish, quite undisturbed by the
shouts of laughter that went up at the expense of her unfortunate
questioner."

"Served him right, too," cried Miss Darling, indignantly. "I never heard
of anything so caddish. We might just as well ask, in an off-hand,
jovial kind of a way, if it's because they have so many H's lying round
loose, that they forget to pick 'em up and use 'em in the right places!
And one might suppose so, you know, with reason, judging from some of
the specimens we get over here."

"It's very trying," broke in Baby Leonard, plaintively; "I _can't_ get
both sides of my face to look alike, and this _crème impératrice_ is so
sticky! What shall I do?"

"Leave it all alone," cried Miss Darling, brusquely. "You can't improve
on nature, Baby--it's no use! 'Bad's the best,' as my old mammy-nurse
used to say. You won't make your eyes any the larger or prettier by
painting them a distinct violet, and your mouth's a far better shape
left to its own lines; you can't make a Cupid's bow out of it, try as
you may."

"Only listen to Dick the virtuous!" laughed Esther. "She positively
waxes eloquent on the shams of the hour, and is developing a soul above
frivolities! We shall have her quoting Carlyle next; or, stay, I know
what it will be. What's that sentimental couplet, Dick, tucked carefully
away beneath your pot of 'cherry-lip,' in your new silver-mounted
_toilette des ongles_? Is this the way it runs:

    'Why send me to this little girl?
      Sure such a gift were silly!
    Can I add lustre to the pearl,
      Or paint the gilded lily?'"

"Oh, Esther, you're a brute!" cried poor Dick, the tears actually in her
eyes, her cheeks very red. "How could you? It's only--only some stupid
little lines about a still more stupid joke. They don't mean _me_ at
all."

"And then, fancy Dick being compared to a pearl, and a lily--a painted
lily!" exclaimed Miss James, in her most disagreeable voice, and with a
slow smile creeping over her face.

"Oh, Esther, how could you!" cried poor Dick again; but Mrs. Newbold
only laughed.

"Don't be cynical and fault-finding, then, my dear Dick," she said,
quietly, drawing one of Mimi's golden curls through her fingers; "it
doesn't suit you, my dear, nor your little round, brown, winsome face."

"Since poetry seems to be the order of the day, listen to this," broke
in Miss Hildreth, in her clear musical voice, and lifting her eyes from
the tiny vellum book she held:

    "'Near my bed, there, hangs the picture jewels would not buy from me.
    'Tis a siren, a brown siren,
    Playing on a lute of amber by the margin of a sea.

    "In the hushes of the midnight, when the heliotropes grow strong
    With the dampness, I hear music--hear a quiet, plaintive song--
    A most sad, melodious utterance, as of some immortal wrong.

    "Like the pleading, oft repeated, of a soul that pleads in vain,
    Of a damnèd soul repentant, that would fain be pure again!
    And I lie awake and listen to the music of her pain.

    "And whence comes this mournful music? Whence, unless it chance to be
    From the siren, the brown siren,
    Playing on her lute of amber by the margin of a sea?'"

Silence fell upon the little group as Patricia's voice died away. For a
moment all were held by the spell of the poet's words, with their deep
undernote of passionate protest. The present faded out of the line of
mental vision, replaced by the past, within whose mystery of silence,
somewhere a great wrong lay hidden, and unappeased.

Had the poet known of it, in all its details, and kept inviolate this
secret of another's existence, or had he only guessed at its outlines,
fearing to fill in the lights and shadows, lest imagination should fall
short of reality?

So vivid, indeed, was the impression produced, it seemed only a
continuation of the tragedy when Miss Hildreth spoke again, slowly and
without any apparent reason, save inward impulse.

"I have known one such woman once, to whom all life and all time was but
the cry of 'a damnèd soul,' crying out ceaselessly against 'an immortal
wrong.' Did our poet know her story, I wonder, when he wrote of his
'brown siren'? But no; this poor soul has had no one to sing out her
wrongs, or open up the story of the treachery that blasted her life.
Alone she has had to bear her burden, and alone she must bear it to the
very end."

As Miss Hildreth spoke, Dick Darling crept close to her side, and knelt
there, listening eagerly, with quick-coming breath, to the disjointed
sentences. In the deep interest of the moment no one looked towards the
window where sat Rosalie James, or noticed the intense nervous restraint
she was exercising. Her face was absolutely colourless; her hands
pressed so hard one upon the other that they left blue marks upon the
soft flesh; her eyes were strained and feverish; she bent forward in an
alert, expectant attitude, as of one awaiting, yet not certain of, some
preconceived revelation. At the Psyche-mirror sat Baby Leonard, still
placidly trying one artistic preparation after another, and totally
oblivious to the tense atmosphere of suppressed excitement about her.

"And who was she? Is she alive?" asked Dick, her whisper catching up
Miss Hildreth's falling inflection, and sustaining the interest of the
moment. "Who was she? Is she alive? Where did you know her?"

"Yes, she is alive; oh, yes, indeed, she is alive," answered Patricia,
still in a retrospective tone; "and I knew her in Petersburg when I was
last there--such a little time ago, as it seems now."

"Was she beautiful?" Again it was Dick's voice that asked, and
Patricia's that replied.

"She was very beautiful--so beautiful that no one could withstand her
loveliness. And her beauty became her curse; ah, what a curse, since it
attracted the attention of one so high above her that his lightest
regard was an insult! What but bitter wrong and crime could be the
outcome of a love proffered by a scion of the Imperial house to a woman
of the people? Beauty is a grand leveller, it is true, but it cannot
level the iron hand and cruel laws of Russia. It was the old story--the
old, old, pitiful story--that comes to every woman once in her
lifetime, and that each woman translates as best suits her desires--the
story that makes a heaven upon earth, a paradise within our hearts."

Again the musical tones died away in a sigh of regret, and again Dick
cried out in her quick, absorbed whisper:

"Is there any more to tell? What happened? What was the end?"

"What any woman might have looked for, save a woman blinded by love, and
a man absorbed by passion. They lived in a fool's paradise for an all
too brief space, and then, before the golden sheen had fallen from their
vision, while the woman still played with fate and the man toyed with
destiny, the blow fell--sudden, sharp, omnipotent, as is the nature of
Russia's potency. Taken away from his very arms, her marriage annulled
by Imperial ukase, her life ruined, her soul lost in a whirlwind of
injustice and despair, what wonder that her woman's nature revolted, and
that throwing aside the narrower swathing bands of law and
conventionality, she stood forth, bold and free and savage, and struck
down her craven lover in the very zenith of his manhood, with a hand
that never faltered, as it drove home the steel to his very heart?"

Miss Hildreth had grown strangely excited as she told the tragic story;
she rose up now and stood at her full height, the clinging cashmeres
marking every line and curve of her beautiful form; her face was pale as
death, and beneath her dark brows her eyes gleamed with their old
dangerous fire; she lifted her hands and brought them together before
her, throwing them out palm upwards in passionate protest; her voice was
low and concentrated, vibrating with intolerance.

"And I who tell you this," she continued, "I speak as only one can who
has looked upon such suffering as hers; who has beheld the soul drink to
the very dregs of the cup of renunciation, despair, desertion; seen it
touch the very heights and depths of mental anguish, and wandered with
it so far in the paths of darkness that even crime seemed but justice,
if it would in any way balance the debt of honour."

She faltered suddenly, and turning with quick impetuosity, sank back
upon the couch, her light mocking laugh ringing out discordantly as she
concluded.

"Was I not right, Dick? The poet must have known this story to write so
tellingly of an 'immortal wrong, and of a soul repentant longing to be
pure again.'"

Miss Darling had started back when Patricia had arisen, and though she
remained kneeling, her eyes never left the other's face. Across the
room, in the full warm glow of the noontide sun, Miss James sat
shivering, but watching ever and always with the same look of
expectancy, and yet of certainty, on her face.

As Miss Hildreth's little laugh struck so harshly across the compressed
emotion of the moment, and made, as it were, a half-bar of discord in
the tragic score, Dick Darling shuddered, and put out her hand, as
though to ward off some impending danger.

"Don't," she cried, her brown face paling and flushing alternatively,
"don't laugh in that dreadful way; oh, Miss Hildreth, it hurts me!" She
crept a little nearer to her and laid one hand on the pale blue
draperies. "That is not all, not all of the story, it cannot be all.
Tell me the rest of it. Tell me her name!"

Dick's whisper was imperative, imperious, and Miss Hildreth, fingering
nervously the vellum-covered volume, felt the force of the girl's candid
eyes, and honest, earnest gaze.

"Her name"--she said, slowly and hesitatingly--"her name----"

But before she could complete her sentence Esther started up, putting
Marianne hastily down, and came towards her.

"You have said quite enough," she exclaimed, excitedly. "Patty, Patty,
let me beg you to be careful."

As she spoke, the door behind the swinging _portières_ opened slightly,
unperceived by any one except Miss James, over whose face the same
sneering smile crept out again. Miss Hildreth looked up at Mrs. Newbold
with defiance in her eyes and on her lips.

"My dear Esther, surely you are a little too dramatic. Why should not I
gratify Miss Dick's romantic inquisitiveness? Her name--the name of this
woman--was--is--well, let us call it Adèle Lallovich."

As she uttered the words clearly and distinctly, the _portières_ were
pushed hastily aside, and George Newbold's voice preceded himself in
person, exclaiming:

"May we come in, my dear? We are bored to the verge of insanity."

And crossing the threshold he held back the curtains, and Vladimir
Mellikoff stepped into their midst. As he did so a sudden quick sigh
broke from Miss James, she got up hastily and passing down the room met
his cool impenetrable glance with the slightest possible recognition,
and upward gesture of her hand. He stepped forward to open the door for
her, and when it closed upon her and he returned to the little group, a
keen observer might have noticed a slight increase in the brilliancy of
his eyes, a touch of triumph in the smile with which he bent over Miss
Hildreth's hand, held out in greeting to him.

Patricia's face, however, looked cold and hard; and the line of dark fur
lay about her white throat like the shadow of a coming calamity.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CANKER WORM OF DOUBT.


Mr. Tremain did not again see Miss Hildreth after she left him standing
by the fountain in the little wood, until they met in the green-room an
hour before the play.

She had gone from him then with scorn and anger in her words, and with
scorn and defiance in her heart; she met him now with cold and
indifferent hauteur, amounting almost to insolence.

Philip had stood for a long time alone beside the marble boy Narcissus,
revolving moodily the sharp home truths she had thrust upon him. He did
not forget one curl of her lip, one flash of her eyes, one inflection
of her clear voice, as she flung back the love he offered; flung it back
with bitter disdain and contempt. And yet, curiously enough, he was not
angry with her; there was no such positive element in his feelings as
that; he seemed to himself to hold, as it were, an outsider's position,
and to look on and judge her from an outsider's point of view.

Was it her own complete indifferentism, her absolute disbelief in the
ordinary delusions of life, her cynical acceptance of the contradictions
of destiny, together with her sudden outburst of passionate derision,
that had produced in him this state of cool analysis and judicial
judgment?

He had pleaded his love fervently enough under the glamour of the
moonlight and her loveliness, and he had meant what he said then; he
would gladly have taken her in his arms, and given his answer to her
letter in a fond and foolish lover's way; but--and here lay the
difficulty--she must return to him as she had gone from him, the same
yielding, loving, believing, if wilful Patty; he could accept no other;
no new Patricia, no woman whose eyes spoke of the fires of conflict,
whose face had that written upon it which tells of the lower depths of
mental pain and struggle.

For Philip, as we know, was above all things, masterful, and his idea of
dual happiness was autocratic rather than constitutional; he would share
no divided throne and sceptre, even with the woman of his heart; he must
reign, and he alone, and she must be the empire over which he ruled
unquestioningly.

All this had been in his heart, though unspoken, when he pleaded with
her to return to their old relations, and, unconsciously, perhaps, there
was an echo of his despotism even in his tenderest words. However that
may have been, Patricia would have none of it. She was not to be won by
pity when passion had failed.

And so it was that as she stood tall and beautiful before him, with her
rich white draperies clinging about her in sensuous lines and curves,
her face pale with suppressed emotion, her eyes dark with endurance, she
tossed back his proffered gift, his reawakened love--a love that would
share no rights and no prerogatives--and, with the fine irony of a woman
who sees her advantage and presses it, thrust back and away from her all
appeal from out the past, touched though it was with the pure gold of
that time when love and youth, belief and trust, went hand in hand
together.

Even yet, then, after ten long years of experience and knowledge, Philip
could not read her heart aright. And she, should she forgive him? Give
up the unequal game, lay down her arms, acknowledge herself vanquished,
and creep timidly back into his embrace, repentant and abject, meek and
thankful?

Then she looked at Philip's face, calm and quiet and victorious, with
just a touch of wearied assurance in its smile, and her heart leapt up
again in sudden protest and passion. No, she would not yield, she would
never yield until she saw him suffering, through a woman, some portion
of the pain and humiliation he had inflicted upon her. Then, when
expiation brought forth the fruit of atonement, why then--ah, then Miss
Hildreth would reconsider.

It was Miss Rosalie James who first introduced the canker of doubt in
Philip's mind concerning Patricia, of suspicion regarding her past.

It had never occurred to him to speculate upon the possible experiences
and circumstances which must have made up the ten years of their
separation.

Miss Hildreth had passed the greater part of that time abroad, and his
news of her had not only been meagre but nil, for after the first few
weeks of her absence, during which her name had been on every one's
lips, coupled with her broken engagement, and her inherited fortune, it
was rarely mentioned, and never in Philip's presence.

The most perfectly controlled human heart cannot so entirely root up
envy and malice as not to cavil somewhat at the perversity of
Providence, in showering benefits with both hands upon a fellow mortal,
who certainly cannot so thoroughly deserve them as oneself. However, if
destiny will be so blindly prejudiced, why let us become as indifferent
to it as possible, and in perfecting ourselves in this fine-art forget
both the name and existence of our once bosom friend.

This was society's philosophy regarding Patricia Hildreth, and thus for
ten long years her place had been vacant in the circles of the great
world, and she herself forgotten as completely as the snows of last
year. "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" may be asked of more things
than Musset dreamed of, when he wrote his sad and bitter reproach.

Miss James had met Philip late in the afternoon of George Newbold's
_festa_, as he was strolling idly about the garden-paths, the inevitable
cigarette between his lips, and his hands, as was his fashion, clasped
loosely behind him. He caught sight of the small dark figure coming
towards him down the terrace steps, and though at first impatient of the
interruption, something in the thin outline of face and form, the
lassitude of step and bearing, touched a chord of compassion in his kind
heart.

He had not indeed been altogether insensible to the nature of Miss
James's feeling towards him; no man is quite so dull and hard as not to
be touched by the unasked devotion of a woman; it is wonderful when that
devotion is directed to one's self how unselfish and pure, though
hopeless, it appears! Philip's heart might be in the position of being
captured in the rebound, but Miss James was not the one to do it;
nevertheless her attraction to him, to call it by no warmer name, was
harmless, if ineffectual, and not unpleasant.

Thus argued Mr. Tremain, though in justice to him let it be said the
argument was not carried on in words, scarcely in sensations; it was
negative rather than positive. He met her therefore with that deference
and attention which made his slightest service a distinction, lifting
his hat and throwing aside his half-smoked cigarette as he did so. Miss
James looked at him steadily for a moment, watching him as he tossed
away the end of burning paper.

"Oh, I am sorry you should do that," she said, in her rather hard voice.
"I don't in the least object to cigarettes; in fact, I like them."

But Philip only smiled and shook his head.

"Oh, I've had quite enough of it, Miss James, I assure you. I was only
smoking as a distraction and to make the time go."

"Has it been such a long day?" she asked, a trifle sharply. She knew Mr.
Tremain and Patricia had not met that day, and shrewdly suspected the
reason of his restlessness, and though she acknowledged to herself the
hopelessness of her own hopes, she could not endure to have it brought
home to her by him.

"Very long," replied Philip, candidly; "it's a way time has of never
weighing his goods. The hours that _be_ go by on lagging steps, the
hours to come rush and tumble one on top of the other, and are never in
the future but always in the past."

"I should think that rather depended upon one's occupation," responded
Miss James, tritely. "If one's copybook was to be trusted, time never
halted or stood still. 'Time Flies,' with a very large T and F is among
my earliest recollections."

Mr. Tremain laughed a little as he replied:

"You shame me, Miss James, into an open confession of laziness. To be
lazy is to find time out of joint, and in consequence out of touch with
one. One can only be legitimately lazy on board a yacht, or fishing;
under such circumstances action becomes criminal. By the way, let me
congratulate you on your distinct success as Mrs. Bouncer, last
evening. I asked for you after rehearsal, but did not see you."

"No," replied Miss James, slowly, "I did not come back to the theatre."

As she spoke a dull flush rose to her cheeks, for she remembered how and
where she passed those two hours, when all the world were absorbed in
the miniature playhouse. With one of those strange sudden waves of
perception she saw again a broken feather-fan and golden-hued rose lying
together on the velvet carpet, and Vladimir Mellikoff, tall and dark and
smiling, holding back the heavy _portières_, through which she escaped
trembling and doomed.

She caught her breath and went on a little nervously:

"I am very flattered to be praised by you, Mr. Tremain. I can't bear
Mrs. Bouncer myself; she is quite antipathetic to me."

"Then surely you deserve all the more praise," said Mr. Tremain,
courteously. "If to be out of accord with one's rôle results so
favourably I shall devoutly pray that Henri de Flavigneul and I may be
at daggers drawn this evening."

"But what would Miss Hildreth say to that?" asked the girl, sharply, and
looking up so quickly as to catch the sudden frown of annoyance that
spread over Mr. Tremain's face at the mention of Patricia's name.

"Ah, Miss Hildreth," he replied, with assumed carelessness. "I had not
taken her into consideration."

"And yet Miss Hildreth is not one to be left unconsidered?" said Miss
James, questioningly. "She is not one to be easily passed over." Then,
with a sudden change of manner, she added: "You have known Miss Hildreth
a long time, have you not, Mr. Tremain?"

Philip looked down at her a little startled and surprised. Was she
laughing at him--this pale, quiet, almost insignificant girl--or mocking
him? Surely the subject of his and Patricia's broken engagement had
been public property too long to have escaped her knowledge. Was it
impertinence or ignorance that dictated the question? But Miss James's
face was placid and mildly interested as she looked up at him with a
little smile, and waited for him to speak.

"Oh, yes, I have known Miss Hildreth for some years," he replied,
shortly; and then with an abrupt laugh: "but I have not seen her for
almost as long as I have known her."

"Ah," said Miss James, meditatively, "she has been abroad for ten years,
and ten years makes such a difference in one's knowledge of another.
Only think what might not happen in ten years!"

"Apparently Miss Hildreth's experiences have been more or less narrow,"
answered Philip, annoyed that the conversation should have turned upon
Patricia, and yet unable to keep from discussing her.

"Oh, do you think so?" asked Miss James, with quite a look of surprised
inquiry in her eyes. "To be sure you ought to know; but do you think
she--any woman--could come back quite unchanged after ten years abroad?"

There was so much of veiled controversy in her tones that Philip at once
found himself looking at the matter from her point of view, and debating
his own question with a decided negative bias.

"What do you mean?" he said at last, after a moment's delay. "What do
you think are some of the experiences that may have come in Miss
Hildreth's way--or any woman's--during ten years' absence abroad?"

"That would depend so much as to where one went, what countries, or
towns, or cities; whom one associated with; and how one lived. Each
country has its own peculiar influences, dangers, casualties, but some
countries have the two former more developed. Russia, for example; in
Russia one instinctively looks for dangers, intrigues, conspiracies. Has
Miss Hildreth ever been to Russia, Mr. Tremain?"

Miss James was treating the subject with so much gravity and
impressiveness that Philip felt himself carried along with her, and
inclined to look at Patricia's past career and its attendant
trivialities in a serious and grave light.

"I really cannot answer you in detail, Miss James," he said, "but
collectively I should say that nothing was more probable than Miss
Hildreth's being perfectly familiar with Russia, and Russian society, in
all its phases."

"Yes, I should say so too," answered Miss James, nodding her head in
confirmation of her words. "In fact I am sure of it. Mr. Tremain, do you
think Miss Hildreth has ever before met and known Count Mellikoff?"

They had been walking up and down a garden-path, but she stopped when
she put this question and faced him. Philip of course, also stopped, and
for a moment there was silence between them.

"That is an extraordinary question," he said at last; "have you any
reason for asking it, Miss James?"

"But you have not answered me yet," she protested; "when you do so I
will reply to you. Do you think Miss Hildreth has ever before seen and
known Count Mellikoff; say in Paris, or St. Petersburg?"

"To the best of my belief Count Mellikoff is a stranger to America, Miss
James."

"But is Count Mellikoff a stranger to Miss Hildreth, Mr. Tremain?"

"That is beyond me to answer," replied Philip, with an unconscious
inflection of curiosity in his tone.

"Then I will answer for you," said Rosalie, her thin sharp voice growing
rounder and fuller, "but you must bear in mind I have no reality to go
upon, only surmise and observation. Very well, then, I say Miss Hildreth
has not only met and known Count Mellikoff before, but she has known him
well, and she is afraid of him. That surprises you, Mr. Tremain, and yet
I don't know why it should. You must remember you have seen nothing of
Miss Hildreth for ten years, and you know nothing--positively
nothing--of her life during that time. Why shouldn't she have known
Count Mellikoff, and why shouldn't she have reason to fear him? Ten
years is a very long time; long enough to drink deep of experience; long
enough to plant, and sow, and reap. Long enough to lose more than one
friend, make more than one enemy; long enough to sink oneself to the
neck in intrigue, and to bury oneself in crime. May not Miss Hildreth
have eaten of the tree of knowledge, and found the evil overweigh the
good? May not Count Mellikoff have been her friend, and become her
enemy? Is it not possible that each is striving to outwit the other, and
each is afraid of the other? I see you think me rather mad, Mr. Tremain,
and credit me with a morbid love of melodrama, or a desire to make
mountains out of mole-hills. Ah, very well, let us say no more about it:
only when next you see Miss Hildreth and Count Mellikoff together,
watch his manner towards her, and see for yourself if he carries himself
as a stranger to her. Ten years is a long time for a woman to wander
about the world alone."

She finished abruptly, and turned away from him, leaving him without
another word.

Philip's meditations, if unpleasant before, were now distinctly
disagreeable. He disliked mystery, and above all things and most of all
he disliked it in connection with a woman. In his eyes all women should
be, like Cæsar's wife, above suspicion, and it hurt and galled him that
even a shadow of aspersion should rest on Patricia's fair fame.

And yet, as Miss James had said, ten years was a long time, and Miss
Hildreth gave no explanation, beyond a vague and general one, as to how
she had spent that time. Might there not be some secret bound up in
those years; some secret between herself and Vladimir Mellikoff, which
it was wisest to leave so buried? Was it possible of belief that in all
that time Patricia had never consoled herself for the lost love of her
youth?

Hers was an impetuous nature, open to sudden convictions, quick to act,
ardent, impressionable; with such a temperament in the hands of Vladimir
Mellikoff, what imprudence might not have taken place? Even a secret
marriage, and a subsequent purgatory of disenchantment, were not
impossible consequences. Indeed, the range of possibilities was so
varied and so unsatisfactory, Mr. Tremain felt himself unable either to
seize or exorcise them.

At the tea hour that same day, Miss James asked suddenly, in a lull of
conversation, bending forward and addressing Patricia in her highest
voice:

"Oh, Miss Hildreth, by the way, Mr. Tremain and I have been discussing
your long absence from your native land, and your possible and probable
experiences. Will you tell me, for it was rather a question of
difference between us, have you ever been to Russia; do you know St.
Petersburg?"

Something in Rosalie's sharp, hard tones commanded attention, and when
she finished all eyes were turned upon Patricia, as she sat in a
high-backed chair; her tea-gown of marvellous old lace and fluttering
ribbons seeming but a fitting setting to her delicate beauty. Vladimir
Mellikoff put down his cup of untasted tea, and drew near the central
group.

Miss Hildreth looked up a little surprised at Rosalie's earnestness. She
raised the tiny apostle spoon in her fingers, and studied it attentively
as she answered:

"Oh, yes, indeed, Miss James, I have done the whole grand tour. I know
my London, my Paris, and my Petersburg thoroughly, and like a loyal
American place the Peerage and the Almanach de Gotha next to my Bible."
Her voice was clear and mocking, and a trifle artificial.

"And may I also be permitted to ask a question, mademoiselle?" said
Count Mellikoff, advancing towards her and bowing slightly.

Patricia raised her delicate eyebrows in cool superciliousness. "Oh,
certainly, Count Mellikoff; in what way can I add to your knowledge?"

She put out her hand with the empty tea-cup, and Dick Darling flew to
take it from her; the outstretched hand trembled ever so little, and the
spoon fell to the floor.

"Since you know my home, mademoiselle, Petersburg, I do not make a
blunder when I suppose you to have known it socially as well as----"

"According to Baedeker," broke in Miss Hildreth, with a little laugh.
"Make your mind easy, Count Mellikoff; your Court and your _grand monde_
showed me nothing but civilities."

"That goes without the saying, mademoiselle," replied Vladimir, still
more gravely. "And, pardon me, it is pleasant to speak on home subjects
to one who understands them so well; did you, then, when at Court, or in
society, did you ever meet the most brilliant man of his time, the most
fascinating, handsome, rich young noble of all Russia? You will recall
him at once when I name him. Mademoiselle, did you ever know Count
Stevan Lallovich?"

There was silence for a moment as Vladimir Mellikoff asked his question,
and for a moment after, during which all eyes were again turned towards
Patricia. She had started forward a little, and half rose up from her
chair; her face had grown suddenly pale, and her eyes, beneath their
dark pencilled brows, flashed strangely.

It was but a moment, a second of time, a heart-throb, then she
controlled herself, and, with one of her lightest, most mocking laughs,
sank back upon her chair, sweeping her laces about her royally.

"Count Stevan Lallovich," she said, very distinctly; "you ask me if I
knew Stevan Lallovich? My dear Count Mellikoff, your very question is
superfluous. Could any woman who knew Petersburg, fail to know Stevan
Lallovich? The handsomest man of his day, as you have said, and the most
unscrupulous." Then she turned to Miss Darling: "My dear Dick, will you
beg Esther for another cup of tea, and boiling, my dear, positively
boiling. You see, Count, among other Russian peculiarities, I cling to
my Russian tea."

"I see, mademoiselle," replied Mellikoff, gravely. "May you always prove
as loyal to all things Russian."

Mr. Tremain had not been present during this little passage at arms, but
Miss James, as she sat before her mirror that evening "making-up" her
small sallow face into a hard-visaged, calculating Mrs. Bouncer,
congratulated herself upon her strategy.

"My shot told," she was thinking, as she painted in another wrinkle,
"it almost took Miss Hildreth off her guard. She is not likely to forget
herself again; but I have seen her once without her mask, and that is
enough. Oh yes, 'it moves, it moves.'"

Then, with Galileo's immortal words on her lips, she added a final touch
to her eyebrows, and glided quickly away, appearing a few moments later
in the flies, and calling forth Mr. Robinson's encomiums upon her as a
model of punctuality.



CHAPTER VIII.

A SOCIETY DRAMA.


In another half-hour the little playhouse was full to overflowing. Not a
seat was vacant, and scarcely an inch of space was left for the men of
the party to plant their feet upon. Gay and musical were the tones of
women's voices and laughter that rose and fell upon the scented air,
sustained and strengthened by the more manly bassos.

The theatre itself glowed in the soft effulgence of electric light, each
filament incased in a hanging crystal vase, subdued to a warm
palpitating softness by silk shades of roseate hue. Flowers bloomed
everywhere, piled in glowing masses along the walls and across the
miniature orchestra screen. The rose-houses had been stripped of their
loveliest exotics, and these rifled blossoms hung their gorgeous heads
amidst a quivering background of clinging green smilax.

On each rose-silk _fauteuil_ lay a bouquet of the golden-hued Maréchal
Niels, tied with long ribbons of palest amber, and a tiny satin
programme on which, amidst quaint device of scroll work, were inscribed
the characters and scenes of the coming drama.

The _lever de rideau_ was a masterpiece from the hand of an English
Academician, whose foreign name was better known in the two great
English-speaking countries than others boasting a more national ring.
The heavy folds of richest white silk bore testimony to the versatility
of his brain and brush, since here swept garlands of trailing roses
across a wonderful marble terrace, upon which were grouped in classic
attitudes the sisters of histrionic art, Melpomene, Thalia, and
Terpsichore.

The scene was one of luxury that had become a fine art, every detail
being in itself so faultless, it required but the completing touch of
contiguity to render it a rounded whole of perfection. The onlooker
might well pause and ask himself if the developments of wealth,
refinement, and culture, could reach a higher degree than was displayed
that evening within the walls of this miniature La Scala.

The curtain rose on the perennially new and refreshing _Box and Cox_, in
which Miss James again distinguished herself and scored her final points
to rounds of ringing laughter and spontaneous applause, which savoured
more of the "Surrey side," than of a languid _nil admirari_ audience of
this critical century. Between the farce and the serious work of the
evening music held sway, and La Diva's glorious voice captivated all
hearts and brains in Owen Meredith's "Aux Italiens," its final appealing
line rounding each verse with the pathetic cry,

    "Non ti scorda di me, non ti scorda di me!"

It was during this interval that Mr. Tremain, making his appearance in
the Greenroom, found Miss Hildreth already there awaiting her first
call. She was alone for the moment, and was standing with bent head and
clasped hands, leaning against the tall carved chimney-screen that
shielded the low burning logs on the hearth.

The long folds of her first costume, a _négligée_ of Wörth's conception,
fell about her in a clinging amber sheen, across which the flots and
draperies of _duchesse_ lace fell in filmy cascades. Philip stopped
involuntarily for a moment, and looked at her. Her marvellous loveliness
struck him afresh, as, indeed, it had a habit of doing whenever he came
upon her unawares. This attribute was indeed one of Miss Hildreth's
chief charms; you forgot her actual loveliness when away from her, and
were apt to criticise not only it, but her. It was a criticism, however,
that fell to pieces at the first contact with her, and which left you
only conscious of her beauty and her fascination. You could not analyse
her when she smiled, or when her deep, tender, dark blue eyes looked
full into your own.

Miss Hildreth had not heard Philip's entrance; and he thus had an
opportunity of watching her undisturbed and unconscious. Despite the
make-up of rouge and bismuth, put on so delicately as to be almost
imperceptible, the face was at that moment a sad one. All the fire, and
life, and spirit, had gone out of it, and in their places an expression
of weariness and despondency had crept about the mouth and eyes, which
was strangely pathetic because so at variance with Miss Hildreth's usual
bearing. Even the attitude, half-listless, half-weary, bespoke a state
of mental depression and dejection.

Philip, as he watched her, recalled Miss James's unequivocal
suggestions, and almost against his will found himself speculating as to
which episode out of those ten unknown years of her life she was
lamenting at that moment. He had not been present at the tea hour, and
therefore had missed Rosalie's well-turned opportunity; but even without
that, Miss James had contrived to sow the seeds of distrust and
suspicion in his mind.

He could not look upon Patricia now without the record of those long ten
years arising between him and her; across whose closed pages what
experiences might not be written! Even her beauty became a source of
like animadversion; could any woman possessing such a face and form
count thirty years off life's score and not have drunk deep, even to
satiety, of the wine of passion, that turns even as one's lips touch the
cup's brim into the waters of Lethe? Miss James was right; those ten
years wherein Patricia had grown from girlhood to womanhood must hold
some hidden memories, into which for his peace of mind it were best he
did not look, and from whose influence, as from her personality, it were
wisest for him to detach himself at once.

He would end his visit at the Folly in a day or so, and when he left it
so would he leave behind all recollection and all knowledge of Patricia.
He desired to know nothing of her immediate past, he would refuse to be
interested in her present or her future. Only, before he bid a long
good-bye to the Folly and its inmates, he must once more see Adèle
Lamien; there was something to be said to her, and he must say it.

He moved slightly forward, and as he did so Patricia turned and looked
up. In an instant the softer and sadder shadows passed from her face,
her eyes regained their fire and light, the smile came back to her lips
and chased away the dimples in cheek and chin, the soft evanescent bloom
stole upward and renewed her youth and freshness as colour and contrast
can alone do.

Mr. Tremain came towards her grave and unsmiling, and with something of
the old dark anger on his face, that ten years ago had frightened her
and deterred her from uttering the few words of reconciliation hovering
on her lips; this anger was all the more pronounced because of his
character costume of light livery. One does not naturally associate
buckskin tops and a striped waistcoat with a countenance of gloomy
disapproval.

Miss Hildreth took in the situation at a glance, and laughed out at him,
one of her cold light mocking laughs, that angered Philip with its ring
of insincerity.

"Well, my Knight of the Rueful Countenance," she exclaimed, "you look
not only bored, but in a rage! Ah, my dear Philip, when will you learn
how foolish and _banale_ a thing it is to expend your reserve emotions
on trifles? We Americans are accused of being a race incapable of
experiencing any grand passion, either in conception or realisation.
Perhaps it is because after cultivating our sensibilities to the highest
pitch we are content to expend them on trivialities. I remember a clever
Englishman once telling me that we as a nation have no measurable idea
of passion save in the abstract; we appreciate wit and humour, subtle
argument, keen incisive reasoning, but as to the heights and depths of
one terrible all-mastering, all-absorbing emotion, it is as a dead
letter to us. Our highest expression of nervous force results in an
exaggerated friendship, or a marriage of convenience; we are simply
incapable of what the French call _une grande passion_."

She stopped with another little laugh, but Mr. Tremain made no reply, so
with the slightest possible shrug of her shoulders she continued:

"For example--and pardon my using you as a peg upon which to hang my
argument--to look at you at this moment one would declare that nothing
less than a complete collapse of the entire social system could account
for such an expression of abject wretchedness. How can one be supposed
to know that it is the result of nothing more tragic than an
ill-starched necktie, or a poor-fitting coat?"

Again she laughed, and Philip felt the blood surge up to his face at her
taunting raillery.

"I should feel honoured at being considered worthy your mockery," he
said, quickly, "only that this time I cannot plead guilty to the
impeachment; my costume, even to its insignificant details, is, I beg to
state, beyond reproach. I cannot complain even of a rumpled tie, or an
uncomfortable coat."

She shrugged her shoulders indifferently. "You are fortunate and to be
congratulated. Does not Madame de Rémusat tell us of the annoyance
caused the great Napoleon by too tight arm-holes, and of Josephine's
tears over the loss of one Cashmere, out of her two or three score? You
see, my dear Philip, even the heroes of our immediate past were not
above acknowledging their little weaknesses. Such items are the crumpled
rose-leaves and parched peas of greatness. Dare we of a lesser mould
scoff at them?"

She turned away from him as she spoke, leaving him with a decided
feeling of having been taken at a disadvantage. His call followed almost
immediately, so he had no time to reply; but the remembrance of her
mockery remained with him, and added a touch of bitterness and reality
to the situations of the play, in which he and she bore reversed
relations to those of real life.

The drama selected by Esther Newbold, _The Ladies' Battle_, is too
well-known and too great a favourite to require description. Perhaps of
all drawing-room comedies it is the most pleasing and the most
comprehensive. Those who have seen the foremost actresses of our day
personate the young and beautiful Countess d'Autreval--who is not
ashamed, though fully conscious, of her love for Henri de Flavigneul,
and who bravely relinquishes it in favour of her girlish niece, Léonie
de Villegontier--will remember what scope can be shown in the
development of that character, whose fundamental attributes seem at
first sight to be those of impulse and self-gratification.

The scenes moved on with magic smoothness and completeness, and
gradually, as the interest grew and deepened, the audience began to
realise that it was upon Miss Hildreth as the Countess, and Mr. Tremain
as Henri, that the chief influence and importance of the play
culminated. The undercurrent of suppressed antagonism that existed
between them communicated itself to the onlookers with a subtle, yet
potent power; while to those who could read the writing between the
lines, the situations assumed a potential gravity and significance.

From the moment of the Countess's soliloquy, "Now to be more than
woman," when, recognising her growing love for the young soldier, she
consults her looking-glass as the oracle which is to encourage or
dissuade her from entering the lists against Léonie, and then lays it
down with the significant line, "Ah, it has deceived so many!" to her
final act of renunciation, Patricia carried the house with her, and
left no loophole for any anti-interest or climax.

Baby Leonard made a charming Léonie. Her innocent face and
unsophisticated manner were a capital study and a clever following of
nature; but it was on Patricia Hildreth that the sympathy and sentiment
centred, and there arose almost a cry of disappointment when the curtain
dropped finally upon Léonie's happiness, at the price of the nobler
nature's self-sacrifice. Even her fellow actors felt her potency, and
Philip most of all.

He caught her hand in his as she left the flies, and detained her one
moment.

"Patty," he cried, "Patty, once more let me plead with you. Is it true,
dear--are your words something more than allegory:

    'Beneath the wreath and robe, the heart unseen
    Oft throbs with anguish.'

Are they true of _your_ heart, Patty, Patty?"

But she checked him with her old impatient gesture, drawing away her
hand from his close clasp, and laughing lightly, ironically.

"My dear Philip, too much simulating of passion has overturned your
habitual self-control. Fancy quoting a couplet out of a modern drama by
way of asking a question! But let me follow your lead and answer you
from the epilogue:

    'Men conquer all, but women conquer men.'"

Then she passed by him still laughing, and the echo of her laughter came
back to him long after the last gleam of her silks and laces had
disappeared from sight.

A grand ball completed the celebration of George Newbold's birthday, and
those who were perforce the wall-flowers of the occasion noticed, not
without comment, that Mr. Tremain kept sedulously away from Miss
Hildreth, and that Patricia danced more often with the dark Russian
stranger than with any other of Mrs. Newbold's black-coated contingent.
Or, as the men put it afterwards in the smoking-room, that conceited,
distinguished, red-ribboned foreigner devoted himself exclusively to the
most beautiful woman of the evening, with occasional relapses to the
plainest girl.

It was thus that Miss Hildreth and Rosalie James divided the honours, if
such they could be called, of Count Vladimir Mellikoff's attentions.



CHAPTER IX.

"IT IS HOPELESS."


True to his resolution, made more absolute than ever by Miss Hildreth's
last openly displayed indifference, Mr. Tremain determined to leave the
Folly on the first possible excuse. His visit had already prolonged
itself far beyond its original limits, and in the departure of his
friend Mainwaring, he saw a happy opportunity of effacing himself
naturally and without too violent a wrench.

John Mainwaring had come down only for the theatricals, and nothing
could be more _à propos_ than for Philip to make his _adieux_ with him.
As for Patricia, he entertained no softer sentiment towards her than
that of distinct disapprobation. He felt it would be a relief to get
himself away from her influence and from the spell of her beauty. Twice
now she had repudiated him and the love he pleaded; what better proof of
her thorough deterioration could any man ask for than this? Could any
words have been more sharp than hers, or speak more openly of defiance
and glad rejection? Apparently she retained not one tender recollection
of the past, or the smallest desire to recur to it. She met him always
with cool raillery, mocking aphorisms, or taunting satire; she was hard,
brilliant, unresponsive as the diamonds she wore so regally, and to
throw oneself upon her sympathies was to wilfully grasp at the
glittering sheen of unreality, and be wounded because the substance
slipped from one's hold.

Away from her and once more absorbed in the work of his profession, Mr.
Tremain felt he could forget her and the past few days of unrest and
disquietude. The calm monotony of his personal self-centred routine
became a haven of rest in his eyes, to which he looked forward with
impatience; forgetting that it is one's inner state of being that makes
or mars the tranquillity of one's existence.

Accordingly Mr. Tremain ordered the packing of his portmanteaux, and
made known his coming departure the next morning at the very late
breakfast hour, at which feast Esther and a few of her guests appeared
languid and fatigued, and instant in their demands for the strongest
black coffee.

Philip observed with relief that Miss Hildreth was not among the number.
Little Marianne was there, sitting by her mother's side, her fair
child-face looking all the sweeter and fresher by contrast with the
jaded _borné_ appearance of her elders. Vladimir Mellikoff was also
among the missing; but Miss James was at her place, seemingly none the
worse for her exertions of the evening before, her sallow countenance
and dark eyes being untouched either by fatigue or inertia.

Mrs. Newbold received Philip's announcement with voluble expressions of
protest.

"Oh, but indeed you must not go," she said, "we really cannot spare you;
do reconsider." And she looked at him with an almost exaggerated
expression of entreaty in her blue eyes.

"You are very flattering and very kind," replied Philip, avoiding her
glance, and answering in conventional tones and words, "but really I
must go, it is impossible I should stay longer. Mainwaring has brought
me news of an important case, which has been advanced on the calendar,
in which I am involved, and even if this were not the case, I could not,
my dear Esther, desire to wear out so warm a welcome as yours."

But Mrs. Newbold did not rally to the implied compliment. She shook her
head dubiously as she said:

"That is only a _façon de parler_. I did not suppose, Philip, that you
would ever descend to subterfuge."

At which Mr. Tremain laughed, and Miss James lifted her eyebrows in
scarcely concealed superciliousness.

"One could almost be discourteous to Mr. Mainwaring, in thought, at
least," continued Esther, regarding that dark-visaged young man with an
expression that belied her smile.

To which he replied, with a half-shrug of his shoulders, that he
considered himself fortunate in attracting any portion of Mrs. Newbold's
attention. It was a satisfaction to be regarded actively by her, even
though that activity took the form of animosity.

Esther bit her lip and was silenced; but George Newbold laughed, and
remarked aside to Dick Darling that _that_ was a hit straight out from
the shoulder.

Presently Marianne, who had been feeding the long-suffering Trim on
deviled kidney scraps, and enjoying, with all the cruelty of childhood,
his tears and squerms, lifted her golden head and innocent eyes, and
startled the entire company by exclaiming, in her clear shrill treble:

"Mumsey, why does Mr. Val ask so many questions about my Lammy, and when
is my Lammy coming back again?"

Esther, decidedly taken by surprise, turned quickly, and spoke with
unaccustomed sharpness.

"Who are you talking about, Mimi? Who is Mr. Val? It really is
extraordinary the amount of gossip you manage to imbibe from unknown
sources."

"Mr. Val," replied little Mimi, with unabashed frankness, "Mr. Val is
Mr. Val. I can't say all his name 'cause it's too long, so he said I was
to call him Mr. Val. He came out in the garden when I was getting
Popsey's buffday flowers, and he talked to me all about Lammy; and when
I told him Lammy's very own name, his eyes got so black, and he said,
'When is she coming back?' and, of course, I didn't know. Miss James,
she knows Mr. Val; she's always talkin' to him."

At which lucid and candid explanation Miss James felt the blood rush
hotly to her cheeks, and Mr. Tremain, with kindly thought, turned
attention from her by saying, quickly:

"It must be the Count, Mimi designates by that innocent abbreviation.
With the frank socialism of childhood, she is no respecter of persons.
'Mr. Val' sounds just as important in her ears as Count Vladimir does in
ours."

"She's a ridiculous little monkey," replied Esther, impatiently; and
then the subject dropped, much to Philip's chagrin, as he desired to
glean some further particulars concerning Mdlle. Lamien's probable
return. Conversation languished after this, however, and one by one the
women stole away to their bedrooms, there to sleep off the excitement
and fatigue of the previous night.

It was arranged that Mr. Tremain and his friend should take the six
o'clock evening boat, which would, as Freddy Slade remarked, land them
in New York in ample time for a "refresher" prior to dinner at the club,
at that magic hour when each small round table is daintily set out in
fine linen and glittering silver, and surrounded by the best-known
convives of clubdom.

"The pleasantest hour, by Jove, of the whole twenty-four," said Freddy,
enthusiastically. "Upon my word, I quite envy you fellows the sensation
you'll produce when you walk into the 'Union.' You will actually smell
of the country, 'pastures green,' you know, and all that sort of thing."

For the better part of the day the house remained silent and deserted as
far as the lower rooms were concerned, and luncheon, which was at all
times a movable feast, became on this occasion a translated one, to be
partaken of by the fairer sex within the privacy of their own
apartments, and in the luxury of _déshabilles_.

Late in the afternoon Mr. Tremain made his way to Esther Newbold's
boudoir, and knocking with assured familiarity, opened the door almost
before the customary words of invitation. He found Mrs. Newbold alone,
lounging far back in a "sleepy hollow" of a chair, with a tiny
tea-service on a low, Japanese stool beside her. She welcomed him
cordially and with a charming smile.

"Ah," she exclaimed, "is it you, Philip? I hope you have repented of
your morning decision and have come to tell me so, and beg my
forgiveness."

"For what?" asked he, wilfully dense.

"For saying you were going away, of course. Haven't you come to tell me
you will not go after all?"

"No," said Philip, without any answering smile. "I have come, on the
contrary, to bid you good-bye."

"You are unkind," exclaimed Mrs. Newbold, impetuously, "and--you are
unwise. What, Philip, are you going to lay down your arms so tamely,
and acknowledge yourself beaten by a woman?"

"It would seem so, my dear Esther, if flight means that I am vanquished.
Will you give me some of your tea as a stirrup-cup?"

She answered him by pouring out the fragrant Pekoe and handing it to him
in silence; the tears stood in her eyes and her mouth quivered a little.
She sat still as Philip drank the tea, and then, when he had put down
the empty cup and come back to his place beside her, she turned and
spoke quickly, and with almost nervous impetuosity.

"Oh, Philip, I am sorry, grieved, inexpressibly grieved that you should
go in this way. I had hoped so much for you--for her--yes, more for
her--from the propinquity of these few days. And it has all come to
nothing, and you are going away, and how can it be possible for you ever
to come together, if you persistently let slip each opportunity of an
understanding?"

She spoke with so much real earnestness, that Philip was greatly
touched. It needed not the mention of Patricia's name to make plain to
him who was the object of Esther's solicitude, and he could not but
smile sadly as he thought how little worthy was she of Esther's tears
and regrets. He bent towards her and took her hand in his.

"My dear little friend," he said, "the truest friend ever granted to an
undeserving man, I beg you not to trouble yourself about me or my
unfortunate affairs. Let me assure you that I am truly grateful to you
for the opportunity you provided me with in which once more to seek and
learn my fate. If the result, and my answer, has been but a double
repetition of that of ten years ago, is that your fault? My dear Esther,
I have looked upon my old love without prejudice or bias, and I have
seen her stripped of all the thousand and one artifices that go to make
up the woman of the world; we have stood face to face with nothing
between us save the memory of the past, and I can say to you with all
truth and earnestness, that I am not only glad, but thankful, that her
answer to my appeal was what it was. Believe me, there could never be
any solid happiness for us so long as the ten years of our separation
lies between us like a gulf, dividing our past from our present. It is
better as it is, dear Esther, it is better as it is."

He unloosed her hand, and, rising, walked hastily up and down the room.
Mrs. Newbold was crying openly, scarcely wiping away the tears as they
fell.

"Oh, Philip!" she pleaded, her voice pitiful and broken, "indeed,
indeed, you judge her too harshly. Oh, can you not read her heart; are
you so blind, so very blind, as not to see it is for you she cares, and
you only? It is because she loves you that she strives to hide it all;
that she laughs and jests, and is bitter, and mocking, and gay, and
frivolous by turns, and never, never once reveals the real, passionate,
throbbing woman's heart beneath these artifices. Oh, what can I say to
open your eyes?"

"Say nothing," he replied, sternly, "it is best as it is. I am not one,
Esther, as you know, to come lightly to a decision, especially one of
such grave importance to me; but in this you cannot change me; nothing
can alter my decision. You are blinded by your loyalty, you see her as
you fain would see her, with the glamour of her beauty and her
fascination surrounding her so closely you cannot perceive the real
woman beneath. But I have beheld her as she is, cold, hard, brilliant,
illusive, heartless; she is but the mocking personation of her old self;
the outside tenement, beautiful, bewitching, but soulless and insincere.
I told you when we spoke of this before that I would not willingly again
become the plaything of a woman's vanity, and yet, so frail are man's
resolves, I did again put my fate to the touch, and have again failed
and lost. I am not likely to repeat my folly, Esther, when I can still
hear the words of scorn with which she repudiated me, and flung back my
love as not worthy her consideration."

"It is hopeless, then," cried Esther, imploringly.

"Yes," he replied, shortly, "it is hopeless, and I am glad that it is
so."

When next he spoke, it was upon indifferent topics, and there was that
in his face and voice which warned Esther against reopening the former
subject. Before he left her he stood a moment, holding her hand, and
looking down into her flushed and earnest face.

"Do not think me ungrateful," he said, with one of his rare, sweet
smiles; "I have had my opportunity, it is my fault that I failed to
utilise it to my advantage. After all, these things are arranged for us
by a higher power than our own wills. To you, Esther, I can never feel
aught but grateful, and you know whenever you need my poor services,
they are yours without the asking."

"And hers, Philip, hers also," she pleaded, "you would not refuse your
help to her, should she ever require it?"

"That is such an unlikely contingency, your question needs no reply," he
answered, gravely; and bending his head until his lips touched the hand
he held, he said, with simple gravity: "Good-bye, Esther, and God bless
you."

And so he went away from her, and Mrs. Newbold, with the unreasoning
instinct of her sex, felt she had never esteemed him so highly as now,
when he refused the request she urged so ardently upon him.



CHAPTER X.

THE SONG OF THE CIGALE.


Mr. Tremain, on leaving Mrs. Newbold's boudoir, made his way, without
encountering any one, to the lower hall, turning instinctively from the
billiard-room, from whence the sound of the cues against the balls, and
an occasional exclamation proclaimed the occupation of the men.

In his present state of mind he felt no inclination to join them, or
take part in the employment of the hour. His conversation with Esther
had reawakened all the unrest and bitterness of his heart against
Patricia. Looked at in any light, her conduct could not but appear
heartless and unwomanly, and the remembrance of it--of her scornful
eyes and smiling, mocking lips--rankled in his mind and added the one
touch of vindictiveness that is so closely allied to revenge, as to be a
difference in name only.

Mr. Tremain would have scouted any such paltry feeling as a desire for
retaliation, and yet deep down in his heart there lay the half-developed
germ. Could any vendetta strike her heart more surely than such an
action on his part, as should prove to her how brittle were the bands
she had woven, how impotent her power to hold captive the man she had
scorned?

There remained yet an hour before the time of his departure, and Philip,
more by instinct than design, turned towards the library, and, pushing
back the noiseless _portières_, entered. The room was empty, and lay in
the half-shadow of the quick coming evening. A touch of gold from the
setting sun still lingered on the painted windows, touching to a deeper
tone the blues and purples in the classic folds of Clio's drapery. One
casement stood open, and the evening air floated in, fragrant with a
thousand odours from Nature's laboratory; strong and subtle and
all-powerful arose the keen scent of the musk plant, overcoming all
lesser perfumes, and asserting with overwhelming insistence its
supremacy. One long low ray of sunlight fell across the picture on the
easel, lighting up with magic radiance the passionate languor of Io's
face, and marking with stronger emphasis Jupiter's stern acceptation of
her allurements.

Still following his instincts Mr. Tremain crossed the long room, and
drawing back the curtains that separated the music-parlour from the
library, stood for a moment uncertain as to his further action. The room
was unlighted save for the same level rays of dying sunlight, and the
piano that stood at the far end was thus lost in the quivering
darkness.

Philip, even as he stood upon the threshold, and before his eyes became
accustomed to the dim light, was conscious of the presence of some one
within the room beside himself, and gradually as the obscurity became
penetrable he made out a dark figure sitting before the silent
instrument, with bowed head, about whose throat and face hung heavy,
clinging folds of black lace. Simultaneously with his discernment of
this presence, he recognised its personality, and as he did so felt
alarmed and electrified by the sudden rush and tumult which took
possession of his being. The blood leapt to his face, he felt it throb
in his temples and pulse in his veins, as he realised without further
assurance, and before the bowed head was lifted and the pale, cold face
gleamed out of the sombre surroundings, that it was Adèle Lamien who sat
there, and that he was unreasonably glad and sorry, repentant and
rejoicing, that he should thus have one more interview with her before
he should vanish out of her life, as Patricia had already passed from
out of his.

He advanced slowly and stood before her. As he approached, she dropped
her protecting hands and sat silent, immovable, her pale face--pale with
the pallor of mental conflict--looking strange and unearthly amidst its
setting of falling black draperies, the dark bruise upon her cheek
growing livid in the half lights. Suddenly, she threw back her head and
smiled upon him.

It was but the second time he had ever seen her smile, and as the
radiance and glory broke over her face and flooded it for one brief
moment, with a brightness and transient loveliness, he started, for
something in that smile and face, some strange, subtle, illusive
likeness to some one whom he knew, and yet whom he could not name, grew
into existence with the fleeting radiance, and faded with it before he
could grasp at the reality. It was but a mere shadow of a resemblance,
gone as soon as discovered, without substance, without reason, and yet
perceptible, even when most baffling.

So sudden had been her transformation, and so rapid the return to the
old habitual quietude and repression of her countenance, Philip found
himself wondering if, after all, he was not under a delusion, or that
his eyes, dulled by the dim obscurity of the room, had not mistaken the
temporary flashing and paling of a sunbeam for that evanescent light on
cheek and brow.

He had remained standing and silent, during the brief moment that
elapsed between his entrance and her recognition; he bent over her now,
and speaking quietly, said:

"I am fortunate, Mdlle. Lamien, in finding you--and alone."

"You are very kind," she answered, in a low, repressed voice, a voice
that had through all its repression a throb of passion. "Surely Mr.
Tremain can find pleasanter and more amusing companions than I."

"None who can interest me so deeply, believe me," replied Philip,
gravely. "You have returned, mademoiselle, the better, I trust, for your
absence?"

"My absence?" she queried, a little surprised; then more quickly, "Ah,
yes, my absence; it was but an affair of hours, a necessity, not a
pleasure. All the same, I thank you. I am better for the change."

Philip had waited for some sign of invitation to remain, but as none
came, he grew bolder, interpreting her silence as best pleased him, and
drawing up a low arm-chair, took his place beside her, at such an angle
as enabled him to watch her face without effort.

"You have been missed, mademoiselle, by more than one," he said, slowly;
"your name has been often mentioned, even by those unknown to you."

"Indeed," she replied, more quickly than usual; "who has done me that
honour?"

"I shall answer your question by another," said Philip; "Mdlle. Lamien,
where and when have you known Count Vladimir Mellikoff? Who and what is
he, that he should express his surprise and displeasure at your
movements?"

She drew a long sigh, and turned her head away from him, as she answered
slowly and in a low voice:

"Where and when have I known Count Vladimir Mellikoff? Who and what is
he? My reply can be brief enough, Mr. Tremain, to both questions: I have
never known Count Vladimir at any time, I have no idea who or what he
is."

Her words were concise and to the point, but they failed to convince
Philip of their absolute sincerity. He said nothing for a few moments,
but the silence that fell between them was alive with suggestion; and
Philip, as he watched her, felt the old inconsequent irrational
influence of her personality creep over him, wrapping him about in a
half-magnetic, half-willing subjection; and which, while recognising its
power, he was unable to throw off.

It was she who broke the silence with an upward gesture of disdain, as
she said:

"Why should we speak upon so worn out a theme as my existence, Mr.
Tremain? There are none concerned in my past who would care to recognise
me now." Then suddenly, and with a quick movement towards the piano:
"Shall I play for you, Mr. Tremain?"

She did not wait for his reply, but struck at once a few low notes, a
minor chord or two that swept across the dim half-lights, and seemed but
an outcome of the twilight, and of the last faint golden rays fading
moment by moment in the far western sky. Then a headlong rush and tumult
of melody caught up the passion, and despair, and longing of a soul in
bondage struggling to be free, beating against the bars, crying out in
anguish, then sinking back into despondency, and with a final moan
striking downwards to despair.

Mr. Tremain, as he listened, felt himself caught up in the rush and
movement, and borne along with it, following her will and pleasure even
as her white fingers flew over the ivory keys, striking them now with
fiery impetuosity, now with caressing softness, and again with lingering
tenderness. Her slight figure in its black dress was alive and sinuous,
responding to each emotion; her pale face grew illumined beneath its
weight of white hair and drooping laces that fell about it. She was the
living incarnation of the music; and Philip, half spell-bound, half
realising the potency of the spell, found himself repeating mentally,
"the charm of woven paces and of waving hands." Was she a Vivien as
well?

She ceased playing as he came and stood beside her, and in the hush that
fell between them, the echo of light laughter floated to them from the
rooms above. It was a discord, a false note in the intensity of the
theme.

Philip bent towards her, almost touching the white hair with his lips;
it was a moment of exquisite uncertainty. Then she struck the notes
again, and a plaintive prelude stole out, while in a low voice,
monotonous yet musical, that seemed but the continuation of the melody,
she said rather than sang:

    "I am a woman,
      Therefore I may not
    Fly to him, cry to him,
      Bid him delay not.
    What though he part from me,
    Tearing my heart from me,
      Hurt without cure!"

Her voice faltered, sank into silence, her hands fell from the keys and
lay motionless upon her lap. Philip, to whom the first line of her song
had come not as a surprise, but as an expected climax, bent forward
eagerly. Once again he heard the mocking voice of his vision, once again
the faint sweet perfume of violets stole upward, robbing him of the
reality of the present, restoring to him the past with all its
unfulfilled promise and its hope.

It was the passion of surprise, not of arrangement or premeditation,
that held him, and that swaying him against his better self, made him
speak from the emotion of the moment.

"Adèle," he said, his voice low and restrained. "Adèle, you have
doubtless heard my story; you know that I have been the sport, the
plaything of one woman's vanity for all the better years of my life; and
yet I dare to offer you the heart she has scorned. Adèle, will you
accept it? Will you restore my faith and belief in womanhood; that faith
and trust which another woman has so nearly destroyed? Hush, wait one
moment before you speak. Yes, I know I am almost a stranger to you, I
have seen you but half-a-dozen times; you know but little of me, and
that little is not of the best. And, I too, what do I know of you?
Nothing, save what Esther was pleased to tell us all concerning you. I
realise that your past is seared and crossed by sorrow and grief, but
always, Adèle, always since first I saw you, you have haunted me, you
have possessed me, you have laid me under a spell. Break that spell now
by saying you will listen to me; by telling me that at last, however
late in life, my faith, my belief, my trust shall not be given in vain."

He stopped, and she looking up quickly saw the flush of earnestness upon
his face, the light of eagerness in his eyes. She let fall her glance,
and a little smile--was it of triumph or of pity?--crept out about the
mouth, that died ere he could catch its curves. She had listened to him
apparently without surprise, and without betraying emotion of any kind;
her voice fell dull and cold when she spoke.

"You proffer a strange request, Mr. Tremain, and one not easy of reply.
Is it possible you can be in earnest? Have you not heard my story? Has
not the whole of Madame Newbold's world become cognisant of its
details? Do you not know that Adèle Lamien is a woman on whom rests the
blight of suspicion, if not of guilt? A woman whose life has been one of
no common misery. Do you realise what it means to be suspected of crime,
branded as a fugitive, an outcast? Can you gauge the depths of misery
contained in the words ruined and repudiated? Do you not know that one
spot upon a woman's reputation, though incurred through no fault of her
own, stamps her for ever in the eyes of your world. Can you, knowing all
this, realising it, yet ask me to listen to your words of vehemence?
You, Philip Tremain! Ah, do you not know I would give my very heart's
happiness if I might so listen? No, no; that is not what I mean. You are
mad, Mr. Tremain, mad with the desire born of a moment's passion."

"I am not mad, Adèle," he urged. "I ask you again to listen to me, and I
tell you again that I neither care nor wish to know more of your past
than you desire to tell me. Cannot we forget that, cannot I make for you
a future that shall outlive your past? Nay, wait one moment, there is
something more I must say. You know I have no fresh first devotion to
offer you, I have not even a heart swept and garnished for your
acceptancy. I did not wish to love you, I am not sure I love you even
now; all I know is that you draw me to you with invisible chains; that
you take from me all resistance, all desire to resist."

"Ah," she exclaimed, with infinite bitterness, "you speak as a man. We
women do not so easily break the bonds that have held us for so long.
Suppose I were to take you at your word, suppose I were to listen to
you, to your own undoing? What would be the outcome of it? I, a woman,
Adèle Lamien, who perchance has looked shame in the face, who may have
swept the by-ways of wickedness with her skirts, I to demand of you this
sacrifice, and for what? That you may hear my name spoken in whispers
and with bated breath; that you may see me pointed at in scorn and
derision; that never may you look at me, never see my face, without the
bitter memory of my buried past rising up between us. No, this may not
be; you have loved before, it is not love you feel now, it is
resentment, disappointment, anger. Put by your fancy of the hour, Mr.
Tremain, and let Adèle Lamien fade out of your life even as she has come
into it, an accident only. Do you not remember the fable and fate of the
poor Cigale?

    'The grasshopper so blithe and gay,
    Sang the summer time away;
    Pinched and poor the spendthrift grew,
    When the keen north-easter blew.'

I am that poor Cigale. I have had my summer time, and now it is winter;
and you would fain make me believe that one can conjure up a second
summer from out the ruins of autumn's blasts; nay, that is impossible
alike for you as for me. Believe me, no good has ever come from a
passion so suddenly developed, as this you plead now. You will live to
thank me for my words, even if now, at this very moment, you are not
confessing their justice."

She rose as she finished, and moved somewhat away from him. The darkness
of the early May evening had crept up and about them unnoticed; she had
become indistinct and unreal, a part of the shadows that surrounded her;
and Mr. Tremain, as he listened to the low, even notes of her voice,
felt the unreality of his position grow more and more defined.

He had been mad--mad with a moment's passion; and yet--and yet, what was
this impalpable, intangible influence that drew him to her with
invisible cords, even while he realised the wisdom of her words, and
rejoiced in the freedom she forced back upon him?

The silence and the darkness increased; she became but a dim outline
against the deeper tones of shadow, her pale face alone showing in the
gloom.

"You scarcely give me a choice, Adèle," he said; "and yet how is it
possible for me to accept your decision?"

His words were followed by a light laugh; a chord struck sharply, and
then from out the obscurity came her voice again. But what was this
change in it? What was this undertone of mocking raillery that sounded
so familiar and yet so incongruous?

"Said I not truly, Mr. Tremain, you are mad to ask me to listen to you;
and yet--ah, Philip--perhaps it would be wiser for us both could I but
yield."

"Then listen, I entreat, Adèle," he cried, impetuously, "do not make
your decision a final one; leave it open as a possibility for future
consideration. Do not let me ask in vain; only say that you will think
twice before you refuse me definitely. Do I ask too much?"

"Too much!" she echoed, and her voice sank to a whisper. "Is it too much
to put the cup of water to the parched lips of a dying man, and bid him
drink? Will he refuse, think you? Do you know how greatly you tempt me?
Shall not you and I come to repent with bitterness this parleying with
the inevitable? Well, then, since you will have it so, and since my will
is weak--ah, so very weak--and fate is strong, it shall be as you wish.
I will make no final decision. I will wait. Surely this should be
triumph enough, even for me, to know that I have won you from the
remembrance--nay, from the very presence of--Patricia Hildreth!"

At Patty's name thrust thus sharply and unexpectedly upon him, Philip
started forward, impelled by the same unknown, unreasoning force that
had held and controlled him throughout their interview, but he was too
late. He was conscious of a light silken rustle, a low laugh, a hand
laid for a moment on his, and then he was alone.

As Mdlle. Lamien drew the _portières_ behind her, two figures crept back
into the obscurity of the room beyond, and as she passed swiftly on and
out into the hall, a whisper in a woman's voice echoed across the
shadows:

"Are you satisfied--convinced? There is no mistake?"

"I am absolutely convinced, mademoiselle, there can be no mistake,"
answered a second, carefully modulated voice.

A moment later Miss James stole quietly out of the now dark library,
followed by the sombre, gliding figure of Vladimir Mellikoff.



CHAPTER XI.

INTROSPECTION.


The party at the Folly had broken up at last, and, going the way of all
things terrestrial, was already numbered among the pleasures of the have
been.

Mrs. Newbold had flitted seaward with little Marianne, her husband, her
maid, and a small army of dress-baskets and boxes. The golden glory of
July held the gardens and woods, the terraces and parterres, in the
spell of midsummer colouring; flinging abroad with generous hand its
meed of sunshine, its wealth of fruit, its richness of blossom, its long
hours of fullest beauty, when the intense blue heavens above, the
smiling earth below, and the very atmosphere of soft delicious haze
seemed to palpitate with their own tropical luxuriance.

Mrs. Newbold's island home never looked more enchanting or enchanted
than in this "royal month," and yet it was just at this perfected time
that stern fashion decreed she should leave it, and seek for pleasure
and relaxation within the narrow limits and confined area of George
Newbold's yacht. And Esther, with a courage worthy of a better cause,
never dreamed of disputing fashion's mandate, but bore with heroic
fortitude the thousand and one restrictions entailed upon her by
existence in the _Deerhound_; for even in that most luxurious schooner
her convenience had to suit itself to space.

And so, while the _Deerhound_ lay moored at Newport, and Mrs. Esther
entertained and was entertained with almost royal splendour, and the
long summer days were given up to feasting and amusement, and the long
summer nights to dancing and intrigue, the Folly was deserted, its
blinds close drawn, its hospitable doors locked and barred; and the
roses came to perfection, and ran riot in their wantonness, showering
their petals in such lavish prodigality that the garden paths lay strewn
and heaped with the crimson and white of their livery.

Even as in ancient Rome a certain youthful emperor, satiated with every
guise of amusement, worn out with pleasure and fulfilled desire, buried
the companions of his licentiousness beneath an avalanche of
rose-leaves, which, as they fell, became their grave-clothes and their
pall.

And have we of to-day no likeness to this pagan Heliogabalus? Do not we
bury the best-beloved of our past beneath a cere-cloth, formed of the
sweet sentiments of forgetfulness; and, turning from their appealing
eyes and sadly accusing faces, enter with fresh zest and renewed
enthusiasm upon the untried excitements of the hour? Are we, after two
thousand years of Christ's humanity, and the awful lessons of Gethsemane
and Golgotha, so much less pagan?

Mrs. Newbold had taken Dick Darling with her in her flitting; she had
come to have a very true affection for that somewhat crude young lady,
for Esther possessed so much of the alchemist's power as to recognise
pure gold when she found it; and also Miss Darling's outspoken
admiration for Patricia Hildreth acted as a salve to her disappointed
and fruitless projects.

To Dick herself the prospect of three weeks or a month at Newport on
board the most perfectly appointed yacht of the squadron, with unlimited
license to enjoy the passing hour to the full, was, in her own
phraseology, "just too most awfully nailing!" She danced and she
flirted, the latter in her own half-boyish fashion. She smoked
everybody's cigarettes save her own. She won the ladies' single-handed
lawn tennis tournament, and sported the prize--a jewelled racket and
ball brooch--with frank delight in her own prowess. She drove Freddy
Slade's tandem up and down Bellevue Avenue all one morning, and sailed
Jack Howard's microscopic cutter out to the Narrows and back in the
afternoon.

She was, indeed, as happy as the day was long; like Browning's
'Duchess,' "she loved whate'er she looked on, and her looks went
everywhere." And then, oh, happy thought, were there not more worlds to
conquer in the immediate future? Did not visions of New London, Shelter
Island, Mount Desert, and the Isle of Shoales stretch out in endless
perspective before her? What girl could dare to be otherwise than
sublimely happy so long as the sea laughed, and the sun shone, and there
were such beneficent factors in the scheme of life and Providence as
horses, and dogs, and boats, to say nothing of men and boys, who were
but the playthings of existence?

And through all those long, luxurious summer days, Mr. Tremain remained
in town, returning a curt negative to all alluring invitations.

He had not seen Mrs. Newbold again after his momentous interview with
Mademoiselle Lamien; indeed, he had left the Folly immediately after it,
walking into New Brighton, and proving but a sorry companion to John
Mainwaring, during their journey to New York.

To tell the truth, he felt himself to be somewhat of a traitor to
Esther, in that he had permitted himself to become a traitor to the
memory of Patricia. He could not quite forget or put from him Esther's
earnest words, Esther's eyes filled with tears, and Esther's undeviating
fidelity to the love of his youth; that love from which he had now
deliberately and by his own act cut himself off for ever. He knew that
to Esther he could only appear as the most weak and vacillating of men;
his own words rang too clearly in his ears to allow him for one moment
to doubt what her judgment upon his action would be.

There are two things no woman can excuse or palliate in a man:
disaffection from herself where she has once been the first object of
his devotion, or disaffection to an ideal which she has set up as a
fetich, and to which unswerving fidelity is expected as a matter of
right. Esther had set up in this position the old love of ten years ago
that had existed between himself and Patricia; she had, so to speak, dug
its dead body from out its unquiet grave, and breathing into it her own
vitality and desire, had set herself to work to re-create answering
sentiments in his heart. With the impetuosity of woman's nature, which
considers no office so legitimately its own as that of binding up broken
hearts, and reuniting broken troths, she endeavoured now to re-construct
and rehabilitate this passion of his youth, never pausing to reflect
upon his attitude in the case, or the probabilities of failure which
amounted to certainties.

She had failed, it was true; but that is only half a failure that
leaves matters at the point from which they started. There is always
room for hope so long as certain premises remain unchanged. Philip was
still unbound and unfettered, and Patricia was still Patricia Hildreth.
Were not these sufficient foundations on which to build as fancy
dictated?

Reflecting on this, and on his own position from Esther's point of view,
Mr. Tremain could not but acknowledge that his proposal to Mdlle.
Lamien, and their partial engagement, could only be regarded by Esther
in the light of direst treachery. Any reasons he might bring to bear in
defence of his present situation and the circumstances that had led up
to it, would, he knew, be scoffed at and scouted by his staunch little
friend. Of what use would it be for him to enter into the physiological
side of the question? He could not hope to explain to her the vague,
impersonal power that drove him on to this finale. Should he plead that
he was not altogether a free agent, and advance in confirmation of this
the subtle illusive resemblance of Mdlle. Lamien to another some one,
equally shadowy and unreal, he would be met with an incredulous smile,
and a suggestion that since he could urge no stronger reason than that
of a chance likeness, why need he hesitate to _exploiter_ his delusion?
Or why choose Adèle Lamien's negative unreality, in place of Patricia
Hildreth's positive personality?

It would be vain also to remind Esther that not only had Patricia twice
deliberately refused him in words, but by open raillery and covert
mockery had emphasized those refusals, more times than his pride cared
to count. No, Esther would be convinced by none of these things; it was
worse than hopeless to expect it of her, and therefore worse than
useless to appeal to her. In selecting Adèle Lamien for his future wife,
he had cut himself adrift from his own life, and from the close sympathy
and intimacy of those few friends whose affection had made existence
worth living.

He realised perfectly that in thus choosing a woman upon whose past lay
not only the blight of secrecy but the curse of suspicion, he made that
past his own with all its weight of shame and sin, nay, perhaps, even of
crime, at which she had so vaguely hinted. He knew now that in that
moment of surprise and overmastering passion, when the spell of her
music and her presence held him against his will, he had not reasoned,
he had not considered. He had let the potency of the moment bear him
away; he had, indeed, seen dimly what the outcome must inevitably be,
and yet he had allowed himself to drift on with the current, and made no
resistance.

His love, his pride, smarting and burning beneath the cool insolence of
Patricia's scorn, hurried him on to such a declaration as should be
final, and break for ever the bonds of those ten years that had held him
so long, and galled him so intolerably. He would be free, and Patricia
should see and recognise his freedom and own its justice, even though
she laughed gaily and jested mockingly upon it.

It was indeed in this half defined and scarcely acknowledged
retaliation, that he now found his chief solace, for the matter of his
new engagement cannot be said to have contributed to his happiness.
Still, if fate was so untoward as to eliminate all the higher degrees of
perfection from his destiny, it was at least something gained to know
that he retained the power of wounding one woman through another. It was
not the greatest or grandest revenge, nay, it had something pitifully
mean and ignoble about it; but it was revenge, and Philip was still
human enough not to have mastered that divine perfection, which kisses
the hand bearing the rod, and blesses the scourge even while the blows
fall.

In the meantime he hugged his secret, and kept his unhappiness to
himself; refused to mingle with his own kind, and rarely stirred from
out his chambers, except for the daily walk to and from his office, and
grew silent, morose, unapproachable.

The July days came and went with lingering, regretful steps; but they
brought him no comfort. He grew to hate the long, bright, cruel hours,
during which the sun shone so fiercely in the intense blue sky whose
wide expanse was unsoftened by cloud or mist; even as he came to loathe
the short midsummer nights, with the flooding moonlight and the radiant
stars set in the vaulted firmament of God's glory.

No news and no word came to him from Mdlle. Lamien; he had neither seen
nor heard from her since their unsatisfactory parting. He had waited
expecting each day some expression from her, some recognition or
repudiation of the promise that bound him; but each day brought him only
disappointment, until at last, as the days grew into weeks, he ceased
expecting and accepted his position almost with relief. He was ready and
waiting whenever Mdlle. Lamien should signify her need of him; he would
not lift a finger to break the slight chain that bound him, but neither
would he by act or word rivet that chain closer.

Of Patricia he knew absolutely nothing; not even the echo of her name
reached him. That most energetic of society chronicles, _Town Optics_,
was never counted in his literature, though, had he known it, even that
authority was silent concerning her movements. She had apparently
dropped out of his life as completely as even he could desire; and, as
he acknowledged with a bitter smile, she was not likely to vex or
trouble him more, in the changed conditions of his future.

Ah, well, let her rest in peace! Patty, his wilful, loving, perverse
little Patty, had been dead to him for ten long years.

But with the last week of July, Mr. Tremain aroused himself, and,
throwing off his lethargy, hastily packed a light portmanteau and betook
himself to a certain landing-stage down in the city's depths; and as the
sun set in a harmony of gorgeous splendour over Bowling Green and Castle
Garden, making a golden symbol of Trinity's tall spire, and flooding the
city with transient beauty, he stood upon the deck of a small steamer,
bound for the rocky shores of Maine, and, two days later, had vanished
amidst the deep far-stretching pine forests of that eastern state,
pitching his tent beside an outlet of wild Hemlock Lake, and lost
completely to civilisation in the form of post, or telegraph, or daily
paper.



CHAPTER XII.

PLOTTING.


Count Mellikoff had also on leaving the Folly betaken himself to New
York, and re-established his locale in that quiet but eminently
aristocratic hotel, which has for years been a sort of Mecca to European
wanderers, who finding life on the plan of the ordinary huge American
caravansary, too public and _en évidence_, have sought with thankfulness
the more retired existence of this favoured resort.

Most people object to that process of public cleansing usually regarded
as the attribute of vulgarity; but one need not be vulgar to object to
consuming one's roast beef and port wine under the public eye. It is
not a pleasant sensation to come to look upon one's self as only an atom
in the great scheme of a _table d'hôte_; one loses one's identity at
such times, and with the loss of identity goes also one's self-respect.
If you wish to retain your dignity in your own eyes and in the eyes of
your world, keep yourself to yourself; and, above all, do your eating
and drinking in private. Nothing is so much desired as that which is
difficult of attainment; and no man has so many dinner invitations as he
who is known to be fastidious, as to whose table he will honour with his
presence.

On the evening of the same day as that on which Mr. Tremain started off
on his lonely wanderings, Count Mellikoff sat in a private apartment of
his hotel busy over a variety of despatches and papers, heaped together
on a writing-table.

The day had been very warm, and even with the approach of night the
atmosphere became but little less intolerable. The windows were open,
but the latticed blinds were let down, and through the crevices the
moonlight fell in broken lines across the walls, the rays of the small
lamp on the writing-table being too faint to outshine the moonbeams; the
room, in consequence, had a half unreal appearance, through the mingled
reflections of oil and moonlight.

A few blocks up Fifth Avenue, a barrel-organ was groaning out a popular
melody, interrupted at intervals by a Strauss valse from the German band
performing in Washington Square.

On the centre table stood a tray with a bottle of claret and Apollinaris
water, and a glass bowl filled with cracked ice.

Despite the intensity of the temperature, Count Mellikoff was
scrupulously dressed in evening costume, the gardenia in his button-hole
showing white against his coat; beneath the flower the tiny red button
of honour, that had so fascinated Miss James, stood out like a drop of
blood.

With rapid, accustomed fingers, Count Vladimir opened one by one the
letters and papers, scanning their contents with quick comprehension,
and laying each document aside with accurate decision. As he came to the
last, he put it down before him, and bending forward, touched a little
gong that stood near his despatch-box; then he leant back in his chair
and waited. A door leading to an inner room was partially open.

In the few seconds that intervened before his summons was answered, his
face, seen now in the full light of the lamp, seemed to grow more pallid
and anxious, the mouth beneath the straight moustache and beard grew
hard, the eyes from out their shadowy caverns burned with a restless
light, the cheeks appeared thinner, the forehead more pronounced, the
hand as it rested on the table more nervous and attenuated, while the
ruby in his ring glowed with an evil fire.

The sharp metallic echo had scarcely died away before the door leading
to the other room was pulled noiselessly open, and a short dark figure
emerged from the interior shadows, and came forward with a cringing,
uncertain gait.

"Did the Excellenza ring?" the man asked in Italian, standing before the
Count, and speaking in a voice that was both unctuous and false.

Mellikoff looked at him for an instant before replying, while a smile of
infinite scorn and disgust curled his lips.

"Yes," he answered shortly, and in the same language, "I did ring; I
require your most valuable services, Mattalini."

The Italian bowed, and rubbed his hands together.

"Si, si, Signor," he mumbled, "I am but your servant; you command, I
obey."

Vladimir paid no attention to this protestation save for another of
those slow, scornful smiles, neither of which escaped the Italian's
notice.

"You will take this letter, Mattalini," Count Mellikoff continued,
lifting a sealed packet and passing it across the table, "to M.
Stubeloff, who is at present in this city. You will deliver it into his
hands and bring me back a written reply--you understand, Mattalini--a
written reply."

There was that in the Count's tone that caused the blood to leap hotly
within the Italian's veins; but he only bowed the more obsequiously as
he replied:

"Si, Signor, I comprehend. The M. Stubeloff is he who represents our
father the Tsar in this _inferno_ of a country; he makes a sojourn here.
_Bene_, he shall receive your packet, Excellenza, from my own hand, and
you shall have his Excellency's written response."

The man's voice was quiet and respectful enough; but Vladimir caught the
sudden look of hatred that flashed up for one moment in his eyes, and
knew that Mattalini was his secret enemy. As he turned away, Count
Mellikoff spoke again:

"You will give directions below at the office, that should a lady ask
for me she is to be shown up at once--at once; do you understand?"

"Si, Signor," replied the man, quietly; and then, with creeping step and
drooping shoulders, he crossed the room, appearing for one moment in the
moonbeams like the shadow of an evil spectre, and then vanishing as
noiselessly as he had entered.

Once outside the room he stopped and drew a deep breath, lifting his
bowed form, and, raising his right hand, shook the open palm and long
fingers at the closed door.

"Curse him," he muttered, "curse him root and branch. May the evil eye
never leave him now or hereafter, in life or death!" Then he turned and
walked swiftly down the passage towards the stairs.

Count Mellikoff, left alone, leant back in his chair with a heavy sigh,
passing his hand wearily across his eyes. The rival musicians had
settled their difficulties by the withdrawal of the barrel-organ, and
only the strains from the German band floated in, mellowed by distance.
It was the "Blue Danube" they were playing, and unconsciously, Vladimir
Mellikoff kept time to the pathos of the under theme with his thoughts.
The look of anxiety deepened on his face, emphasized by the additional
expression of sadness that crept into his eyes.

And, indeed, he had reason to be both sad and anxious; of late he had
detected in Patouchki's letters and despatches a latent tone of distrust
and suspicion, which he was quick to feel and to resent.

There were no more veiled allusions to his past ability and faithful
services; no assurances of his proved fidelity to the Tsar; no
commendation of the work already accomplished, such as had come rarely,
to be sure, but yet with sufficient regularity in the earlier stages of
his mission. Rather were there peremptory commands, undisguised
admonitions, and barely concealed innuendoes of dissatisfaction and
distrust on the part of the Chancellerie.

"Rest assured I shall be the last to misjudge or condemn you, Vladimir,"
had run the chief's last letter; "but it becomes me to warn you that
there are others who take a less lenient view of your position than I
do, and who will not scruple to use every indiscretion against you. He
who serves Russia must be prepared to find her not only suspicious, but
ungrateful; it is your high privilege, Vladimir, to be counted among the
most loyal of her servitors; but even to you may come the bitter lesson,
that trifling with her decrees is followed by swift and sure punishment.
The sworn presence of the woman, Adèle Lamien, in Petersburg, to which
Tolskoi has given his oath, but which, as yet, we have been unable to
verify, greatly complicates your position, since the Chancellerie knows
that it was to find her you undertook your present mission. If, in the
month that elapsed between your arrival in the States and her alleged
appearance here, you have allowed her to slip through your fingers, you
know full well the judgment that will be passed upon you. Your telegrams
of late have been vague and uncertain, your letters no more assuring. In
the meantime, and up to this present moment, we have been unable to put
our hands upon this woman; she has disappeared as mysteriously as she
came. And since there is room for doubt in the matter, we prefer to give
you the benefit of that doubt, at least for the present."

This had been the substance of Patouchki's communication, and Vladimir
could not mistake its tone, even if its meaning had not been further
enhanced by the arrival of the Italian, Mattalini, who came ostensibly
as a bearer of despatches, and with a request, which was more of a
command, that Count Mellikoff would kindly retain him in his service.

A bitter smile had come to Vladimir's lips as he read the letter of
recommendation and looked at the candidate for his favour standing
before him. Well might Ivor Tolskoi have said, that lying craft and
duplicity were stamped on his every feature. Vladimir Mellikoff but
confirmed these words when he said, half sadly to himself, as the man
turned away:

"And has it come to this, my chief? Am I to be dogged and watched by
such a paid miscreant as this Italian? Is he to be my 'double,' and am I
to stand or fall according to his testimony? Oh, Russia, hard indeed are
you as a task-mistress, heavy your yoke of iron, and bitter your
recompense!"

It did not require any great perspicuity to read through the
Chancellerie's design in sending Mattalini to be servant to Count
Mellikoff; and, from the moment the sullen Italian entered his service,
Vladimir felt his evil star had arisen, and his evil hour arrived.

That Tolskoi should have been the one to swear to the actual presence of
Adèle Lamien, or Lallovich, in Petersburg, when he--Mellikoff--was
hunting her down in America, troubled him but little. Firm in his own
belief, and secure of his ultimate success, he paid small heed to a
chance likeness that might easily have deceived so gay and volatile a
young man as Ivor. Was it likely that he, Valdimir Mellikoff, an old and
tried servant of the Tsar--old at least in experience if not in
years--should be distanced and out-done by a yellow-haired youth still
almost in his adolescence? Count Mellikoff smiled, and put the thought
aside as valueless.

Much more disturbing and distressing was the scant news he received of
his betrothed. Olga had written once or twice during the first two
months of his self-imposed exile, and then suddenly her letters had
ceased, and he could obtain no further news of her than what he could
glean between the lines of the official telegrams in the daily
newspapers. These were meagre in the extreme, only a bare mention now
and then of the more important items of Russian politics, or her
attitude on the Bulgarian question; but they at least told him that the
Court was still at Petersburg, and therefore he knew Olga to be there
also. With the beginning of the Russian summer she would accompany her
Imperial mistress to Gatschina, or the baths, and then he felt he should
indeed be separated from her.

Oh, for this weary time of probation to pass! This winning of one more
honour, one more decoration, to lay at her feet; and then to claim his
recompense, his prize, and with his first rapturous kiss upon her proud
lips seal his fealty, and bid a final good-bye to worldly ambition and
reward!

Immersed in such meditations, Count Mellikoff started nervously as a
sharp rap on the door awoke him from his reverie; with the immediate
self-command of long habit, he instantly controlled both face and
voice, and calling out a "Come in," rose from his chair and walked to
the middle of the room.

The door was thrown open with the words, "A lady to see you, sir," and
then quickly closed. A slight figure dressed in black, and with a heavy
veil drawn over the face, advanced towards him, and, as Vladimir came
forward, a voice, high pitched despite its whispered words, said
quickly:

"I have come, but I must beg you will not keep me long."

For answer Count Mellikoff bowed respectfully and pulled forward an easy
chair.

"Let me ask you to be seated," he said in his suavest tones, "and pray
remove your veil. I entreat, I insist; the evening is stifling."

Without a word his visitor sank down upon the chair, and mechanically
unpinned and removed her thick veil; the face beneath the hard outline
of the black hat looked hollow and aged, the dark eyes burned
feverishly, the thin lips were colourless.

Even to the most superficial observer great and marked were the changes
that a few weeks had wrought there; it bore but a faint and blurred
resemblance to the face that Mr. Tremain had looked on, not unkindly,
two short months ago at the Folly.

Count Mellikoff turned to the table, and pouring out a glass of claret,
added the ice and Apollinaris with careful exactness, and brought it to
his guest.

"You must drink this, mademoiselle," he said. "You are looking very
exhausted. _Ma foi_, I cannot compliment you on the temperature of an
American summer!"

She took the tumbler from him and drank the contents thirstily; as she
put down the empty glass her ungloved hand came within the radius of the
lamp-light. It looked shrunken and attenuated, the rings upon the thin
fingers hung loosely and jangled one against the other. She sat back
wearily, looking up at him with an eager, anxious expression.

"I must ask you not to keep me long," she said again, "I may be missed
at any moment. It is important I should return as soon as possible."

Count Mellikoff drew a chair in front of her, and sitting down leant
slightly forward, joining his hands together by the finger-tips. His
position and gesture recalled another like occasion in which she and he
were the chief actors; she shuddered violently and drew back from him
involuntarily.

"Miss James," began Count Vladimir, in his cold, even tones, "I beg you
will believe that I am fully alive to your disinterestedness in thus
coming to me, and also to the risks you run in so doing. But, as I told
you during our first conversation, in seeking your co-operation in my
work I was well aware you would have to encounter much that must of
necessity be disagreeable to you, since defying or breaking the canons
of conventionality is always an unpleasant experience. You, however,
elected to become my partner in this work--an honour of which I am
deeply appreciative--and you were content to chance the consequences if
you could but work out your own ends in furthering mine. Am I not
correct in my statements?"

"Yes, yes, oh yes," she replied, hurriedly. "You are quite right,
perfectly correct."

"I can assure you, mademoiselle," went on Count Vladimir, with a little
smile, leaning somewhat more forward until the heavy, languorous scent
of the gardenia seemed almost to stifle her, "that I have no desire to
detain you longer than is absolutely necessary, though, were I to
consult my pleasure, I would willingly lengthen the visit of one for
whom I entertain such sentiments of respectful admiration. However,
since we cannot consult inclination, let us proceed to duty. What news
have you to give me of our _dramatis personæ_? Let us commence with
Philip Tremain."

At the mention of this name the girl's white face paled perceptibly, and
her lips quivered. She loved Philip as well and as generously as it lay
in her nature to love any one; and though he had passed her by, even
when conscious of her love for him, it was none the less bitter to find
herself in the position of a spy and informer against him.

Vladimir Mellikoff saw her hesitancy and read its meaning.

"It's not pleasant, I admit, mademoiselle," he said, "to be obliged to
speak uncompromisingly of any one; especially must this be the case now
and with you, when you recall Mr. Tremain's pronounced--friendship."

His jibe told. It was this very friendliness of Philip's attitude
towards her against which she most revolted and beat her passion to
tatters; she could better have borne his anger or hate, than his calm
indifference of friendly interest.

"Mr. Tremain is no friend of mine," she said, sharply, and with a
short, hard laugh; "his goings and comings are nothing to me, except in
so far as they influence _her_. I have fully admitted to you, Count
Mellikoff, the reason why I shall be glad to see her humbled and
exposed. I do not know why she should nourish, and flaunt her beauty in
my face, when it lies in my power to tear the mask from her and reveal
her real self to the world that flatters and adores her every whim and
caprice."

"You have both reason and cause on your side, Miss James," replied
Vladimir, quietly. "A woman scorned makes a dangerous enemy. But pardon
me, if I remind you who it is that has placed the power of enmity within
your reach."

"I have not forgotten," she answered, with almost sullen bitterness; "it
is to you, Count Mellikoff, I owe my weapon of vengeance. I am not
ungrateful."

Count Mellikoff made a slight bow, and said: "And now as to this Mr.
Tremain, where is he at present; and have you any further news of her?"

"Up to this morning, Mr. Tremain was not two miles distant from here,"
replied Miss James. "He had not left town since his last interview
with--her, until this evening."

"And has he gone now?" inquired Vladimir, quickly, sitting upright in
his chair. "This is news, indeed. Where has he gone?"

"That I cannot tell you, but certainly not to her. I called at his
chambers ostensibly on an errand of charity, and the janitor told me he
had left town suddenly. A little judicious questioning elicited the
further details that he had taken but one small portmanteau, given his
man a holiday, and ordered himself to be driven to a landing stage, too
far down town for any boat to start from but an ocean or Sound steamer.
He left no directions for the forwarding of his letters, and made no
plan for returning. He has vanished from out our circle for the present,
and I can give you no clue to his possible destination."

"It matters but very little," replied Vladimir. "When his presence is
required, the orbit of his destiny will swing round to us again. We can
dismiss him for the present, and be thankful he has so opportunely
vanished into space. And of her, mademoiselle, of Adèle Lamien, as it is
wisest still to call her, since even walls have ears?"

"You are over-prudent, Count Mellikoff, surely. Still, perhaps it is as
well to keep up the farce to the end. Of Adèle Lamien's escape there is
no fear. She is absolutely in our power; I know her every movement, her
daily avocations; I can put my hand upon her at any moment. She is as
unsuspicious and ignorant of the net closing so securely about her, as
she is that in me she sees her deadliest foe. No, there can be no
failure there; whatever else fails, I am sure of that revenge; that is,"
she added, suddenly, "if _you_ are certain--if you are not deceived."

"No, I am not deceived," replied Count Mellikoff, slowly. "We shall not
have much longer to remain inactive, mademoiselle; I do but attend a
final telegram, and then the blow will fall."

"I hope so," answered the girl, bitterly; "and may it crush both him and
her when it comes."

There was a moment's silence before Count Mellikoff spoke again; when he
did, his voice had regained its lighter tones.

"And Madame Newbold and the charming Miss Dick," he asked; "what of
them?"

"Still at Newport, on board the _Deerhound_; but they are to weigh
anchor to-night for a longer cruise than any they have yet taken. After
this evening it will be impossible to say when or where telegrams or
letters could reach them." She stopped for a moment, and then said,
abruptly: "And the warrant--you will have no difficulty about that?"

"I anticipate none. The first steps can, of course, be but
preliminaries. There is no doubt of our securing an arrest, and that is
our first move. With Mr. Tremain lost, so to speak, the _Deerhound_ and
her passengers started on an uncertain cruise; and, New York an empty
wilderness, there is nothing to interrupt the march of events,
mademoiselle. We may look any day now, any hour, for the consummation of
fate."

"I am glad," again replied the girl; "yes, I am glad. And now I must go;
it grows late. Have you any further instructions to give me?"

She took out her veil as she spoke, and tied it closely over her face,
listening earnestly meantime to Count Mellikoff's low and rapid
utterances. He spoke quickly, but with decision, and she acquiesced by
her absolute silence.

As he finished she rose, and drawing her thin black mantle closely about
her, walked rapidly towards the door. Vladimir Mellikoff held it open
for her, but she passed him without word or salutation.

Half-way down the narrow passage a man overtook her, and turned to
glance at her as he passed. It was the Italian, Mattalini.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later on that same evening, while Philip Tremain paced the deck of the
out-going steamer with restless footsteps, and did battle with the
conflicting emotions that raged within him, Patricia Hildreth, leaning
on the arm of the most distinguished partner of the hour, floated
languidly around to the strains of "Dreamland" waltzes, the most admired
woman of all the bevy of fair women who filled the spacious
drawing-rooms of the "Eversleigh" at Long Branch. Her draperies of
lustrous silk were not more white than her fair face, nor were the
jewels on her bosom more bright and cold, than was the blue fire of her
eyes. Only her smile retained its old charm and sweetness, and belied
the weariness that rested upon her brow.

She conferred distinction by her presence, and dispensed her favours
with so royal a grace, the recipients of her bounty never stopped to
weigh their value, or count their cost.



CHAPTER XIII.

THÉ ANGLAIS.


Ivor Tolskoi did not see Mdlle. Naundorff again for several weeks.

On leaving her at the private entrance of the Palace, he had walked away
with Patouchki, towards the Chancellerie, where he was kept busily at
work until late in the afternoon. He purposely avoided the Court circle
in the evening, his presence not being officially demanded, for he felt
he could not so soon again meet Olga's reproachful eyes, and pale
suffering face; a longer interval must elapse before he could greet her
in his accustomed manner.

The next day he heard of her sudden indisposition through that same
Countess Vera, whose trivial words had first set alight the fire of
vindictiveness in his heart. Ivor was a great favourite in all the
Petersburg _salons_, and his appearance in Countess Vera's drawing-rooms
at the magic tea-hour was hailed with delight.

A considerable number of the best known _beau-mondaines_ were already
gathered there, to whom the Countess--who was a pronounced follower of
all customs English--was dispensing tea from out a most
un-English-looking samovar. She welcomed Ivor with effusion, and bade
him take the vacant chair beside her low gipsy-table, which with its
dainty tea-cloth and royal Worcester tea-service, looked distinctly out
of place in the large, formal, mirror-hung apartment.

"It is delightful to see you, _mon cher_," lisped the Countess in her
high voice, looking at him languishingly; "it is ages, eternities,
centuries, since you last honoured one of my _thés anglais_ with your
presence. Positively I believe you have not before seen my newest
importation from that land of fogs and delights. Behold, this is my very
last!" and she pointed gaily to the little table. "I assure you it is
quite correct, quite _comme il faut_, cloth and all. I have it direct
from my dear friend, the Duchess of Hever; it is an exact copy of the
one used by the Princess at Sandringham. The dear English! one quite
grows to love them."

And the Countess clasped her hands together dramatically, letting them
fall with effect upon her plush tea-gown; against the ruby folds the
diamonds and rubies of her rings flashed triumphantly.

Tolskoi laughed, his full-hearted boyish laugh, as he took the English
tea-cup she held out to him.

"You have the courage of your opinions, Countess," he said; "it is well
you are protected by Imperial favour. I know some houses in Petersburg,
where were such frank expressions of Anglo-mania indulged in, they
would be followed by a swift and emphatic caution from the
Chancellerie."

The Countess shrugged her shoulders.

"_Ma foi_, I am no politician, no intriguer. I am but a silly moth of
fashion, I do not even pose as a butterfly; but it appeals to my sense
of _bien-etre_ to be on good terms with England; and certainly it is
more politic, since through our Grand Duchess, and our Tsarina, our
dynasty is doubly allied with that country. But there, I see your eyes
are wandering after your thoughts; I regret your disappointment, _mon
cher_, for you will not see her here to-day."

Tolskoi acknowledged the raillery with another laugh. "Ah, Countess, you
are the fairy of the story books! And why does not Mdlle. Naundorff
honour your _salon_ to-day?"

"Because she is indisposed," answered Countess Vera, looking up at him
sharply; "she is obliged to keep her own apartments. I fear you took but
poor care of the future Countess Mellikoff, monsieur, for she returned
from the Petropavlovsk inspection looking like a ghost, and scarcely
able to render her light services to the Tsarina, during the evening.
Were the horrors of the Fortress so very pronounced, _mon cher_? You
will have to answer to Count Vladimir, you know, if on his return he
finds his _fiancée_ changed. Already Petersburg rings with your openly
displayed admiration for her cold beauty."

She laughed as she concluded, and got up slowly from her low chair. Ivor
rose also.

"I shall be only too happy to answer any charge of Count Mellikoff's,"
he said, deliberately, "when he returns."

Then the Countess Vera glided away from him, and with a word here, a
whisper there, a smile, a nod, a gesture, set afloat the rumour that
society might look for another highly-spiced scandal, as soon as Count
Mellikoff returned, for Ivor Tolskoi, not content with stealing away his
_fiancée's_ allegiance, intended to challenge him as well.

Wasn't it quite dreadful? Ah, yes, but very romantic! added the little
Countess, to whom intrigue and scandal were as the breath of her
nostrils.

The conversation now became general, and of course the favourite topic
under discussion was the Imperial visit of yesterday to Petropavlovsk.
Ivor found himself in constant requisition, and his ingenuity not a
little put to the test in replying vaguely yet satisfactorily to the
eager questions poured upon him.

All interest in the reunion had, however, flown for him directly he
heard the cause of Olga Naundorff's non-appearance, and he managed as
soon as possible to make his _adieux_ to the Countess.

"Ah," said that little lady, lifting her eyebrows in mock despair. "So
we are to lose you already! We cannot offer you a sufficient attraction,
_mon cher_, to keep you in the absence of the Court favourite. Let me
warn you again, Count Mellikoff is not a man to be trifled with."

"Nor am I," answered Ivor, incautiously; whereat the Countess Vera
laughed.

"_Ma foi_," she said, "if you carry matters with so high a hand we shall
have even a more dramatic _esclandre_ than the Stevan Lallovich affair.
By the way, Ivor, what news is afloat concerning Count Vladimir, and his
search for the missing woman? Oh, yes, you see it is no secret to me,
the reason of his departure _là-bas_."

With which vague and descriptive term and a gesture equally disdainful,
the Countess indicated the broad continent of America. To her
intelligence and imagination, it was but a land of semi-barbarians and
savages, where existence was not worth the price of her smallest luxury.

Tolskoi replied with a little bow.

"Ah, Countess," he said, "who can hope to keep any secret from you, and
indeed who would wish to do so? I believe Count Mellikoff is fully
satisfied with his advance so far; it remains only for the Chancellerie
to express an equal approbation."

Then he bent over the Countess's hand, and with a passing compliment,
made his devoirs and left her. She stood for a moment looking after him
thoughtfully.

"I would rather not be in Count Mellikoff's shoes," she said to herself,
"should he not succeed. Ivor Tolskoi is not likely to prove a light
enemy, and Ivor Tolskoi means to steal from him not only his sweetheart,
but his reputation."

Then she laughed a little as she turned gaily back to her gipsy-table,
and her _thé à l'anglaise_.

Meantime Tolskoi on leaving the Palace Vera, turned his steps towards
the Boulevard de Cavalerio, in the direction of his own apartments. His
brow was clouded and his lips stern as he walked along the gaily-lighted
streets. Evening had already closed in, the long evening of a day late
in March, and the boulevard was full of life and movement.

Ivor, however, took but little heed of his surroundings, the news he had
just heard concerning Olga, disquieted him not a little, the more so as
his love for her was very great, and he felt that he alone was
answerable for her mental and physical illness. He would have spared her
had it been possible for him to do so, and had he seen any other way out
of his difficulties. His first great object was to win her away from
Mellikoff, whom he knew to be his only serious rival, and to do this he
was willing to descend to any subterfuge.

He knew her nature sufficiently well to be aware that nothing short of
falsity to her, on Vladimir's part, would serve to break even the light
bonds that held her to him. Mellikoff's greatest power lay in the
protested claims of this his first and only love; and she, in listening
to his protestations, had been more swayed by the sense of her undivided
sovereignty over him, than by any feeling of affection.

His years and his honours gave him the right to pose as a man of
fashion, whose experiences of a certain kind were but foregone
conclusions; instead, however, of pleading this as a reason for his wish
to _ranger_ himself, he actually offered her a virgin heart, that had
known no warmer mistress than ambition, until he met her, and fell
captive beneath her smile and proud, cold loveliness.

The paradox of his life was unique, especially in Petersburg; and Olga
had felt a thrill of pride when she looked upon Vladimir's stern face,
and noted the many distinctions of honour that marked his Court dress,
and realised that she, and she only, had won his love and his devotion.
She was the first woman before whom he had bowed his head in haughty
pleading. It was no mean triumph, even for Olga Naundorff, to win and
rule him as an accepted suitor.

All this Tolskoi realised to the full, and as his passion grew and
strengthened, he determined to hesitate at nothing--no duplicity, no
falsehood--if by it he could awaken suspicion in her mind, and so gain
time for the perfecting of his own ends. Mellikoff's prolonged absence,
and the unexpected meeting with Adèle Lamien in St. Isaac's, gave him
ample basis upon which to work, and furnished him with a plan of attack,
with so much of possible truth in it as to carry instant conviction to
Olga's mind.

Her heart had always remained untouched, even by Vladimir's devotion;
she had not therefore, the divine instinct of love, by which to sift out
the false from the true.

And of Ivor it may be said, he believed enough in his allegations to
make their fulfilment an easy possibility; it was, however, quite
outside his calculations that Olga, by a real or feigned illness, should
effectually shut herself off from his personal influence; the more so,
as in a few days he was obliged to leave Petersburg, for his own estates
in the Ural provinces, and his absence would extend over several weeks.
What security had he against adverse circumstances and influences, while
separated from her? Was it not even possible that Mellikoff might
return triumphant? In which case, of what avail would be his schemes and
intrigues?

Fate, however, was against him, for he did not see Mdlle. Naundorff
before his departure. He was often at the Palace, frequenting the Court
_salon_ with sedulous regularity; but Olga never appeared, and he
learned from the Countess Vera that she was still indisposed, "though
not in danger of death," that little lady added, sharply, and with a
meaning look at Ivor's downcast face.



CHAPTER XIV.

"FIND ME THE WOMAN."


It was early April, when Tolskoi reluctantly quitted Petersburg, and it
was June before he returned.

The Court was still at the Winter Palace, for the winter season had been
a long and cruel one, and even with the first days of June, summer
advanced with but lagging footsteps, seemingly unwilling to awake the
gay capital from its long frost-bitten sleep.

Political affairs also held the Emperor, whose presence in the
metropolis was considered by his ministers to be a necessity; therefore,
when Ivor shook off the dust of many days, travel and alighted from his
_coupé_ at the railway terminus, it was to see the familiar standard
floating from the Winter Palace, and the tall lance-like spire of
Petropavlovsk rising above the creeping waters of the Neva, and piercing
the vivid blue of the sky beyond. The Troitski bridge and Boulevard-park
were gay with passing traffic, and noisy with the cries of the flower
vendors, whose trays and baskets overflowed with the blue violets of the
Novgorod.

Tolskoi made his way at once to the Imperial Chancellerie, where he
found Patouchki, as he had left him, seated at his desk and busy over
what seemed to Ivor the identical despatches that had surrounded him two
months ago. The only observable change in the chief's _entourage_ lay in
the open windows, and the softness of the west wind, as it stirred the
papers with a gentle touch, and yet that had a bitter chill even in its
caresses.

Patouchki, he thought, looked worn and harassed; the sallowness of the
flesh tints, the deeper lines about his forehead and mouth, spoke of
days and nights of ceaseless occupation and anxiety; and to Ivor, fresh
from the almost limitless freedom of his wide frontiers, spoke also of
the despotic rule and iron obedience with which those who serve Russia,
must accept Russia's dictates.

The chief looked up, and greeted him as though but a day's separation
lay between them.

"Ah, Ivor," he said, "so you are come back. You are welcome."

Ivor thanked him and turned towards his own desk, where lay neatly piled
together various documents and papers, anticipatory of his expected
return. Several newly cut quills were in the pen-tray, and a fresh
unstained pad was opened invitingly. An amused smile came to the young
man's face; it was all so absurdly natural and familiar; his absence of
weeks faded away and became visionary and unreal, in this crude
matter-of-fact light of official routine.

What did it matter to Patouchki that he, Ivor, had but just come from
those distant, far-reaching steppes, where the shy game and wild
animals flew before his footsteps, and the miles of low stunted forest
ended only with the horizon line, to meet which the cold grey sky
appeared to curve in an almost perceptible arch.

Standing alone, amidst his vast possessions, surrounded by a limitless
silence, Tolskoi had better understood than ever before the meaning of
the word freedom, and the unfathomableness of that undefined yet
distinct craving for something higher and greater, than this world
gives, which is implanted in every human heart. That vain, vague
stretching after the unattainable, the blue flower of the mountains, the
edelweiss of the Alps, which grows only on the heights of sacrifice and
abnegation, and which, like the precious stone set with the jewels of
suffering, is only attainable "to him that overcometh." Great indeed is
his reward, "and his joy no man taketh from him."

Ivor had carried with him during all his long return journey by road
and rail, a recollection of this wider outlook, and it gave him
therefore somewhat of a moral shock to find the world of Petersburg--his
world--busily engaged just as he had left it, not only not recognising
any spiritual change in him, but not even aware of any better or higher
aims than those attainable by intrigue, and shameless pandering to the
powers of the moment.

Although he had stood face to face with God and Nature, for one brief
moment, what was that to them? Here, in Petersburg, neither the Almighty
nor Nature, had part or lot in the fierce, unending struggle called
life.

With a shrug of his shoulders Ivor took his accustomed place, and as he
broke the first seal felt the better influences fall from him, and the
old power reassert itself.

If, as we are told, each soul has its fatal moment of choice, on which
depends its final development, this was that moment for Ivor Tolskoi,
and in accepting the old life with that careless gesture and cynical
smile, he put from him for ever the higher calling that might have been
his, and set his feet in the downward path of deterioration.

After a short interval of silence, Patouchki turned towards him with his
old imperiousness of manner, and said, abruptly:

"About this woman, Tolskoi, this Adèle Lamien, whom you avow you saw. So
far we have been unable to obtain any trace of her here, or learn
anything concerning her movements; while on the other hand Count
Mellikoff sends repeated messages of confidence as to his assured
success, and the infallibility of his approaching _coup de main_. So
after all, my dear Ivor, you must have been the victim of a delusion. It
is impossible for Adèle Lamien to be in Petersburg without the
Chancellerie's knowledge."

"I was not mistaken, chief," replied Ivor, quietly. "I saw Adèle
Lallovich with my own eyes. Hers is not a face to be easily mistaken,
and I would rather trust to my own instincts, than to Count Mellikoff's
written assertions. Answer me one question, chief: has Vladimir
Mellikoff ever, to your knowledge, seen Adèle Lallovich?"

"Really, Tolskoi, that is a strange question," answered Patouchki;
"frankly, I have never had occasion to ask him. The woman's face was
common property to all Petersburg, at one time, through the
photographers, and considering how well Count Vladimir knew Stevan
Lallovich, it is but natural to suppose his opportunities for seeing his
mistress were numerous."

"Pardon me, chief, if I differ from you on one or two points," replied
Ivor, with unwonted gravity. "In the first place, you must admit that
Stevan Lallovich did not for some time regard Adèle Lamien in the light
of a mistress. He married her, remember, according to the ceremonies of
the Church of Rome, and it was not until his passion for her grew cold,
that he sought Imperial interference. He kept her exclusively at his
villa across the Neva, and so long as he upheld her position as his wife
was over-scrupulous in his care of her. I have reason to believe that
not one of Count Stevan's boon companions, even Vladimir Mellikoff, was
ever admitted to her presence. The marriage was secret and kept so, and
as long as the infatuation lasted Lallovich showed nothing but respect
to her. _We_ know how sudden was the Imperial ukase, and how little
prepared she must have been for it, was shown by the tragic vengeance
that overtook him. You understand then, chief, why I prefer to trust to
my own instincts rather than to Count Mellikoff's assertions. I did once
see Adèle Lallovich in her happier days, and I am not likely to mistake
her face now, even though disfigured by shame and crime."

Patouchki had listened attentively to Tolskoi's remarks; he replied to
them by a slight gesture and the words:

"Granted all that you say is true, Ivor, I fail to see how not knowing
personally this unfortunate woman is any real disadvantage to Count
Mellikoff. He has every facility for tracing her, and we know by
experience that the last evidence to build upon in such a quest is
personal appearance. It needs but the adjuncts of paint, powder, and a
wig, to deceive even Lucifer himself. No, no, that troubles me but
little; what is more of an anxiety is my inability to trace in any way
the accomplice who first assisted Adèle Lamien out of Russia, and who
now--placing credence upon your words--has accomplished her return.
Could I but put my hand on that accomplice, I would soon unearth the
criminal."

Ivor made no reply save by a significant smile, and the slightest
possible shrug. Patouchki noticed both, and felt irritated at the
implied dissension expressed by them.

"You have doubtless some theory to advance upon this also," he said,
sharply; "perhaps you will have the goodness to impart it to me."

"I do not know if my deductions may be dignified by so specific a title
as theory, chief," Ivor replied, imperturbably; "I was but working out a
small sum of calculation, which is at your service. In December last,
Stevan Lallovich was murdered, and the woman calling herself his
wife--though a suspect, and closely watched as such--disappeared,
vanished absolutely. In the following January, Count Mellikoff, at the
request of the Chancellerie, undertook a mission of discovery in the
United States, whither the woman, according to trustworthy evidence, was
supposed to have flown. Two months elapse, and nothing is discovered or
revealed; meantime, you receive satisfactory, if vague, reports from
Count Mellikoff, and the Chancellerie is lulled to inaction for the time
being. At the end of March, I meet Adèle Lallovich face to face in the
heart of Petersburg, where she has arrived without the knowledge of the
Chancellerie, or its agents. That is my problem, chief; now to its
solution. The same powerful influence--whose word was law, whose will
was coercion--that got this woman out of Russia at a critical moment,
has again been successful in sending her back to Petersburg, at a time
when suspicion was thrown off its guard, and when Petersburg was a safer
hiding-place than New York. That is my theory, chief, so far as I have
worked it out."

Patouchki did not speak for several moments. He sat looking straight
before him, the furrows wrought by anxiety and care plainly visible on
his sallow, stern, set face.

The shadow of Ivor's veiled meaning was not lost to his quick
perceptions; but he put it from him as unworthy of debate, and turning
again to the young man said, even more sternly than before:

"I would advise you to be careful, Ivor, in your own interests; it is
best to say less than you know, still less than you suspect. To me you
may speak freely, indeed, I desire you to do so; but beyond these walls,
have a care. What further conclusions do you draw from your elaborate
premises?"

Ivor, with a quick flush at the suggestion of sarcasm in Patouchki's
voice, replied quietly:

"But one, and to you, chief, my deductions may seem both absurd and
impossible. You will remember the circumstances of the murder, and you
will, I am sure, concur with me, when I assert that to plan and
accomplish such a crime could not have been the sole unaided work of a
woman. There must have been a bolder and surer brain behind, one who had
sufficient reason to make the perpetration of the murder serve as a
double revenge. Very well then, granting such was the case, who would be
better fitted or more competent to assist the accomplice in crime in her
flight, than he who had helped her to her revenge? Self-preservation
would render this shielding power compulsory, where she was concerned;
for, once she fell into the hands of the Chancellerie, not her life
only, but his, would be the forfeit. I have no doubt, chief, that he who
helped Adèle Lallovich across our frontier, has conveyed her back
again, and--for a reason."

Tolskoi, as he finished, walked slowly across the room and back again,
halting beside Patouchki. The latter looked up at him with a strange
drawn expression upon his face. There was complete silence for a few
moments; when the chief spoke it was in a very different voice to his
usual harsh tones.

"And you would suspect----"

"I suspect no one, chief," answered the young man, his blue eyes
flashing coldly. "I would only suggest that it is a strange coincidence
at least, that shortly after Count Mellikoff's arrival in America, Adèle
Lallovich should reappear in Petersburg."

He said no more, but turning abruptly, walked back to his desk.

Patouchki sat immovable for a long time. Ivor's suggestion had fallen
upon him with almost crushing certainty, while mingled with the sense of
humiliation and irritation at being outwitted, was also the feeling of
pain and sorrow that he, who had thus outwitted him, should be the one
in whom he had most implicitly trusted.

Like Olga Naundorff, there appeared to him no room for doubt. Ivor's
very appearance, his boyish _insouciance_ and frank bearing, were but
additional witnesses to that other's treachery. And yet, and yet, could
it be true? Should he not do well to wait just a little longer before
condemning the absent? Could he but find the woman, could he but put his
hand upon her! Were she really in Petersburg now, what greater evidence
of perfidy could he desire, with those damning proofs in the shape of
recent despatches and cables lying now on his desk? He turned at last,
and spoke with apparent effort.

"Tolskoi, your warning is understood. Find me the woman, here in
Petersburg, and I shall then know how to act."

"I will find her," replied Ivor, with stern brevity; and, accepting
Patouchki's words as a dismissal, he bowed and left the room.



CHAPTER XV.

"THIS LITTLE HAND."


Late that same evening Tolskoi made his appearance at the Palace, in the
outer _salon_, where he found the usual gathering of officials and
_dames d'honneur_ with their invited guests. His reception was a
flattering one, and his return to the _beau-mondaine_ circles hailed
with acclamation.

The heavy curtains to the inner _salon_ were closely drawn, indicative
of the Tsar and Tsarina's desire to remain unmolested for the present.
The evening was very warm, and most of the long windows stood open, the
wind gently swaying the light draperies.

Beneath the casements the Neva crept by in slow rippling motion; the
moonlight falling athwart its grey opaqueness, woke here and there
sudden gleams of radiance. It struck also across the blank stone wall of
the Trubetskoi bastion, accentuating its grim outlines, and, shooting
far upwards, tipped the lance-like spire of Peter's Fortress with golden
fire.

The Countess Vera was the first to welcome Tolskoi, smiling up at him,
as she did so, and waving her great fan of scented lace to and fro
languidly.

"Oh, are you returned, _mon cher_? What a pleasure! And what a surprise
to _some one_! Oh, yes, she is here, and quite ravishingly beautiful.
For the moment she is with her Imperial Majesty. How hot it is, _mon
cher_, and what a cruelty that the Court regards no one's convenience,
save its own! One so longs to be flying westward."

"Is it so unsupportable?" replied Ivor in his clear youthful voice,
looking very handsome and young as he bent down towards the miniature
lady. "Upon my word, when I am near the Countess Vera, I lose all
sensation but one of supreme well-being."

"Ah, flatterer!" cried the little Countess, tapping him lightly on the
arm with her fan. "See, here she comes."

At that moment the velvet curtains at the far end of the grand _salon_
parted for a moment, to allow the egress of a tall slight figure, that
moved down the room with an almost regal grace, and whose white
draperies of soft lustreless silk swept after her in rhythmic curves.

It was Olga, and Ivor, as he beheld her after two months of separation,
felt his heart leap up in glad response to her beauty.

Indeed, never had she looked more beautiful. The grand curves of her
perfect figure, well defined by the low-cut bodice and falling laces of
her dress, her head, carried with all its imperial haughty grace,
crowned by the masses of her golden hair, her eyes so deep and wonderful
beneath the dark level brows, the "pomegranate flower" of her mouth
showing vividly against the colourless fairness of her complexion. She
wore a sapphire and diamond ornament upon her neck, and the rare stones
flashed and scintillated beneath her quick-coming breath.

Ivor stepped forward eagerly, his face flushed with the renewed ecstasy
of her presence, and bending low before her, murmured some inaudible
greeting. The Countess Vera watched them, a smile on her brilliant
little face.

Olga drew back, with an almost imperceptible movement, and with a sudden
dramatic gesture repelled, rather than welcomed, the young man. She had
not seen him since that day when at his thinly veiled allusions, and
suggestive words, all trust and belief in the truth and honesty of human
nature died within her. In that brief hour's drive it seemed to her she
had grown years older, and beyond that day she never looked.

With the melting of the snows of winter she had put from her whatever
of softness or leniency belonged to her girlhood; with her womanhood she
adopted the creed of her world, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth."

"Ah, Ivor," she exclaimed, controlling instantly both voice and manner,
and holding out her hand in greeting, "so you have come back. What an
eternity you have been away! Petersburg has been only half itself
without you."

She smiled as she spoke, and the charm of her smile counterbalanced the
indifference of her tones.

"Petersburg cannot have been so desolate without me, as I have been
without Petersburg," answered Tolskoi, gaily. "Is one permitted,
mademoiselle, to express one's admiration and pleasure in beholding you
so radiant and so--happy?"

"One is permitted always to speak one's mind in this age of
enlightenment," she replied, carelessly, though the meaning of Ivor's
question had not escaped her.

"And what news do you bring with you?" she continued, a little
hurriedly. "One is bored to extinction here, kept so late in town, and
with such a dearth of novelty that counting flies upon the wall becomes
an exciting pastime."

She had walked on as she spoke, separating herself from the Countess
Vera by a slight farewell gesture; Ivor kept pace at her side. When they
drew near one of the deep embrasured windows she stopped, and motioned
Ivor to the low cushioned seat beneath. But he refused to avail himself
of her invitation, preferring to stand at her side and look down upon
her. She sank languidly back upon the velvet cushions.

In the music gallery, at one end of the great _salon_, the Household
band were playing an arrangement of some of the wild, sad, national
airs. The strains floated to them across the rippling current of light
laughter and gay voices, like the under-chord of melancholy that runs
always side by side with the happier melodies of life's theme.

Ivor was the first to speak, and, as he did so, Olga turned her head
somewhat away from him.

"You ask me for news, mademoiselle; that is, indeed, somewhat singular.
How can I bring you news from my wild province which should prove of
interest to you? Let me rather ask that question. What do you hear from
Count Mellikoff, mademoiselle, and how prospers his mission?"

She did not reply at once, and Tolskoi, watching her averted face, saw
the jewels on her bosom rise with a sudden, quick, indrawn breath.

When she spoke it was with an almost exaggerated assumption of
carelessness.

"I hear nothing of, or from Count Mellikoff." Then, after a moment's
pause, "Are you more fortunate?"

"If you like to call it so. My latest intelligence is to the effect,
that having been successful beyond his expectations, he looks forward to
an immediate return, and to the reward he feels he has fairly earned."

"Ah!" she exclaimed, quickly, "you surprise me. And the woman--is she
found?"

"According to Count Mellikoff's despatches he does not doubt his soon
having her in his power," answered Ivor, slowly. "But as we know,
mademoiselle, there is considerable truth in the old saying about the
cup and the lip. Even Count Mellikoff may find himself mistaken."

"And you?" she asked, still with averted head, and in her assumed
careless voice. "May not you be mistaken? It would seem that this--this
woman--whom you say you saw, must after all, have been but a delusion of
your too ready imagination, since Count Mellikoff is so certain of his
success."

"No, I am not mistaken, mademoiselle," answered Ivor, gravely. "When
Count Mellikoff returns victorious, it will be my turn to win
distinction; and he who wins last wins best, you know. When that time
comes, Olga, _I_ shall claim my reward, and you will give it to me."

"Your reward?" she questioned, turning her face towards him at last, and
looking up straight into his eyes.

"Yes, my reward," he replied, "my reward, which will indeed have been
hardly won."

He stooped and lifted her hand. "This hand, Olga, this little slender
hand; that is what I shall claim, and that is what you will give to me."

She made him no answer, save to let her fingers lie passively in his.
Presently he bent and kissed them, then quietly putting her hand down,
he turned and walked from her.

When near the great doors he looked back. She was sitting as he had left
her, passive and unmoved, with the shadows cast by the lightly swaying
curtains half shielding her face, and the grey darkness of the starless
sky for a background.

Her hand lay as he had put it down, motionless upon her lap.



CHAPTER XVI.

ARRESTED!


It was September before Philip Tremain turned his face homeward again,
leaving behind him the deep, silent forests, already donning their
wonderful autumn tints, and the silent waveless lake on whose bosom his
boat had so often lain motionless for hours, drifting slowly with the
almost imperceptible movement of the tide; while he, stretched full
length along its narrow planking, his arms folded beneath his head,
watched with speculative eyes the clear blue of the heavens, the passing
of the fleecy clouds, the sweeping up of the rain mists, the birth of
the stars, the rising loveliness of the crescent moon.

He had sought these solitudes to find some specific against the unrest
and discontent of his heart. He had flown from the haunts of men,
craving the healing power of nature, trusting to find forgetfulness in
her potent charm. He had come to the very fountain head of nature,
hoping to forget Patricia, and behold, nowhere was she more present to
him. Nowhere did the spell of her beauty, her contradictions, work such
havoc to his peace of mind.

The very motion of the boat, the blue waters of the lake, the "breath of
the pine woods," the low rapid flight of a bird across the sky, all
reminded him of her, and brought her so vividly before him as to cause
him defined physical pain.

It was not, however, as the Miss Hildreth of the present, that she
appeared to him--the successful beauty, the indifferent woman of the
world, the jesting advocate of to-day's hateful creeds--but rather as
the Patty of ten years ago; the Patty of his first passion, the love of
his adolescence, the clear-eyed, honest-hearted, bewitching, wilful
Patty of his first devotion.

He had sought for forgetfulness, but he had not found it; and so, after
a month spent in unsatisfying and unsatisfactory inter-communion, he
repacked his portmanteau one glorious autumn morning, bid good-bye to
his little skiff, and to the silent sympathy of the pine woods, cast a
long regretful look over the deep blue lake, and turning his steps
towards the inartistic railway station, five miles distant, by afternoon
of the same day was crossing the tortuous streets of Boston, preparatory
to ensconcing himself comfortably in a "Pullman Express" for New York.

He reached that city in due time, and was at once immersed in the rush
and go of its restless life. The streets were all alight, the open
windows of hotels and restaurants displaying brightly dressed groups
within, to whom the chief aim of existence for the hour was apparently,
the excellence of a favourite ice, or the proper quality of the
champagne _frappé_. Along the side-walks a varied crowd was constantly
passing; shop-girls mostly, in large hats and pretty frocks, whose tired
faces were flushed and eager, or pale and weary, according as they
walked alone, or kept company with some smart young male assistant.
Philip noticed with a half wonder, that each of these work-girls wore
long gloves half-way up their arms, and that their low shoes were
"dressy" to a degree, with patent tips and abnormally high heels, on
which they limped along with heroic courage. The theatres were not out
as yet; but Delmonico's and the Brunswick, were in the full swing of
early evening traffic, and many were the envious glances cast by the
weary pedestrians upon the more favoured few of fortune within those
hospitable walls.

As Mr. Tremain let himself into his rooms with a pass key, he could not
but feel how dreary and un-homelike was such a return. He had not
telegraphed word of his arrival, and so found himself the sole occupant
of the dark building; his servant and the care-taker were evidently
enjoying life abroad this fine evening, and apparently the other
_habitués_ of the place were similarly employed.

He threw open the door of his sitting-room and entered; the room was in
semi-darkness, the only light being a reflected one from the street
lamps, and the moon which shone through the unsheltered windows. The
furniture looked ghostly in the chintz over-coverings, and the faint
gleam of gilded picture-frames and mirrors only added a further touch of
unreality. On the writing-table he could just distinguish a pile of
letters and newspapers--the accumulation of four weeks' absence; they
seemed to him as the hand of civilisation, stretched out across the
month of isolation and solitude, which separated him from the world of
yesterday and to-day.

Striking a match he lit two of the wax candles in a small girandole; but
they served only to make the darkness more apparent, and he was turning
impatiently towards his bedroom, still holding the lighted taper, when
the sound of quick hurrying feet, coming rapidly up the stone staircase,
arrested his attention.

Why these particular sounds should at once arouse surprise and
apprehension in his mind, he could not tell; many footsteps passed up
and down the staircase in the course of the twenty-four hours, and as a
rule he neither heard nor heeded them. But something in these quick
agitated steps, with the tap of a light heel on each stair, disturbed
him strangely.

The wax vesta burned down to his fingers and went out; and as the red
spark vanished the footsteps halted, and Philip could distinctly hear
the hurried respiration and quick-caught breath of some one just without
his door. No sensation of fear or supernatural alarm overcame him, he
stood quite still and waited; and as he thus stood counting these brief
moments of suspense, he felt himself to be saying inwardly, that he was
not at all surprised, it was only what he had expected--this night
visitant--it was what he had come home for, the reason why he dared not
linger longer beside the blue lake, in the depths of the keen-scented
hemlock forest.

The hurried breathing grew more distinct; an uncertain hand was laid
upon the handle of the scarcely closed outer door; there was the click
of the catch being pushed hastily back; the rustle of a garment, the
quick steps along the short passage, and then a figure detached itself
from the enshrouding shadows and stood irresolute upon the threshold of
the room.

A figure closely muffled in a long dark cloak, and a shadowy hat,
beneath whose wide brim a white face flashed, and two eager eyes looked
out, peering into the half lighted obscurity beyond.

It was but half a second the figure stood there, irresolute; then with a
swift impulsive gesture it moved forward towards Philip, and as the
light from the candles fell full upon the face, Mr. Tremain started, and
then advanced quickly.

"Miss Dick!" he exclaimed. "You, and here!"

"Oh, yes," cried that young lady, still breathing very fast and speaking
incoherently, her words rushing one on top of the other. "Oh, yes, it is
I, and I am so glad to find you! I've been here twice already, each
evening since we came back, and the door was always locked. To-night I
saw the lights and thought at least I should hear something about you.
Oh, Mr. Tremain, I am so glad you have come back at last!"

She stopped and looked at him appealingly, clasping and unclasping her
fingers, with nervous impatience.

Philip was the least vain of men, but for one moment certainly a
terrible thought did half form itself in his mind, as to the motive
which had induced this most compromising visit. Was his little friend
Miss Dick quite off her head, and was he in any way answerable for her
aberration? The idea was not agreeable.

"My dear Miss Dick," he began, gravely, but she interrupted him.

"Oh, I thought you were never, never coming back again! That idiot of a
care-taker and your fool of a servant, couldn't, or wouldn't, tell me
anything about you. They only grinned discreetly behind their hands. Oh,
what have you been doing to stay away like this, and never leave a scrap
of an address behind you?"

"Good heavens!" thought Philip, "decidedly the poor girl is out of her
mind, and if Tomkins, or Mrs. Barker have seen her like this, it will be
all over town in a week, and her reputation nowhere."

"My dear Miss Dick," he said again, but Miss Darling evidently had no
ears save for her own voice.

"It's perfectly dreadful--awful," she continued. "It has nearly broken
my heart, and to think you should be away just when you were most
needed, and I _couldn't_ find you. And it is so hot, too, and such a
season to be shut up in New York. Oh, why didn't you come before? What
made you go away at all? I told Esther I would never rest until I found
you, because I knew you could do something. You have always been a good
friend to me, Mr. Tremain, you won't refuse me, will you?"

The tears were in her bright brown eyes as she spoke, and Philip, roused
out of his self-consciousness by the sight of her earnestness, found
himself saying, impetuously:

"What is it I can do for you, Miss Dick? You know I won't refuse,
whatever you may ask."

"Oh, then go, go at once! Why do you stand looking at me so stupidly?"
she cried, impatiently. "Every moment is precious, and here you are
wasting them by the dozen!" She stamped her foot. "Why don't you go?"
she repeated.

Philip, made more and more bewildered, could only look at her in vacant
surprise, a fact that had the effect of reducing Miss Darling to
silence, out of sheer rage.

"Go?" he said, slowly, repeating her words mechanically. "Go?--but where
am I to go?"

"Ah," she gasped, beating her hands together, "how stupid you are, how
cold, how cruel! Where are you to go? Why--but no, stay, it will be
better if you come with me. Will you come--at once, directly? Here is
your hat," and she caught up that article of apparel from off the table,
and held it out to him. "Oh, do make haste," she cried, "do come with me
at once."

But Mr. Tremain was not to be carried off in so unceremonious a manner.
He took the hat out of her hand and laid it back on the table, before he
said very quietly:

"My dear Miss Dick, I will go with you to any place you may name; but
first, I do beg of you, compose yourself a little, and tell me what it
is you want me to do; who it is you want me to see?"

Miss Darling pulled herself together with an evident effort.

"I want you to go with me to Ludlow Street Jail," she said, speaking
very slowly, "to see Patricia Hildreth."

Had a cannon ball dropped at his feet, or the foundations of the house
given way beneath him, Mr. Tremain could not have experienced a more
sudden or appalling shock. The words reached him, but it seemed as if
they came from miles away. He saw the dark, alert figure standing before
him, whose bright, dark eyes never left his face, whose nervously
working hands were so suggestive; but it lost all identity to him. It
was not Dick Darling who stood there, entreating him to make haste, not
to delay; it was some phantom, some Nemesis from out the past, whose
words and entreaties were as unreal as the shadows that came creeping
out of the corners, revealing bit by bit the cunningly-concealed
spectres.

"Come with you to Ludlow Street!" he gasped at last, "to see Patricia
Hildreth. What do you mean?"

"Oh, I mean what I say," cried Dick, her voice high and strained; "it is
quite true. She is there. She has been arrested."

"Arrested!" gasped Philip. "Arrested--Patricia!"

"Oh! yes, yes," sobbed Miss Darling, the tears running down her face.
"She has been arrested, she is in prison--she will die. She is innocent.
I know she is innocent, I know it."

"Arrested!" cried Philip again, unable to grasp more than this one
direct fact, and quite unmindful of Dick's tears and protestations.
"Arrested! And for what?"

"Oh, that is the most terrible thing of all," wept Dick. "It's so
horrible I don't know how to tell you; she is arrested on a suspicion
of murder."

"My God!" cried Philip. "What horrible mockery is this?"

"Oh, will you come, will you come?" implored Dick, wringing her hands.
"Oh, only think, she is shut up there all alone. She has been in that
hateful place for hours, for days, while we have all been away dancing,
and flirting, and being happy and amused; and she has been alone--all
alone--shut up in prison with no one to go to her, no one to help her.
Oh, I could beat myself for never knowing, never dreaming of her
trouble!"

"It is horrible," said Philip again, in the same low, inward voice in
which he had spoken since Dick's first outburst. "It is infamous. Who
has done this thing? Who has brought this charge?"

He spoke sternly, and looked at Dick with eyes that burned her very
soul.

"The Russian Count," she answered slowly. "Vladimir Mellikoff."

Mr. Tremain made no reply. He turned abruptly away from her and walked
over to the window, and stood there looking out into the night.

The street was a quiet one at all times, and now even a solitary passing
footstep echoed far ahead in the absolute silence. But had it been
mid-day, with its roar and rumble of traffic, Philip would have heeded
it as little as he now heeded the stillness and desertion.

His mind was far away, busy with a thousand wild conjectures, a thousand
improbable suggestions. The whole of the past ten years appeared to roll
themselves out before him, full to overflowing with dark suspicions,
unassailable doubts, maddening possibilities. The poison distilled by
Miss James's smooth tongue had done its work; how could he tell what
those past years might cover, what deed or crime be hidden in their
protecting folds?

Ten years lay between him and the Patricia of his youth; was his faith
in her so unshaken as to admit of no room for doubt? Ah, there lay the
sting! He did doubt, and in that lay the keenest torture of this
terrible moment. Indeed, as he thought of her mocking raillery, of her
pronounced indifference, her assumed cynicism and misanthropy, he felt
there was room for doubt, there was room for suspicion, there was room
for condemnation. Would to God, that he could proclaim aloud a like
faith in her innocence, a like belief in her unsullied past, a like
valour in her defence, as did Miss Darling! Would to God he had but the
memory of her--pure and untainted--as she was ten years ago in which to
trust, and by which to fight for her!

For indeed, he knew it would come to that; he should fight for her, yes,
inch by inch, even though the game was a losing one. He would give her
of his best, he would bring to bear all his possessions of legal acumen,
brilliant pleading, forensic argument; she should not fail or be beaten
down, if his strength and his reputation counted for anything.

He had loved her--yes--and he loved her now; he knew it; better perhaps
in her hour of humiliation than in that of her triumph; and for that
love's sake he would spend and be spent in her behalf. And yet, ah yet,
there must be ever and always resting between him and her that

    "Little rift within the lute,
    That ever widening, makes the music mute."

Meantime Miss Darling, standing where he had left her, watched him
keenly. The eyes beneath the broad brim of her hat were soft and gentle,
the tears still lay upon her cheeks. Instinctively she recognised the
anguish of the man before her, and she respected it, looking on with
reverent but unspoken sympathy. Presently she moved quietly across the
room and approached him; he paid no attention to her; apparently he had
forgotten her very existence. She put one hand timidly on his arm.

"Will you come?" she said. "Oh, will you come with me--to Patricia?
Only think how long she has waited! Only think of Patricia--our
Patricia--in prison on so vile a suspicion!"

He looked down upon her, and at the hand resting on his arm; his face
was drawn and aged, his eyes dark with suffering.

"Yes, I will come," he said; "I will go with you. My God, only to think
of it! Patricia--Patty--in prison, and for murder!"

He took up his hat mechanically, and followed her as she led the way
down the dimly lighted stairs, their footsteps echoing drearily behind
them. And so together they passed on and out of the dark building, and
were swallowed up in the greater darkness of the night.

The wax candles in the wall-sconces burnt on all through the long night
hours, and died out only as the early sunlight struck athwart their
feeble rays. On the table lay the accumulated letters and papers, one
marked across the face "immediate," in a strong, bold hand. On the
floor a glove had dropped, and close beside the door lay a withered
rose-bud, as it had fallen from Dick's breast-knot.

And the morning hours grew into noontide, and gave place to afternoon,
followed in turn by the shadows of evening; but neither the master of
the deserted room, nor the girl with the bright eyes beneath the wide
hat, came back to it. And so another day was born, and died, and slipped
away into eternity within the narrow confines of that solitary chamber.


END OF VOL. II.

       *       *       *       *       *

CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS, CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.





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